YOU’VE GOT THE POWER! HIGH VELOCITY TRAINING FOR SENIORS
If you’re an older adult who values the importance of exercise for well-being and healthy aging, you probably have some form of strength training built into your routine. Why is strength training important for healthy aging? Well, sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass due to aging) continues to affect us the older we get. Without a suitable strength training program, sarcopenia is a major risk factor for the development of disability due to aging (Innanuzzi-Sucich, Prestwood & Kenny 2002.) Now, while a basic strength training program will address this age-related muscle loss, there are also other forms of training that improve functional abilities for older adults, and these may be just as important. Power training in particular, is not often included in strength training programs for older adults due to the fact that there is not yet enough research to indicate specific training guidelines for this population.
Power training (also called high velocity training or explosive resistance training) is, in effect, lower repetition resistance training at a higher weight, producing both force and velocity. This type of training is potentially riskier than lower load, slower training. Now before you tune out and stop reading this article, let me explain why you, as an older adult, would ever want to train this way. Remember I just talked about sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle mass as you age? Well, this loss of muscle that happens as we get older affects one muscle fibre type more than others. The type of muscle fibre responsible for powerful, fast movements is most likely to shrink (atrophy), leaving your muscles not only smaller, but weaker and slower. Cody Snipe (MS) is a specialist in exercise for older adults, and writes that traditional strength training exercises will address some of the changes in size and strength, but not the loss of speed. A growing body of research is now showing that power training may be more helpful for older adults than lower velocity, or traditional strength training (Snipe, C.; IDEA Fitness Journal, 2007.)
However, while this method of training looks promising for its ability to help older adults retain or regain function, we must be cautious. Incorporating this method of training into your exercise routine must be done with proper help and expertise. According to Snipes, only trainers who are “competent enough … to use these techniques safely and effectively” should incorporate this type of training into the programs of older adults, at least until more research is available.