Training | POSTED October 4, 2022

Ageing Strong: Part 2

In Ageing Strong: Part 1 we discussed the background to Ageing Strong. There are strong reasons for adopting exercise and in particular resistance training for older adults (over 60 years). In Part 2 we will cover exercise prescription and provide an example training week. We will focus in on the resistance training component that matches evidence-based recommendations.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has a fantastic resource on Resistance Training for Older Adults. Their Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement is split into 4 parts and 11 summary statements. Part 1 and 2 covers exercise prescription and physiologic adaptations which we will cover today [1].

Susan on the Concept 2 RowErg with Jake

Statement 1: Appropriate instructions for exercise technique and proper spotting is safe for healthy, older adults.

Exercise technique will need to be individualised for each trainee based on their anthropometry, exercise and injury history. The primary concern here is clear communication and consistency across training sessions. Warming up will be the time to implement exercise instruction and practise while ramping up to working loads. “Safety” isn’t found in necessarily physically spotting each exercise but rather being aware of the environment and individual. This can involve the following observations:

  • Making sure the J-Hooks are set at the correct height for unracking & re-racking barbells
  • Making sure there are no trip hazards,
  • Monitoring client exertion levels
  • Gradually building up the training demands
Rachael chatting with clients Travis and Lisa

Statement 2: A properly designed resistance training program for older adults should include…

A resistance training session will involve 2-3 sets of 1-2 compound (multi-joint) exercise per major muscle group. Major muscle groups include thighs, arms, chest, back and shoulders. We tend not to worry about forearms or facial muscles in isolation! Working loads for heavy slow resistance training will float around 70-85% of an estimated 1 repetition maximum (e1RM). Loads for lighter, more explosive exercise will be at intensities of 40-60% of an e1RM.

Now these ranges don’t have to be exact, in fact there’s a wide range of possible prescriptions [2], [3]. A good summary for ageing strong is as follows:

  1. 40-85% e1RM across low and high velocity resistance training (for strength and power)
  2. 2-3 sets per exercise per major muscle group
  3. 6-15 repetitions per set (on average)
  4. 1-6 sessions a week

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines. Individuals will experience different results at varying volumes and loads [4], [5]. However, it is clear that resistance training for older adults should not be “easy” or different to the general population. Of course, it goes without saying, if older adults are participating in any sports, training will need to be more specialised.

Harry helping his client on the leg press

Statement 3: Resistance training programs for older adults should follow the principles of individualization, periodization, and progression.

By periodisation we are referring to modifying training stressors over time to facilitate better results. This can be as simple as allowing for two different loading zones of a lower body exercise across a week. This could look like the following:

  1. Squats: 4 sets x 6 reps at 75% of e1RM on Day 1
  2. Squats: 3 sets of 8 reps at 65% of e1RM on Day 2

We call this Daily Undulating Periodisation. Additionally, periodisation can also involve exercise selection. We call this Exercise Conjugation. In the example above, we can substitute Squats on Day 2 for Leg Press or Lunges. Periodisation can be useful for resistance training for older adults in order to drive progress while managing fatigue.

Julia on the seated cable row with Harry

Statement 4: A properly designed resistance training program can counteract the age-related changes in contractile function, atrophy, and morphology of ageing human skeletal muscle.

Resistance training is a powerful stimulus, however, the correct physiological environment will facilitate the best results. Making sure protein targets such as 1.6g per kilogram of bodyweight and consuming sufficient calories is important. Lower intakes such as 0.8 per kg/bw may not be enough to drive adequate results [7]. Secondly, managing fatigue through appropriate programming and getting enough sleep is essential.

Kevin squatting 100kg with Jake

Statement 5: A properly designed training program can enhance the muscular strength, power, and neuromuscular functioning of older adults.

Heavy, slow resistance training for older adults is effective but can we do more? In the prescription section, lighter, explosive training for developing Power was mentioned. Training Power as a fitness quality isn’t about sports performance but instead proposed to confer certain benefits to older adults. In particular, improving or at least maintaining how effectively the nervous system operates to create forceful contractions [6]. Power in its simplest form is the product of force multiplied by distance, divided by time. In an exercise context, force can be substituted for strength, and time/distance indicated by the speed of movement.

This will essentially involve moving lighter relative loads, faster, with the intent of moving fast and powerfully or “explosive.” We can easily incorporate this into training sessions in two ways:

  • Starting sessions with dedicated power training
  • Cueing maximum concentric velocity during all exercises
Susan chatting with Jake

A Week of Training

A week of training will involve a combination of aerobic and resistance training. If you’d like to know more about cardio, see our blog post here. Our example program today is a three-day full-body resistance training program that will satisfy the recommendations above.

Ageing Strong Sample Program

Conclusion

We hope you’ve enjoyed our dive into resistance training for older adults. Sufficient training should look like at least performing heavy load, slow resistance training and some fast, light load resistance training at least twice weekly. This will involve targeting all major muscle groups. The challenge should start low but gradually increase to match the increase in fitness expected from training. In summary, resistance training with an emphasis on getting stronger over time is not only safe, but necessary for ageing strong [8].

Rogue barbell rack

References

  1. Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement Fro… : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (lww.com)
  2. Dose–Response Relationships of Resistance Training in Healthy Old Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (nih.gov)
  3. Benefits of resistance training in physically frail elderly: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Progressive Resistance Training Volume: Effects on Muscle Thickness, Mass, and Strength Adaptations in Resistance-Trained Individuals – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Individual Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Responses to High vs. Low Resistance Training Frequencies – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Skeletal Muscle Power: A Critical Determinant of Physical Functioning In Older Adults – PMC (nih.gov)
  7. (Protein intake and muscle function in older adults – PubMed (nih.gov), Dietary Protein, Muscle and Physical Function in the Very Old – PubMed (nih.gov))
  8. Cancer-Specific Mortality Relative to Engagement in Muscle-Strengthening Activities and Lower Extremity Strength – PubMed (nih.gov)