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Over 50? Start Power Training

August 25 2016

We have all heard about circuit training, functional training, HIT training and so forth. But what about power training?

Power training simply means moving the weights as fast as you can and lowering it under control during the lengthening phase. Or in layman’s term, you lift the weights fast and lower it under control. It is also called as high velocity training.

Here is a video of one of my subject performing power training on a pneumatic chest press machine:

Why folks over 50 should do power training?


What is power: Strength is the ability of muscles to produce force, whereas power is the ability to produce force quickly or rapidly. Speaking mathematically, muscle power is the product of force and velocity.

Like it or not, there is a steady decline in physically function as we get older.  And this decline in function is largely attributed to the declines in strength.

Power vs Strength: Guess what? Recent studies are showing that muscle power may be slightly more important than strength.

  • Decline in Power: In older adults, power declines at 2-3 times faster rate than strength.
  • Functional Correlation: A number of studies have shown power to explain more of the variance in physical function compared to strength. In fact, 12 out of 16 studies showed muscle power to be slightly more correlated with physical function compared to muscle strength. 
  • Velocity Specificity:  As dictated by the specificity principle, if you want to improve your squats, do squats. Likewise, if you want to move fast, you have to train fast.

Is Power Training better than conventional resistance training?

The first question is whether power training is actually better to improve power?

  • Power: Majority of studies have shown an increase in power using power training compared to traditional resistance training. For example, the study in our lab showed a 41% increase in lower body power in the power group, while the hypertrophy group showed a 17% improvement in aging adults.
  • Great, but what about things that really matter like physical function?
  • Functional Performance: Systematic reviews and met-analysis (or collection of studies) have shown power training to be more beneficial (small to moderate effect) than regular strength training in improving physical function.


In fact, power training is now studied even in Parkinson’s patients, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, and in mobility limited older adults.

Do I need any special equipment for power training?


Nope. Power training studies have used bodyweight, elastic bands, weighted vests, pneumatic machines and standard plate machines. So all you need is a willingness to embrace science.

What loads should I use?


Most studies have used loads ranging from 50% to 70% of 1RM. There is some evidence that points to lighter loads to improve activities such as walking and balance, while heavier loads may favor activities that are more force dependent, such as chair stands and stair climb. But evidence is currently lacking

What about safety?

  • The majority of studies used power training with pneumatic machines. Pneumatic machines use air pressure instead of plates and are specifically designed to perform high-velocity training smoothly and safely. The funny part is that these machines are only accessible to researchers and high-end athletic facilities. Check the picture (A cylinder with compressed air instaed of weight plates)
  • power traning using pneumatic machine

  • Of late, power training studies have been performed using standard plate-loaded machines that are often seen in gyms. And no major adverse or serious events have been reported.
  • My latest study (in review) compared pneumatics and plate-loaded machines and showed that both to be effective and safe.

What about the quality of studies?

  • I think this is an important aspect of research that is unfortunately overlooked by many articles and discussions.
  • As is typical of exercise studies, most of the studies were of low to moderate quality. Hence the conclusions from these studies should be interpreted accordingly.

Conclusions

  • Power training is one of those very few training programs that have a lot of theoretical and empirical evidence, yet still unknown to the majority of the personal trainers and older folks
  • Since all you have to do is simply lift the weight faster, you can easily integrate power training into your current routine.
  • As they rightly say, “wanna move fast, better train fast”
  • If you know of any older person who lifts weights or exercise, share this article please.

Reference 1

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MetroEast Beast | Tue September 06, 2016  

Great article Anoop!  Needs to be distributed widely!

Anoop | Wed September 07, 2016  

Thanks Rob!

It is usually said that research takes 10-15 years to trickle down to the public.

DH | Mon October 17, 2016  

The problem is, momentum takes over with explosive reps as studies have shown slower, controlled reps produce more hypertrophy (where REAL strength comes from - not neural gains.  A muscle’s strength is directly proportional to its size once you get past the motor learning stage).  It’s also true that the higher the force, the greater the risk of injury.  Anything generally faster 2-3 second positive, 2-3 negative will not be as productive and will be less safe.  Training with 70% of one rep max can be dangerous for some too.  Low reps are not necessary.

Unless one is in competition, there is no good reason to “power train”.

Anoop | Wed October 19, 2016  

Hello Dh,

Thank you for the comment.

You are doing the eccentrics at a slow pace. Only the concentric are done faster. You make a pause after the eccentrics and then do concentric. So it is controlled.

Moving the weights faster do no prevent muscle hypertrophy. In fact, it “may” help in terms of recruiting and enlarging the fast fibers. And these fast fibers are the exact ones people lose as they get older. You cannot lift heavy and move fast. 

Very Good question, DH.

DH | Wed October 19, 2016  

Hello,

It depends on how you define “heavy”.  I can take a 6 rep max weight done at 2/2 rep speed and move it faster than that (as a test) which I would not recommend (as an example).

If you’re using a 1-3 rep max weight, then I would agree with you that you have to push as hard as you can which will not be ‘fast’ - but no physical therapist is going to suggest that is a safe way to train.  Low reps = very high force which = greater risk for injury especially at 50+.

If more momentum is involved in the exercise, less (quality) loading is taking place.  This has been proven with tests and force plates.  The weight on the positive and negative should be under muscular control.  And again, it’s just safer.

I don’t believe it is safe especially for someone over 50 to power train.

And again, a physical therapist is going to agree with me.  I talked to several of them about this issue.

It’s much safer on your joints, tendons, and ligaments to use a CONTROLLED 8-12 rep cadence…or even higher reps.

And guess what?  It’s just as productive for size and strength or more so than explosive lifting or low reps.  You’ve even posted studies about this and there are a lot more out there showing heavy load is not as important as some have believed…fatigue of the muscle within the proper timeline being key.

Power lifting makes sense only if as a “sport” one chooses to engage in - Olympic lifting is another example.  But how many people reading this are looking to win championship titles?

DH | Wed October 19, 2016  

Furthermore,

I just viewed the video above with the gentlemen on the chest press.  That is terrible form and inviting injury.

Lifter | Wed October 19, 2016  

Throwing weights is never a good idea. If you witness the change in weight on a force plate, you’ll see it varies anywhere from double to nothing! Such dramatic change in tension shows how erratic the stimulus is…which is far from ideal on both muscles and joints.

A prime example of those who “throw weights” is Olympic lifting. And besides their quads, which can’t help but be worked as you can’t throw a squat, their upper-bodies are under-developed in comparison. Muscles will always be better developed when worked uniformly throughout. Two/Four has been the rep tempo which has served me well over 38 years…and my multitude of trainees.

Anoop | Fri October 21, 2016  

Hi DH,

Did you read the article by chance?

There us a whole paragraph about safety. None of the studies, including mine, didn’t find any increase in injuries. In fact, there are now power training studies in people with osteoarthritis, functionally limited older adults, and parkinsons. I was part of the Parkinson’s study.  I was under the same impression when I heard about it 4-5 years back.

Again, studies have shown power training to be better compared to regular controlled trainng. In fact, the very reason athletes do training fast. Also, in older adults, the quality of muscle is lot lower than quantity. That means, they have muscle, but their nervous system cannot express the strength. Accordingly, the definition of sarcopenia have changed and now includes strength measurements than just muscle. 

Also, the video shows training in pneumatics. You cannot achieve that speed with regular plate loaded. And the motion is very smooth.

Will there be injuries in a long term like 3 year study or will the benefits plateau. Maybe. But I don’t know that answer, nor anyone.

Dave | Mon October 24, 2016  

Hi Anoop,

Yes, I read the article. 

I have also talked to physical therapists, doctors, trainers, trainees with decades of training and experience, as well as my own training (27 years now).  I have also talked to power trainers and power lifters and the injuries they have suffered are countless speaking anecdotally.  We’re talking basic physics here though: an increase in high force increases the risk of injury.  It’s common sense.  A slower rep with controlled and minimal momentum is less likely to cause injury versus a faster, explosive rep with more momentum.  The impact to the joints, tendons, and ligaments increases - this is pure common sense and logic regardless of what any study says.  Let’s use critical thinking here.

In my own training, I have never once had an issue with controlled reps with a 2-3 sec rep phase (or thereabouts).  By the way, this is just a general guideline as it depends on the length of the limb, exercise, etc.

However, I have experimented with “power” reps exploding on the positive as have incurred issues in doing so.  Again, it’s basic physics: the greater the force, the greater the risk for injury.  Factor in lower reps (heavier loads) and the risk increases even further.

As far as studies, there are a lot of flaws in many weight training studies in general.  This is well known.  The reason being is, there are not enough controlled variable traits in regards to individual characteristics (training experience, age, muscle fiber type is VERY important - fast twitch vs slow twitch which require different applications, training experience, etc.), and a whole host of other factors play in to it.  Also, a lot of studies are not conducted for a long enough period of time as you alluded. 

Also something I would like to clear up.  Once past the motor learning/neural muscular stage of training with a specific exercise, all strength gains are proportional to the muscle fiber size.  In other words, to gain ‘real’ functional strength there has to be an increase in the protein contractile of the muscle fiber. 

Now “Strength” is a broad concept and ALSO related to motor learning and how you measure strength accurately is another (complex) matter.  Powerlifters train for a specific skill for maximum performance on a various exercise.  “Practice makes perfect”.  However, this does not necessarily mean muscle is being gained nor does it mean this “strength” carries over.  This is also why a bodybuilder will train differently than a powerlifter.  So, what I am trying to explain is the complex relationship between muscle and strength. 

Bottom line: there is a such thing as gaining strength as a skill for something specific versus a muscle gain which will increase strength in ALL activities.

Hope that clears up what I am saying. smile

I’m also 44 years old and I am not sure your age.  But when you start to reach mid age, you really need to take things a lot safer.  There are a lot of things I could get away with when I was 21, but as your body ages safety becomes even more important and wear and tear is not a friend.

What do you think?

Smileys

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