I once sat in a class on power development being taught by a “master trainer,” who posed a seemingly innocent question: “Who needs power?” The obvious answers surfaced, such as athletes and physical laborers. When I chimed in with “seniors,” the instructor stared at me with a combination of disbelief and snide condescension. He then asked me, “So, you would do a kettlebell swing with grandma?” “Absolutely,” I responded, “because seniors lose a disproportionate amount of fast-twitch fibers and the ability to quickly react to a missed step to avoid falling.” He refused to agree with me, which is fine, but I wanted to make the point to the dozens of uninitiated trainers in the room eagerly soaking in this guy’s “wisdom.”
I could have continued building a case for why older people need power training in their programs but I didn’t want to monopolize the class. Instead, I’ll finish my thoughts here. Let’s consider some specific changes that occur from the ages of 30-70(1,2):
Habits and lifestyle choices will certainly impact the severity of the decrements listed above. The good news is that training can help offset these changes!
However, decreases in sensory system functioning are not really trainable and they do have a significant impact on movement production. A few examples(3):
Considering the vast physiological and sensory changes listed above, it becomes easier to understand how trips, falls, and overall performance declines occur in our senior population. Therefore, movements specialists have a responsibility to not only teach them movement safety and competency, but to also progress them along the speed-power continuum. Many trainers tend to take a more conservative, gentle approach with older clients (read: a slow tempo) as injury prevention is a prime consideration. While I agree that we don’t want to do harm to our clients we also have to minimize their chances of getting hurt when in the real-world by practicing rapid force production. As long as they are progressed properly there is no reason why these clients can’t become more powerful. Even those who have physical limitations can simply speed up the tempo of whatever exercises they are able to do, resulting in increased force production and the ability to summate forces more quickly.
Some tips for implementing power training:
To me, the most salient example of why power training is so important relates to walking pace. Research has been done on the timing of traffic lights to allow pedestrians to safely walk from one curb to the other in an intersection. New Haven, CT, East Boston, MA, and Los Angeles, CA are among some of the cities that have lights timed to allow a person to cover an intersection while walking at a pace of 1.22m/s (4 ft/s)(4). However, over 96% of subjects involved in multiple studies walked slower than 1.22m/s, putting them at risk every time they crossed the street(5). In my hometown of New York City, I cringe when I see impatient cars bearing down on slow walkers, hoping for a safe outcome for the pedestrian. I use that image to fuel my work with my over-60 clients. They don’t need to move quickly all the time but that ability needs to be at their disposal when necessary.
If we keep in mind the demands of real-world situations we can better prepare our clients to be successful at those tasks. Empower them by incorporating power into their programs.
Keep on Movin’