Last week I had my first strength training session with Alan, a 65 year old cyclist. It wasn’t difficult to establish a good rapport with someone who has a mutual passion for cycling. We could have talked for hours about past and present cyclist, the highs and the lows, we enthused about classic riders such as Indurain and we were wondering why Nairo Quintana is not riding in The Tour de France.
Let’s get to the point, despite having had a few serious injuries in the past, Alan is fortunate to have the health and fire in his belly to keep going and embark on a strength training programme without hesitation. He takes part in races almost every Sunday which are not leisurely by any stretch of the imagination and he always aims to be competitive, always at the top end of his category.
He has inspired me to write this post about strength training for the mature athlete. Hope you enjoy it and more importantly, hope it motivates you to strength train.
I am not beating around the bush anymore and I am going to present you the facts:
In 2007, researcher Simon Melov examined the mitochondrial function (mitochondria are the ‘power stations’ in the muscles) of muscle of men and women who were 65 and older and compared the results with those of men and women in their late teens and 20s. He took samples of muscle tissue before and after six months of resistance training and found that the old muscles had genetic characteristics similar to the muscles of the younger population. He concluded that Strength training may be one of the more dramatic conditioning modalities to help fight the aging process, allow greater sport performance, and improve health profile in older adults.
EFFECTS OF AGING
- Aging contributes to the progressive decline in muscle mass that begins as early as 25 years of age and continues throughout life. After approximately 50 years of age, and specifically between the ages of 50 and 80, muscle mass is reported to decline by 30–40%, with a corresponding decrease in strength in the range of 40–60%.
- Reduced muscle size and strength tend to further exacerbate a loss in aerobic capacity, since it may exist a relationship between age-related muscle atrophy and decline in VO2max.
- It also appears that strength and muscle mass in older persons are better maintained in the upper body than in the lower body. (This last two facts are not good news for cyclists and runners).
- Women typically have less muscle mass, greater amounts of body fat, different body fat distribution and less bone density when compared with their male counterparts, which predispose women to an increased incidence of injury to the lower extremities.
- The loss of strength occurs at about the same rate as the age related decrease in overall lean tissue mass, suggesting a relationship between weakening of the muscle and its decrease in mass. However, strength levels can be relatively well maintained between the ages of 30-50 with strength training.
- Hormones also play a role in muscle strength. It has been found that as people age, their bodies make less testosterone and less growth hormone. Both hormones are anabolic, which means that help maintain muscle mass. The decrease in testosterone may be a factor in the diminished muscle strength in older people.
BENEFITS of STRENGTH TRAINING:
Resistance training is one exercise mode that has been reliably shown to be a safe and effective method for conditioning the neuromuscular system, improving muscle strength and power, and maintaining and modestly improving bone mineral density in older adults. These physiological changes are also linked with improved sports performance.
Adding a resistance program to endurance training can occur at almost any age, and it should be an important component because other modes of exercise do not provide sufficient overload to produce increases in muscular size and strength. The specifics of a resistance-training program should take into account individual limitations and prior exercise history.
These are the benefits of a well-planned resistance training programme:
- Weight training can induce dramatic increases in muscle strength in older persons. Women may show a greater percentage improvement in strength gains because they would be starting from a lower level and have a larger ceiling for improvement.
- Some of the strength gained through weight training is due to an increase in muscle mass, as is the case with younger adults.
- The increase of body fat associated with aging can be reversed through resistance training. It increases lean body mass, which in turn elevates resting metabolic rate and burns fat.
- Increases the strength of tendons, reducing the incidence of injury.
- Improves mobility.
- Reduces bone loss, which is especially important for menopausal women, because the decrease in estrogen can lead to osteoporosis.
- Improve mood and general well-being.
The take away message of this post is clear: Age should never be an obstacle to embrace strength training. Hey Pete, see you in the gym tomorrow.
- MSc Strength & Conditioning.
- BSc (Hons) Sports Science.
Brooks, S.V., and J.A. Faulkner. Skeletal muscle weakness in old age: underlying mechanisms. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 26:432–439. 1994.
Daniel A.G & Edith C., Resistance Training for the Older Adult: Manipulating Training Variables to Enhance Muscle Strength. National Strength and Conditioning Association.Volume 27, Number 3, pages 48–54. June 2005
Haff G., Roundtable Discussion: Resistance Training and The Older Adult . National Strength and Conditioning AssociationVolume 27, Number 6, pages 48–68. December 2005
Hedrick, A. Resistance Training with the older populations: Justifications, Benefits and Ptotocol. Strength & Conditioning: Volume 20 – Issue 2 – ppg 32-43 . 1998
James W. B , Age Related Motor-Unit Remodelling and Its Effect on Muscle Performance. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Volume 26, Number 4, pages 34–37. August 2004.