We often hear about the need for strength training at any age, but did you know that power training is even more important to functional independence?
You might associate power with elite sports or the massive athletes who “power lift” 800 pounds, and then drop it to the ground with a huge clang. You can just hear the argghhh!
But to understand what power means to you, try this: stand up from a seated position. Now, sit back down, and this time stand up slowly, using six counts to get to a full stand. Which one is harder?
Strength is a measure of how much force your muscles can generate. Power is the amount of force your muscles can generate quickly (strength x speed).
The very common functional task of rising from a chair clearly illustrates the difference between muscle power versus muscle strength. When you stand up at a normal speed the muscles contract quickly; you use power (strength x speed) to rise.
When you stand up slowly you remove the speed component, so you must rely on muscle strength alone. It’s very common to see someone who has lost leg muscle power to struggle to rise from a chair, using their arms for extra help.
Here are a few reasons that weight training for seniors matters and a few tips for how to get started.
Power and Function
Most of us recognize how speed of contraction would impact something like springing into action after a line drive in tennis. But speed of contraction is equally critical in many basic functional tasks like rising from a chair, walking, climbing stairs and reacting to a balance challenge.
For example, if you stumble on uneven ground, “catching” yourself to prevent a fall requires your ankle, leg and hip muscles to contract quickly to move your foot into place before you fall (speed of contraction-power).
In What’s Your Vitality Plan blog I shared statistics on the average decline in muscle strength – around 1–1.5% per year after age 30 – which commonly results in losing about half your strength by your mid-70s.
The rest of the story is…