The expression of muscle power has a distinct role in enhancing the quality of life of older adults because of its association with activities such as climbing stairs, crossing streets at traffic lights, lifting groceries, performing household activities, and participating in physical activities such as hiking, tennis, golf, or other sports (9,17,19). As Dr. Signorile’s feature article states, muscle power is the ability for force to be produced quickly by the body, and it has been shown that it actually is a better predictor for older adult function and independence than muscle strength or cardiovascular endurance (2,8,12,18). Yet, despite the lack of documented evidence, for many years there were concerns that high-velocity power training movements (e.g., hopping, jumping, throwing, etc.) were not appropriate for older adults because of an increased risk for musculoskeletal injury, cardiovascular events, or falls.
In fact, the first studies to demonstrate the effectiveness and feasibility of performing high-velocity power training in this population were done quite recently. Earles (6) in 2001 demonstrated the benefit of high-velocity leg movements for the improvement of lower body muscle power in healthy older adults with a 12-week intervention of explosive leg exercises. In 2002, Fielding et al. (7) compared a high-velocity power training program for the lower body to a traditional slow-velocity resistance training program in older women with self-reported disability and found that the power training group improved leg press power 84% more than the traditional slow-velocity group. Similar results were found in other studies as well (1,3,5,14).
Of more importance than improved performance on muscle power assessments is the effect that power training programs may have on measures of functional capacity in older adults. Henwood and Taaffe (10) studied a lower body power training program consisting of three sets of eight repetitions of rapid concentric contractions using training loads of 35%, 55%, and 75% of one-repetition maximum. Results indicated significant improvements in a variety of functional assessments including functional strength and agility/dynamic balance. In a comparison between high-velocity training and traditional low-velocity strength training, Miszko et al. (13) demonstrated that a 16-week training program where a power training group completed the final 8 weeks of the intervention with rapid concentric contractions had significant beneficial effects on a battery of functional capacity tests as compared with a group that performed the traditional lower-velocity strength training program throughout the entire 16-week program.
There also is evidence that upper body power can be trained effectively in older adults. Pereira et al. (15) studied the effect that medicine ball throws performed during a 12-week training program had on upper body power and functional capacity. These results were supported with a subsequent study that demonstrated significantly greater improvements in medicine ball throwing, sprint walking speed, and dynamic balance for a high-velocity group versus slow-velocity training (16). Therefore, it stands to reason that a combined program of upper and lower body power exercises can have functional benefits to older adults as well.
Medicine balls are an excellent choice for full-body power exercises because they can be thrown with maximal velocity without deceleration and they require coordination and balance. Sources recommend using medicine balls between 2% and 4% of body weight (4 lbs or 6 lbs for a 150-lb individual) (4,11). Perform each exercise at maximal velocity for 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg. Ensure that the client is in an athletic position with slight flexion at the knee and the hip. The ball can be thrown against a wall or a rebounder or to another person. Reactive agility also can be trained through catching the ball off the rebound if the client has the athleticism to do so. If not, simply hand the ball back to the client for the next repetition.
To view a video of these exercises visit the author’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/ThompsonFitnessSolut and select the video entitled “ACSM HFJ 216 Muscle Power Exercises” or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF4OrYda4h8.
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