When you think of power training, you probably think of professional football players or any aspiring professional athlete. Power training has been proven to be equally as beneficial for the everyday warrior and more specifically, older adults. Power training has been proven in assisting independence, fall prevention and rehabilitation after an injury. Power is also a neuromuscular factor that shows the greatest decline with aging. In the ages of 65-89 it has been proven that explosive knee extensor power is 3.5% per year, it is also known that for every decade between the ages of 20-70 power in men declines an average of 8.3%, but men are not the only ones suffering. Joseph Signorile, master of sports medicine at Miami University, believes that the higher levels of disability in elderly woman compared to elderly men is due to the women’s lower power-to-body weight ratio and their inability to produce more power.
What is Power?
Power is defined in the field of Exercise Science and Training power as “The ability to exert maximum muscular contraction instantly in an explosive burst of movements”. Power is known under 2 terms: metabolic power and mechanical power. Metabolic power is the rate at which our metabolic systems produce energy our metabolic system is the way our bodies use energy to build muscle and burn fat. Basic physics teaches that force equals mass times acceleration, Mechanical power is just, physics. It is most often known to be used with activities of daily living (walking, falling, sitting, running) but most importantly it is associated with fall prevention. When we fall, weather on purpose or by accident, we instinctively reach try to prevent the fall. We explode out to try and grab something or catch ourselves, it is during this time that injury can occur if we cannot produce enough power or are not strong enough.
Why Power declines with Age
So why do we lose power as we age and how does it happen? The simple answer is Type 2 muscle fibers; Type 2 muscle fibers are our explosive fibers. Type 2 muscle fibers are most commonly known in sprinters because of the explosiveness needed in their lower body. Messi Delbono, author of Muscle and Nerve says “As we age we suffer a loss to the motor units of these fibers, it is also common to have reduced nerve to muscle transmission, and decreased levels of excitation-contraction coupling (the ability to flex)”. A muscle biopsy done in 1984 found that patients who suffered hip fractures from falls showed significant loss in Type II muscle fibers. A couple years later in 1987 a study from Wolfson & Amerman showed that lack of ankle stability was the strongest predictor of falls among elderly men and women. Women showed 24% less explosive power in their weaker limbs. They also showed that power difference in lower limbs (Asymmetry) between limbs might be more predictive of future falls.
It is not abnormal to have such a dramatic reduction in our power output as we grow older and older. We experience changes in all aspects of our anatomy as we grow older, there is nothing we can do about it. But you can increase and keep your power with consistent, specific training. Train for a better you, move better, live better, be better.