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Power Training vs. Strength Training for Older Adults

Which type of training is more functional?

For maintaining functional ability—and potentially even for living longer—growing research
supports the benefits of power training, particularly as we age. Power is the ability to move weight with speed and to generate force and velocity with coordinated movement.

To assess the prognostic value of muscular power on mortality, Brazilian researchers measured the muscular power of 3,878 male and female nonathletes ages 41–85, expressing the value as power per kilogram of body weight. During a median 6.5-year follow-up, 10% of men and 6% of women died. Data analysis showed that subjects with maximal power scores above the median had the best survival rates.

“Our study shows for the first time that people with more muscle power tend to live longer,” says study author Claudio Gil Ara├║jo, MD, PhD, director of research and education for CLINIMEX, Rio de Janeiro. “For optimal power training results, you should go beyond typical strength training and add speed to your weight lifts. . . . The good news is that you only need to be above the median for your sex to have the best survival, with no further benefit in becoming even more powerful.”

The findings were presented in April at EuroPresent 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology. Going forward, researchers intend to study the link between muscle power and specific causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

In a mini-review of studies comparing slow- and fast-velocity resistance training, researchers found that, in untrained adults approximately 60–80 years old, fast-velocity training provides more efficient neuromuscular adaptations than slow training. Greater efficiency in these adaptations means that strength, power, explosive force, muscle mass and functional capacity increase more effectively. The review was published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal (2019; 41 [1], 105–14).

Study authors caution that power training requires more dynamic balance and can increase falling risks; therefore, trainers need to evaluate an individual’s ability before initiating this type of program. Further study is needed to determine optimal recovery time, another training variable that requires individualization. Watch for upcoming research on this topic.

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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