Is Power Training Safe for the Elderly? [Avoid Injury for Maximum Health]
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Is Power Training Safe for the Elderly?
Power training hasn’t been discussed enough, despite being one of the best ways to improve the quality of life/mobility as you age. Still, is power training safe to the elderly?
It might be treated as something saved for the prime of your 20s, but power training has an important role in everyone’s life and that goes double for healthy aging. If you’re anywhere between 30 and 130, this article is for you and your long-term wellbeing!
We’re going to take you through the basics of how to deal with power training for health, what it can do for you, and some of the best ways to achieve it now and into advanced age.
What is Power Training?
Power training is simply about developing the ability to produce force quickly. It’s the skill you use for jumping, running and throwing.
Power training is about putting the maximum amount of force into a task in a restricted amount of time. It’s fine having lots of strength, but if you can’t use it quickly then it’s probably not going to improve your day-to-day life very much. Learning to use it is key.
Power training for healthy aging and the elderly is all about remedying the aging process and combating some of the more unpleasant consequences. These include muscle loss and immobility- problems we all have to face at some time.
Benefits of Power During Aging
So why should you worry about power training for age?
1. Muscle and Power
Well, first of all, it’s a time when you can probably regain a lot of the capability that time takes away.
As you age, you lose muscle and the ability to produce force – power training can combat both of these, maintaining muscle and regaining power that you’ve lost.
These changes are important because the muscle, strength and power you have are important to your day-to-day life and long-term health.
This is interesting because most adults can’t appreciably improve their power like you can during these later stages of life. With the ability to regain power, you’re going to see improvements in everything from strength to co-ordination and reflexes!
2. Exercise and Quality of Life
Physical exercise of any form is going to be important and power training is a great example of that.
Regular exercise is associated with improved quality of life at any age, but especially from middle age onwards. During these times, it serves to regulate hormonal health and reduce the onset of muscle-wasting and general physical decline.
If you’re exercising and dieting well, you’re going to be in better shape and may even continue to improve towards your genetic limit during these years. It’s totally possible to become the best version of yourself later in life with the right approach.
3. Independent Mobility
One of the best ways that power improves your long-term quality of life is protecting the joints, keeping your muscles strong and improving overall mobility.
Independent mobility – the ability to move around without assistance – is one of the most important things to many of us. You won’t feel old if you’re able to run and live without a stick or frame – even if you’re 120. Power is key for this ability and the joy it brings.
Power is a key player in movement itself – everything from walking to standing is dependent on controlling the force of the muscles. It also boosts co-ordination, balance and stabilizes the joint. These are all key to quality movement, and they’ll stay with you as you age.
4. Falls, Fractures and the Fracture-Fragility Cycle
Every time we discuss aging, we have to discuss the fracture-fragility cycle.
This is basically a trap that many older people fall into where they catch a single fracture and it starts a life-long dependence on hospitals and only causes more pain.
A single fracture is likely to land you in hospital as you age. Bones become weaker, co-ordination is reduced and fractures become more common. However, being immobilized in hospital only contributes to weaker muscles, weaker bones and even greater risk of future falls. It’s easy to see how this becomes a vicious cycle.
Add in the risk of pain meds, infections and other problems, and it’s clear that fractures are more insidious than you might have thought.
Power training gets right into the middle of this cycle by improving bone density, muscular control, and even reducing your likelihood of falls/fractures. It starts to help you combat these risks and puts you back in control of your body and your life. This is why power training is always relevant.
Myths About Training for the Elderly
There are a lot of myths in the media about power training and how its “too dangerous for the elderly”. These are fuelled by two falsehoods:
- The myth that power training is dangerous, and
- The myth that the elderly are incapable, frail, and need to be protected from movement
These are both absurd and we’re going to break them both down and talk about how you can disprove them both and make big changes to your life.
Aging Doesn’t Mean Fragile
This is the first and most important point. Aging doesn’t mean that you should retire to your bed and avoid exercise and movement. Aging doesn’t prevent exercise because it makes you frail; not exercising as you age makes you frail!
All the studies show that individuals who exercise age better, stay stronger and fitter, improve their health outcomes and generally just live better lives. It’s all about keeping active – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Your body needs to keep being used and being nourished or it will start to waste.
From the age of about 35 for men and menopause for women (anywhere between 40 and 55, typically), exercise is important for maintaining health. It protects against osteoporosis and muscle loss, keeps the hormones in check and keeps the brain healthy.
Simply put, inactive aging causes frailty – not training.
Is Power Training Dangerous for the Elderly?
The short answer is no – power training is totally safe for the elderly when performed properly.
It’s important to start by noting that power training isn’t the kind of training you’d do in your 20s to make you better at sports. It’s not all heavy weights and joint-impact, and it’s all tailored to your individual needs.
Power training is everything from rehabilitation to strengthening. Whether you’re in need of development or just looking to keep what you’ve got, there’s a variety of methods to achieve it that are totally safe.
It’s Better Than NOT Training!
The alternative to training is immobility. It’s that simple.
Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are key contributors to the aging process: the less you do, the less you’ll be able to do. If you don’t train your muscles, you’ll lose them, and the same goes for power, control and speed. If you practice them, they’ll stay with you.
Immobilizing your important joints and muscles by not exercising is one of the worst things you can do for your health. It contributes to all kinds of health risks (such as heart disease and diabetes) and debilitating lower back pain/injuries.
There is nothing worse for your body and mind than to be inactive.
Supervision Means Safety
If you’re still concerned about the difficulties and dangers of power training, rest assured that a good coach will be able to neutralize those risks.
Professional S&C coaches exist to ensure that danger to your health is minimized and working with a good physical therapist is another step towards the best results. Combining the exercise knowledge of these two professionals is the best way to keep healthy and stay safe.
As ever, it’s also going to be key to sign off with your doctor on any form of physical exercise – especially if you have any preconditions or concerns. Putting your health first means dealing with the big problems before moving into training.
Before You Start Training
You have to be able to:
- Move without pain
- Balance when you move
- Move with load without pain or instability
These are the important foundations that need setting before you can train for power. You need to be in control of your body, pain-free and familiar with loading.
This means that, for the elderly or anyone concerned with healthy aging, the first step to power training is movement quality and strength training. Jumping and other dynamic movements place stress on the joints and, if performed incorrectly, they do carry risks.
A patient approach puts these early stages first. You need to walk before you run, and you need to be able to lift before you can jump or sprint for training. Strength training will prepare your joints and you should only move on if you and/or your coach/physio are certain you’re ready.
As with anything, the best approach is to start gently and increase the intensity over time. Smaller jumps and running exercises can set the way for this process and, if you’re in good health, provide a great way to practice movement.
Always be patient and humble. If you have the choice between progressing too slow and too fast, always slow it down. This is about your health – it’s not a race.
Training Programs For Elderly
Seeking a good Personal Trainer can be great motivation and a way to be held accountable to stick to a power training program.
You might also want to consider a good online course like Boss Workouts – Boss Prime
This is our favorite online video workout guide, nutrition, recipe and complete 12 week fitness program, which you can repeat as many times as you wish, that helps you really understand how to handle your nutrition and safely workout in a gym for great results!
Read our full Boss Prime review
When Are You Too Old For Power Training?
If you’re still between your 40s and 60s, power training is about setting a foundation and building up enough muscular/nervous efficiency to improve the aging process and protect yourself.
After around 60, you’re working to keep what you have and maintain control of your body. These vary by individual, but these stages are useful guidelines.
There’s no upper limit for training. The only limitations that should ever stop you training for strength and power are injuries. If you get to a point where you experience pain during training or your muscles/joints aren’t comfortable, only then is it time to hang up the boots.
Until this point, you’re never too old for power training!
Lift Forever: Scaling and Loading
The way that you approach training is absolutely essential – you should remember that its just an extension of movement. It’s a way of boosting your health and wellbeing, but it starts with being active and healthy.
Once you have the basis of movement and strength discussed above, power should be added into your training slowly. You’re not training to compete at the Olympics if you’re reading this article – so you don’t need to beat yourself up in training. Focus on gradually introducing these exercises/training methods at your own pace.
Scaling your workouts up slowly is an important part of staying healthy and getting the most from training as you age.
It’s about knowing your limits and putting your long-term progress ahead of showing off or worrying about today’s session. Especially in power, it’s better to stay humble and know that hard work is an investment – not a single day in the gym!
Do what you can with what you have and don’t be disheartened if it takes a while to see improvements: your body doesn’t do anything quickly and training is about consistency. Think about it in years, not weeks or months.
Remember – It’s About Your Health
Improvements come with increased training load, but if you’re concerned about health and want to age well, you need to be patient with these increases. Rushing into the process and ego in the gym are the easiest ways to get injured – the opposite of why you’re training.
This is one of the main reasons that we discuss power exercises without heavy barbells or implements. These might be great for improving performance and you might have them in your workout routine, but they’re not the best choice for health and longevity.
There are plenty of ways to improve your power output without having to load heavily and these carry the least risk of injury.
Power Training for the Elderly
We’ve said it before, but we can’t stress the point too much: no matter your age, you need to be able to perform a movement slowly and under control before you can load it or do it with power. This isn’t up for debate – learning to move always comes before strength or power.
This means that basic running and jumping should be the place to start for absolute beginners. As with children, running and jumping are functional in your everyday life and are an easy way to improve your power output without having to use specific training.
This is about returning to play with movement – at any age and any level of experience, you should be enjoying movement in and out of the gym.
Step Ups for Power
These are an awesome way of combining some of the best benefits of different types of exercise.
Step ups are a single-leg movement that builds strength, power and co-ordination. It never hurts to have better balance – especially after our discussion of how serious falls can be.
This type of single leg exercise doesn’t only build balance, but strengthens the legs and stabilizes the knee, hip and ankle. This is a huge, overlooked part of training and if you read us often you’ll know we believe in getting outside of the sagittal plane. Simply put, you should be challenging your body to move in different ways – single-leg exercises are one of the best ways to do this.
Once you can do a normal step up you can add the power variant of focusing on speed, extension and reaching the top position as forcefully as possible. Focus on pushing with the whole foot and driving “through” the movement to get as high as possible.
Jump to Split (without weight)
This is a simple exercise for training and maintaining balance. It’s an exercise we use with weightlifters to improve balance, co-ordination and technical positions but it has huge uses for health, too.
This is mainly aimed at teaching you to regain balance when falling and plant your feet in a stable position. It’s a good way to prevent falls while also improving lower body in very specific joint positions. Simply put, it’s going to improve your overall performance and joint stability, as well as combating the very-specific problems associated with aging and falls.
If you’re struggling with these positions you can just spend some time holding the split position and making sure that you find your balance.
Not only will this help with the exercise, it really drills how your feet should feel on the ground and improve core/hip stability.
A great exercise from gymnastics and other bodyweight sports, this exercise is like jumping rope, but the focus is on height and control.
It takes out the unnecessary stuff and improves on what matters: strengthening the lower body and improving the stretch reflex – the mechanism for maximum power in the body.
These are a great exercise to prep for other, more intense exercises and provide a great starting point for any level of experience. If you’re struggling with the basic ankle bounce, it’s even possible to support on a wall for greater ease.
Medball Power Exercises for Aging
The first exercise you should try with the medball is a simple chest pass into a wall.
This is a great way of building power and stability in the upper body. Simply take the ball at chest height and throw it like you’re passing a basketball – as hard as possible and into a wall.
Another good choice is throwing the medball into the floor. Focus on getting as long as possible at the top of the movement and really driving the ball into the floor.
I love this movement because it lengthens all the tight muscles (like the lats and hip flexors) and builds strength and power in the core and hips.
You can use the medball floor pass as another great exercise for the same type of results. It’s similar to the slam, but it’s a partner exercise that involves throwing the ball into the floor. The fun part is that you have to do it hard enough for it to bounce to your partner.
Adding in the dynamic physical and social aspects of a partner workout is a great way to make exercise more fun. Catching the ball adds a totally new set of challenges and makes this a well-rounded exercise for power and wellness.
These are the same exercises that make the best athletes in the world more powerful and resilient in their sport. The effects are the same for you and your health, and they’re an easy way of building power without relying on huge weights!
Throw and Chase
This is a great little sprint drill that’s used by athletes in many sports to improve their power. It’s a simple process: you throw a ball as far as possible then go chase it down.
This has a lot of carryover to normal life because it challenges you to move powerfully in different ways in quick succession. Throwing and running are key to developing power, but they’re very different and combining them equips you for a wide variety of situations.
You can also change the way that you throw (from a jumping chest pass to an overhead throw) and the direction you’re throwing/running in. Developing this variety of movement patterns is key to maximizing the effectiveness of this exercise!
Jumps are a great tool for any fitness goal. They deserve your attention so we’re going to discuss some of our favorites.
Start with low box jumps.
This is where everyone should start because it teaches the mechanics of how to jump effectively and landing on the box reduces impact forces on the joints. It’s a safe, easy way to build power and its totally possible to get a lot of power improvements by only ever using this exercise!
One great way of making this more specific is to perform your box jumps from a seated position. Something as simple as starting seated can make the exercise more applicable to life.
When you reach advanced age, standing up is going to be as difficult as standing up with one leg is during your youth.
Seated box jumps to any box height will improve patterns. If you’re struggling with the seated box jump, try the seated vertical jump to feel out the movement without as much difficulty.
Hurdle Circuits are a great progression from box jumps. This isn’t the type of hurdle you see at the Olympics – it’s the kind that athletes use to train repeated, bouncing jumps. They’re about 6”-12” high and hopping over a series of these hurdles is a great way to start training rebounding: it’s not enough to have power, but you have to be able to use it.
Training with bounding and series of jumps is a great way to start developing the ability to use power quickly and it contributes to better stability. Training your landing is just as important as your jump!
Important Things to Remember
1. You need General Training
This is important: when you’re aging, your training should cover all the bases. Power training is great, but you should be doing general physical prep training – cardio, strength and power exercises in a full routine.
This gives you the widest variety of benefits and ensures that you stay healthy and effective in every domain. You also rely on strength and joint health for power exercise, so be sure to do plenty of both.
2. Stay Behind the Adaptation
You’re going to improve, and it can be easy to really push that and see how fast you can improve. This isn’t the best approach – it’ll mean you’re less consistent in your improvements over the long term. You should inch forward.
A great example of this is the step up. You might find you’re able to add weight or height to your step up quickly to start with. However, if you can add 10kg in the first week, it’s probably smarter to add 5- 7.5kg and leave some “in the tank” for future.
This patience stacks up and, over time, you’re going to continue to progress and have that little bit extra progress available. On the other hand, if you max out your progress every time you exercise, you’ll not have any left within a few weeks.
Patience and humility are the best training tools.
3. Watch out for Structural Problems
With any exercise, there’s risk. As you progress, be sure to keep your eyes open for any joint or bone problems.
These are more common with aging and, while training helps them, you shouldn’t be training through pain.
If you’re looking to improve your health, then you should be on-guard for these problems. If at any point you experience discomfort or a worsening of any pain/conditions, you should stop and consult your doctor.
That leads us to our final point…
4. Consult your Medical Professional
Doctor, Physio, whatever – if you have a medical professional you need to clear any exercise with them. We know a lot about exercise and diet, but nothing about you.
Your doctor knows lots about medicine and your personal medical history. If you’re going to undertake a program of exercise or add in power work to an existing routine, you should discuss it with your doctor.
As you age, it becomes more important to be more careful. You can and should train, but you should also be aware of those increased risks and work with your doctor to prevent them.
Is Power Training Safe For The Elderly?: Closing Remarks
The elderly aren’t made of Papier Mache – they’re competent and experienced humans who have simply lived so much that their bodies are on the decline.
Preparing the body to protect it from aging, improve quality of life and even achieve new personal goals is worth your time.
Whether you’re young or old, power training is going to be a great addition to your life to help combat the ravages of time and give you the best chance at the best life you can possibly have.
Power training isn’t dangerous if it’s done right – with the correct medical approval and a patient approach. Activity and proper nutrition/supplementation are going to be the best medication to combat aging. Even with the small risk of injury, it’s important to remember that the alternative is letting aging win and suffering with immobility and a loss of physical independence.
Empower the elderly and provide yourself with the tools to live the best life you can for as long as possible – train for power at any age.
Don’t be afraid to take a look at a good workout guide like Boss Workouts – Boss Prime
Read our full Boss Prime review
Professional sport/fitness writer at ApexContent.org, weightlifter and S&C enthusiast. Liam has over 5 years experience in coaching positions, learning under the best mentors and sport coaches in Britain. At the same time developed a love for relentlessly researching and writing scientifically backed content in health, fitness and sport performance.
Liam wears many hats, but they’re unified by a love for competition, performance, and engaging writing. You can throw abuse (and questions) his way in the comments and he’ll be happy to help you!