Study: Is Power Training the Key to a Long Life?
Your clients know that exercise is good for them, but a little extra evidence never hurts, especially if you’re collaborating with them on their resistance-training goals. A new study reinforces the idea that staying fit and strong are essential to living a long life, but also provides clarity on the type of training that provides the greatest benefit to longevity.
The researchers, who presented their findings earlier this year at EuroPrevent 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology, concluded that, when it comes to living longer, power training is more important than muscle strength.
“Rising from a chair in old age or kicking a ball depend more on muscle power than muscle strength, yet most weight-bearing exercise focuses on the latter,” explains study author Professor Claudio Gil Araújo, director of research and education, Exercise Medicine Clinic – CLINIMEX, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “Our study shows for the first time that people with more muscle power tend to live longer.”
Power depends on the ability to generate force and velocity, and to coordinate movement. In other words, it is the measure of the work performed per unit time (force multiplied by distance). More power is produced when the same amount of work is completed in a shorter period or when more work is performed during the same period. Whereas climbing stairs requires power—the faster you climb, the more power you need, holding or pushing a heavy object requires strength (American College of Sports Medicine, 2009).
“Power training is carried out by finding the best combination of speed and force for the weight being lifted or moved,” says Araújo. “For strength training at the gym, most people just think about the amount of weight being lifted and the number of repetitions without paying attention to the speed of execution. But for optimal power-training results, you should go beyond typical strength training and add speed to your weight lifts.”
It’s important to recognize that muscle power gradually decreases after 40 years of age (Metter, 1997). But that doesn’t mean it should.
“We now show that power is strongly related to all-cause mortality. But 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,” explains Araújo.
The study, which was conducted between 2001 and 2016, enrolled 3,878 non-athletes, ages 41–85 years, who underwent a maximal muscle power test using the upright row exercise. The average age of participants was 59 years, 5% were older than 80 years and 68% were men. The highest value achieved after two or three attempts with increasing loads was considered the maximal muscle power and was expressed relative to body weight (i.e., power per kg of body weight). Values were divided into quartiles for survival analysis and analyzed separately by sex.
During a 6.5-year follow-up, 247 men (10%) and 75 women (6%) died. Median power values were 2.5 watts/kg for men and 1.4 watts/kg for women. Participants with a maximal muscle power above the median for their sex (i.e., in quartiles three and four) had the best survival. Those in quartiles two and one had, respectively, a 4–5 and 10–13 times higher risk of dying as compared to those above the median in maximal muscle power.
According to Araújo, this is the first time the prognostic value of muscle power has been assessed. Previous research has focused on muscle strength, primarily using the handgrip exercise. The upright row exercise was chosen for the study because it is a common action in daily life for picking up groceries, grandchildren and so on. The researchers are currently examining the link between muscle power and specific causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. “Doctors should consider measuring muscle power in their patients and advise more power training,” urges Araújo.
What Does the Research Mean to Health and Exercise Professionals?
The advice Araújo offers physicians is also applicable to health and exercise professionals. Knowing that improving muscle power offers the important benefit of increasing longevity, among other benefits, means this type of training is essential for all your clients. The box below offers some basic tenets for incorporating power training into your clients’ programs.
How to Train Clients to Increase Muscle Power
- Choose multiple exercises for the upper and lower body.
- Choose a weight with a load to achieve the maximal power (not so easy to lift and not so heavy that the client can barely lift it).
- Perform one to three sets of six to eight repetitions while moving the weight as fast as possible while contracting the targeted muscles (slow or natural speed in returning to initial position)
- Rest for 20 seconds between each set to sufficiently replenish the energy stores in the muscles before starting the next set.
How to Progress
- Start with six repetitions in each set and when the exercise becomes easy, try to increase to eight repetitions.
- If it becomes easy again, increase the weight and go back to six repetitions.
- If the client is unable to complete the repetitions with the proper technique, avoid “cheating” and go back to fewer repetitions or less weight. This is important for preventing injuries.
In addition to promoting important functional and longevity benefits, incorporating power training into clients’ programs may also increase enjoyment, explains Sabrena Jo, M.S., ACE’s Director of Science and Research Content and ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer and Health Coach. “Many of my clients look forward to the power exercises in our sessions because they introduce speed and variety, which can be a fun alternative to traditional training regimens. In addition, they say they feel empowered when they are able to quickly move without fear of injury as result of the movements we perform in our power-training routine.”
Of course, a word of caution is warranted. “As with any exercise,” continues Jo, “it’s important to introduce power-training movements sparingly and progress slowly to ensure client’s nervous systems and soft-tissues can tolerate the novel training stimulus.”
Metter, E.J. et al. (1997). Age-associated loss of power and strength in the upper extremities in women and men. Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 52, B267–276.
American College of Sports Medicine (2009). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Sports Exercise, 41, 687–708.