In today’s missive, I shall cover two vitally important — and underappreciated — considerations for aging well:
- Training for Power
- Single Leg Stability
Training for Power
As we age, it’s no secret we tend to lose some strength. The good news is that we can actually maintain more than most people think, provided we’re doing strength training. If you use it, you’ll be less prone to lose it. This is why including relatively heavy lifting in your training regime is so valuable. It’s also why I suggest strength training as the foundation of your personal fitness regime.
While it’s valuable to maintain strength, it’s also important to know that power –– the ability to express strength with an element of speed –– declines even more precipitously as we age than max strength. And power is a key variable for maintaining our physical function as we age. Our ability to be reactive to our environment or slips or falls is a big deal. It also allows us to more easily defend ourselves in the event of a vampire or pirate attack.
Although power and strength are related, optimal power training requires a stimulus that’s not provided with heavy deadlifts alone. Although getting into the weeds is beyond the scope of this email, the key takeaway is that a well-rounded training program should include some exercises that challenge you to move with some speed.
Depending on your strength levels and training age, examples of possible power exercises include kettlebell swings, box jumps, skater jumps, and medicine ball work. At MFF, we program our power exercises near the beginning of our workout. We use these drills to transition out of the warm-up before we get into heavier lifts. This lets us train power while still fresh. It also warms up our nervous system for more productive lifting when we transition to heavier loads.
A final note: by its very definition, power training requires using much lighter loads than you’d use if you’re challenging your maximum strength. Keep your focus here on the speed of movement. If you’re doing any loaded power exercises, don’t let your ego get preoccupied with the weights. Speed is the key!
Single Leg Stability
As we age, it’s also normal for us to lose some stability in our ankles and our hips. Consequently, our single leg balance tends to erode. In fact, you’ll notice many older individuals reach a point where they no longer pick up their feet as they walk, instead substituting a shuffle that allows them to maintain contact with the ground with both feet. This is a contributing risk factor to slips and falls, which in turn can lead to injuries that become more and more precarious as we age.
Once again, we’ll get some carry over from a regular strength training regime, even if we don’t specifically utilize single leg training. Having said that, most training programs over-emphasize “bilateral” lower body training with symmetrical stances (think deadlifts and squats).
While these exercises serve their place, a more contemporary approach will focus on asymmetrical lower body exercises like lunges and rear foot elevated split squats. We love these exercises at MFF. They allow us to create an awesome training effect that challenges your legs, your core, and your stability, all while requiring less load. Although this kind of training can be humbling, it plays a powerful role in well-designed program.
Furthermore, it’s also important to give the body exposure to functioning on a single leg at a time. While asymmetrical exercises are a great challenge, you’re still going to have a broader based of support. So doing true single work with the appropriate level of challenge is another great addition.
As always, the exact exercise will look different based on the individual. For someone brand new to single leg work, it could be as simple as short sets of balancing on one leg for time with one hand near the wall to use for support if necessary. For more advanced trainees, maintaining single leg stability under load and during more complex movement can provide the appropriate challenge; examples here include loaded single leg deadlifts, box step-ups to balance, or everyone’s favorite circus trick for fitness people, the pistol squat.
While the above guidelines are important to consider, as always, execution is where the magic happens. To get the best results, most people benefit from an outside eye who can coach them to the best variation of the above exercises, and guide them to the appropriate weekly volume and frequency. This is why working with experts who can give you a good program (AHEM! ;-)) is such a great choice. You can outsource it to the pros and simply follow the protocol as they help you adjust.
I realize this kind of training isn’t always sexy. Additionally, to do these exercises well requires full engagement and the ability to discern the right level of challenge, which often means feeling shaky/ awkward. Ultimately, when we’re talking about training for power and single leg stability, what we’re really talking about is improving our quality of life as we age.
Yes, it’s true we all see some decline as we age. However, the more proactive we are with thoughtful training programs and execution, the better we’re setting ourselves up to age with independence and grace.
We’re going to be dancin’ into our 100’s,
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