Get Strong, Maintain Strength with Age and Live Long!
Written by TriPT
“I want to run faster.“ I want to throw harder.” “I want to kick further.” These are common phrases heard often from athletes of all levels and various sports, and it all boils down to the desire for greater performance.
Another common group of phrases heard by Physical Therapists is “this activity just doesn’t seem to be as easy as it was.” “Standing up requires me to use my arms...it never used to be like this when I was younger.”
Being human means having the ability to move and interact with our environment. We as humans not only need movement for everyday tasks of survival performed at home and work, it is also needed in order to thrive and make sure our body stays healthy and pain free to enjoy every aspect of our lives.
Regardless of whether movement for you entails throwing an object, tackling another person, preparing for a family 5k, or simply rising from bed in the morning, the basis of human movement and performance is STRENGTH! We NEED and display strength daily when we move throughout our environment.
Understanding the difference between strength vs power vs endurance, along with how to maintain strength as you age is essential. From youth to adulthood, it helps to understand strength vs. power and what you can do to prevent losing strength with age. Some strength loss is inevitable, but read on for some Physical Therapist-approved recommendations that can help.
Strength vs. Power in Youth Athletes
Athletics require forceful movements to be produced quickly and in repetition. In examining the difference between strength and power, power is simply a quick display of strength. In fact, it is the ability to produce maximum force in the shortest amount of time possible. So, in order to display more power there are two avenues to improve performance:
- By increasing the amount of force that can be produced.
- By decreasing the time that it takes to produce the force.
Most athletes, despite what their ego says, are lacking in baseline strength. They fail to understand the difference between power training vs strength training and have never spent time developing true strength, which is THE BASIS OF MOVEMENT AND PERFORMANCE. Further, a lack of strength for athletes can mean an ACL injury or other type of injury in sports secondary to lack of proper stabilization of joints, increased susceptibility to overuse injury, and muscle imbalances that affect the way the body moves throughout space.
Conversely, improving strength and fully understanding strength vs power training has been shown time and time again to improve power output and sports performance, decrease injury risk, and improve mobility for athletes of all ages and sports. (Jappa Bo, et al., 2018)
How to Maintain Strength in Older Adults
When talking about muscle strength loss with age in older adults, the “age excuse” gets thrown around jokingly with some serious undertone. To their defense, sarcopenia has been studied extensively in geriatric populations and found to be a cause for decreased mobility. This is the loss of muscle mass and fibers as we age. Not only do we lose muscle, but we selectively lose the muscle fibers that are responsible for strong, powerful movements such as standing from sitting, lifting heavy objects, and climbing stairs.
This loss of strength, especially in the lower extremities, means we begin to use the muscles of the spine to create movement, which aren’t very well equipped to create the power needed for movement. This loss of strength, especially after age 45, is attributed to chronic increased stress and injury at the spine.
BUT it isn’t all doom and gloom because here is the kicker. The muscle strength loss seen with aging isn’t really related to aging, but more to disuse. We don’t get weaker as we age,; we get weaker because we stop moving and using our strength.
Losing strength with age is REVERSIBLE! You can get stronger and learn how to maintain your strength no matter if you’re 9 years old or 99 years old. Regular exercise to improve strength and function is for everyone!
How Physical Therapy Prevents Muscle Strength Loss With Age
We, as Physical Therapists, start every evaluation with pain. Identifying painful structures, and more importantly, movements that increase pain, can help form a hypothesis for which muscles and joints are “weak links” in your movement. Manual muscle testing can isolate certain muscles to test individual strength, which can give more clues into what is causing pain and creating so much difficulty with completing daily tasks or sporting events.
After identifying painful and weak muscles and movements, an individualized plan for how to maintain your strength is designed including progressive strength training that not only maintains, but also improves overall strength. Through improved strength and movement you can go back to competing in the sport you love or against gravity in everyday tasks and dominate your competition!
To find and schedule an appointment with a physical therapist that can create a treatment plan and help prevent strength loss with age, use the BetterPT website or app. Our platform connects patients with a clinic near them that can provide quality care and prescribe the treatment that’s needed. With practices like TriPT as part of our network, you can rest assured you’re getting the best possible care as you learn how to maintain your strength regardless of your age and get back to the activities you love.
Fragala, M. S. (2015). The physiology of aging and exercise. In Exercise for Aging Adults (pp. 1-11).
Lauersen, Jeppe Bo, Thor Einar Andersen, and Lars Bo Andersen. "Strength training as superior, dose-
dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative
analysis and meta-analysis." Br J Sports Med 52.24 (2018): 1557-1563.