Power with Age

By Chris Carlsen

In my last post, I described the need to develop strength before power.  Building a base of strength is critical before implementing power exercises.   Once this base is established, we can implement power exercises that will benefit us athletically as well with daily functional tasks.  We often assume that because power is dynamic in nature, it should be regulated to athletes and Olympic lifters.  Yet, power can play a significant role in helping us within our daily lives.  The truth is, older adults can greatly benefit from power exercises.  Take into account statistics presented by Professor Joe Singlore’s at the NSCA Caribbean Clinic in 2003: “Between the ages of 65 and 89, explosive lower-limb extensor power has been reported to decline at 3.5 percent per year compared to a one to two percent per year decrease in strength[i].” Power loss occurs at twice the rate of strength losses and is a major performance quality associated with independence, fall prevention and faster recovery following an injury.  Once we understand the power spectrum, we will know what power exercises we can prescribe safely to our older adult students.

How do we do it?

Power, like strength, is relative. What might be a warm-up for an athlete can be a main power exercise for an older adult. After obtaining a foundation of strength, I will start to incorporate light jumps with my students that focus on hip extension and landing techniques (very basic, click for video). Jumps should look identical to kettle-bell swings, which is the next exercise within the power progression spectrum. The jumps’ main purpose is not to obtain height but to teach the student how to both apply force into the floor and how to use their newfound strength to absorb the landing.  Box jumps, which have recently become a popular power exercise, are not worth the risk and should not be included within the power exercise spectrum. On the other hand, the swing is lower impact than the jump, as it does not require landing, and allows for more forceful hip extension (the expression of more power).

Power is about reaction time. That’s why these exercises have a huge carry-over to fall prevention. Another important factor is play. To play is to explore the outside world and react to it. That’s why I incorporate catching balls (play) with low-level power movements (such as in the below video). It’s fun and allows students to hone in on their hand-eye coordination.

With power exercises (especially using the kettlebell), the center of gravity is always changing. The brain has to constantly recalculate the center of mass, which causes our neurotransmitters to make contact with the environment and receive stimulation from the outside world. In the case of babies, their world is an endless place of discovery and movement. Every cell is alive.  Babies hold the key to being youthful, and in order for our minds to be sharp, we must move and explore.  Power is another training modality through which we can explore and improve our movement, which in turn, will enhance our lives.

[i] Boyle, Michael, Advances in Function Training. On Target Publications, 2010 (pg. 178).