This is the first in a series of posts on a few thoughts surrounding training practices with older individuals. A lot of these ideas are practices I incorporate with my own clients and I am always trying to improve upon these as I continue to grow as a coach. Please feel free to leave your thoughts below....
As fitness professionals and individuals who respect the concept of developing solid and functional movement patterns, when we are working with older individuals, usually our primary concern is keeping their stamina up, their joints and bones strong and healthy, and focusing on helping them remain as active as possible. For a lot of us that might involve a good amount of stretching, cardio, and a few strength circuits thrown in, but how many of us think about power development as an aspect of training an older client?
Before people start ripping my head off about the risks/dangers of plyometrics or Olympic lifting with an individual who might be sedentary for 80% of the time, let me say that there are other ways to develop power and it is important to clarify what I mean by "power". If strength is the measured by how much mass an individual can move, power is measured by how much mass an individual can move quickly. Is doing a snatch or vertical jump a measure of power? Absolutely! Is tracking the time it takes an individual to bound up a flight of stairs a measure of power? I would argue yes. When training older clients, we first need to reassess our definition of power and power development and put it in a framework that applies to their lives.
After the age of 60, one of the highest causes of mortality becomes complications of, or the act of, a fall. Falls can happen for a variety of reasons, some are preventable, some aren't, but for the sake of brevity, lets discuss slipping down stairs or tripping and the ability to catch yourself. When you slip or trip, beyond your hands going out to break your fall, you will try to bring your feet back under your center of mass to break your fall, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but usually a person can catch themselves mid-fall with some fancy footwork. The ability to move quick enough to catch yourself is a component of power but they ability to control your own falling weight is even more impressive, it not only requires speed but also a great deal of strength. It is in instances like these where power development can come into play.
A few suggestions for exercises I tend to use:
Medball slams - total body power and movement sequencing
Walking/stationary lunges - Getting them comfortable in a split supported position
Explosive step ups or squats - standing with the intent to move quickly
Eccentric Step Downs - Develop hamstring strength and control during decent
Short Depth Jumps - they are still human beings, being able to land from a jump is a critical skill.
As always, you are the one who knows your client best and what they can handle. The above are all exercises I will use but maybe not for every single person. Not every client is the same so where they are in their training and how they are progressing is going to be different, but I believe that every individual should have the ability to produce power when needed and, as is the case for most of the people we see, it is on our shoulders to help them develop that power. If you are working with an older client and not already incorporating power development in their workouts, hopefully this gives you some food for thought.