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FOTO Rehab Outcomes Blog

Can Older Adults Tolerate Heavy Strength Training?


We know that normal aging results in decline. (There are way too many declines to mention, right?) Yet, we also know that rehabilitation professionals work with older adults and do create change.

I recall from a session at the American Physical Therapy Association Combined Sections Meeting that quite a few older adults may be pre-frail or frail. Apparently it takes about a year for a person in the pre-frail category to no longer be categorized that way. Granted, no details about the intensity of the strengthening was mentioned. 

The take home after reading the abstract to me is that we can load older adults up with resistance. If we want to see functional tests improve, we may need to include components of the functional test within their sessions. That does make sense due to specific adaptation to imposed demands.

Below you will find a quick view of the abstract. 


Improved skeletal muscle mass and strength after heavy strength training in very old individuals.



Age-related loss of muscle mass and function represents personal and socioeconomic challenges. The purpose of this study was to determine the adaptation of skeletal musculature in very old individuals (83+ years) performing 12weeks of heavy resistance training (3×/week) (HRT) compared to a non-training control group (CON). Both groups received similar protein supplementations. We studied 26 participants (86.9±3.2 (SD) (83-94, range) years old) per-protocol. Quadriceps cross-sectional area (CSA) differed between groups at post-test (P<0.05) and increased 1.5±0.7cm2 (3.4%) (P<0.05) in HRT only. The relative increase in CSA correlated inversely with the baseline level of CSA (R2=0.43, P<0.02). Thigh muscle isometric strength, isokinetic peak torque and power increased significantly only in HRT by 10-15%, whereas knee extension one-repetition maximum (1 RM) improved by 91%. Physical functional tests, muscle fiber type distribution and size did not differ significantly between groups. We conclude that in protein supplemented very old individuals, heavy resistance training can increase muscle mass and strength, and that the relative improvement in mass is more pronounced when initial muscle mass is low.

2017 Mar 28. pii: S0531-5565(16)30494-6. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2017.03.014. [Epub ahead of print]