Getting old sucks
I am now approaching my mid-40’s and I can say without a doubt that I’m feeling it. When you start interacting with patients who are the age of your own kids, you start to realize that time is really speeding up. Things that you thought you could do physically becomes more of a chore than it should be. Warm ups take longer to get your body ramped up for the workout and it takes longer for your tissues to regenerate and recover after a hard workout. It all works against you.
But why is this happening? Why is everything becoming so hard now? Is there a physiological reason for the decline? Yes there is and it has to do with strength, power and hypertrophy.
What is hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy is an increase and growth of muscle cells. I like to think of extreme opposites to make the definition more clear. What is the opposite of hypertrophy? Atrophy. And everyone knows what atrophy looks like. It’s literally the point at which you lose muscle mass due to injury, disuse, or pathology. Hypertrophy is not about the big mass that you see with massive bodybuilders, rather it’s a growth in muscle cells that are already there.
What is strength?
Strength can be simply defined as the capacity or power to resist force. In physics, it’s “the ability to withstand an applied stress or load without structural failure.” If we are talking in terms of physiology, I define it as the body’s ability to load mechanical stress onto the musculoskeletal system without failure of bones, ligaments, and tendons.
What is power?
Power is the rate at which you apply a load over a specific amount of time. In physics, it’s defined as Power = Work/ time. This is basically the ability to apply a force into a short amount of time. The faster you do the work, the more power you will generate.
Why do these elements matter?
When we age, we lose muscle mass due to declining rate of firing from our motor neurons innervating (connecting) the muscle tissues of our body. This can occur due to compounding injuries over time or just general sedentary behavior like sitting at a desk all day for 8-10 hours. All our muscle fibers need the rapid firing signals from the brain to the muscle in order to achieve human locomotion. When we use it, we gain the ability to develop new skills with precision and speed. When we don’t use it, we lose the ability to produce smooth movement and lose muscle mass in the process.
Strength is a very general term, but I apply it as a catch-all phrase for combining the ability to apply force and power using the available muscle fibers in our body to move an object with intent.
Power has to incorporate all the elements of our motor units working together to move our body with speed. The faster you do the work, the more power you can produce (think high cadence cycling or quick turnover with running or high stroke volume with swimming). There is no way to hold back power if you are producing speed. It all works together.
Without the relationship between all three, it’s hard to get things moving smoothly.
If you’ve been following us here at VeloFit, we obviously have a bias towards the endurance athlete, but as I age I have become more aware of the need to include strength training into my own program. We all know what slow twitch fibers are and why it’s important to us from an endurance perspective, but how educated are we on what the fast twitch fibers are and why we need to train them as we age?
I recently heard a podcast from Andy Galpin, PhD, professor of kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton. He had some amazing research on strength and muscle growth in the aging population. In regards to fast twitch fiber loss, the most important element is speed. Speed is intimately involved with Power (as mentioned above). What is the thing I see most in the clinic with endurance athletes with regards to aging and producing force? It’s the lack or loss of speed. You tell an aging adult to do a box jump or sprint and they’ll likely bang their knees or pull a hammy. When you tell a teenager to do that, it looks completely different (maybe goofy, but still can do it with speed). The most important thing to do with an athlete who is over 40 is to work on power/speed in order to improve athleticism and power. This has to be done properly with the right steps in place as far as introducing proper movement patterns, but the results are real when you work on it.
I’ll leave you with this fascinating statistic that I recently came across:
After the age of 40 there is a:
1% decline of muscle size per year
2% loss of strength per year
8-10% loss of power per year
So I think that says it all.
As we age, we want to be able to do what we want to do and achieve our goals. You might be reading this and feeling hopeless because you lost time and need to play catch up, but there is good news. The wonderful thing about strength training is that you don’t have to start at a young age. You can get results within a relatively short amount of time. If you missed the strength training bus in your 20’s, you still have time to make some gains. The good news is that you can reverse the effects of loss of muscle strength and hypertrophy simply by preserving activity. You don’t lose function in muscle because of aging, you lose it because there is a loss of resistance training.
If you need help with getting the motivation or accountability reach out to our performance coaches to get the ball rolling in the right direction!