What happens to older adults muscle mass and strength when we stop training after a period of weight training?

The Introduction

Masters athletes should do weight training. The older we become, the more competitive we are, and the more we are focused on speed and power events, the more important it becomes. Most of us tend to build towards an event we are focused on. This means generally training hard(er) for three-six months leading into an event after building up a base of fitness. If we are smart and do weight training leading up to our goal, what happens after we stop training for a while once we’ve completed our goal?

The Research

weightlifting1710MK006_SydnA recent Greek  study examined the effects of a 12 weeks period of no training on muscle strength and mass in older adults who had previously completed  a 12 week resistance training programme of high [80% of one repetition maximum (1-RM)] or moderate (60% of 1-RM) intensity weight training. Twenty older men and women (60–74 years), separated into a high (10 people; age: 65 ± 5 years) and a moderate (10 people; age: 66 ± 4 years) intensity resistance training group, were measured in the 1-RM knee extension (quadriceps) and knee flexion (hamstrings) strength, and the mid-thigh cross sectional areas of the quadriceps, hamstrings and total thigh before and after a 12 weeks training period as well as after a 12 week detraining period.

The Results

Maximum knee extension and flexion strength and the size of all muscles decreased significantly with detraining but remained higher than pre-training levels for both groups. The high-intensity training group had a greater decrease in maximum strength and size of total thigh compared to the moderate-intensity training group but strength levels and muscle size following the 12 weeks of no training were higher for the high-intensity training group.

The So What?

The results of this study suggest that after a short detraining period of 12 weeks, muscle strength and muscle size decrease in older adults but remain greater than pre-training levels irrespective of training intensity. Greater declines in muscle strength are observed following high-intensity training but muscle strength and muscle mass are retained at a higher level than with moderate-intensity weight training probably due to the higher gains achieved during the training period. Thus, weight training to increase size and strength is crucial for masters athletes and ideally should be retained year-round even at moderate-intensity to prevent drops in both muscle mass and muscle strength.

Tokmakidis, S., Kalapotharakos, V., Smilios, I., Parlavantzas, A. (2009). Effects of detraining on muscle strength and mass after high or moderate intensity of resistance training in older adults. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging. 29(4): 316 – 319.