Do older people need less recovery between sets when doing weight training?

The Introduction

weightsFor many years it has been known that aging muscle develops better endurance and loses its speed and power. This appears due to a loss of the power-producing fast twitch muscle fibre size and number and a concurrent increase in the number of slow twitch fibres. This might suggest that older people might need less recovery time between training sets in the gym or even in the pool or training paddock. Recent Brazilian research supports this suggestion.

The Research

The purpose of the study was to compare the effect of two different rest intervals between sets of isokinetic knee extension (knee straightening) exercise on strength and total work done during a series of exercises between 17 untrained young men (24.2 ± 2.6 years) and 20 older men (66.9±4.0 years). Each person did 3 sets of 10 single-legged knee extension repetitions at with a rest interval between sets of either 1 or 2 minutes.

The Results

There was a significant decline in knee extension strength between sets when 1 and 2 min rest intervals were used for young men, but not when a 2 min rest interval was applied for old men. There was also a significant decline in the total work done  among the 3 sets when 1 and 2 min rest intervals were applied for young men, whereas the decline in total work done in a set in older men occurred only between the 2nd and 3rd sets. The research team concluded that non-resistance trained young men may require longer rest interval to recover full strength when compared to older men.

The So What?

While the research team concluded that untrained young men may require longer rest interval to recover full strength when compared to older men, the corollary may also hold. That is, that older people training in the gym may need less time to recover between sets than younger athletes to develop strength and power. This means workouts can be shorter, an advantage for older athletes with family and careers. The bottom line, as in anything, is to try it and see how you go. This research used people well into their 60’s and research has shown that this is when the changes in fibre type (at least in older non-athletes) that may explain the need for less recovery between sets are occurring. Younger aging athletes may need to adjust their recovery times. The bottom line is that, in general, we need to be fully recovered between sets to develop maximal strength. Thus, listen to your body after trying the reduced recovery times between sets.

 Bottaro, M, Ernesto, C., Celes, R. and others (2010). Effects of age and rest interval on strength recovery. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 31(1): 22 – 25.

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