August 31st, 2010
We’ve known for years that weight training helps hold on to muscle mass into older age. Given how important muscle mass is for strength, power and endurance performance in older athletes, weight training should become a must for older athletes and the older the athlete, the more important it should become. A recent research review paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports has highlighted that strength training also helps maintain nervous system function in older non-exercisers and masters athletes.
This review was undertaken by Danish sports scientists who have a particular interest in masters athletes. They highlight in their review that aging is characterized by loss of spinal nerves that stimulate muscles due to a gradual programmed dying of nerve and thus muscle cells. The age-related loss of these nerves is paralleled by a reduction in muscle fibre number and size, resulting in reduced muscle performance that in turn leads to a reduced muscle strength, power, and rate of force development, even in highly trained master athletes.
Crucially for we competitive masters athletes, strength training appears to elicit effective countermeasures in elderly individuals even at a very old age (>80 years) by evoking muscle enlargement along with big changes in nerve function. Notably, the training-induced changes in muscle mass and nervous system function leads to an improved functional capacity during activities of daily living as well as sports performance.
The So What?
This review again lends strong support to my consistent suggestion that weight training that stimulates muscle growth and nervous system changes that enhance muscle size, strength, power and endurance, should become mandatory for any aging athlete. Moreover, the older the athlete becomes, the more important the weight training should become. Chapter 7 in The Masters Athlete should thus become a must read for older competitive athletes. It details the exact way to go about developing a weights training program.
Aagaard, P., Suetta, C., Caserotti, P., Magnusson, S.P. and Kjaer, M. (2010). Role of the nervous system in sarcopenia and muscle atrophy with aging: strength training as a countermeasure. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 20(1): 49 – 64.