Which Muscle Groups Need Work As We Age?

Introduction

We know by our own experience and looking at veteran track and field records at state, national and world level that masters athletes get slower with age. We also know muscle mass and strength and power of the lower limb muscles decreases, thus compromising both our strength and power that can be applied by the muscles to move us forward during sprinting.

During walking, we know that the plantar flexor (push-off muscles) reduce in power as we age and we rely more on the hip and knee extension muscles to walk at any speed.

As we move from walking to running, we need over twice the ground reaction force to be generated by the lower limb muscles. Research has shown that in veteran sprint runners, at any given speed, the vets have a lower ground reaction force and take shorter steps at a higher stride frequency than younger sprinters. Research has also shown that vets demonstrate greater knee flexion (bending) at initial ground contact, but lower knee bending during the first half of the stance phase. Vets also have increased ground contact time compared to younger sprinters.

Only a few studies have compared lower limb joint kinetics in young versus veteran runners. Both showed that the vets have lower power generation in the ankles but have similar power generation in the knees and hips. However, these two studies looked at running speeds of 2.7 m/sec (9.7 km/hr), not sprint running speeds.

Recently, some Finnish sport scientists, one a good buddy of mine, examined power outputs at the ankles, knees and hips during walking, running and sprinting in competitive male athletes (sprinters and long jumpers).

The Research

They compared three age-groups: young (26±6 years), middle-aged (61±5 years) and old (78±4 years) with 13 runners in each age group. Each athlete did three walking trials at a self-selected speed, three running trials at 4 m/sec (14.4 km/hr) and then two 60 m sprint efforts at their maximum speed. The researchers used an 8-camera video-recording system with markers attached to joints plus five force platforms to record joint angles and ground reaction forces.

The Results

The researchers found age-related decreases in ankle plantar flexor power generation became greater as speed changes from walking to running to sprinting. As a result, the older sprinters generated relatively more power at the knee and hip extensors than their younger counterparts when walking and running at the same speed. During maximal sprinting, young adults with faster top speeds demonstrate greater power outputs from the ankle and hip joints, but interestingly, not from the knee joint when compared with the middle-aged and old adults.

 So What?

Taken together, these findings show that decreases in ankle power contributes most to the age-related decline in running and sprinting speed. In addition, reduced muscular output from the hip rather than from knee limits the sprinting performance in older age.

This means that veteran power athletes need to put a greater emphasis on ankle and hip power development. This strongly suggests a combination of plyometric and power-focused resistance training in the gym is critical for the veteran track and field athlete and maybe sprinters in other sports. Specific exercises to develop ankle, knee and hip strength and power are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Gym-based and plyometric exercises to develop ankle, knee and hip strength and power.

Joint

Gym-Based Exercises

Plyometrics

Ankle

Calf raises, Inverted leg press with plantar flexion, Squats with   plantar flexion.

Quick feet drills using ladders, two legged jumps > hops, two-legged   box-jumps > single legged box-jumps

Knee

Squats, Push press (front), Split squat, Inverted leg press, Lunges,   Power cleans

Cone hops, double-legged jumps, standing triple jumps, bounding, step   jumps, hurdle jumps, squat jumps

Hip

Squats, Push press (front), Split squat, Inverted leg press, Lunges,   Power cleans, Hip flexors

Cone hops, double-legged jumps, standing triple jumps, bounding, step   jumps, hurdle jumps, squat jumps, hill sprints, sled drives

 

I strongly recommend the advice and input of both a sports physiotherapist (to examine veteran athlete muscle weaknesses and imbalances) and a strength and conditioning expert to develop a specific gym-based and plyometric training program for each individual athlete.

Critically, ensure you make them aware that the older the veteran athlete, the greater the emphasis needs to be on ankle and hip strength and power development.

For more information on developing speed, strength and power, check out chapters 7 (Strength and power training for the masters athlete) and 8 (Speed and power training for the masters athlete). Two of 18 highly applied and evidence-based chapters from my book The Masters Athlete. The book and individual chapters are available as pdf’s too.

Source: Kulmala, J-P. and others (2014). Which muscles compromise human locomotor performance with age? Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 11: 20140858.

Stay Warm After Warm-Up for Hot Performances

Introduction

It is well known in sports science that warm-ups that increase muscle temperature also improve power output in high power events lasting less than 5 minutes of so. Indeed, there is about a 4% increase in vertical jump power for every degree centigrade increase in muscle temperature. In cycling, peak power output improves up to 10% for every degree centigrade increase in a muscle’s temperature.

Warm-ups of high enough intensity can increase muscle temperature by 3-4 degrees C.  However, we usually warm-up then sit and wait for an event to start so that benefit of warmed up muscles drops as our muscle temp drops. However, what if we keep the muscles warm and prevent that drop by wearing (hot!) pants with heating elements in them to keep the muscle temp elevated to the level we had after the warm-up?

Here is a British study (yep, those brits love their cycling research!) aimed to determine the effect of passive insulation versus external heating during recovery after a sprint-specific warm-up on thigh muscle temperature and subsequent maximal sprint cycling performance.

The Research

On three separate occasions separated by three days, 11 male cyclists (24.7 ± 4.2 years old, 1.82 ± 0.72 m tall, 77.9 ± 9.8 kg) completed a standardized 15-min warm-up (5 min cycling at 100 watts then 5 x 10 second sprints separated by 1 min 50 sec of pedaling at 75 watts) on a cycle ergometer. The warm-up was followed by a 30-min passive recovery period before completing a 30-second all-out sprint test on a bike. Muscle temperature was measured in the thigh muscle (vastus lateralis) at 1, 2, and 3 cm depth before and after the warm-up and immediately before the sprint test. Absolute and relative (/kg) peak power output (watts) was determined and blood lactate concentration was measured immediately after exercise. During the 30 minute recovery period, participants wore a tracksuit top and either (i) standard tracksuit pants (CONT), (ii) insulated athletic pants (INS), or (iii) insulated athletic pants with integrated electric heating elements (HEAT). The heating element covered the back and front of the thigh but not the middle of the legs and was like a small electric blanket that was heated to 40-42 degrees C.

The Results

Warm-up increased muscle tempaterature by approximately 2.5 °C at all muscle depths, with no differences between the three conditions. During recovery, muscle temperature remained much more elevated in HEAT compared with INS and CONT at all depths. Power output (watts/kg) in the 30-second sprint was elevated by 9.1% in HEAT (20.9 ± 1.6 w/kg) compared with CONT (19.2 ± 1.7 w/kg). The increase in blood lactate concentration was also significantly greater after sprint in HEAT (6.3 ± 1.8 mmol/L) but not INS (4.0 ± 1.8 mmol/L) versus CONT (4.1 ± 1.9 mmol/L).

The research team concluded that passive heating of the thighs between warm-up completion and sprint cycling using pants incorporating electrically heated pads can lower the decline in muscle temperature and improve sprint cycling performance.

The So What?

The results of this study highlight how important it is to keep the specific muscles involved with sport as warm as possible after warm-up until the event we are doing starts. We can do this by staying active right up to the start of the event, wearing warm gear up to the event, or using heaters or heat pads (blankets) to keep the muscles warm. This study supports other previous studies that show this works in high power events lasting up to about 5 minutes in duration.

In longer endurance events where high power outputs aren’t as critical, the same principles also apply but aren’t as important if we can build into the event once it starts. However, where positioning is critical in endurance events (eg open water swim events, triathlon, cycling) when powerful starts are important, there are some lessons to be learnt from this research. Stay as warm as pssible up to the start of your event.

For more on warming up smart as an older athlete, see Chapter 4 (Principles of Training the Masters Athlete). Now avialable as a stand-alone pdf chapter along with 18 other chapters in the only book I’ve ever seen that brings the science of sport to athletes over 35 years of age.

Source: Faulkner, S. and others (2013) Reducing muscle temperature drop after warm-up improves sprint cycling performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(2): 359-365.

Pump Up the Music to Fire Up Performances

Introduction

I love listening to music to relax. Cold Play, U2 and Sleepy Jackson are my favourites. But I’ve never thought to use  music to pump up my sporting performances. Here is some research suggesting that listening to music can help sprint performance, especially in the morning when you might be half asleep!

The Research

The purpose of this research was to assess the effects of listening to music while warming-up on the dailyvariations of power output during the Wingate all-out 30-second sprint cycling test. 12 physical education students underwent four sprint cycling tests at 7am and 5pm, after 10 min of warm-up with and without listening to music. The warm-up consisted of 10 min of pedalling at a constant pace of 60 rpm against a light load. During the sprint cycling test, peak and mean power in watts were measured.

The Results

The main finding of the study was that both peak and mean power improved from morning to afternoon after no music warm-up. However, these daily variations disappeared for mean power and persisted with a greater morning-evening difference for peak power after music was used in the warm-up. Moreover, peak and mean power outputs were significantly higher after music was used in the warm-up compared to a no music warm-up during both morning and afternoon testing.

So What?

Thus, this research strongly suggests that music should be used during warm-up before performing activities requiring powerful muscle contractions, especially before morning competitive events. Previous research as shown that afternoon performances are generally better than morning because our body temperature is higher by about a degree Celsius in the evening when most world records are set. Warmer muscles mean better energy production. So to pump yourself for those high-intensity morning sessions, think about getting the earphones on!

For more scientifically-based advice on (legal) performance-enhancing ways to improve performance (including specific details on how much and when and how to take supplements such as caffeine, creatine, sodium bicarbonate), see Chapter 18 (Performance-enhancing supplements and the masters athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Chtourou, H. and others (2012). Listening to music affects diurnal variation in muscle power output. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 33(1): 43-47.

Alcohol after training or competing just doesn’t cut it for serious athletes!

The Introduction

alcohol drinksHow often do we see footballers scoffing down beers after games? In fact, how often have we done the same thing after a hard race or training session? Recent New Zealand research has shown what effect drinking alcohol after exercise can have on muscle strength and power and the news isn’t good! Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol after damaging exercise magnifies the loss of force associated with strenuous exercise.

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Does vibration training work in athletes?

The Introduction

vibroFor those of us that follow the latest trends in the health and fitness industry, there has been a lot of hype around lately about vibration platforms. Many studies have shown increases in strength and power in untrained and/or older people but very few studies have examined the effects of vibration training in athletes. Vibration causes an increase in the g-forces acting on the muscles, increasing the loading of muscles when exercises are done while on a vibrating platform. Increased loading should aid muscle hypertrophy (enlargement), and some authors have suggested that vibration may enhance neuromuscular potentiation (nervous system input to strength and power).

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