Effects of Strength Training and Flexibility training on Each Other


Both strength and flexibility are important for sport performance. In masters athletes both strength and flexibility decrease with age and so become even more important for the competitive masters athlete.

Strength training either by lifting heavy weights or in circuit training has been shown by previous research to improve flexibility. In 2011, a study either doing strength or flexibility training simultaneously or by themselves for 16 weeks and found that strength training also improved both strength and flexibility. However, some research has shown that strength performance when doing weights can be reduced if you do flexibility training beforehand.  The aim of this study was to analyze the strength and flexibility gains after 12 weeks of combined or isolated strength and dynamic flexibility training by experienced older women who had at least 3 years of both strength and flexibility training behind them.

The Research

Twenty-eight trained women (age = 46 ± 6 years; body mass = 57 ± 5 kg; height = 162 ± 5 cm) were randomly divided into 4 groups of 7 people per group: strength training (ST), flexibility training (FLEX), combination of strength and flexibility (ST + FLEX), and combination of flexibility and strength (FLEX + ST). All groups were assessed before and after training for the sit and reach test, goniometry-range of motion about joints, and 10 repetition maximum in bench press and leg press exercises. The training protocol for all groups included training sessions on alternate days and was composed of 8 exercises performed at periodised (gradually increasing) intensities. The FLEX consisted of dynamic stretching performed for a total duration of 60 minutes.

The Results

The results demonstrated significant strength gains in all groups in the leg press exercise. All groups except the FLEX improved in bench press strength with no statistical differences between groups. However, effect sizes ( a measure the size of any changes in measures) demonstrated slightly different effects of training on strength measures for each group. The largest effects on strength measures were calculated for the ST group and the lowest effects in the FLEX group. Both combination groups (ST + FLEX and FLEX + ST) demonstrated lower effect sizes for both leg press and bench press as compared with the ST group. No significant differences in any of the flexibility measures were seen in any group.

So What?

These findings suggest that combining strength and flexibility is not detrimental to flexibility development. However, combined strength and flexibility training may slightly reduce strength development, with little influence of order in which strength or flexibility exercises are performed. For me, both types of training are important for masters athletes. So whatever of the two you want to emphasise is the one you need to emphasise when training the two together in one session.

For more details on strength and flexibility training for masters athletes, check out chapters 7 (Strength training for masters athletes) and 9 (Flexibility training for masters athletes) of my book at: https://www.mastersathlete.com.au

Source: Leite, T. and others (2015) Influence of strength and flexibility training, combined or isolated, on strength and flexibility gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(4): 1083-1088.

Which Muscle Groups Need Work As We Age?


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.


Gym-Based Exercises



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


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


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.

Never Stop Training – Here’s Another Reason!


Between the ages of 40 and 50 years we can lose up to 8% of our muscle mass. Once we hit 75 years of age, this loss of speed- and power-generating muscle accelerates to a loss of greater than 15% per decade. This loss can result in a significant decline in both sport performance and day-to-day functioning. However, most of the research into age-related functional decline has been undertaken in a sedentary older population. While exercise is known to alter the age-related decline in lean muscle mass and subsequent loss of functional performance, here is some research suggesting that staying involved with masters sport may limit or prevent the loss of muscle mass that happens in active older people.

 Where is the evidence?

A study recently published in the Physician and Sportsmedicine looked at whether the regular exercise undertaken by a group of masters athletes (runners, track and field athletes, cyclists and swimmers) was responsible for preventing the age-related loss of muscle. Forty (20 males and 20 females) healthy and uninjured ‘recreational’ masters athletes aged 40 – 81 years who trained 4 – 5 times weekly underwent tests of body composition (% body fat), muscle strength, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the quadriceps (thigh) muscle. The MRI allowed researchers to compare lean muscle mass, adipose tissue and intramuscular fat levels across ten year age groups 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, and > 70 years. The results showed that, in contrast to previous results from sedentary populations, masters athletes who train regularly preserved their lean muscle mass across the four age groups, and had no age-related increase in intramuscular fat stores. Unlike sedentary populations there was no significant loss of muscle strength until the 6th decade and this was then preserved into the 7th decade. However, there was an age-related increase in %body fat with age in both genders. Pleasingly, there was no age-related decrease in quadriceps strength per unit of quadriceps muscle area.

 What do we do now?

This study is not alone in its findings and adds more weight to the argument for lifelong exercise. Preservation of muscle mass and lack of intramuscular fatty infiltration is likely to not only preserve functional capacity but also reduce chronic disease and disability into older age. The health care and social costs of loss of lean muscle mass, weakness, and senior disability are staggering. In 2000, U.S reports suggest more than $18.5 billion in health care costs were directly attributable to sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). This accounts for approximately 1.5% of all health care expenditure and equates to between $800 to $900 per sarcopenic person. With an aging population, these costs will only increase. Harnessing the benefits of weight training intervention and/or regular aerobic exercise to maintain and build muscle mass and strength, thus preventing loss of independent function and disability, is not only logical but is becoming a social imperative. A reduction of 10% in the prevalence of sarcopenia would result in savings of $1.1 billion per year in health care costs. The message is clear. Not only should we Just Do It! We should Keep Doing It! Exercise that is!

For more on the importance of exercise (in particular weight training) for maintaining health and performance in masters athletes, see Chapter 7 (Strength and power training for the masters athlete) of Peter Reaburn’s book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Wroblewski, A et al; (2011). Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes. Physician and Sportsmedicine. 39(3): 172-178.

Thanks to Rob Stanton MHMSc for contributing the above article. Rob is an Exercise Physiologist and Level 2 Strength and Conditioning Coach. He is a co-founder and Director of Vector Health. Rob has over 15 years experience in the assessment and prescription of exercise for athletes, rehabilitation and in the management of chronic disease. He is a former coach of Australian Powerlifting teams, Queensland Academy of Sport regional Strength and Conditioning supervisor and has worked with athletes from grass roots to Olympic level. He’s also a great guy! Rob can be contacted by email at rob@vectorhealth.com.au if you are looking for help with training programs, particularly weight training programs.

Concensus on Short-Term Endurance Training Methods?


In late 2009, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Team Danmark bought together the leading sport scientists in the world that were focused on high-intensity sport events lasting less than eight minutes in duration or team sports where frequent bursts of high intensity were needed. Such events require training that is a balance between high volumes and high intensity but is also technical as well. The objective was to develop consensus statements on preparing athletes for such events or sports. This article summarises the recently published outcomes of the three-day meeting of the minds.

The Consensus Statements

The meeting focused on high intensity sports lasting less than eight minutes (e.g. track running and cycling, 200 and 400m swim events, rowing, kayaking etc). Here is a summary of what they decided:

  1. Athletes should perform high–intensity interval training.
  2. These intervals should consist of repeated bouts of exercise performed close to or well above the intensity requiring maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max).
  3. Athletes should taper before major competitions by emphasising intensity of training at the expense of training volume.
  4. Heavy resistance strength training enhances performance in high-intensity sports.
  5. Heavy resistance strength training without muscle growth enhances endurance capacity in high-intensity sports or events lasting from a few minutes to several hours.
  6. Concurrent strength and endurance training prevents muscle growth but facilitates improved endurance capacity.
  7. Heavy training loads of 4-12 repetitions of 70-95% of maximum load are suggested.
  8. Adequate dietary carbohydrate and energy intake are essential for high-intensity training sessions.
  9. Small amounts of high-quality protein should be consumed soon after high-intensity training or events to enhance recovery and adaptation.
  10. Promote and monitor non-sport recovery strategies to enhance physical and mental recovery.
  11. Focus on long-term athlete development rather than short-term success.
  12. Create a social environment with open communication and a cohesive training group.
  13. Support athletes to balance sport, education, family and personal life.

Reference: Bangsbo, J. and others (2010). Performance in top sports involving intense exercise.  Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 20 (Supplement 2): ii-iv.

Keep up the weight training if you want to perform into older age

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