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Varied training including strength and speed gives the most progress

Training that is specially adapted to develop strength or speed, gives less progress than traditional and balanced training.

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Photo of an ultrasound.
Master's student Joachim S. Fjeller uses ultrasound to measure muscle thickness and muscle quality in the thigh muscles of one of the research participants.

This emerges from a study conducted at the University of Agder (UiA). Associate Professor Hilde Lohne-Seiler has coordinated the research project the Power Speed ​​Project MAN 60+, which has investigated whether individually adapted power training programmes for men over 60 is a good idea.

FACTS

This is the project group for the Power Speed Project MAN 60+ 

Project coordinator Associate Professor Hilde Lohne-Seiler. Five master's degree students: Joachim S. Fjeller, Sindre Fosstveit, Tommy Kolnes, Erlend E. Sibayan, Sondre Løvold. Professor and project manager Sveinung Berntsen, Associate Professor Thomas Bjørnsen, Assistant Professor Kolbjørn Lindberg, Professor Bjørge Herman Hansen, Professor Kristin Haraldstad and Professor Monica K. Torstveit.

Two of the master's students have already had parts of their master's work approved for presentation at an international research conference that has been postponed due to the coronavirus. There are also five master's degree studies on the research project. Hilde Lohne-Seiler and her colleagues also plan to write articles about the project. 

Power training is a combination of strength and speed training. Put together, it develops explosive strength. Typical examples of power training exercises are jumping, stepping on boxes of varying heights and with different loads, and throwing a medicine ball. Other exercises are lifting weights from 20 and up to 70-80 percent of maximum weight and with relatively fast movement.

Special training vs regular training

The research group recruited 49 men aged 60 to 84 for two training sessions a week over ten weeks, all sessions were led by master’s students.

None of the men had performed systematic strength training in the six months leading up to the project. The question was whether they would gain increased physical function if they focused  on what they were worst at, strength or speed.

“Individually adapted power training yields good results for athletes. But in our group of mature men, it turned out that traditional power training with a balanced emphasis on speed and strength training produced the best results”, says the researcher.

Associate Professor Hilde Lohne-Seiler and Assistant Professor Kolbjørn A. Lindberg.

Associate Professor Hilde Lohne-Seiler and Assistant Professor Kolbjørn A. Lindberg.

Loss of power and balance

Lohne-Seiler and her colleagues have previously conducted studies that show how strength training is important for maintaining muscle strength and flexibility that is naturally lost over the years.

Active people lose 0.5 percent strength a year from the age of 25-30; inactive people lose 1 percent. A similar reduction is seen with regards to endurance. The combination of strength and speed, or power as the researchers call it, is reduced by 3-4 percent a year from the age of 25-30.

“Loss of muscle mass and muscle coordination impairs the ability to function in daily life. Gradually you get reduced strength, reduced balance and reduced power and speed. You become weaker and slower”, says Lohne-Seiler.

Muscles are more important than endurance

According to Lohne-Seiler’s research, muscle strength is more important than endurance in order to maintain good balance and be able to lift and carry heavy items, get up the stairs and up off the armchair. In other words, there is a greater connection between muscle strength, power and function than there is between endurance and function.

Master’s student Sindre Fosstveit checks the settings on Borgar Haugland’s measuring device.

Master’s student Sindre Fosstveit checks the settings on Borgar Haugland’s measuring device. 

“Elderly people need to maintain strength and explosiveness to stay mobile and agile and be able to carry out everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, bending down, lifting things and carrying them around,” she says.

Thorough testing

Before and after the training period, extensive tests and measurements were carried out to see to what extent the training had developed strength and speed in the participants.

Everything from muscle strength, muscle power, muscle activity and muscle architecture to muscle mass, bone health, balance and functional ability were tested and measured before and after the training period.

Electrical activity in the muscles, fat mass and muscle size were measured with advanced EMG, DEXA and ultrasound devices.

Three experimental groups

The men were divided into three groups: the power group, the speed group and the balanced group.

The balanced group performed traditional power training, doing equal amounts of strength training and speed training. The power group focused more on strength because they were weak to begin with, while members of the speed group were slow and only did speed training.

The speed group trained with light weights and high speed. The power group trained with heavier weights, fewer repetitions and less speed, while the balanced group trained with both speed and weights up to 80 percent of their maximum, which is normal for such training.

The hypothesis was refuted

The hypothesis was that the groups with adapted training would make the most progress, but this did not happen.

“The group with balanced power training made the most progress, and the group that focused on strength made somewhat more progress than the speed training group”, says Lohne-Seiler.

The research project concludes that individually adapted power training contributed to a lesser extent to increasing strength and power performance and physical functions. Balanced power training was the most effective form of training for increasing the strength, power performance and physical function in older men.

“The good news for older people who want to stay in shape to meet the physical challenges of daily life, is that they do not necessarily need specially adapted training methods. They can perform regular power training, focusing on both strength and speed. It provides muscle training which helps maintain strength, speed and ability to function. However, it must be emphasised that further research is needed with a greater number of participants and a longer training period to give recommendations about power training and older people”, Lohne-Seiler says.