Functional Strength is the “Golden Rule?”
It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to lose weight, bench-press 300lbs, or run a sub-seven-minute mile, your main fitness goal should always be to improve your current and future quality of life. If you don’t have your health, you really don’t have anything!
This is the Golden Rule – no matter what training method you employ, you need to increase your functional strength to improve your quality of life!
Functional Strength Is Key
While this is a very important rule for people of all ages, this rule should have a special meaning for older adults. As we grow older our functional strength becomes very important!
What is Functional Strength?
Simply put, functional strength is the strength you need to carry out everyday tasks. As the AFAA puts it, “…refers to the idea that muscles should be trained and developed in such a way as to make the performance of everyday activities easier, smoother, safer, and more efficient” (Yoke 2010).
In practical terms, this is the strength you need to walk upstairs, rake leaves, or carry around your grandchild. As you grow older, improving your functional strength should be a priority.
When it comes to strength in the later stages of life, you may think that you’re either inherently strong or you just lack the strength and that’s how it’s going to be. Science says otherwise.
The importance of functional strength training is its ability to reverse some of the effects of sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass and strength due to degeneration from aging and inactivity (Hurley & Roth 2000; Seguin & Nelson 2003).
Anyone that believes they can’t regain their strength lost to sarcopenia (or any other reason) needs to understand that it is possible.
For instance, a study by the University of London demonstrated that by performing three, one-hour resistance training sessions a week, women aged 75 and older significantly improved their strength and power (Skelton et al 1995)!
Likewise, similar results were found in debilitated patients older than 60 years of age (Meuleman et al 2000). Seriously, if the elderly (75 years and older) can improve their strength, just think how much you can improve your quality of life if you are still in your 50’s!
The benefits of resistance training go beyond just improving your strength.
One added benefit is that strength training can help preserve your bone density and stave off osteoporosis (Seguin & Nelson 2003).
For instance, one study on a group of inactive older men (average age 59 years old), demonstrated that only 16 weeks of strength training was enough to induce significant increases in bone density (Menkes et al 1993).
You’re not only improving your strength but you are also improving your skeletal structure when you perform functional strength training and we aren’t even covering the added heart benefits!
Performing Functional Strength Training
How do you actually perform functional strength training? There are many ways this can be done, such as bodyweight training, resistance band training, weight training… etc.
Bodyweight training is the basis of the basics and that’s what makes it so great and efficient! The beauty of bodyweight training is that these exercises can be done anywhere (don’t need to go to the gym), no special equipment is required, and can get you the results you want and deserve.
Resistance band training provides the same benefits but a relatively cheap ($15) resistance band is needed to perform the exercises. No matter what equipment or method you decide on, follow these recommendations to get the most out of your workout!
Functional Strength Training Recommendations
1. Make stretching part of your routine
Make static stretching a priority in your workout regime, more of a priority than the actual workout. Perform static stretching (low-intensity, long-duration) for 5-10 minutes (AFAA PFT Theory and Practice 2010) before and after working out.
2. Start with working out 2-3 times a week
To battle some of the effects of sarcopenia, all it takes is strength training at least 2 to 3 times a week (Skelton et al 1995; Seguin & Nelson 2003). That’s it; take a little time from your busy schedule to improve your life.
3. Work the entire body
Choose 6-8 exercises that work out the entire body, upper and lower. This allows you to have a total body workout about every other day during the week.
4. Start slow and light
This allows you to develop the correct form of exercise, reduces your chance of injury, and prevents you from being incredibly sore the next couple of days (reducing your chance of quitting).
5. Mix in coordination and balance exercises
Exercises that improve your coordination and balance are a great way to improve your quality of life. Simply standing on one leg or performing exercises that involve multiple movements can help improve your hand-eye coordination and balance.
As we grow older it is really important to improve your functional strength through exercise.
Work with your local personal trainer or do a little research to develop a program that best fits you. There is a lot of great information out there that will help you get the results your want; improving your strength, coordination, and balance.
As you age, stick to the Golden Rule: no matter what training method you employ, you need to increase your functional strength to improve your quality of life!
Hurley BF, Roth SM (2000) Strength training in the elderly. Sports Medicine 30:249-268.
Menkes A, Mazel S, Redmond RA, Koffler K, Libanati CR, Gundberg CM, Zizic TM, Hagberg JM, Pratley RE, Hurley BF (1993) Strength training increases regional bone mineral density and bone remodeling in middle-aged and older men. Journal of Applied Physiology 74: 2478-2484.
Meuleman JR, Brechue WF, Kubilis PS, Lowenthal DT (2000) Exercise training in the debilitated aged: strength and functional outcomes. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 81: 312-318.
Seguin R, Nelson ME (2003) The benefits of strength training for older adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 25:141-149.
Skelton DA, Young A, Greig CA, Malbut KE (1995) Effects of resistance training on strength, power, and selected functional abilities of women aged 75 and older. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 43:1081-1087.
Yoke M (2010) AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer: Theory and Practice; Second Edition ed. Gladwin LA. California.
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