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  • Writer's pictureLisa Magnuson

Losing Power as you Age

Updated: Feb 29

Last August, I sent out this blog post highlighting the importance of maintaining and even gaining strength as you age. Today, I plan to discuss another equally or possibly even greater measure of performance commonly referred to as power.

What is power in this sense?

"Experts define power as the ability to apply force rapidly — using fast-twitch muscle fibers in short, explosive bursts." Amanda Loudin, New York Times: How to test your strength in 30 seconds

Power is what allows you to move quickly, catch yourself from falling, or lift heavy things quickly. This is important because having a good baseline of power reduces falls and other injuries as we age.

As previously mentioned, after the age of 55, people experience a strength decline at a rate of 1-3% per year (if you aren't strength training effectively), however, loss of power is double that percentage. And unfortunately, unlike strength decline which happens at a slower rate so it may be more noticeable, power decline happens so rapidly, often you don't realize you've lost it until it's completely gone. Well that's depressing!

Fortunately for you, you can gain power back but like everything else we constantly pound into your heads, it takes consistent concerted effort to build your power threshold back to functional levels. And guess how you do it? Ding, ding ding- you're correct! By moving/lifting heavy things. (Sometimes I feel like a broken record..... )

First, how about you do a power test to see where you fall on the spectrum?

A tried and true test of general power function, is the sit to stand test. This is a very simple exercise that can give you insight into how your body is moving with specific emphasis on power.

Do this:

Find a straight back chair and stand in front of it, cross your arms across your chest (in other words, you aren't allowed to use your arms to help you sit down or get back up off the chair), and see how many times you can sit down and stand back up on that chair in 30 sec. For men 65 and older you should be able to do 12 or more reps and women of the same age 11 or more. If you fall under this benchmark, you may need to bolster your power development. If you are on the younger side there isn't a scientifically designed standard, but generally men under 60 should be able to do at least 17 reps in 30 sec and women 15 reps.

If you find yourself lacking power it's easy to gain it back and can happen rapidly if you work at it consistently. Depending on your training history and current fitness level you can start slow and light, with say, bodyweight exercises, and build your ability to lift heavier as you go. In order to continue to build power however, you will eventually have to lift weights and continue to increase the weight you lift- you know, the whole "progressive overload" thing we are always harping on. Many of the movements we have our clients perform in their dynamic warmups and workouts already support the growth of their power capacity. However if you are interested in knowing some exercises you can do on your own to build power, I'll list a few common ones below.

  • Dumbbell/kettlebell snatch

  • Dumbbell/kettlebell power clean

  • Ball slams

  • Squat jumps

  • Power skip

  • Lateral bounds

For a majority of our clients we are working on building strength and supporting overall resilience as they age. Power development is a key component to this strategy and many of the movements are actually quite fun to do. We encourage you to try the "sit to stand" power test and gauge how your overall power level equates to the standards listed above. If it's lacking and you are concerned, don't hesitate to tell us so we can design some additional power development into your program. 

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