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Strength and power exercises for older adults

This is an excerpt from Exercise and Wellness for Older Adults-2nd Edition by Kay Van Norman.

Training strength with body weight requires that the muscles be challenged beyond what is normal for everyday activities. The key to training with body weight is to increase the difficulty of performing the exercise. For example, very sedentary people can improve leg strength by performing 8 to 10 leg extensions and then holding the leg in extension for 8 to 10 counts. Others can stand up and sit down 8 to 10 times to improve leg strength. Still others may improve strength by stepping up onto a stair and back down. In addition, doing push-ups against the wall or on the floor can improve upper-body strength.

To improve power with body weight, you must add the speed component. Coach clients to consciously choose to move as quickly as possible. It may have been a long time since they thought about moving quickly. Remember to weigh potential benefits against potential risks when creating programs. Always start by improving strength first and then add the speed component later. Make sure clients have balance support so they can concentrate on speed of movement rather than balance and speed.

Step Box

Use a sturdy box next to a wall or railing for balance support. Make sure it has a nonskid surface on both the bottom and the top. The lowest step in a flight of stairs can be used if a railing is available. Do not progress to a height greater than required for normal activities (e.g., climbing stairs, stepping onto a curb, or climbing into a bus or airplane). Maintaining good posture, participants should step fully onto and off of the box with each repetition, using balance support if necessary. Have clients practice balance separately so they can concentrate on speed.

1. Step On and Off

a. Step onto and off of the step (figure 5.45), leading with the right foot. Step up (right), up (left), down (right), down (left); repeat 2 times.

b. Repeat, leading with the left foot.

c. To address power, repeat the full sequence by stepping up as quickly as possible while retaining good form. Step down under control at a lower speed.

2. Step-Up With Knee Lift

a. Step onto the box with the right foot; swing left knee up to 90 degrees (figure 5.46).

b. Bring left leg back down to the ground; repeat 4 times stepping up with right foot.

c. Repeat 4 times stepping up with the left foot.

d. For a more difficult progression, rise onto the toes when swinging the knee up to 90 degrees.

e. To address power, repeat the sequence lifting the knee to 90 degrees as quickly as possible each time.

Foot Power

These exercises develop the ability to respond to a trip or slip with quick foot movement. Please practice them with wall, railing, chair, or even walker support.

1. Squash the Bugs (for foot speed)

a. Stamp as quickly as possible in all directions as if squashing ants around your feet (figure 5.47).

b. Emphasize foot and leg speed, returning to center between each stamp. Be sure to stamp front, sideways, and behind, first using one foot and then the other.

c. Now stomp (transfer weight), alternating right and left feet while squashing bugs as quickly as possible. This is like stomping the snow off of boots, but faster and in all directions!

2. Power Steps

a. Face a wall, with hands ready to catch the wall if necessary.

b. Starting with feet together, lean forward (with no bending at the hips). At the last moment take a quick step forward to avoid falling (figure 5.48). Repeat several times, “catching” with the right foot and then again with the left foot. Concentrate on delaying foot movement and recovering with speed.

c. Repeat to the side if appropriate (requires more strength and balance). Lean sideways to the wall (without bending at the waist) and step sideways to avoid falling. This is an advanced move because it involves leaning onto the leg that has to be picked up to catch the fall. Repeat to the opposite side.

Arm Power

These exercises help develop arm speed so the arms can react to a near fall or catch body weight if a fall occurs. Participants work with a partner or against a wall. Use a large exercise ball, a lightweight medicine ball, a spongy ball, or a slightly deflated basketball. If balance is compromised, have the participant perform with support (e.g., with back to a wall or seated) and take care when bending over to retrieve a ball.

1. Chest Pass

a. Perform a chest pass to a partner, as quickly as possible (figure 5.49).

b. Concentrate on speed of elbow extension and shoulder flexion. Repeat 8 times.

2. Floor Pass

a. Pass the ball to a partner by bouncing it forcefully so the rebound is high (figure 5.50).

b. Concentrate on speed of movement. Repeat 8 times.

The previous exercises for strength and power using body weight were adapted from a presentation at the 2004 World Congress on Physical Activity and Aging in London, Ontario, by Pommy Macfarlane. Using these exercises as examples, consider all of the activities that can be adapted to incorporate speed of movement. Always provide balance support when practicing speed of movement, and weigh the potential benefits against the potential risks for each activity.

This is an excerpt from Exercise and Wellness for Older Adults: Practical Programming Strategies, Second Edition.

More Excerpts From Exercise and Wellness for Older Adults 2nd Edition