Living a high quality of life as we age is something we all aspire towards. The over 70 population has doubled in the past 25 years, yet 20% of that population have a mobility disability. Although we are living longer, our health and fitness may be limiting us at living to our full potential. Physical function declines 4% per year after the age of 65, however with the proper lifestyle and training physical decline can be managed. Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) and osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) makes falling the leading cause of death from injury. By focusing on three key factors: balance, grip, and coordination we can minimize those risks. The ability to react and recruit muscle fibers quickly is crucial. As you age the ability to send impulses to motor neurons and product force rapidly decreases. By incorporating high velocity training into a fitness program, you can develop this ability through neuromuscular adaptations.
What is high velocity training?
High velocity training incorporates exercises with varying speeds: a normal eccentric muscle action and faster concentric. An eccentric muscle action is when the muscle is lengthening while concentric occurs when the muscle is shortening. An example would be doing a pushup while descending at a normal pace (eccentric action) and pushing up as quickly as you can (concentric action). This style of training focuses on the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) where the “pre stretch” of the eccentric action allows for a concentric action with greater force. This recruits larger type II (a.k.a. fast twitch) motor units that are stimulated with high intensity. Power is work divided by time so by decreasing the time producing force the power increases.
Why should you incorporate it?
The high rate of force output from high velocity training works to increase neural adaptations that aid in coordination. By utilizing a low load due to the nature of the speed of the exercises there is reduced spinal compression. This decreased load also allows for a full range of motion to enhance mobility and recruit postural muscles. There is a high correlation between increased power and balance which can prevent catastrophic falls. Imagine you walk onto a wet floor and slip; the ability to be able to quickly recruit fast twitch muscles to counteract the fall is life changing. Grocery shopping that requires a degree of mobility to reach for items and a greater ability to load and unload the car enhances quality of life. All these exercises enhance
both strength and power to increase compliance to activities of daily living and decrease mortality in the active aging population.
How to perform
Some more commonly used power or SSC exercises that involve explosive jumping (box jumps, bounding, lunge jumps) may seem daunting or a contraindication for the active aging population, however, this style of training can be modified to be appropriate for any musculoskeletal conditions. Utilizing the SSC is also a crucial part of injury rehabilitation. Performing a squat is a basic movement that is a part of our daily living (sitting on the toilet for one!). This can be modified using suspension training to reduce body weight. It can be performed by sitting down and standing up quickly. A basic step down can be performed by standing on a box, lowering one leg back down to the ground and explosively coming back up. A cable or dumbbell row can be released slowly and pulled back in rapidly. As with all exercise programs, proper programming must be applied with adequate rest between exercise and sessions.