Stair climbing requires lower body muscle strength. Many people have the strength to climb stairs, but may use a railing for balance. Still others manage to climb stairs by relying heavily on the railing to pull themselves up the step in a slow, dragging motion.
Having the force to push off the step and lift your body weight onto the next step requires muscle power. Power is also what we need power to push up to stand from a chair. We need power to get up from the floor or lift the milk jug out of the fridge.
Muscle power is the product of strength and speed. And the ability to generate power translates to better function.
So why are we so focused on muscle strength?
Traditional workout typically involve using machines that isolate certain muscles (quadraceps for leg extensions) or free weight routines that focus on multiple repetitions of an isolated movement (bicep curls and tricep extensions). And those exercises are fine if there is a specific weakness that needs to be targeted. But once there is adequate muscle strength to complete a movement against a resistance for 8-10 reps, it’s time to add some power.
Muscle power decreases more quickly than muscle strength with advancing age- probably due to the atrophy of fast-twitch muscle fibers as suggested in the literature (1). Because muscle power is more highly correlated to functional task performance than muscle strength, power training may be more beneficial than traditional muscle strengthening exercises.
Low load, high velocity= increase muscle power.
For mature adults, power training is accomplished by performing the concentric phase of standard resistance exercise movements rapidly (< 1 sec)and the eccentric phase at normal controlled speed (2-3 sec).
Here are some examples of power exercises for older adults. Once these movements can be completed at a normal pace (strength), add the speed (power):
- Sit to stand from a chair without using hands. Stand up quickly, sit down slowly.
- Chest pass a medicine ball quickly to a partner or against a wall.
- Push up against a wall- quickly in the push phase, slowly return to start position.
- Step up onto a stair (hold onto rail for balance) with right foot. Quickly bring left foot fully onto step. Step back down with left foot using the right leg to slowly lower the body weight. If this is too easy, add a squat in the push up phase and a knee lift at the top of the movement!
Pssst…. and go outside to exercise! It’s just good for you 🙂
J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1995 Nov;50 Spec No:17-22. Muscle performance and structure in the elderly as studied cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Grimby G1