It's clear and simple but not what you might expect
The most confusing aspects of how to start exercising are to decide on how many repetitions, how many sets, what weight load, what rest between sets, etc etc. When I first enrolled in a gym more than 20 years ago, like most men I just started jiggling dumbbells about, then barbells. It was inefficient and ultimately unsatisfying.
To be honest, I wasted a couple of years which could have been better spent.
One of the things which held me back from asking the trainers was my age. I was over 50, and it was rare to see anyone else my age doing strength training. I knew enough to see that the younger ones were doing things that had little relevance to living longer better or fitness, which were my objectives. I drifted into classes, and kettlebells, and came back to barbell training years later.
Two recent studies provided the answers that would have helped me then, and it is clear and simple. These two studies compared young and old healthy adults, and older adults, across different strength training protocols.
The results are very interesting.
The first study examined 506 studies over 30 years which analysed the relationship between muscle growth and resistance training. Ultimately only 25 of those 506 studies could be normalised to be comparable.
How training protocols affected different outcomes
The objective of this "study of studies" was to identify training differences between groups who exercised, and to measure those differences and to identify associations with outcomes.
Here is what they found, and it is relevant to how we might set up our own program:
No other input factors significantly improved muscle strength, but some were modestly influential and provide some extra guidance on how to set up an effective training program.
But firstly, I want to wrap up the significant findings, because their relative influence is very interesting.
Relative impact of intensity, period and time under tension
Sometimes we have an emotional leaning towards a particular way of training, for example, we might like to "go hard" and push the intensity up to 100%.
That might be emotionally satisfying, but here is what this study found to be relatively most effective:
If we stop here and rather our thoughts, these results say that more time under tension, and keeping up training for long periods - in terms of years - is more important than training intensity.
Other useful but less significant inputs
The study identified other variables that are helpful in planning our exercise routine, but which had less significance than those factors above in improving muscle strength:
There you have it. Enough for you to build the most-effective strength-training regime for "healthy older adults".
My way, good but slightly different
To me, based on my 23 years of training, those findings ring true. I am not going to argue with the statistics, and I suggest that you follow those guidelines. What I feel from all those years is something slightly different.
Here's what I do:
That gets the job done without hanging about too long, and with quite effective results. Put is this way - you might get better results by sitting about for 3 minutes in-between sets but not by sitting on the gym machines for 3 minutes.
Most people use the gym machines. By using free weights in the above program will put you miles ahead if you are over 50, even without the "official" 3-minute recovery that your PT has told you.
All that said, I recommend that you keep reading and take the advice from the study recommendations.
About time under tension - it is important
The significance of the time under tension is very interesting. It validates the common idea of "40-seconds under tension" as an exercise target, even for bodyweight exercises.
The analysis found that 7 to 9 repetitions per set was optimal, and if each movement takes say 5 or 6 seconds, then the set creates 35 to 54 seconds under tension - thus bracketing the "40-seconds" advice.
I recommend that you apply this "time under tension" concept to other training that you do, particularly to your bodyweight exercises. If you do, your results will improve.
What not to do - too many sets slow growth
A related study of 158 groups with 1927 participants - younger adults and strength training programs - was only able to identify one training input that significantly affected strength outcomes - the number of sets per workout "showing a significant negative interaction".
That is, excessive sets per workout affects negatively the muscle mass gain. That's kind of good news, it means that sticking with two to four sets will not produce adverse results.
Here's the optimal strength-training program according to science
With respect to the analysis of the research on strength training protocols for healthy older adults, the study isolated the seven following parameters as the most effective protocol across all variables:
Here you have a very pragmatic and a very effective strength training protocol which you can apply to your favourite form of strength training.
Put the seven factors into action
For we older adults, training period, intensity, time under tension, and rest in between sets play a very important role in improving muscle strength.
I strongly recommend that you implemented these concepts and details into your exercise training. If you do, it will help you live longer better.
Good luck. Get strong. Keep at it.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter