My fiancé’s stepdad used to compete in powerlifting. He is now 68 and is wondering about recovery rates and exercises that will help his joints as his elbows and shoulders are getting very sore. Thanks for your help.
If someone is having excessive pain and soreness after exercise, it is mandatory to identify the cause. If what the person is experiencing is protective pain, exercise can do more harm than good. This is true even with what would normally be a safe and effective program. Only after you have determined that a client’s pain does not require the attention of a medical professional can you really progress to designing a truly safe and effective program for that person.
A good rule of thumb for clients who have chronic aches and pains is to have them keep a journal of what they are feeling and when they are feeling it. As you already know, a small amount of muscle soreness one or two days after exercise is normal. However, if you notice patterns or particular aches after certain types of exercise, and after two weeks there is no improvement, then you should recommend the client see a physical therapist, orthopedic doctor or other health professional if he or she has not done so previously. Another rule of thumb is to discontinue or modify any exercise that causes pain or increases an already existing pain for more than two hours after the exercise.
Your clients need to be taught to distinguish between the different “types” of pain. We sometimes distinguish pain as “bad pain” versus “good pain.” A better description might be “pain” versus “soreness.” Good pain or soreness is felt in the muscle and not in the joint. It stops within a few minutes after exercise ends. There is less soreness associated with each subsequent exercise session. Normally, soreness is what we all experience to some extent when we exercise.
Bad pain occurs in or near the joint, continues to hurt after exercise is complete and does not improve with future sessions. It might even worsen with time. This usually indicates a problem with a ligament, tendon, joint or a muscle that is not normal.
The number of healthy older individuals who are active in sports has increased significantly. These individuals continue to perform at a high level, although there appears to be a loss in functional capacity that cannot be overcome by training. No accepted theory of aging exists, but older athletes may be limited primarily by the inability to maintain the same volume and intensity of training. Also, older athletes appear to respond more slowly than younger athletes to the same training load. The principles of training in older athletes are similar to those in young athletes. However, additional days of recovery and cross training may be necessary to prevent orthopedic injuries. Older adults need to train smarter, not harder. They can’t expect to continue with the same intensity of training as when they were younger, and they have to be a little more creative.
Two equally important factors facilitate the strength building process. The first is progressive resistance exercise to stress the muscles and stimulate physiological adaptation. The second is sufficient recovery time to permit tissue repair, building and protein overcompensation, leading to larger and stronger muscles. If muscles are not given enough time to rest, clients may develop overuse injuries and/or muscles may breakdown rather than build up. Strength training expert Wayne Westcott recommends that older adults allow 72 to 96 hours for recovery before exercising the same muscle group again. This is considerably different than the 48 hour guideline that is typically quoted as the industry standard.
General guidelines for strength training for mature adults:
- EXERCISES: Strength training guidelines for seniors call for one exercise for each of the main muscle groups.
- FREQUENCY: These exercises should be performed two to three times per week. Recent studies have shown two times per week to be at least as productive as three times per week.
- SETS: Single and multiple set training protocols have proven effective for increasing muscle strength and mass in senior men and women, but studies comparing one and three sets of exercise have found no significant developmental differences during the first few months of training. It is suggested then that seniors begin strength training with one set of each exercise, moving onto three sets as they progress.
- RESISTENCE: The training resistance or weight load should be between 60 and 90 percent of 1RM to increase muscle size and strength.
- REPETITIONS: The generally recommended number of repetitions per set is eight to 15.
Most people can perform about eight repetitions with 80 percent of their maximum resistance and about 12 repetitions at 70 percent of their maximum. For those with limiting chronic conditions, it is advisable to begin with lighter weight loads that allow about 15 reps per set. This higher repetition protocol adds a margin of safety while providing about the same strength training stimulus. Research has shown that the number of repetitions is not important as long as muscle fatigue for each exercise set occurs within a 30 to 90 second (anaerobic) time period. When the muscle reaches fatigue within this time period, strength gains are statistically equal when using higher repetitions with lighter weight/resistance (15 reps at 60 percent 1RM) compared to lower repetitions with heavier weight/resistance (six reps at 90 percent 1RM). This is sometimes a difficult concept for someone to accept as true if they are used to lifting heavy, but there are numerous research studies stretching from 1991 to the present that confirm this!
- PROGRESSION: The key to muscle development is progressive increases in resistance. Whenever the repetition goal can be performed with proper form to muscle fatigue, raise the weight by five percent.
- SPEED: The general consensus is that older adults should use controlled movement speeds when performing strength exercises. Because six second repetitions have a long, successful history, this speed is recommended for older exercisers. The cadence is two seconds up (concentric phase) and four seconds down (eccentric phase).
- RANGE: It is important for seniors to develop strength throughout their full range of motion. Full range exercise is necessary for building full range muscle strength, so seniors should perform each exercise through the complete range of joint movement, taking their muscles from their fully extended position to their fully contracted position and back. But if any part of the exercise causes pain, then the range of motion needs to be adjusted appropriately. Training range should only be through PAIN FREE range of motion.
- TECHNIQUE: In addition to controlled movement speed and full movement range, exercise technique is critical when training older adults. Always practice proper posture when performing strength exercises with particular emphasis on body stability and back support. To avoid unnecessary blood pressure elevation, older adults should breathe continuously throughout every repetition. They should exhale on the lift and inhale on lowering. They should NEVER hold their breath or hold the weight in a static position since this can raise blood pressure excessively.
So in conclusion, it is important to distinguish if any pain is “good” or “bad,” allow for longer recovery periods (up to 96 hours) and increase the number of repetitions using lighter weights while staying within the 30 to 90 second anaerobic window for muscle fatigue.