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Strength testing for seniors

Uncategorized Nov 17, 2021

Strength testing is only for athletes right?


While naturally, we think of million-dollar athletes when strength testing is mentioned, every individual regardless of their age, gender, and the activities that they do requires some strength capacity to be able to do the tasks that make up their daily lives.

Older individuals are some of the most common client types that health and fitness professionals deal with on a daily basis, yet for some reason, we often don’t assume performance testing is relevant for them. Yet these older individuals are often still physically active, doing activities and hobbies they enjoy in their later years.

In this blog we're going to explore why strength testing is important to geriatrics and some of the considerations you should have when choosing strength testing equipment.

What happens to strength as we age.

It is well appreciated that as we age, we lose some of the mobility that we once had. Joints and muscles become stiffer and we lose flexibility. Balance and control is often reduced increasing the risk of falls. Another factor is the involuntary loss of muscle mass and strength as we age. 

Unfortunately, this can begin sooner than we might expect.

Volpi's 2004 study found that “Muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60”. Metter’s 1997 study also found that muscle power is usually lost even more at a rate 10% faster than muscle strength.

This decrease in strength can have an effect on older clients in many ways:

  • A loss of strength has been attributed to an increased risk of disability.
  • A loss of strength has been associated with an increased risk of falls.
  • A loss of strength can contribute to body composition changes and increased BMI.
  • A loss of strength can have implications in the development of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
  • A loss of strength has been shown to be associated with the progression of Osteoarthritis.

Fortunately physical activity particularly resistance training has been shown to counteract the reduction of muscle mass, even in older individuals. 

It is therefore important for us as health and fitness professionals to be able to:

  • Understand if our clients have muscle weakness.
  • Educate our clients on what strength they need.
  • Help motivate them to stay on exercise plans to help them achieve and maintain their goals.

What tests can we use for older clients?

This is where objective strength testing is important to give tangible baselines and results for our older clients.

Typically tests such as a sit to stand test for time, timed up and go test, or 6-minute walk test has been chosen to assess function for older individuals

Validity of inertial sensor-based Timed "Up and Go" test in individuals  affected by stroke - Gait Up Research

Unfortunately an Up And Go Test probably won't tell you much about how strong your client is!

While these are useful, they do not provide much sensitivity for where strength gains can be made in individual muscle groups, and usually do not give muscle insight into maximum force or power production in older individuals.

This is where the AxIT System comes in.

Using AxITs variety of isometric strength tests is the perfect way to assess geriatrics. For example:

  • Isometric strength testing has been shown to be safe and reliable even for clients that are inexperienced in training. It's unlikely that you would make an elderly client perform a 1RM Deadlift, however an Isometric Mid Thigh Pull is the perfect test to assess overall strength in a fundamental lifting movement.
  • Isometric strength testing has been shown to be more reliable in risk of falls prediction than the timed up and go test (Valenzuela et al 2020).
  • Using isometric strength testing you can compare your clients results to literature based references. For example 60-80 year old males should generate approx 48% of their bodyweight on Isometric Leg Extension while females should generate approximately 38% of their body weight. Males should generate 28-30% of their bodyweight for Isometric Knee Flexion while females should generate approximately 23% (Fransen 2003).
  • AxIT measures the rate of force development to monitor client muscle power, a key capacity that is often lost quickly in older clients and can be a major contributor in falls prevention.

Why do you need to strength test elderly clients?

It is well known that resistance training is important in maintaining the health and wellbeing of older clients. 

For example, Seguins 2003 research found that strength-training exercises have the ability to combat weakness and frailty and their debilitating consequences of chronic disease, while Bardtsu's 2020 study found that over 70s that completed resistance training exercises improved in tests of physical function (chair rise, 8 ft-up-and-go, preferred- and maximal gait speed, and stair climb), maximal strength, rate of force development, and body composition.

The challenge when working with older clients is often in increasing motivation to perform physical exercise and selecting the right intensity of exercise prescription to increase strength and muscle mass.

This is where testing can help. 

Clients who can see where they started, how far they have progressed, and where they need to get to with their resistance training will be more engaged in their exercise programs and stay compliant. Objective strength testing helps to fulfill this. 

Also, having objective isometric strength measures can also help with accurate exercise prescription. Mayer's 2011 study found that muscle mass can be increased through training at an intensity corresponding to 60% to 85% of voluntary maximum contraction in older people. The insights gained from isometric strength testing can help to select the right resistance load to minimise risk of overloading the client which is particularly important in the early stages of training. 

Stop guessing, start measuring.

Want to learn more about how Strength By Numbers makes advanced assessment equipment accessible to the everyday practitioner working with older clients?

Book a discovery call with our team to find out how our products can help your clients and your business achieve amazing results.