One of our most popular blog posts lists an overall plan for older people to stay out of a nursing home. Next to nutrition, one of the best ways to stay healthy is to exercise. Especially using resistance training exercises (weightlifting). You can find several blog posts on our site describing senior weightlifting such as resistance band training, Tai Chi and chair exercises. With this blog post, I want to discuss a very effective exercise for seniors – Super Slow weight training.
You may or may not remember that Nautilus equipment that was so popular back in the 1970’s and 80’s. It was developed by a guy named Arthur Jones. Arthur was a real pioneer in exercise physiology. In addition to the equipment, Arthur also developed the idea of High-Intensity training.
We talked about High-Intensity training (HIT) a bit in our blog post about staying out of a nursing home. HIT exercises emphasize short bursts of very intense exercises. HIT can be some kind of aerobic (stationary bike, running, rowing machine etc.) or weight training,
On the aerobic side, you will want to go as fast as you can on your short bursts. For weight training, you will want to go as slow as possible. That’s why everyone calls it “Super Slow”.
Digging the Hole. How Super Slow Weight Training Works
Super Slow weight training is both a more effective and time efficient method to increase strength for seniors than traditional weightlifting. That’s because Super Slow weight training focuses much more on the rest period for building up muscles than the actual exercising. That’s why it might be best senior weightlifting program out there. Seniors don’t have to throw around heavy weights and injure their joints.
You should think of your senior weightlifting sessions as ‘digging a hole’ when you’re working your muscles. The training rips apart the tiny fibers in your muscles and breaks them down. The rest period is for your body to fill that hole back in and even add a pile on top of the hole. Some muscle fibers take a lot longer than others to recover. The amount of time it takes for all the muscles to fill the hole back in and build back is not quick. It can vary between 5 days and 6 weeks!
To dig the hole, it is important to maintain a load on the muscle during the entire set until failure. If you work out the old-fashioned way, you might tend to let the weight go a little during the rest phase of the set. Or you might rest the weights during the set, say on your chest for a bench press.
By lifting and lowering the weight in a Super Slow weight training manner, you will keep the load on your muscles for the entire set. You will also keep momentum from helping you with the lift. You will be much more effective digging that hole. Slow in this context means allowing at least 10 seconds for the extension of the weight and 10 seconds for the contraction.
You should not only go slow when you are lifting and lowering the weight. You should also not extend or contract your arms or legs fully during the exercise. If you are using a machine, don’t let the weights rest on the stack. For free weights, don’t rest the weight either on your body or the floor during the exercise.
Keep That Load on Until Failure!
Once you are done with an exercise, move quickly to the next exercise. Remember you are digging that hole for your entire body and all muscles. Working one muscle group at a time still contributes to the fatigue of your entire body and the other muscle groups. Don’t take a lot of time between sets!
The Super Slow weight training session stimulates your body’s muscles to grow with just one set of repetitions. It’s not the number of repetitions you do. Instead it’s that you perform the repetitions until you can’t do any more. In other words, you do the exercise until failure. Several studies show that for senior weightlifting one ‘set’ of repetitions taken to failure is better than multiple sets of an exercise.
Benefits of Super Slow Weight Training
One of the proponents of Super Slow weight training did a studywith 75 elderly women with osteoporosis. He had them perform senior weightlifting for 8-10 weeks using the Super Slow exercise method. He also had a control group doing normal exercises with short, fast repetitions and not until failure.
The results were dramatic. The group that did the Super Slow weight training had a 50% increase in their strength compared to the control group. 50% is huge compared to the 3-5% weight loss seniors experience if they don’t exercise. This type of senior weightlifting could allow elderly people to gain back a lot of the muscle mass they had previously lost.
The increases in strength make seniors a lot safer as well. Having more muscle and strength means seniors will have better balance and reduce their chances of falling.
Besides increasing safety when not training, Super Slow exercises are safer for the elderly when performing the workout. Weight training for seniors can be dangerous if not done correctly. Traditional weight training means lots of reps done quickly. The trouble with this type of training is the higher risk for injury.
Moving large weights quickly puts a lot of body parts at risk. Many of the most common weight lifting injuries happen to the body parts around the muscle, not the muscles themselves. It’s the tendons, joints and bones that hurt. Many of these injuries come from repetitive motion. With Super Slow weight training, you have a lot less repetition. You are also avoiding the jerky motions that regular weight training may require.
The Big 5 – A Super Slow Senior Weightlifting Workout
As with any workout, please make sure you discuss the new workout with your Doctor to make sure you are physically up to it. It may also be good to start these workouts with a trainer. Technique is important in these exercises and a trainer can really help you reach optimal results.
Here is a list of trainers who practice the Super Slow method. The first time I went to the Super Slow of Scottsdale gym, I met an 84 year-old woman who has been using this workout for several years. She was in great shape, walks 5 miles a day, and plays golf several times a week. It sure seems like this workout helps!
Doctor Doug McGuff is a big researcher and proponent of the Super Slow weight training exercise program. In his book ‘Body by Science’, he recommends five different exercises that cover the vast majority of musculature in your body:
- Leg press
- Some sort of rowing (pulling a weight to your abdomen)
- A pull-down movement (pull ups or a pulldown machine that simulates pull ups)
- Chest press (bench press)
- Overhead press (military press or lifting something over your head)
Here is an example of Dr. McGuff performing a sample workout:
Try to use a weight that allows you to lift the weight to failure in anywhere from 45 seconds to 3 minutes. If you go longer than 3 minutes, then increase the weight. I normally put my iPhone in front of me for each set and set the countdown timer to help me push through the time I did in the previous workout.
Over time you will figure out what interval between workouts work for you. You may want to start with more frequency like 2-3 times per week. If you are not seeing gains from this workout after a couple of weeks, try increasing the rest time between workouts.
Remember that you build strength in the rest period, NOT during the workout!
Senior Weightlifting is Important!
Regardless of what sort of senior weightlifting you do, it is important for seniors to do something! Sarcopenia is the term Doctors use to describe the process of muscle loss people experience as they age. It’s scary to think about. People start losing muscle naturally in their mid-thirties! If you’re not physically active, you can lose about 3-5% of muscle mass every decade.
Even if you do some weight training you will notice it is much harder to build muscle. Being in shape and having adequate muscle mass is especially important for our senior population. Healthy skeletal and muscular systems can help seniors in so many ways:
- Reduce fall risk
- Boost your immune system
- Lower your risk of diabetes
- Reduce osteoporosis
- Ease arthritis
That’s why we have a personal trainerwho works with many of our residents. Our caregivers are also trained to perform daily exercises with our residents. Many of the residents report improvements in their overall health thanks to these exercises.
If you are interested in learning more about how we help our assisted living residents, please contact us. We would be more than happy to answer your questions and possibly show you one of our homes. Please reach out us either through the front page of our website, email us at Hal@aparadiseforparents.com, or call 623-295-9890.