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How Strength Training Can Help Prevent Age-Related Fast Twitch Muscle Loss


Did you know that we lose muscle each year starting in our 30’s? Muscle mass decreases around 3-8% per decade after the age of 30 and gets worse after age 60. This is called sarcopenia which is a progressive loss of muscle mass with age. It is multifactorial and predisposes one to disability as it leads to frailty, falls, loss of independence, hospitalizations, and a higher risk of mortality.

 

We have different types of muscle fibers in our body. There are traditionally two types of muscle fibers: slow twitch (type I) and fast twitch (type II). With age we have a decrease in muscle fiber number and size in primarily fast twitch muscle fibers.


 

The good news?


It has been shown that 6 months of resistance type exercise training in older men is successful in increasing lean muscle mass. Interestingly, type II muscle fiber size increased after exercise but the type I muscle fiber size did not change significantly with the exercise. This closed the gap so that there was no longer an apparent difference in fast twitch fibers being smaller than slow twitch fibers anymore. Type II muscle fiber hypertrophy aka an increase in the muscle fiber area was also shown.


The big takeaway is that resistance or strength training is effective in increasing muscle mass, specifically type II fast twitch fibers. Strength training can prevent age-related muscle loss! The decline in skeletal muscle mass with aging is mainly attributed to a reduction in type II muscle fiber size.

 

A performance physical therapist coaches a patient with a trap bar deadlift

How can we train for this?


Basic exercises like the leg press, leg extension, chest press, horizontal row, lat pull down, bicep curls, and tricep extensions proved successful in improving muscle when training 3 times a week for 6 months in the above study.

 

When I program for my patients or small group settings, I like to focus on variations of the main movement's patterns. The basics still work.


-knee dominant squatting movements

-hip dominant hinging movements

-vertical and horizontal pressing

-vertical and horizontal pulling

-carries

 

Within this, I like to include some specific power focused exercises. I reinforce the importance of moving the weight (or your body) as quickly and powerfully as possible. It is all about the intent to be powerful. If you are an adults or older adult who works out, then a part of your training should be for power. It does not need to be Olympic barbell lifts to train power or speed. Here are a few examples that I like to use that are safe but effective.


-medicine ball slam or throw variations

-landmine press variations

-dumbbell or kettlebell clean or push press variations

-body weight movements like a step-up with a focus on power

-trap bar or kettlebell deadlifts focusing on driving the ground away

-box squats with a slower eccentric component (sitting down) and a max effort concentric component (standing up)

-walking sled variations

-assault bike sprints



A performance physical therapist coaches a patient with a bench press.

 

The big message here is you need to make sure that you are strength training as early as possible. Starting in your 20s and 30s is best so you prevent as much muscle loss as able. Within your exercising, it is important to have power or fast twitch specific exercises as we lose this first and more aggressively as we age.


If you want to start or get back into the gym but aren’t sure where to start, then don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact me easily through the link below or use one of the contacts listed. I would be happy to help you solve your problems and learn how to age strong.

 

Talk soon,

Dr. Sieara


828-808-3704

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