Choosing Power over Strength: Working out for Longevity

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by Nils Osmar. March 16, 2022

I made some changes in my workouts a few months ago, moving to prioritize building muscle power over strength. A Science Daily article entitled “Ability to Lift Weights Quickly Can Mean a Longer Life” describes the difference, and why some people angling for longevity may want to consider making a similar change.

From the article:

“Power depends on the ability to generate force and velocity… it is the measure of the work performed per unit time; more power is produced when the same amount of work is completed in a shorter period…

Climbing stairs requires power — the faster you climb, the more power you need. Holding or pushing a heavy object (for example a car with a dead battery) needs strength.

“For strength training at the gym most people just think about the amount of weight being lifted and the number of repetitions without paying attention to the speed of execution. But for optimal power training results, you should go beyond typical strength training and add speed to your weight lifts…”

Why it Matters (or Might)

According to the authors, muscle power decreases gradually but steadily after the age of 40. This correlates with an increase in all-cause mortality. Muscle size and strength don’t have a similar correlation. So optimizing your workout to emphasize power over strength may make sense, particularly for people over 40.

The authors of the study recommend:

  • Choosing multiple exercises for the upper and lower body
  • Choosing a weight which is not easy to lift but is not so heavy that you can barely lift it
  • Do one to three sets of six to eight repetitions moving the weight as fast as possible while contracting your muscles. Then going more slowly when returning to the starting position.
  • Resting for 20 seconds between each set.
  • The authors’ other recommendations can be found on this page.

My Experience

  • I started working out a year and a half ago. For the first few months I was focused more on building size and strength. I’m now more focused on building power. Since I’m 69, this change makes sense to me. But again, I’m not suggesting it’s necessarily right for everyone.
  • Since shifting my workout in this direction, I have noticed some slowdown in muscle hypertrophy. I’m still making gains in muscle size, but more slowly than I had been. (I haven’t lost the size gains I had made, but my gains have been slower.) (Of course, this typically happens anyway after the first year of resistance training.)
  • The image below is what I look like these days. All in all I feel like I’m maintaining muscle, but not building it as rapidly as I was.

Reference:Ability to Lift Weights Quickly Can Mean a Longer Life

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