Training Frequency in the Elderly: Two Times Per Week is Enough

Training frequency is one of the major variables, along with intensity and volume, you can manipulate to improve the results from your efforts in the gym. Properly adapting these variables to your own goals and needs will lead to more muscle mass and better strength gains.

Does more equal better for older men and women who want to take up strength training? Having to go to the gym three times per week for maximum benefits might seem intimidating for the inexperienced elderly. Two workouts per week probably sound much more enticing to start with.

In a new study, researchers recruited 39 older women past the age of 60, and had them perform whole-body strength training for 24 weeks. They assigned the women to two different groups, based on training frequency. The first group performed two strength training sessions per week, while the second group hit the gym thrice weekly.

The Training Protocol

Both groups performed the same exercises, in this order: seated chest press, horizontal leg press, seated row, knee extension, preacher curl, leg curl, triceps pushdown, and seated calf raise.

The first 12 weeks of the study, all participants performed a single set of 10–15 reps per exercise. The second half of the study, they increased the volume to 2 sets of 10–15 reps per exercise. This means that the three-day-per-week group also performed a higher total training volume.

The initial training load was set at about 60% of 1RM. During the course of the study, supervisors increased the load in a progressive manner once the women were able to perform 15 reps of an exercise 2 sessions in a row.

Before and after the training period, the researchers assessed the 1RM strength of the women in three of the exercises: chest press, knee extension, and preacher curl. They also measured their body composition using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, and calculated muscle mass based on those measurements. In addition, they determined the muscle quality of the participants. “Muscle quality” is expressed as the ratio of muscle strength to lean soft tissue of the trunk, lower limbs, and upper limbs, respectively.

Results

As you can see, both groups improved muscle mass and strength over the course of 24 weeks. The improvements are substantial enough to translate into significant effects on mobility and physical function.

What wasn’t significant? The difference between the groups. Regardless of training frequency, strength training improved strength, muscle mass, and muscle quality similarly.

These results suggest that, for the elderly man or woman who wants to participate in strength training, there is no need to hit the gym more than twice per week. Unless he or she wants to, of course.

Reference

International Journal of Exercise Science, Vol. 12 > Iss. 6 (2019). Similar Effects of 24 Weeks of Resistance Training Performed with Different Frequencies on Muscle Strength, Muscle Mass, and Muscle Quality in Older Women.

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