Functional Performance With Age: The Role of Long-Term Strength Training

J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2019 Jul/Sep;42(3):115-122. doi: 10.1519/JPT.0000000000000141.


Background and purpose: Physical function is shown to decline with age. However, how long-term strength training may attenuate the age-related limitation in functional tasks with various force demands is unclear.

Methods: In a cross-sectional study, we assessed maximal muscle strength, initial and late phase rate of force development (RFD), as well as 4 tests of functional performance in 11 strength-trained master athletes (MAs), 11 recreationally active older adults (AEs), 10 sedentary older adults (SOAs), and 9 moderately active young controls. Functional performance was divided into 2 categories: more force-demanding (chair-rising ability and stair-climbing power) and less force-demanding (habitual walking speed and 1-leg standing) tasks.

Results: MA exhibited 75%, 45%, and 26% higher leg press maximal strength compared with SOA, AE, and young, respectively (P < .01). MA leg press RFD was not different from young, but was higher compared to AE and SOA during both the initial (0-50 ms: 104%-177%, P < .05) and late phase (100-200 ms: 37%-52%, P < .05) of muscle contraction. MA also showed better mean (SD) performance compared with AE and SOA (P < .05) in more force-demanding functional tasks; chair-rising ability (MA: 6.2 (1.2) seconds; AE: 8.6 (1.8) seconds; SOA: 9.7 (3.0) seconds; young: 6.5 (1.0) seconds) and stair-climbing power (MA: 701 (161) W; AE: 556 (104) W; SOA: 495 (116) W; young: 878 (126) W). No differences (mean (SD)) were observed between MA and AE in less force-demanding tasks, but both groups were superior (P < .05) compared with SOA in walking speed (MA: 1.49 (0.21) m·s; AE: 1.56 (0.17) m·s; SOA: 1.27 (0.22) m·s; young: 1.62 (0.22) m·s) and balance test completion (MA: 45%; AE: 45%; SOA: 0%; young: 100%).

Conclusion: Our results reveal that maintaining a high muscle force-generating capacity into older age is related to beneficial effects on functional performance, which may not be achieved with recreational activity, thus highlighting strength training as an important contribution to healthy aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Strength*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Functional Performance*
  • Resistance Training* / methods
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Time Factors
  • Walking Speed
  • Young Adult