A Mass General fitness expert shares advice on how to add exercises to your routine to make your body more powerful and improve aging.

When people discuss fitness, they sometimes confuse power with strength, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Generally speaking, strength is the ability of muscles to generate force without concern for speed.

As we age, our body’s muscular power diminishes, but specific exercises can help.

Power is the ability to generate force at high speed. Strength and power are both important to good function, but being powerful will make noticeable improvements in the activities of daily living.

As we age, strength and power both drop off, but power does so to a greater extent. Waning muscular power leads to diminished functional ability, like getting up from a chair or the ability to react and catch oneself before falling.

Exercising for power also helps preserve muscle and bone density. For all these reasons, staying powerful is very important to staying fully functional.

Squats and Medicine Ball Exercises Improve Muscle Power

Muscular strength is important to building power, and the best way to improve strength is with resistance (strength training).

Start with general resistance exercises for about a month prior to training for power. Exercises like squats, rows and push ups are great choices for improving  strength in many different muscles. Once you have established good strength, there are a variety of exercises you can use to build muscular power.

The medicine ball throw is one exercise that can help you build power.
The medicine ball throw is one exercise that can help you build power.

The vital aspect of improving power is moving with speed. For some individuals, rising up quickly from a chair or from the bottom of a body-weight squat might suffice as a start. Other great options are jump squats and medicine ball throws.

Although they may look easy, these explosive exercises put a high demand on the body, so don’t overdo it.

Start with one or two sets of 6 to 8 repetitions to avoid an adverse reaction and build up to three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions per set.

Jump squat: Stand on a rubber mat or on a grass surface with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders and hands behind your head. Keep your torso as upright as possible, squat down until your hips are just above your knees and jump up as high as you can under control. Land as softly as possible by bending your knees and sitting back into your hips, using your muscles to absorb your impact.

Medicine ball throw: If you try a medicine ball throw exercise, start with a ball that is heavy enough to noticeably resist your motion, but not make you struggle. A ball that is 10 percent of your body weight or less is a good guideline.

Stand a few feet from a brick or concrete wall with feet shoulder width and your back foot slightly forward. Start the movement by turning away from the wall, rotating both your hips and shoulders and taking the ball just outside your back hip, like coiling a spring. Throw the ball into the wall by using the power of your legs and hips and not trying to throw it just from your arms. You can either catch the ball as it rebounds or let it fall to the floor and pick it up.

Make sure your form is correct to avoid injury and get the most out of each exercise.

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Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.