#PTonICE Daily Show – Wednesday, January 31st, 2024 – High vs. low volume resistance training for older adults

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, join Modern Management of the Older Adult lead faculty Jeff Musgrave to discuss recent research evaluating the efficacy of high-volume vs. low-volume resistance training for older adults as it relates to facilitating muscular hypertrophy. Jeff breaks down the research but also offers practical implications for the clinic.

Take a listen to learn how to better serve this population of patients & athletes, or check out the full show notes on our blog at www.ptonice.com/blog.

If you’re looking to learn more about live courses designed to better serve older adults in physical therapy or our online physical therapy courses, check our entire list of continuing education courses for physical therapy including our physical therapy certifications by checking out our website. Don’t forget about all of our FREE eBooks, prebuilt workshops, free CEUs, and other physical therapy continuing education on our Resources tab.


Hey everyone, this is Alan. Chief Operating Officer here at ICE. Before we get started with today’s episode, I want to talk to you about VersaLifts. Today’s episode is brought to you by VersaLifts. Best known for their heel lift shoe inserts, VersaLifts has been a leading innovator in bringing simple but highly effective rehab tools to the market. If you have clients with stiff ankles, Achilles tendinopathy, or basic skeletal structure limitations keeping them from squatting with proper form and good depth, a little heel lift can make a huge difference. VersaLifts heel lifts are available in three different sizes and all of them add an additional half inch of h drop to any training shoe, helping athletes squat deeper with better form. Visit www.vlifts.com/icephysio or click the link in today’s show notes to get your VersaLifts today.

Welcome to the PT on ICE Daily Show. I’m gonna be your host today, Dr. Jeff Musgrave, Doctor of Physical Therapy, currently serving in the Older Adult Division, trying to demolish things like underdosing, ending frailty, and I am super excited to bring to you a very interesting research study that just dropped January 4th of this year. So the title of this article we’re gonna be digging into today is Higher resistance training volume offsets muscle hypertrophy, non-responsiveness in older adults. So, trying to dig in to figure out if someone is not responding to resistance training, what can we do about it? So, obviously if you’re listening today, if you’re following in the world of ICE, you know that resistance training is paramount. Getting people strong is how we’re going to break the cycle for people that are coming in with pain and dysfunction, musculoskeletal disorders. There aren’t any conditions where we can get people too strong. And we know specifically through the lens of working with older adults, when we’ve got things like frailty, adults who are pre-frail, who are very vulnerable to external stressors, or maybe one rep max living, we’ve got to bring them quality resistance training. We need everyone to have a path back to load. As quoted by Lindsey Huey in the extremity division, we love to say that load is our love language and all paths lead to load.

So let’s dig into this a bit more. So higher resistance training volume offsets muscle hypertrophy, non-responsiveness in older adults. So what we’ve got, we’ve got 85 subjects. over 60 years old male and female that had 14 dropouts and everyone was required inclusion criteria included they could not be doing any formal aerobic training or resistance training prior to being included in the study. Their nutrition was actually analyzed by a dietician, which I thought was really cool for this study that they were looking at that. They also acknowledged that variations in sleep patterns are going to impact people’s ability to recover. They weren’t able to control for sleep, but they did figure out that by and large, there weren’t any huge variants in nutrition, but they did have everyone supplement protein So they did a 20 gram protein supplement in the morning and in the evenings in between meals. The purpose of this study was they were trying to figure out, can we identify strategies like what’s gonna happen when we adjust volume at a set intensity for older adults? and then figuring out like what do we do with non-responders so we do have people that are going to respond to resistance training but maybe we may have some people in our caseload and you’ve probably seen this clinically that don’t respond as quickly to resistance training and they were just isolating out the variable of volume, not intensity. So what they did is they had each participant was a study in themselves where one leg was identified for lower volume and one leg was identified for higher volume. What they did is they were looking at the quadriceps muscle They got a baseline cross-sectional area from an MRI, and then they did one rep max testing on a single limb knee extension machine. So single limb knee extension machine to get a baseline one rep max, and then they did an MRI to look at the cross-sectional area of the quad muscle. And then the right or the left leg was assigned randomly to a higher volume program and a lower volume program.

So when we dive into the methods here a little bit, what we find is for the first couple weeks of the program, they were, the low volume group was doing one set. Okay, one set, trying to hit an eight to 15 rep max. And then the higher volume set did four sets at that eight to 15 rep max. So we got one set versus four sets. So that’s what they’re calling low volume, and that’s what they’re calling high volume. And that was for each person. So they were able to like kind of control for a lot of factors by testing the low and high volume on the same person, which I thought was really cool, a really cool way to test this. So after the first two weeks, they amped up the intensity a little bit and they were asking them to hit a eight to 12 rep max, still one set on the limb that was identified for low volume, and then four sets on the side that was for higher volume. So they continue that from weeks three to 10. So 10 week duration of intervention, we’ve got a low volume side and a high volume side. So what they did is they analyzed the results and they were looking to figure out who are our non-responders and who are our responders. So they’re looking at cross-sectional area of the quad and changes in one rep max on knee extension. So what they found between all the subjects between the right and the left limb, they found that 60% went into their non-responsive category where they did not make statistically significant changes in their one rep max and or their quad volume. So those were 60% were deemed as non-responders. And then the responders, about 40%, it didn’t matter, the low and the high volume side, both improved in their quad size based on the MRI and their one rep max. So really interesting here that they found that the responders, it didn’t really matter the volume as long as the dosage was there and that maximal effort. And when you look at the literature for older adults, it is all over the map. And in general, this is a wide brush stroke here, okay? So not for every study, but a lot of the studies will say the more deconditioned someone is, the less, Intense a dosage needs to be to make change. So if you’ve been doing absolutely nothing Something is going to be beneficial But then the dosage for true strength training, you know, there are lots of studies Landmark studies for older adults like the lift more trial that’s looking at you know hitting percentages of 80% for a five by five five sets of five repetitions, but when we you know dig a little deeper into this dosage and you know, based on the rep ranges for their intervention there, because they were doing eight to 15 rep maxes, sets of that. So we’re looking at a 60 to 80% rep range, not rep range, percentage of a one rep max. So, pretty decent on dosage, but typically we’re going to start people at a minimum of a 60% and then we’re going to amp that up to 80%, maybe 80 plus, and then be adjusting the rep scheme. But this is just looking at maximal volitional output to muscular failure in that eight to 10 rep range. And what they did is if they hit more than that number of reps, then they would add a little bit of weight in increments of one kilogram. some weight away if they were doing multiple sets like on the high volume side.

So really interesting to really think about the impact of volume but this isn’t typically what we’re going to do clinically right so if we’re going to add a higher percentage of one rep max we’re going to drop those sets and reps and not be doing these AMRAP sets for each set. Not a great experience, causes lots of soreness, can produce symptoms. And these were all non-symptomatic patients. These weren’t people having pain like what you’re going to see in the clinic. So there’s one caveat there, but just keeping in mind like rep ranges and kind of these basic rules that we try to use for programming strength training. When you look at something like Perlepin’s chart, for example, that’s been used in the strength and conditioning and Olympic lifting world for years, you’re going to see that Rep ranges are going to vary, but you know, if we’re in that 70 to 80 rep range, we’re going to be doing sets and reps of three to six. So add a total volume of about 18 reps total. And same thing for our 55 to 65% of a one rep max, we’re gonna be doing sets of three to six, not these eight to 15 rep maxes, which I understand for the study design and to try to equalize this, that was necessary to be able to compare apples to apples. But clinically, we’re gonna be doing smaller sets and reps, and we’re gonna be, as we increase a one rep max, not this 8 to 15 maximal effort. So when we’re looking at this through the lens of Prolepin’s chart for the low volume to be doing one set of an 8 to 15 rep max, you’re maybe not going to hit the minimum threshold on volume to make strength adaptations.

And I know there’s some studies that say, that are leaning into one maximal effort being enough for strength gains, but I would say clinically, that’s not typically what we do. If we’re gonna be using that 60 to 80% rep range, we’re gonna be breaking that up into smaller sets and reps, and we’re gonna be adding more volume than that. So I would question that the low volume group because we did not adjust the intensity up, it’s not apples to apples here. Because if we’re going to increase that percentage, we’re typically going to be doing smaller sets and reps, but also going to be hitting more volume. So I feel like the low volume group probably didn’t really hit threshold. And I think that probably impacted, this is all opinion of course, but I think that impacted the low volume group’s ability to make changes. And I think that’s why we’re seeing 60% non-responders. But if we were going to dose this out at that volume, we would have been doing much higher percentages. And the high volume group is probably more a normal rep range and percentage that we would use if we were just going to create a program for someone. So I think that’s a weakness in this study, but I still think there’s some things we can take away from this.

So if we’re thinking about training with older adults, we know that there are often lots of barriers. So our older adults come in typically with lots of fear. They may have beliefs on board that are going to limit our ability to be able to really push that intensity or push the weight because of fear, bad experience, or maybe just lack of experience with weight training, that they’re scared, there could be histological barriers where maybe someone’s coming in and their primary concern is they’ve had a fragility fracture or they’ve got low bone mineral density. And knowing the timeframes for healing on bone, we’re gonna make muscular adaptations much faster than we’re gonna make changes in the bone. So we may actually hit what’s appropriate at that point we’re going to be adding volume which goes in line with what this study is telling us is if someone’s not responding to lower volume up the volume and we’re not looking at high intensity and the other thing this study is not testing is it is not comparing low and intensity to high intensity resistance training it’s moderate intensity and high volume or low volume which is not typically what we do but it was just looking at the impact of volume is all it’s doing at a set intensity so for those people that we hit barriers where we can’t go heavier then we’re gonna have to add more volume. But keeping in mind that there are specific benefits to higher volume or higher intensity, higher load training that we will not get with moderate or low load training. But we will, if we want the strength adaptation, we are gonna have to adjust that total volume up. So our people that aren’t responding or we’ve got barriers, then we need to up the volume. So I know all this digging in to say, If we hit barriers in hitting that higher load, then we’re going to have to add more volume. But that’s a reality of what we see in clinical practice, especially with older adults. And I think that’s something that’s valuable to keep in mind if we’re working around injuries or belief systems or fear or time frames for healing. of tissue, especially like bone or cartilage that may have a longer duration of time, that we’re going to have to supplement with more volume. So really from a clinical standpoint, I think that’s helpful to keep in mind. But still keeping in mind that if we can hit high load, we want it because we’re going to get strength adaptations, adaptations to the bone and other tissues faster and create more margin. Because with older adults, it’s all about building as much strength and as much margin in the tissues, whether we’re talking about strength or fitness or bone density, we want as much margin as possible. And the only way you’re gonna get that is with high load. But if we can’t, the next best option is to add volume.

Team, I hope this was helpful. I found this article really interesting. I’d never seen a study put together quite like this. If you have maybe taken our online courses and you want to get into live, where we do lots of practical labs, you’ve got some great opportunities coming up. So we’ve got MMOA Live in Kearney, Missouri, January 27th and 28th. We’ve got Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, February 17th and 18th, that same. And then the weekend after in February, we’ve got course in Connecticut and Minnesota on February 24th and 25th. Team, I hope you enjoyed this talk. I would love to hear your thoughts on this article or your experience with older adults with adjusting volume and maybe what you’ve seen. Other than that, team, have a wonderful rest of your Wednesday and we will catch you next time.

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