#PTonICE Daily Show – Wednesday, March 13th, 2024 – Why older adults NEED to lift heavy

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, join Modern Management of the Older Adult Division Leader Christina Prevett discusses 4 important reasons for older adults to lift heavy: improving strength outcomes quickly, reducing fear, improving confidence, and translating heavy lifting to real-life function.

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.

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Hello everyone and welcome to the PT on Ice daily show. My name is Christina Prevett. I am one of our division leads in the modern management of the older adult division. Today I am going to talk about a question that I got from one of the physiotherapy students that I was working with last week. So last week I had the pleasure of going down to McMaster University to teach movement analysis. So basically to create the foundation of some of our big movements, including the squat, deadlift, press and pull. Talking to our students about all this normal movement variation and what that means for our foundational knowledge before before we kind of start building in these additional layers around aging and different diseases and all these types of things. And we started talking about exercise principles and we talked about you know that strength versus hypertrophy versus endurance And I made the argument, as you know, that we have within our older adult division, how we need to be less afraid to make our older adults lift heavy. And I love that this student was really like thinking through, and he said to me, well, does it really matter? Because we see that our people, if we use lightweights and high repetitions, they’re going to get some hypertrophy as well, right? So then why do I need to do this if I can just get them doing three sets of 10 at the right intensity and they get better? And so I loved this question. You could tell that he was really thinking about the literature and trying to bring it into where he wants to go with his clinical practice. And I always love the challenge. I love having a meaningful conversation around our thought processes when it comes to certain principles that we are teaching. And this is no exception. So I thought that I would do a podcast episode on this around what we know in the literature, where we are going from a PT perspective and an OT perspective, rehab perspective in general, around this type of thought process. and then kind of take our four takeaways about why we do this within MMOA. So let’s talk about the research first. So this student was not wrong in that if you take an individual who is not doing anything and you get them doing something, even low repetition work, at a moderate intensity, they will see initial improvements, right? They will. Stu Phillips group out of McMaster actually did a Bayesian network meta-analysis that was looking at the comparisons between high load and low load and high volume and low volume. And he showed that all groups did get a little bit better. especially with hypertrophy, which is building muscular bulk, that high load, low volume training is not necessary or sometimes maybe even ideal because of the amount of load that’s required for muscles to get bigger if that is your goal. However, what we did see is that individuals got stronger faster when exposed to higher loads versus lower loads.

And so this is our first principle that we really hold true to within MMA. We do not have time for the slow burn. When our older adults are one slip, trip, or stumble away from losing their independence, when it comes to their aging experience and where they want to be in the next five years, yes, they will get stronger a little bit with low load training, but they will get stronger faster by making them lift heavy. And so I have what I feel like an unbelievable amount of urgency when it comes to working with a lot of my older adults who are at this cusp of losing their independence. And I don’t have a ton of visits with them. I want to get the biggest bang for my buck. But he was absolutely right in that what we used to consider really tangible buckets around like, you know, less than six is this and six to twelve is that and twelve to twenty is this. It’s more blurry than that. And as rehab professionals, that’s OK. We embrace the land of the gray. But where I’m going to prioritize the heavy lifting piece is because I know that they’re going to get better faster. So that’s number one.

The second reason why we get individuals lifting heavy in rehab is because it reduces fear. So many of our older adults are afraid. They have been told by our medical system that they shouldn’t lift more than 20 pounds, that they shouldn’t do this, that they shouldn’t do that. They’re being told by their family members, oh mom, like let me get that for you. Like basically you are too old to lift this on your own, let me do it. And I’m not saying that this is coming across as something that is disrespectful. It’s meant to be helpful, but over time and with reps, it creates a ton of fear. And so many of our older adults are afraid over a certain threshold and require graded exposure in order for individuals to feel okay and feel confident about going and approaching a load that was making them uncomfortable before. And what we know is that when individuals lack or have a high amount of fear or lack self-efficacy in a movement, they avoid that movement. And so if they are afraid to lift over a certain threshold, then that might mean that they have relinquished their independence with certain tasks around the home. And again, that can be a threat to their capacity to stay up to date with their activities of daily living, right? So number one is we get people to lift heavy because it gets them stronger faster. The number two is that it reduces fear.

And two is very closely linked with number three, which is it increases confidence, right? I say to my older adults all the time, if you are lifting this 50 pound weight with me, you are never going to be afraid to lift something in your day-to-day life. And I hold true to that. I will say, you know, if you are able to lift a hundred pounds, then you know that that kitty litter that is 30 is something that you’re going to be able to handle. And so exposing to supra physiological loads compared to what their activities of daily living are gives confidence. It reduces fear and subsequently increases confidence and self-efficacy. And that is a really important narrative for so many of our older adults where their interactions with our healthcare system make them afraid, make them feel fragile, and therefore make them lack confidence with their capacity to do activities of daily living. Now, I’m not saying that we are going to ignore risk, right? We’re going to have individuals who have balance impairments or things like that that do make them have a risk for falls, slips, and trips. But a person with more physiological reserve with respect to musculoskeletal reserve kind of in the bank. is going to always do better with a fall than somebody who isn’t, right? Because that sedentary behavior, that lack of musculoskeletal resiliency from the muscle, the tendon, and the bone is more likely to give you an injury as a consequence of a fall. So we want to take into account all of their other variables within their medical history, but we want to increase confidence when it comes to a lot of our tasks. So that’s one, two, and three, right? So people get better faster if you get them to lift heavy weights versus low weights for high repetitions. It reduces fear. It increases confidence.

And my last one is that people lift heavier than we give them credit for in their day-to-day life, right? When we’re handing them five-pound dumbbells or we’re handing them pink three-pound dumbbells, they are lifting their 25-pound dog. They are bringing their 40 pound grandchild onto their lap. So they are doing a seated hip hinge with 40 pounds. They are making sure and doing a very forceful pull if their dog is pulling on their leash because they see a squirrel and their dog is 40 pounds. Like they are doing so much more in their activities of daily living. And if we are truly trying to do a rehab program that is work hardening and This is true not just for our outpatient community dwelling older adults, this is our home health older adults. This is our, you know, even the plate full of food that individuals are taking from their walker from their kitchen into their living room, that plate weighs two or three pounds. has a load to it. And so individuals lift so much more than they even think that they do. And I’m not like, when I think about my so many of my clients, like they forget how much load things are, or they like push a couch that’s 50 pounds, and they don’t think that they do a 50 pound, if I get them to a 50 pound sled push, they think that that’s too much. I was like, you just told me you moved your couch. Like that is exactly what you did, right? So they lift so much more. And when they have more resiliency, the percentage of strain on their body with those tasks changes, right? So going back to that, can you lift a hundred pounds versus the 30 pounds of kitty litter, right? If they are working at 30%, that is a repeatable effort. If I got them to do a set of 10 at 30 pounds, yes, that would be a lower strain. But then if I gave them 35 or 40 pounds and they’re afraid to lift it and they think that they can’t lift that anymore, then they’re topping out at 80% of what they believe their max capacity is to move that kitty litter. And that is a much harder reproducible task, even with some of the exposure and higher repetitions. than if they believed that they could lift 100 pounds and this was only a 30% effort. And it makes me really kind of think to even the state of our research and how much are we missing because of this inertia that we’ve created that this is the repetition range that we have always done so this is the repetition range that we are going to replicate and that is where we get into a lot of 3×10 repetitions right like we have always gone in that moderate intensity range and now we have this inertia in research as well where We have so much evidence that is accumulated in this area that our studies that are on the fringes in the 20 plus repetitions looking at muscular fatigue rates in our our rep ranges that are in the five minus or five or less ranges are so small that the bulk of our evidence is in the middle. And so then we think that this is where all of our exercise programs need to be. And I’m not against three by 10. I absolutely am not. But it is recognizing that there is a lot that can be done by exposing individuals to higher loads and then allowing their confidence to thrive. So where we go with this is not to say that our older adults don’t gain anything from the three by ten repetitions. That’s actually not true at all. And oftentimes what we will do is we will have individuals lifting heavier with us in a supervised setting where we can monitor irritability, especially when irritability is high. And then a lot of our at home repetitions are in that endurance hypertrophy range, because we bring the load down, we bring the intensity up to a moderate range with a less amount of load, load that tends to be more readily available in the home. And then we get this beautiful combination of getting that exposure to high loads, but also getting some of that hypertrophy resiliency in those higher repetition ranges. So where are we kind of going from here? One, we need so much more research that is comparing different types of exercise programs, right? When we are thinking about high load paradigms, so much, the bulk of the decisions that we make in rehab, and this is so true in our older adult divisions, and actually it’s everywhere, but a lot of our health intervention research is comparing doing something to doing nothing. And they say that it’s not doing nothing because they give a home exercise program, but then they don’t tell us how often people actually did set a home exercise program that you gave them at the beginning of your 12 week intervention and then never checked in on them again until the end. And we are always going to see at least initial newbie gains when we compare doing something to doing nothing. It is a lot harder as a researcher to do doing moderate intensity to doing high intensity and making those comparisons, hence why we are using indirect Bayesia network meta-analyses to try and gain insights into some of those comparisons. Because it takes a lot longer for us to see differences between individuals who are doing nothing to doing something in both groups, but the intensity is slightly different, but still hitting thresholds for adaptation potentially. So we have so much work that we need to do in this space, but until then, I have the four reasons that our division uses and why we try and expose our individuals to intensity and know that the main biggest take home that you can see in your older adults, and that is important for driving physiological adaptation to resistance training at any rep range, is effort. Effort is the important part, and so often in MMOA Live, we see that people don’t wait for effort to show up in our older adults. They don’t wait for the grunts, they don’t wait for the redness, they don’t wait for the sweating across their brow. And that is always one of my markers of effort. And so when I have my people in the gym, and I would say that probably 70% of my time in rehab is spent in the gym, the rest of the 30% is education and manual therapy, they’re sweating. they’re working hard, their muscles are feeling tired. I always say I love the shakes. I get the shakes and some of the core work, you know, like those are the things that effortfulness across the lifespan that I am looking for. So how can you get some ideas around exercise prescription and effort?

Well, I’m so glad that you asked. We start our next cohort of MMA level one this week, actually today. Today is the 13th. We have some big things coming at us. One is that our MMOA level one starts today. So if you were hoping to get in and dive into some of this research on exercise prescription, we have three weeks that focus on where our mindset is with respect to loading the older adult. And we also are seeing big changes around moving to an app. So if you guys have been seeing, jump into the iStudents group. We are going to be migrating over to Circle, so all of our courses are gonna be moving in that direction. So if you are interested in getting, thanks Taylor, we are going to be going in that direction. So if you guys are looking for where some of our slides and things from the courses are gonna live, they are going to be on the Circle app, which we are really excited for, that platform migration. All right, I hope you all are having a great week. We will see you all. If you are at our MMOA Digest, please get on there. Otherwise, we’ll see you in a couple weeks.

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