Ageing can be a pain in the butt! Research demonstrates that ageing causes decrements in lean mass, strength and functionality. If we don’t do something to prevent these decrements from occurring, ageing can make us old, sick and fat.
Another detriment that can occur from again is a loss of efferent drive!
OK, I’ll explain more about what this is and how we can prevent it. Let’s take a look closer below…
So, what is this efferent drive thing? Efferent neurons are neurons that send impulses from the central nervous system to your limbs and organs. So, efferent drive is our ability to excite those impulses from our central nervous system to our organs and limbs.
A great example is that efferent drive is what sends impulse to our muscle to contract and move.
What can cause changes to our nervous system?
Remodelling of the nervous system occurs from age-related loss of muscle strength (1). The gradual loss of motoneurons contribute to the deleterious effects with age. Motorneurons carry signals from the spinal cord to the muscles and glands. The loss of motoneurons results in reduced motoneuron firing frequency (2), increased presynaptic inhibition (4), and slower nerve conduction velocity (3).
Basically this describes what happens when our efferent drive slows down. These impairments compromise the force production of contracting skeletal muscle.
Does strength training help?
Strength training in the elderly has demonstrated improvement in motoneuron recruitment and firing frequency. Research has shown that efferent drive can be improved by strength training in the elderly!
You have probably heard of high intensity strength training and there is a huge reason to include FIRE (Focused Intense Resistance Exercise) in your overall training plan!
So does a lack of strength training over many decades lead to irrefutable neuronal loss, which might not be restored if it is first lost?
Let’s look at a study that compared masters athletes who were involved in long-term high intensity strength training with recreationally active and sedentary old individuals (5).RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
What does the research tell us?
The main finding was that the strength-trained masters athletes had twofold higher maximal voluntary contractions compared with the sedentary and recreationally active age-matched individuals.
This indicates a higher efferent drive among the strength trained master athletes and suggests that high-intensity strength training in particular may be necessary to preserve efferent neural drive and that physical activity per se is not sufficient to induce any efferent drive maintenance.
In addition, none of the investigated characteristics of the neuromuscular system in the study displayed any differences between sedentary and recreationally active old participants.
This is somewhat surprising but may suggest that high-intensity strength training in particular, and not physical activity per se, may be essential to preserve the neuromuscular function with age.
It may be that high-intensity strength training, targeting the fast twitch motor units, could be particularly beneficial for counteracting the age-related loss of neuromuscular function.
Bottom line is that FIRE needs to be part of the cornerstone of a successful program design
Take home message!
This cross-sectional study shows that efferent drive to contracting muscle is compromised with age. Furthermore, it shows that elderly subjects involved in long-term strength training mitigate this decline in efferent drive.
They improved their efferent drive with FIRE!
In contrast, no difference in efferent drive was observed between recreationally active and sedentary old subjects. This indicates that strength training with FIRE in particular may be beneficial for counteracting the age-related loss of efferent drive.
FIRE is a huge part of my 12 week Metabolic Precision online course! The first thing I do is build a customized FIRE program that will achieve the benefits above and much more. Then I build an ICE (Intense Cardiovascular Exercise) program and work in other lower intense activity (LIA).
Each client knows exactly the right type and amount of exercise to do each week to achieve their goals. Then we focus on metabolically precise eating which helps shed the fat and support the workouts.
This is all part of my 12 week Metabolic Precision online course.
Connect here with WatchFit Expert Dr. Paul Henning
1. Aagaard P, Suetta C, Caserotti P, Magnusson SP, and Kjaer M. Role of the nervous system in sarcopenia and muscle atrophy with aging: strength training as a countermeasure. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 20: 49-64, 2010.
2. Klass M, Baudry S, and Duchateau J. Voluntary activation during maximal contraction with advancing age: a brief review. European journal of applied physiology 100: 543-551, 2007.
3. Metter EJ, Conwit R, Metter B, Pacheco T, and Tobin J. The relationship of peripheral motor nerve conduction velocity to age-associated loss of grip strength. Aging (Milano) 10: 471-478, 1998.
4. Morita H, Shindo M, Yanagawa S, Yoshida T, Momoi H, and Yanagisawa N. Progressive decrease in heteronymous monosynaptic Ia facilitation with human ageing. Experimental brain research 104: 167-170, 1995.
5. Unhjem R, Nygard M, van den Hoven LT, Sidhu SK, Hoff J, and Wang E. Lifelong strength training mitigates the age-related decline in efferent drive. Journal of applied physiology 121: 415-423, 2016.