Blood flow restricted resistance training in older adults at risk of mobility limitations

Summer B Cook, Dain P LaRoche, Michelle R Villa, Hannah Barile, Todd M Manini
Experimental Gerontology 2017 December 1, 99: 138-145

High-load resistance training (HL) may be contraindicated in older adults due to pre-existing health conditions (e.g. osteoarthritis). Low-load blood flow restricted (BFR) resistance training offers an alternative to HL with potentially similar strength improvement.

PURPOSE: To compare muscle strength, cross-sectional area (CSA), physical function, and quality of life (QOL) following 12-weeks of HL or BFR training in older adults at risk of mobility limitations.

METHODS: Thirty-six males and females (mean: 75.6years 95% confidence interval: [73.4-78.5], 1.67m [1.64-1.70], 74.3kg [69.8-78.8]) were randomly assigned to HL (70% of one repetition maximum [1-RM]) or low-load BFR (30% 1-RM coupled with a vascular restriction) exercise for the knee extensors and flexors twice per week for 12weeks. A control (CON) group performed light upper body resistance and flexibility training. Muscle strength, CSA of the quadriceps, 400-m walking speed, Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), and QOL were assessed before, midway and after training.

RESULTS: Within 6-weeks of HL training, increases in all strength measures and CSA were evident and the gains were significantly greater than the CON group (P<0.05). The BFR group had strength increases in leg extension and leg press 1-RM tests, but were significantly lower in leg extension isometric maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) and leg extension 1-RM than the HL group (P<0.01). At 12-weeks HL and BFR training did not differ in MVC (P=0.14). Walking speed increased 4% among all training groups (P<0.01) and no changes were observed for overall SPPB score and QOL (P>0.05).

CONCLUSION: Both training programs resulted in muscle CSA improvements and HL training had more pronounced strength gains than BFR training after 6-weeks and were more similar to BFR after 12-weeks of training. These changes in both groups did not transfer to improvements in QOL, SPPB, and walking speed. Since both programs result in strength and CSA gains, albeit at different rates, future research should consider using a combination of HL and BFR training in older adults with profound muscle weakness and mobility limitations.

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