A Little Physiology
Looking at men or women from the ages of 18-80 and examining the shortening velocity of their musculature you may be tremendously surprised to find that age has no effect on how quickly a muscle can change its length.
There are few things in humans that give us more fast fibers: if someone becomes paraplegic, experiences long bed rest or spaceflight the chemistry will change. The histology, that is the anatomy of the cells and tissue, remains largely unchanged in people following resistive training.
With aging there is a decrease in maximal force and power due to the loss of muscle mass and not to the unloaded shortening velocity. A loss of force and power makes it difficult in the aging process to perform multi-joint movements, which eventually lead to a loss of mobility.
Knowing this scientists looked at competitive male sprinters who were 17-82 to see what was occurring over time. They also wanted to see if the above information held true for those who were competitive throughout their entire lives.
The maximum running velocity of competitive sprinters decreased as they aged due to stride length and an increase of time on the ground. Of course this isn't surprising as muscle become smaller as all humans age. There is a loss of muscular thickness as myofibrils and motor neurons begin to die. Having less power to get off the ground and moving less distance is expected.
What is very interesting and that strength coaches should know and understand is that stride frequency showed only a minor change and the swing time of the leg was virtually unaffected by aging. The unloaded shortening velocity of the muscle had not been compromised nor enhanced during all these years of sprint training.
Well, it looks like the old guys are still moving fast but just not going anywhere.
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