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Watching your average 65+ year old pumping out his sets out at the gym in hast is not your average sight – most will agree. But brand new research out of the Clinical Exercise Research Center at the University of Southern California suggests this practice should be encouraged for those ‘older’ guys looking to get the best results from their strength training.

22 elderly male volunteers were split into two equal groups (one with average age of 65.6 and the other 70.3 years) to test the relative effects of a resistance training program with short rest intervals (i.e. 60s) versus longer (i.e. 4mins). Both programs ran for 8 weeks and were periodised in nature. This was preceded by 4 weeks training (@3 days/week) targeting hypertrophy. During the ensuing 8 weeks both groups performed the exact same type and number of exercises, with the exception that one group had shorter rest intervals.

At the conclusion of the programs, both groups, as you would expect, experienced significant increases in lean body mass, upper and lower body strength, dynamic power, as well as decreased body fat. But the short rest interval group experienced significantly greater increases in lean body mass flat machine bench press 1-RM, bilateral leg press 1-RM, narrow/neutral grip lat pull down, and Margaria stair-climbing power, compared to the group with longer rest intervals.

While naturally it may be harder to motivate elderly males to train in a more intense manner with shorter rest intervals, this study suggests that they stand to experience better body composition, muscular performance, and functional performance if they do. The study didn’t look into any of the mechanisms that might govern the superior response in the short rest interval group, which makes it hard to speculate on why the shorter rest periods were superior. Likewise, one can’t assume that say a 2-minute rest interval versus the 1-minute would be any better. Bottom line is if you’re over 65 and you want to maximise your time at the gym, you may be better placed using short rest intervals of around a minute.

Villanueva MG, et al. Short rest interval lengths between sets optimally enhance body composition and performance with 8 weeks of strength resistance training in older men. Eur J Apply Physiol. 2014

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