Functional training: Muscle structure, function, and performance in older women

M. Elaine Cress, Kevin E. Conley, Sheryal L. Balding, Fay Hansen-Smith, Jürgen Konczak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Response to physical training at the cellular and whole muscle level has been established in older adults. However, the underlying molecular mechanism responsible for change has not been described nor have the relationships between change in muscle structure and functional performance been established. The purpose of this research study is to evaluate the changes of muscle ultrastructure, muscle strength, and whole body functional performance as a result of a functionally directed exercise program (stair climbing). Women (65-83 years old) selected either the control (no exercise; N = 6) or exercise (N = 7) group. The 1-year functionally based exercise program was both aerobic (75% heart rate reserve) and resistive (weighted stair climbing). Muscle ultrastructure, determined by quantitative morphometry of the vastus lateralis tissue, and maximal step-height achieved by each subject were related to isokinetic strength and muscle morphology. Changes in myofibrillar area accounted for 48% of the variance in muscle strength changes. Change in muscle contractile protein was the underlying basis for change in thigh strength which, in turn, was the basis for functional performance. These data provide evidence that, in older women, a mild functionally based training program results in improved muscle structure and performance of the lower body.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-10
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1996


  • elderly
  • muscle ultrastructure
  • physical function


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