PURPOSE:An understanding of the neuromechanical responses to bench stepping with external loading is important for exercise prescription, especially in older women who are more at risk than men for disability. This study was designed to describe and compare such responses to repeated bench stepping with external loading between young and older women.METHODS:Eight young (25 ± 2.7 years) and nine older (70 ± 3.3 years) medically stable women performed repeated stepping on a bench of either 20 or 25 cm either unloaded or with 2.5, 5, 7.5 or 10 % of body mass (BM) incorporated into a weighted vest. Ground reaction forces, peak power output and agonist-antagonist neuromuscular activation around the knee joint were evaluated.RESULTS:Peak power output was 44 % lower in the older than in the younger women. At a step height of 25 cm, peak power (PP) in the young women was 7 % greater with an external load of 7.5 % body mass compared with no loading, while in the older women there was a tendency for PP to be higher with an external load of 2.5 % body mass. Neuromuscular activation of the vastus lateralis muscle was 60 % higher in the older than in the young women.CONCLUSIONS:Older women performed repeated weighted-vest stepping with lower power output but greater knee muscle activation compared to younger counterparts. Peak power output during stepping may be achieved at 7.5 % BM loading in young women and either 2.5 or 10 % BM in older women, depending on desired step height.