The Aging Athlete

If you haven't noticed, it gets much more difficult to build your fitness as you age. Reflecting back on your younger years, it is easy to recall memories of outstanding physical performances. Often enough, these performances were manifested without following a solid training program, eating right, or getting enough sleep. The resiliency of your youthful body allowed you to do just about anything you wanted and you'd get in better shape, regardless of how irresponsibly you took care of your body or the absurdity of your workouts. Being young and dumb was great. When younger, you can make more mistakes in lifestyle and training without significant negative consequences. This is possible in part thanks to puberty, and the concomitant positive change to our internal hormonal chemistry, along with a juvenile training age.

"Training age refers to the amount of time you've accrued performing your chosen physical tasks"

Training age refers to the amount of time you've accrued performing your chosen physical tasks such as running and lifting weights. When you are young and have yet to accumulate much training history, you have an extremely large margin for improvement. This explains why the rate of improvement you may have seen in your high school weight training class has never again been matched, and nowadays it takes a year to shave 5-seconds off your 5k run time. Physical improvement boils down to your body's ability to adapt to the specific stressors of physical training. When you haven't had much exposure to physical training, the body is able to adapt rapidly and in large magnitude. Conversely after 5-10 years of physical training, there isn't much you can throw at your body that it hasn't already seen, so you adapt considerably less.

"Your hormonal makeup and training age are the two key factors in declining physical performance associated with aging"

So far you've been told your hormonal makeup and training age are the two key factors in declining physical performance associated with aging. The good news is that you have the ability to freeze your physiological clock with good lifestyle choices, and you can defeat your advancing training age with thoughtful strength and conditioning programming. The most significant physical factor that separates the aging athlete from a younger counterpart is recovery. You were much better at it in your youth. Getting old has nothing to do with your chronological age, and everything to do with recovery time. Altering lifestyle choices and your training program to support greater recovery is the key to enhancing physical performance as you age.

"Altering lifestyle choices and your training program to support greater recovery is the key to enhancing physical performance as you age."

There is a lot that you can do to slow the hormonal decline associated with aging. Sleep is the most powerful tool at your disposal to keep you in your physical prime. We generally accrue more life responsibilities as we age such as marriage, kids, pets, and increasing responsibilities at work. All of these responsibilities can impact your ability to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night. The bulk of your body's anabolic hormone production occurs while you sleep, so if you aren't getting your zzz's you probably aren't getting your restorative daily dose of testosterone and growth hormone either.

"If you aren't getting your zzz's you probably aren't getting your restorative daily dose of testosterone and growth hormone either"

The other major lifestyle change that will most prominently impact your internal chemistry is nutrition. Consuming adequate calories to support your training is necessary for replenishing your energy stores thereby allowing your body to rebuild and remodel itself to better manage the stressors of physical training. If you aren't meeting your energy needs it doesn't matter what type of healthy food choices you make, you'll still be losing your battle with recovery. Delving deeper than daily caloric intake, manipulation of the macronutrients (Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat) and source of your calories may be necessary to optimize the fueling and recovery of your specific training. Our bodies are always fueled by a combination of the three macronutrients, however generalizations can be made about the preffered use of each macronutrient. High intensity training is fueled by carbohydrate, low intensity training with fat, and protein is the brick and mortar of tissue rebuilding. They each have their place in a diet. How much of each largely depends on the types of physical activities that you perform.

"High intensity training is fueled by carbohydrate, low intensity training with fat, and protein is the brick and mortar of tissue rebuilding."

If you want to get around an advanced training age, you need to be following a structured and focused training program. The reason there are hundreds of popular training systems that you've heard of, tried, and may have found success with in the past is because they all work. Everything does…At least for a few weeks…Provided you don't get hurt. Every canned program will ultimately fail you, because it will eventually not be focused enough on your specific needs to allow you to continually adapt and improve from the training. When you had a young training age these programs likely offered a great benefit for a very long time, but your body is much smarter now as your training age has increased. You will ultimately need a coach who can build and modify a training program over time to continually give your body what it needs at each ever-changing moment in time to keep positively adapting. There are not any hard and fast rules of strength and conditioning for the aging athlete, but there are three trends that generally work well for most people.

Extend recovery time between intensive training sessions

  • Since training becomes more focused as you age, you are able to inflict greater levels of stress on your body that needs greater recovery time between workouts. Every workout can't be a gut check. You'll need to consider reducing the amount of gut busting workouts in your weekly training plan, or extending the time between exhaustive sessions.

Do not abandon strength training

  • We commonly hear an aging athlete say "I'm not worried about lifting really heavy weights anymore; I just want to stay in good shape." Being strong is a backbone of staying in good shape. Strength training is your best defense against soft tissue and joint injuries, and is necessary to remain powerful. Good strength training does require the lifting of heavy weights; however a well-planned training program will never subject you to training loads that you are not adequately equipped to handle.

Maintain training intensity in some of your endurance workouts

  • As you age there is a tendency to increase workout duration at the expense of intensity. Volume becomes a focus of your training. The maintenance of intensive workouts in your endurance training routine is important for the preservation of maximal aerobic power and anaerobic efficiency. These traits will allow you to respond rapidly when work, training, or life requires that you move with great speed, power, and quickness. Speed, power, and anaerobic endurance are use-it-or-lose-it traits, so don't let them get too far away in your training program.

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