Training as an older athlete (or pretend athlete if I’m honest), I came to the realisation in recent years, after reflection and a rational chat with my ego, that I needed different training focuses than when I was younger. A change of priorities if you will.
As an older athlete my recuperate powers have now waned somewhat as have my strength levels. It is harder now to motivate myself to train and to maintain my former levels of muscularity, whilst acquisition of new muscle is now a memory. This is an inescapable path down which we all must travel as we continue to battle against our greatest enemy. I no longer compete against others but instead against the most insidious opponent of all, infirmity in old age.
I’m training as an older athlete now primarily for health and longevity, not performance. Whilst performance is an enviable goal, I choose to train because I find exercise/training fun and rewarding and do so for the benefits of optimal health, functionality, and hopefully longevity. Additionally I want to look as good as I can.
If you share these goals then the ability to sustain a healthy training regimen as you get older will assist you greatly. It may not neccesarily put years on your life but it will hopefully put life into your years.
Most of us who are training as an older athlete are looking for a program to keep us in good physical shape, that is not boring, but fun, exciting, and sustainable and which will help maintain or improve our health and quality of life.
Whilst there are some significant carryovers to improvements in both strength and conditioning, training as an older athlete for health and longevity is a little different to training for optimal performance.
We know that older masters athletes have been observed displaying incredible levels of strength and conditioning. In order to be the best however, they have made many sacrifices in order to reach and maintain this level of strength and conditioning, sometimes even to the detriment of their health.
Adjusting training parameters
Older trainees can’t train the same as they did when they were twenty. The indescretions, late nights, irregular sleep and other bad living habits can still be tolerated and recuperated from fairly easily as a young person. As you become older unfortunately your body becomes far less tolerant of this.
Recuperation then, which effectively means sleep, becomes more important. Additionally, older athletes require less training volume, and less intensity than their younger counterparts. They are more prone to injury and overtraining. It should be remembered that more is not always better. In fact the maxim “less is more” could not be more relevant than when applied to training for the older athlete. Despite this, there should still be a provision for both strength and hypertrophy in your training routine. Hypertrophy training is especially useful and should be your primary focus. This is because training at around 70 per cent of 1 rep max is a level of intensity which can be more easily maintained. Otherwise you can end up spending too long recuperating from higher intensity pure strength work. Working at a lower intensity will still increase strength and allow for more frequent workouts.This is good and will make training consistency less of a problem.
When training as an older athlete strength gains are admitedly harder to come by, but continuing to attempt to build strength is extremely important. The stronger you are, the more resilience you will have, and the better equipped you are for the unexpected traumas life inevitably throws at you. The stronger you are the quicker you will recover from injury, or a fall. Not only that but the stronger you get the better you feel. Feel good, happy people consistently outperform those who are not happy or are dissatisfied with their performance. I think they probably live longer, better quality lives as well.
Aerobic conditioning is also an important component to maintain or develop. Additionally mobility/flexibility is necessary for effective power production and to prevent injury, and should therefore not be overlooked.
As a modality barbell training can sometimes be found wanting in the mobility/flexibility department and to avoid injury stretching prior to training and a warm-up should be mandatory.
High intensity interval training and even longer duration aerobic exercise also have there place to improve physical conditioning for the older athlete, just dont take up marathon running.
Training as an older athlete doing static lifts with free weights alone requires a lot of self discipline. I find it can become a slog and consequently it is sometimes difficult to motivate yourself to train.
I found that kettlebell training gave me a new lease of life and greatly improved my motivation to train and improved my fitness levels. I noticed the improved conditioning more as a marked reduction in recovery time between sets – acheived in just a few weeks.
Kettlebells are also a lot of fun to work with. My limit strength in terms of what I can lift with a barbell has decreased somewhat on some lifts, but my work capacity has definately increased.
I find kettlebell training also excellent for mobility and aerobic conditioning and is consequently now my go to workout protocol. It’s versatility is such that both strength and conditioning work can be performed quickly, conveniently and effectively.
Interval training with kettlebells such as that performed using tabata timing for example are short, very intense and extremely effective at improving strength and conditioning.
Kettlebell training appears to tick all the boxes and my 58 year old body responds well to this training modality.
It is an unfortunate fact of life training as an older athlete that we must contend with reduced hormone levels. Natural decline in growth hormone and testosterone levels during aging contributes to negative alterations in body composition and vigor.
Hormone levels will in part also dictate our ability to recover from strenuous exercise. Recuperation takes longer the older you get. Ensure you optimise recovery by getting eight hours sleep a night, or preferably nine on training days.
Additionally ensure that you ingest nutrient dense food and try to reduce stress levels as far as possible. Stress is the rust of life and is associated with an increasing number of physical maladies aside from its negative psychological effects. Stress increases production of the hormone cortisol, which is catabolic and therefore detrimental to maintaining muscle mass.
Try to eliminate negative distractions in your life and be aware of the effect of your negative internal dialogue. Switch it off.
Training as an older athlete
I become very irritable when I have not trained for any length of time. For me training keeps me sane, and imparts many other positive physical and psychological benefits.
Importantly, resistance training as an older athlete slows the decline in strength and age related lean tissue loss. You will become acutely aware of this if you stop exercising for a protracted period of time. The difference is noticeable even in the performance of everyday activities like carrying shopping or climbing stairs.
Additionally I have found that resuming training after a lay-off becomes progressively harder especially after the age of 50. As a young man you tend to bounce back quickly after a break in training but this becomes difficult for the older trainee and requires a sustained and protracted effort. Consistency in training therefore assumes far greater importance for the older athlete.
There are numerous training modalities and protocols available to maintain, and even increase strength, muscle size and conditioning levels as we advance in age. Whichever ones you choose ensure that you have fun and train consistently in order to remain strong and healthy into your old age.
Growth hormone and aging: