Fitness at any age is based on the inputs, outputs, genetics and environment. As athletes age the adaptation to interventions changes. We all know that recovery is generally slower and the gains get smaller, but there is much that can be done to maximize gains, live a healthy life and create a sustainable program.
I have a doctor friend who once said, “what most people don’t understand is that the human body is like a machine, it has a life and maintenance service schedule. If you ignore the maintenance, stop servicing it and overuse it, it wears out too early.” – Dr. Haenke D.O.
The issue that I have with most crossFit programs is that they don’t take into consideration that there is a finite limit to the joint and tissue longevity of every athlete. Is more always better? If you can, should you? Our goal in programming fitness as coaches should be to get maximum results with the right dosage of training. (minimal effective dosage) This is one of several principles that I teach in the FORTIFY course.
Here are some scientific observations that we now know to be true about aging and training masters athletes.
*Overall reduced endurance at approx. 1% decline per year
*Flexibility and mobility both decrease with aging due to these physiological changes
*Lung capacity and power < with age @ 25 ml/year after the age of 20 in non-athletes, this *Overall, there is a reduced ability to produce force, speed and power. *Studies have shown that weight training after the age of 30 can increase strength, power, speed using 75-80% loads and 1-12 reps. *Sprinting, over speeding, and high intensity interval training are effective ways to improve strength, power and speed.
*Research shows that aged athletes can still maintain healthy bone mass densities similar to that of younger athletes
*Older athletes can maintain nervous function higher than their younger non-athlete counterparts, but not higher than young athletes
*Flexibility can be maintained and improved in older athletes but it HAS to become a part of a normal training regime
*Lean mass can be maintained and supported in older athletes through strength training and body fat can be reduced through proper nutrition
*Overall reduction in the ability to thermo-regulate
*Reduction in muscle recovery due to age related changes, nutrition is key and more research is needed
These are some basic physiological findings of aging athletes. The transition from a younger to older athlete and these changes should influence programming. Here are some basic programming principles for the masters athlete to assist you in developing programming that is smart, client/athlete relevant and outcome specific.
Out of all the 10 general physical skills, programs should focus on this order of development;
These skills I rank in order of importance from ascending to descending based on their decline with aging. The skills requiring more focus are those listed first because of the potential rapid decline. Even as the athlete ages, if we focus on strength as the foundation of all human physical capacity, we can’t go wrong. For example, one thing we see with much older non-exercising clients is a significant decline in balance which can lead to falls and increased risk of early mortality over the age of 55+. Increasing strength has a direct correlation to improved balance.
*I now believe more than ever that coaches should program strength training in cycles of year round development. That means that varying methods of strength training should be employed throughout the year, with load and de-load cycles using traditional barbell training, kettle bells, weightlifting, functional strong man style lifts and carries, and even some isolated muscle group training. Strength training should be performed 3-4x weekly or more based on the outcome.
*Programs should place flexibility/mobility as the second order of importance. Without adequate joint and tissue mobility, strength cannot be maximally used and joint shearing loads and efficiency decreases. Mobility should be a daily or even 2x daily endeavor.
* Power/Speed training should not be neglected. Older athletes have a tendency to stop doing this type of training and focus more on endurance training. Since these skills are declining for some it seems counterintuitive to train them, but that is where athletes go wrong. If it’s declining, we should work it. Power and speed training can be performed using weightlifting (clean, jerk, snatch), sprints, over speeding, and high intensity interval training. It should be performed a minimum of 2x a week. (I will give my rationale for this in another blog)
* Endurance and stamina training should be focused on based on the strengths and weaknesses of the “engine” of the client. Which metabolic pathways do they need to develop more capacity? High intensity interval training such as short duration high intensity WOD’s can have an impact on stamina and endurance combined. Minimal time should be devoted to longer slower distance training. Endurance capacity is one of the physical skills that has a slower decline with age. Train endurance/stamina no more than 2-3x a week for the fitness and even competitive athlete. Too much time spent in HIIT can have a prolonged catabolic effect when combined with the recovery needed from strength training.
* Lastly, coaches should focus on neurological adaptations which are built on the acquisition of the prior skills. Balance, coordination, agility and accuracy all require basic physical skill level performance. Even at the higher levels of competitive performance, if one of the neuro-skills is called for, they require support from the other physical skills. Fortunately, the development of strength, power and speed using barbell training and weightlifting requires significant amounts of these skills which develop as a conjugate of the other skills.
There are many other programming basics to consider with masters athletes, but this get us started in the right direction. Understanding the lifecycle of your client, adaptation rates, hormonal roles, and metabolic pathway changes are just a few of the things to consider when constructing a solid program that is sustainable and doesn’t overdose your athlete.
Stay healthy my friends ( I stole that from the Dos Equis commercials)!