Training as we age – thoughts and observations
Here are some observations about training and how it often has to change as we get older. There is nothing here that older readers won’t already know or have experienced. These are simply my own experiences of 40 plus years of training and competition.
- Getting older means we produce less testosterone. Less testosterone makes it more difficult to build lean muscle…but not impossible. Also as we age we aromatase more which means we produce more estrogen (we become more female—not cool but sadly a fact!). So our hormonal profile conspires against us. We can combat this to some degree with clever training, good recovery, clean eating and some basic supplements.
- We oldies often have acquired many years ‘training age’ so have a large experience memory bank to draw from. This is important when assessing ‘gurus’ training advice and deciding what may work and what may not. A lot of training advice is either too easy and will not produce sufficient stimulus to achieve results, or is being peddled by ‘roid type’ enhanced monsters and is not appropriate for ‘clean’ people. Either way both are probably not suitable for the majority of us wrinklies. (Having said that some folks recommend Testosterone supplementation as a kind of Hormone Replacement Therapy…however not for the this article)
- We should try to remember the 3 basics for continued development: suitable stimulation, paleo feed, adequate rest and recuperation.
- We may still train as hard as we have in the past (effort) but the output is generally less intense. For the same gruelling effort i.e. weight lifted, distant moved, speed / power training done, reps grinded out, etc the maximum work / load achieved will usually be less than when we were younger. This is because physiological we decline i.e. cardiac function and lung capacity is reduced, we lose muscle mass, generally metabolic rate slows, inflammation often increases, power output lessens, injuries take their toll, joint stiffen and so forth. This doesn’t mean we are for the knackers yard, just realise that it is more difficult to be as ‘awesome’ as the the younger version of you.
- In order to remain / become lean, healthy and strong we have to eat even more strictly than the young guns. We simply can not get away with going on the lash and eating kebabs / pizza every night and cracking a quick ‘guns’ session. There are a number of reasons for this but one that we should consider is as we age our digestive system become less efficient and we produce less digestive enzymes. Because our metabolic rate declines so we become less capable / efficient at burning calories. So we should consider a suppemental digestive enzyme to aid nutritional absorption as well as ensuring that the calories we eat / drink are of the highest quality. Eat paleo!
- Recovery from arduous training is more difficult. When we are younger we can blast through a large volume of intense training fairly frequently. Unfortunately age makes this far more difficult and recovery becomes slower. The signs of over doing it are never to far from the hard training 45 + year old types. Keep an eye out for: reduced sex drive, lack of motivation, irritability, constant fatigue, ulcers, lack of progress, poor sleep (important one), lethargy, constant injury, painful joint, elevated morning heart rate, dull eyes and skin and so on. If some of these are a constant in your life then take a week off, relax, re-evaluate your goals and training methods. Training should enhance life not detract from it…unless you are a sado and training is your life…then join me here at PFP!
- As we get older and some say wiser, we become more tolerant of other forms of training. The youthful ‘my way is the only way’ attityde is flawed, arrogant and worst of all, narrow minded. Personally I disagree with most bosu ball type stuff, but I no longer go around popping them…well not with people still on them! Gurus and zealots are wonderful people to learn from, but learn from a variety of these guys, not just one. Then make up your own mind according to the facts as you see them. Avoid becoming a clone…clone, not clown!
- Age make us realise that there will always be stronger / fitter / leaner / faster / more muscular people around than us. This is a fact, so don’t beat yourself up, accept it gracefully…the bastards!!! Of course train as cleverly and as hard as you can and keep you eye on what you are trying to achieve and let the gifted be…well gifted!
- Rehab / prehab and or simply warming up become more important. Anyone that has trained for a sustained period of time / years will likely have some injury issues. Being aware of what will aggravate these problems and avoiding those movement pattern / exercise / drill is prudent. This sounds obvious but personally it has taken me many years to realise that simply smashing it till the injury goes numb isn’t a good strategy (thicko)! So now: stretching before, light rehearsal work, muscle release techniques, foam rollers, band assisted stretches, muscle ‘switch on’ methods and so on can be very helpful to get a more productive and less abrasive workout. If it is pain-full don’t do it, if it is pain-less do it! The young guns can normally simply take their coat off and crack on, damn them!
- Joints are less able to take the battering of youth. Our cartilage degenerates as we get older and if you were / are a distance runner this will surely be the case. So to offset this we can consider increasing our healthy fats. Also adjust your training to take care of creaky joints. Do you need to do heavy plyometric jumps, is that 5 mile run necessary and such like.
- Postural awareness / structural balance adjustment becomes more important. Work in front of a computer for any period of time and chances are that your shoulders will be rounded (kyphotic). Generally, tight pecs, tight traps and loose rhomboid, therefore, stretch the shoulders and chest and strengthen the back, between the shoulder blades and external rotators. Also hip flexors and calfs are notoriously tight and cause a host of issues with the back, hips, glutes and so on…stretch them prior to leg type training and your primary lifts .
- Some basic supplements may have considerable benefits at keeping us healthy and vaguely youthful if we choose wisely and according to research. I already mentioned about digestive deterioration as we age, as well as poor range of movement at joints and testosterone level reduction. The priority as I see it is to improving digestion to ensure that the food we eat is absorbed efficiently. Next is a decent multivitamin as well as increasing our fats. A probiotic is pretty important as well to ensure our gut is colonised with adequate helpful bacteria. There is an endless list of stuff that may help but in order to know what is suitable find a good health practitioner that has been proven and get their advice.
We do not have to stop training hard now that we sometimes wee when we laugh, but combine hard training with smart training and we can go on and on. We must eat cleaner than our youth. All things being equal, hypertrophy (gain muscle / maintain) and moving the joints through a full range should be a priority as we age. The benefits of which are many, not least of all longevity. We should take care of our joints and try to adhere to structurally balanced program.
Try not to flog yourself to be something that genetically you can never be. You may never be super powerful…but can still enjoy Olympic lifting. You may never be a massive meat-head but can still enjoy hypertrophy training. You may never be super strong but can still enjoy lifting heavy. We can train as hard as we can, we can still make gains but simply realise our genetic good points and not so good points. A scrum half will not make a good prop…and vice versa. Please excuse me now, I am going to shuffle off and lift stuff up and down, but first I must empty my colostomy bag!!