Are you over 40 and looking to make the most out of your training, whilst avoiding injuries?
Here are some common questions answered.
Are there training priorities for each age group (40-49 through to 60 plus) or is that too simple? For example, does strength training or stretching perhaps become more of a priority at one age group over another?
The stresses and strains on each of these each groups will vary massively and this all needs to be taken into consideration when building a training programme. It has to be athlete centred and part of that is taking into consideration not only the athletes physical capabilities, alongside their age, health, medical history, but also the external impacts on the athlete. For example, someone in their 40s may have a high powered job, long hours, children, therefore limited time and limited rest opportunities. Whereas someone in their 60s may be retired, with more time, however, the body cannot physically withstand the kind of impact that perhaps a well-trained athlete in their 40s could. So in both cases, the training has to be very ‘smart’, and tailored to the individual, just the reasons may change as they grow older
Many textbooks suggest that running should become less of a focus as you age because of its weight bearing nature. Is that correct?
Research suggests that up to 70pcent of injuries in the over 60s are a result of overuse, because of the decrease in musculo-skeletal flexibility. Running long distance on hard surfaces is very hard on the body, so it’s sensible to be careful and take measures to avoid injury. Building a strong core, a strength programme, running for shorter periods (avoiding the junk miles), but maintaining intensity, and varying the training (cross training), will all help the older athlete stay injury free!. It is also worth mentioning at this point though that impact exercises help improve bone density and develops bone growth, so a balance needs to be found, and this will obviously depend on the athlete.
Can any potential drop-off in performance be overcome by focusing on refining technique or is that not realistic at a certain age?
As an athlete ages it will become harder to hit those PB’s, the body will need longer to recover from intense sessions, and recovery time extends, however, whilst the older athlete cannot stop VO2 max declining, they can do a lot to slow down the rate in which it declines. In fact, an older athlete that is relatively new to training and has a period where they have completed little activity, (so their V02 would have rapidly declined), can reverse their V02 max by following a well-structured exercise programme. Including technique work is very important at any age, as this will make the individual more efficient in the different disciplines and help avoid injury. However, more emphasis will need to be placed on a longer thorough warm up for the older athletes, and as already mentioned, include a variety of different sessions, including high intensity sessions, resistance work, strength training, as well as plenty of rest and recovery.
Are there injuries that are more common to the ageing tri-athlete? If so, what and why? And how can the ageing athletes reduce their chances of this injury?
Older athletes can suffer from chronic and overuse injuries (strains and tendinitis). Unfortunately, with age, tendons and ligaments lose their elasticity so are prone to wear and tear injuries. However, with regular intensive muscle training, athletes well into their 80s can minimise or reverse a decrease in muscle mass and avoid injury. Also train smart, so avoid the junk miles, but maintain the intensity. When running stick to softer surfaces.
Should recovery be a greater focus as you age. If so, why?
Exercise results in muscle tissue breakdown, fluid loss and a depletion of energy stores, therefore recovery is essential for all athletes to avoid symptoms of over training. However, it does take your body longer to adapt and repair from the stresses and strains placed on it as you age as bone mass, and muscle mass decreases, and ligaments lose their elasticity. This means the older athlete is more susceptible to overuse injuries at best, so its imperative that adequate recovery through rest, both active and inactive, hydration, a well-balanced diet, (protein and nutrient rich meal after exercise) is adhered to. It’s also worth bearing in mind that older athletes sleep patterns are often shorter, lighter and are regularly broken through the night, so heavy bouts of training could lead to high levels of tiredness. Therefore it’s very important that the athlete listens to their body, and their coach keeps a close eye, on their weight, sleep patterns, and diet!
Are there any particular training templates an older athlete should follow (i.e. train two days, have one day off)?
I would strongly recommend that a training programme was designed by a coach, tailored to the athlete’s individual needs, health, time available, and goals. However, there are rules of thumb for aging athletes that need to be considered. For example, a longer thorough warm up, to boost blood flow to the muscles, and time dedicated for a good stretch at the end is important. Invest in a foam roller as well, so you can work on the muscles at home, and a massage perhaps once a month to keep on top of any potential niggles! Also, include elements that work on developing balance and proprioception, cross train to limit overuse injuries. Follow a strength programme as it improves bone mineral densities, increases muscle mass, and it will result in greater muscle strength and power which helps to protect joints and makes the body more resilient to the stresses of exercise. Vary exercise intensity and build a strong core. Complete the plank several times a week, as a strong core will stabilise the body and help prevent injury.
Any specific nutritional advice for the ageing athlete?
There is evidence to suggest that age related illness and degenerative diseases can be thwarted to an extent with a good balanced, nutrient rich diet. The correct balance of unrefined carbs, Protein, fats needs to be adhered to, as it would if you were a younger athlete, however there are certain elements that an older athlete can focus on to maintain their muscle strength, recovery and general well-being. For example, omega 3 sources such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, will help improve circulation and are known for their anti-inflammatory effects. A diet rich in anti-oxidants will help fight against the ageing process, as they help protect the body against free radicals. Older athletes are often less able to absorb and synthesise certain vitamins such as vitamin D and B12. Plus minerals such as Calcium, zinc, magnesium are crucial for maintaining a strong skeletal structure, and vitamin c is vital for collagen formation, so food sources rich in micro-nutrients are very important. Its also worth bearing in mind that older athletes are more susceptible to dehydration as ageing inhibits your thirst sensation and can affect sweating rates, fluid and electrolyte balance. So always carry a water bottle with you, make sure you are well hydrated before exercise, maintain adequate levels throughout training, and recovery properly, not only with fluids, but a protein rich meal up to 15mins post exercise!