Considerations for Masters Athletes
A few weeks ago, I read an article about exercising into the 40s and 50s (and beyond), and felt it was hyper-conservative in its recommendations. I mean, just because I may be older doesn’t mean I am preparing myself to check into an assisted living center. Besides, some of the best athletes at CrossFit BNI are over 40, and we are looking for the safest and best ways to get stronger and faster.
So I figured I would address some of the topics I find most important for those of us fortunate enough to have witnessed the 1970’s first-hand.
Before I get into the meat of this discussion, however, I am going to assume that IF you are over 40 and in a fitness program, that you are in tune with the state of your overall health. There is truth to the adage that “with age comes wisdom”, and attempting to sprint a mile after a triple bypass operation kind of goes against this.
I would also like to highlight that there is a HUGE difference in how hard you should push yourself if you have been physically active, versus if you have been mostly sedentary and are just starting a fitness program. This doesn’t mean that those new to exercise programs need to stick to swim aerobics at the YMCA. They just need to follow the same rules anyone new to fitness follows:
- Rest when you feel lethargic or fatigued.
- Set realistic goals, and work towards them.
- Eat to fuel your exercise.
- Don’t attempt to lift a house until you can do so in good form.
- Stop when you feel pain (know the difference between pain and muscle soreness).
The most important factor of working out at an advanced age, is understanding that your body takes more time to heal. This goes for allowing your muscles to recover after hard workouts as well as allowing injuries to properly heal before you get back to the grind. This is the crappiest thing about getting older, and it definitely takes a while to adjust to the slower recovery requirement. Our brains want to go-go-go; but the body may or may not follow. Testosterone levels also drop as we get older (in both men and women); and affect our drive and ability to build and maintain muscle.
I feel the standard three-days-on / one-day-off routine of CrossFit is a valid routine for those who are used to pushing themselves hard. The older you get, however, perhaps a less frequent schedule is more appropriate for what your body can handle. I fluctuate between a three-days-on / one-day-off schedule and a two-days-on / one-day-off schedule depending on how sore or fatigued I feel. I also periodically take two days off in a row when I really feel sluggish. If you know how to listen to your body (cliché, I know…), you can develop a schedule that suits your capabilities.
Another factor affecting us old-timers is mobility. Tendonitis and stiffness are a fact of life as you get older, which requires extra attention towards maintaining effective ranges of motion. It is imperative that you sustain sufficient mobility to perform every movement through a full range of motion. This will prevent injuries and keep repetitive motion tendonitis at bay.
Along the mobility lines, many masters athletes are limited in their ability to do high-skill exercises such as pistols and handstand push-ups. The movements require the athlete to have strength through a full range of motion, and many times tendonitis and muscle aches make working through that range of motion fairly difficult – especially on a recurring basis. I recommend spending at least five to ten minutes every day you go to the gym working on your particular mobility issues – whether or not you feel you need it that day.
Every. Single. Day.
On the positive side, masters athletes have just as much capacity to continue to lift heavy. Strength fades much slower than endurance and speed. You may not be able to match your best mile time year after year; but you will likely be able to add pounds to your PRs into your 60s – as long as you work hard at it. Just remember that the best accompaniment to stronger lifts is mobility and recovery.
So, as a bottom line…
Continue to push yourself as hard as you feel you can. Lift heavy, run fast, and challenge your PRs every time you go to the gym. Take rest days and work in a mobility program to ensure you stay fresh and flexible. Eat to fuel your workouts and replace lost nutrients. Don’t let your past performances rule your present expectations. If you get hurt, take the time to heal completely.
And pass your wisdom on to younger athletes, so they may learn from your experiences.