Unlike modern day demigods Kevin Levrone or Dexter Jackson, two iconic bodybuilders whose careers have spanned decades, we mere mortals endure a comparably sharp physical decline as our training careers tick into the swan song that is written by Father Time.
The physiological changes that typically accompany aging are abundant. Decreases in maximum strength, power, and rate of force development and reductions in cardiovascular, respiratory, and metabolic functioning occur as time ticks on.
Aging is also associated with changes in body composition, which includes a decline in lean mass and an accompanying increase in percentage of body fat.
As expected, the older athlete becomes less capable of a vintage performance of their physical prime. Instead, the consequences of biological aging surmount all physical capacities and predictably threaten an athlete’s will; that is, of course, if injuries don’t emerge sooner.
However, incorporating these five simple tips can go a long way in helping aging athletes extend their careers and thus, foil Father Time.
Mindlessly commencing a workout with a heavy set of squats or barbell rows without appropriate preparation could net a trip to the ER or get you acquainted with your local chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon. Thus, some form of warm-up should be integrated into any good training program in order to avoid a musculoskeletal catastrophe.
The purpose of warming up is to achieve a short-term increase in joint range of motion, elevate body temperature via increasing blood flow, and improving neuromuscular function.
Begin with a relatively low-intensity aerobic activity for 5 to 10 minutes and follow up with a dynamic warm-up to improve range of motion before capping off with movement patterning with a dowel or unloaded barbell to cement near flawless form before increasing load throughout subsequent working sets.
Consider incorporating self-myofascial release (SMFR) – a technique where individuals use the weight of their own body on a foam roller or other assistive device to exert pressure on soft tissues in order to improve joint range of motion, muscular function, and provide relief to muscle pain and soreness.
Unlike static stretching, which has often been associated with decrements in strength and power output, SMFR has been shown to have positive effects on maximal force outputs, muscle activation, and decreased muscle soreness. SMFR prior to exercise has also been shown to enhance muscle range of motion to a similar extent as static stretching and may even aid recovery between training sessions.
Exercise selection is an important variable that should be rooted in one’s goals and abilities. Many master athletes suffer with diminished range of motion due to orthopedic inflexibility, which is often the result of training “wear and tear”. Attempting to train beyond that limited range of mobility can produce friction, pain and inflammation. Thus, training in a reduced range of motion is not only safer, but incites less pain and reduces the risk of causing additional damage to adjoining connective tissue.
Although the squat, deadlift, and bench press may have been staple exercises earlier in one’s career, they may not be ideal for many older athletes. Instead, master athletes may be better served by opting for modified variations such as box squats, rack deadlifts, and partial-range presses. These friendlier alternatives may bring about less pain and damage than the traditional versions while also offering long-term benefits.
Plate-loaded and variable resistance weight machines might also be employed to add variety within the training program.
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Turn Down the Volume
As an athlete ages, recovery capacity tends to decline. Recovery from training may be slower and lengthier than what it was in years past.
Research literature suggests that less frequent bouts of resistance loading may be more beneficial for hypertrophy in older adults. And it has been suggested that training volume should be reduced by 5% per decade beyond 30 years of age.
Training volume can be manipulated via a reduced frequency of training sessions, reduced total work (sets and reps) within a given training session, or a combination of both.
That said, recovery capacity can vary from person to person and depends not only on age, but many factors- including stress, sleep and nutrition.
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Lighten the Load
Research has shown a high correlation with training loads and incidence of strength-related injuries. Chronic high-intensity joint loading may promote degeneration of cartilage and a progression of arthritic conditions. Utilizing lighter loads may reduce stress to joints and connective tissue and mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal injury.
And despite conventional beliefs, there is a mountain of evidence demonstrating that lower-load resistance training can elicit considerable muscle fiber recruitment and hypertrophy.
Some studies have shown that loads of as low as 30% of 1 rep max (RM) when performed to the point of momentary muscle failure can be equally as effective as loads of 90% 1RM in stimulating muscle protein synthesis rates and increasing muscle cross-sectional area of both type I and II fibers.