At Cressey Performance, we’re largely known for our work with baseball players, but that’s not to say that we don’t have our fair share of “weekend warriors” – those who like to get after it in the gym well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s – in the mix. With that in mind, we haven’t done a great job of reflecting this in our online content, so we’re going to start to remedy that today! In today’s post, CP coach Greg Robins introduces his top three recommendations for the aging athlete. -EC
1. Seek out a professional evaluation.
Without fail, we are approached daily at Cressey Performance by individuals looking for our “pitchers” program, our “strength” program, or any other number of set approaches to dealing with one type of scenario. The truth is, we don’t have those lying around anywhere. Instead of writing “outcome-specific” programs, we write “athlete-specific” programs. Where am I going with this?
There is no “older athlete” specific program. There are only trends in training older athletic populations that must be considered when evaluating them, and then writing their programs. To be honest, the older athlete needs this attention to detail moreso than many of the younger athletes we see at CP. Why?
It’s simple, really: older athletic populations have accumulated decades of the same repetitive movements, on top of a growing list of nagging injuries, serious injuries, aches, pains, and so on.
If injury is derived from this equation…
Number of repetitons x Force of each repetition
Amplitude of each repetiton x Relaxation between repetitons
…then you can imagine just how much higher the figure for “N” has grown in comparison to their considerable younger counterparts. And, keep in mind that degenerative changes kick in easier and linger longer as we age.
In short, the first and most important consideration for the older athlete is to have their movement evaluated by a qualified professional so as to formulate a safe and productive plan of action for training. Without this information exercise selection becomes a shot in the dark, rather than a well formulated choice of movements to meet the person where they are at. For those looking to self-evaluation, Assess and Correct would be a good a great DVD set to review.
2. Improve your recovery.
Aging populations will find that their ability to recover from bouts of intense exercise has steadily diminished as they age. Therefore, recovery measures must take a front seat in their approach to getting better while staying healthy. These populations should place a premium on the standard sources of improved recovery, namely sleep and nutrition. However, I would like to touch upon another factor, often neglected, that can help tremendously in the older athlete’s approach.
Aerobic capacity, or improved aerobic fitness, will be paramount to their success. Your body runs on three main energy systems:
ATP – PCr
When it comes down to producing energy, the body’s currency is ATP. All of these energy systems are channels for producing the currency of your body’s energy. Each has their way of doing so, and each does so in a different context.
Many of us associate aerobic exercise with long duration activities, and therefore a long duration of ATP generation. We see anaerobic exercise as short duration, and therefore, a short duration of ATP generation. In short, that’s mostly correct. You can view ATP-PCr as an even shorter duration generation that the anaerobic energy system. While ATP-PCr, and the anaerobic energy systems are capable of producing a lot of ATP quickly, they also run out of currency quite fast as well.
The facilitation of the aerobic energy system is important because it’s always in play. In other words, the better trained it is, the more ATP it is generating for you over the course of the entire bout of exercise. This leads to better ATP production in general – in the short term, the ability to repeat the short term, and the long haul in total. That’s important to the older athlete, and any athlete for that matter.
Need proof that it matters? Here’s a 2001 study showing a positive correlation between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity bouts of exercises published in 2001.
To take it a step further, a well-conditioned aerobic system doesn’t just help you recover during the workout; it also helps you to recover between workouts, faster! It plays a large role in giving you the energy required to repair, and helps you to “switch” into your autonomic nervous system, which is optimal for increased recovery.
I highly recommend you read further on how this relationship plays out, how to train it, and how to evaluate it by reading Mike Robertson’s article here. Also, you’ll benefit from checking through the lengthy list of information and tools from Joel Jamieson.
3. Manage Volume Better.
If we take into account our first two bullet points, then it’s important that we address training volume in general. Mismanaged training volume can accelerate the equation in our first point, as well as hinder our recovery efforts laid out in point number two.
In general, aging athletes will need to be more cognizant of the total work they are doing and its effect on their outputs. A positive in training this population is that they have spent considerably more time listening to their body. This is important, and should not be disregarded. Instead of blindly following any program, I would urge the older athlete to learn from past experiences and back down when their body is telling them to do so. Many times, the more experienced the athlete; the better they are at doing this.
Additionally, I would challenge the older athlete to deload, or “back off” more often. This is an easy way to manage the volume of training in their favor. Many programs will load for 3-4 weeks and then unload for one. However, older athletes can benefit from cycling in periods of backed down volume and intensity more often. Here are two such scenarios.
High / Low Organization
High – Low organization is among my favorite ways to train an older athlete. It was developed originally to train very high-level athletes to ensure top outputs every time they train. By getting a high output one week, and then letting them recover the next week, there was much less chance of accumulating fatigue, and having the athlete continually training at something less of what they were actually capable of achieving. This gave them a chance to repeat high outputs more often, as well as top those efforts.
It makes sense in the training of older athletes as well. In a similar fashion to these high-level trainees, high outputs will take a lot out of the tank for the older populations. Since our goal is still to improve the performance of older athletes, while minimizing injury, this is a great approach.
High / Medium / Low Organization
This is another solid option. In this example we are loading an athlete for two weeks, and then unloading them for one. The first week would be high intensity; the second medium (with slightly more volume), and the third week low in both intensity and volume. It’s basically a play on the first example, and can be used for an older athlete who may be able to handle more volume. It’s also a better choice for the older strength athlete who will need the second week of increased volume to continue making progress on the lifts, as well as the technical practice of performing the lifts under decent load more often.
If you’re looking for more deloading strategies, I’d encourage you to check out Eric’s e-book on the subject: The Art of the Deload.
In conclusion, the older athlete needs to place a premium on correct movement, recovery measures, and management of volume or training stress. With those three considerations in mind, there is lots of room for improvement at any age!
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