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3 Considerations for the Aging Athlete

Written on December 17, 2013 at 9:06 am, by Eric Cressey

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.

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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:

  • Aerobic
  • Anaerobic
  • 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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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13 Responses to “3 Considerations for the Aging Athlete”

  1. john power Says:

    Good info Eric. If you haven’t already covered this a post about adrenal fatigue would be a good follow up

  2. Marshall Shnider Says:

    Do you offer assessments and recommendations for “older trainers”? I am 60 years old. Former college swimmer, dealing with a few old injuries, and open heart surgery 2 + years ago for a world’s record sized aortic anyuerism (now fully recovered with no restrictions from doctors). I live in NY and am willing to travel to MA for this assessment and program development.

  3. Shib C Neddeff Says:


    Hopefully you mean over age 55 for older 🙂

    All trainers need to address issues in the over 55 which is where the $ are.. I laugh when I read about 8hrs sleep when over 55 6 to 7 is about normal with 6 , to 6 1/2 normal no matter what talk with over 50’s ….The over 50 also has other issues training experience being the real factor , I have been training since I was 14 am now 60 and still go hard. Mike Robertson trained my son when he was in Fort Wayne. When I was 50 Mike said we should do a study on you. Most important for over 50 is Power, Mobility, Strength, Conditioning in that order…Sorry about the rambling, but I do Like your site 🙂

    Shib C Neddeff

  4. Mike Alves Says:

    Hi Greg,
    Thank you for your article. What are some recommendation examples you give your older athletes to work on their aerobic capacity, specific to aiding recovery?

  5. Bob Says:

    Any suggestions on how to find a qualified professional for doing the assessment?

  6. Jim Nonnemacher Says:

    What I have found as I grew older was that the muscles recovery fine, it was the CNS that took longer to recover.

    Through my 40’s I was racing in duathlons and training would consist of a 5-10k run at noon and cycling for 2-3hrs after getting home from work. For a good number of years this worked fine, I’d hit the sack and sleep like a baby. Somewhere around 47 I found I’d fall asleep quickly but wake up in the middle of the night and then it was difficult to get back to sleep.

    I discovered that if my cycling workout after work was not so intense that I slept better. I’ve attributed this to my CNS not being able to return to a base level of activity as quickly after intense workouts as I aged.

    I still have intense workouts…mostly lifting now… but I schedule them for earlier in the day, mostly early afternoon, so that I’m finished no later than 4pm.

  7. Ralph Says:

    For most older athletes what rep range do you like?
    thanks for your time-Ralph

  8. Gary Larrison Says:

    Great info Eric. I am a 67 year old fitness coach (15 years) and this is the most information (sadly) about training the “older” population I have come across. I know it will benefit my clients as well as my own training. Being more fit than the average 60 age group person I have found myself overtraining with too much volume and too great of intensity without de-loading often enough or even at all until diminished performance or injury occurred. I am going to purchase both the Assess and Correct DVD and the Art of Deloading.
    There are a ton of us “boomers” out here and it sorely needs the expertise, experience and guidance of qualified professional.
    I am doing my best to contribute so thanks so much for your article on this needed subject.

  9. Dan Says:


  10. Tom S Says:

    Way to bring up parts of the Krebs Cycle….HOOAH !!!! I used to think nobody talked about this anymore. Thanks for another article.

    BTW, being that retired soldier and ex-athelete, I have noticed, in same manner that a lot of fitness professionals preach surround yourself with “like minded people”, this also works great for your own program design.

    You have mentioned as well, being able to train and work around your own athletes. This I believe not only helps keep you on your toes with your own activity level and performance, but lets you see where you could constantly improve as a coach/trainer. As we age, both physically and mentally, surrounding yourself around people that are more athletic, smarter, etc… only will improve your quality of life.

    Now, over the years, its the many doctors I have seen due to injuries that seem to coin this term “quality of life”. It’s different for everyone, but as we get older, I believe the old adage of “train smarter, not harder” is a perfect philosophy to follow as we age gracefully. Listen to our bodies, eat right, getting plenty of rest, etc… all of which work wonders with how we bounce back from training or competition.

    In the end, God gave us only one body, so we better make it last and do all the preventative maintenance we can to live that quality of life.

    Thanks again for a great article Eric!

  11. Bill M Says:

    Pretty much in agreement with Shib’s comments. I’m pushing 55 y/o, still going relatively strong, but I’m not who I was when I was 33 y/o. I have to learn the hard way, always have, and your comments on de-loaded are right on target. I find very few articles targeted for those over 50 who still desire to go hard, and there is definitely a market for conditioning books, articles, etc. tailored to us.

  12. Eric Cressey Says:

    Sure thing, Marshall.  Please just email us at cresseyperformance@gmail.com and we’ll get you more info.  Thanks!

  13. Tim Says:

    the main issue with that is finding a qualified expert to assess the athlete’s situation.

    personal trainers are underqualified, who else?

    The best person I have found is mindfulness.
    Body scan, feedback, what works..

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