The Aging Athlete.
After my life changing health issue, I was faced with some challenges. Now That I am 40, I am starting to see that I am faced with new challenges..age. While I am in many ways reaching that point many call "old man strength" I am also faced with a lower level of recovery and endurance. My strength seems to continue to climb but how I obtain and maintain that strength is very different.
I've heard a similar complaint or rather realization from many of my friends in the strength game.
As we age, as is commonly known, our needs begin to change. By 40 most men start to notice a drastic drop in testosterone levels. We fatigue easier, we notice we are more grumpy, less driven, less enthused and the depression driven mid life crisis develops (this sounds like a supplement commercial). While consistent weight training can help lessen these issues and keep testosterone levels heightened for our age, we are still going to notice the movement of time on our bodies.
When I started training and the first 10 years of heavy lifting, I lifted six days a week. I could train the same body part several times a week both in hypertrophy and at levels of 90% and greater with little to no negative impact. I woke up ready to go again, excited, driven, and seemingly recovered over night. How times have changed.
Now, anything with an intensity of sets within two minutes of each other cannot be maintained for much more than an hour and the next day it appears I need a cane. I grunt and groan and piss and moan and yet, because of this training, I've maintained a body at 40 that looks better than it did at 20, albeit I do have some grey in my beard.
So how do we tackle training as we age? Here are a few tips that have helped me and hopefully you can modify or adapt them into your own routine.
Train more often but for shorter periods.
This was key for me. When I started training to power lift again, I tried adopting my old methods. I quickly realized this wasn't going to work. I wasn't recovering and I felt like crap. So instead of three hard, long and heavy sessions a week, I now do five 30-60 minute sessions each week that build off of each other.
I train as do most powerlifters, squat, bench, and deadlift, each two times a week (caveat being deadlift-two back sessions a week). I train one short, heavy session focusing only on the lift and calling it after a top set. And then I train one session that is hypertrophy based and use odd stances, grips, etc. in order to strengthen weaker areas and build up a stronger all around physique. These low weight high rep sessions typically have five exercises per my one exercise on the heavy days.
A good example of this would be squat. On Monday I squat heavy and typically use a wide stance, working up to 85-95% for a double. On my second squat day, I will do front squat, high bar squat, lunges, and pause squats all in the 65-75% range for sets of 8. Even these sessions don't top an hour of training.
Eat to train.
This seems like a no brainer. Diet is key, period. However when we are younger, we are typically able to get away with more than we can when we are older. Snickers and donuts and pizza when you're 20 seem easy and high calorie. When we are 40+, it seems like diarrhea and indigestion.
Our intake tends to need to be more bland as we age (at least for me). I have a sensitive stomach and very bland foods seem to do best in my diet. I stick to the same foods daily only switching vegetables from week to week. I also need to eat more often in order to maintain what I have gained.
When I was younger I could eat three huge meals a day and still maintain or gain weight. At 40, eating three huge meals leads me right back to the diarrhea and indigestion equation all over again. I eat smaller meals now and more frequently. Rice, lean meat, nuts, spinach, kefir, etc. My gut and my performance and recovery thank me.
You can't be a proper old fart without a proper daily nap. My nap needs to be almost immediately after I lift. When my session is over, I'm spent. I don't feel recharged and ready to tackle the day, this isn't Jazzercise. I feel worked over and ready to crash.
Once I'm done training, I drink 20oz of water and down my protein. I pace around for about 20 minutes to allow my heart to settle and digestion to take place, take a cool shower and then hit the couch to chant (inside my head) and doze off for a good 20-30 minutes. Then I feel recharged and ready to go. Napping is important. It seems like an odd thing to add into an aging training routine but the impact is second to none.
Vit C. B12 and D3, Garlic
While I am not a big proponent of supplements, aside from a good, cheap protein, these four supplements are vital. There are a dozen peer reviewed articles showing the efficacy of these, taken within moderation. I will not recommend dosage or brand, but daily intake of these will have a noticeable impact on your general sense of well being as well as recovery and performance.
*Be smart, research and get a blood test
If you are not sleeping well, you are not healing, period. This is a non negotiable part of performance. Again, one we can stretch thin when we are younger and full of vim and vigor but one that coupled with lower testosterone levels, stress, and fatigue can easily lead to anxiety and depression in the long run.
Solid sack time each night is going to be a must. I would recommend every male, especially aging males, to get a sleep study done. What are your o2 levels at night, do you stop breathing are you snoring? All of these will impact your performance and recovery and over time can even have an impact on your mortality.
I have found a great way to shift my brain wave patterns at night was chanting. I use my mala every time I lie down. Not only does this repeated behavior stimulate a sleep response because it is now a habit but the repetitive nature of chanting or counting literally shifts brain wave patterns. Again, I do all of my chanting inside my head, like counting sheep.
This is of course not a comprehensive list. These are just things that I changed in order to continue performing at a high level as I walk through middle age.
I hope these small changes can help you along the path of aging athletes. I will be presenting one for aging female athletes a well, written by high level post 40 year old female athletes later on.
Good luck on your journey!