Important for older athletes to put flexibility first

MONDAY, NOV. 11, 2013

Old athletes never die. They just become masters. Athletes over 50 years old are the fastest growing group of competitors today.

But masters have to work out very differently from athletes who are decades younger. For example, tendons and other white tissues such as ligaments contract and become less flexible at the half century mark and beyond. That means these tissues are more brittle and more easily sprained or torn.

The solution is to keep tendons and ligaments more flexible by stretching them out. After a warm up, every master athlete’s workout should begin and end with a stretch session. There are basic stretches everyone should do, even those who aren’t athletically active. These include straight-legged toe touches for the hamstrings, doorway stretches for the chest muscles and so on.

But a masters athlete should pay attention to stretching the specific tendons of the muscles used in competition. A runner should stretch the tendons of the thigh muscles as well as the hip flexors. A cyclist should work on the tendons in the shoulder, wrist and ankle. This additional flexibility also helps prevent injury.

It’s also important to continuously work on speed. Speed is a major part of power, and power starts to decline long before strength does. Resistance may make an athlete strong, but without speed, that strength will not be completely functional.

The problem is that nerve impulses travel more slowly as the years go by, and muscle fibers that fire for speed can’t hold a charge for as long. That’s why intervals are great power training for masters athletes. Whether it’s running, biking or throwing a ball, intervals should be done with a brief total intensity effort that is sports specific, followed by a much less intense period of recovery.

This should be scientifically timed to measure three times the length of the intense part of the interval. For example, run hard for 20 seconds, then jog at a slow or moderate pace for 60 seconds.

Over training is a big danger for masters. Along with everything else that slows down, the ability of muscle cells to replenish their energy supply also declines. Glycogen, a type of sugar that supplies energy to the muscles, can get depleted and stay depleted in any athlete who over trains. It takes longer to recover from this condition for those who are masters age.

Recognize the classic symptoms of overtraining syndrome: feeling seriously fatigued, insomnia, loss of desire to train or compete, and a drop in athletic performance. Never try to push through this, the cells must be given a lot of time to refill with the required energy molecules. The process must go through a lot of stages before it gets to the cellular level.

For masters, intense physical effort must be carefully scheduled. Some masters can work out three times a week and completely recover. Others may need a full week to recover from one hard day of training. It’s important to learn what cellular depletion feels like, and to revert to only active rest activity until the body feels energetic again.

For masters, a workout program must be more disciplined than one designed for a younger athlete. Muscles and the aerobic system must be exercised according to a well-followed plan. But there’s a big payoff: many scientific studies have shown that those who seriously work at being more athletic and functionally fit, will age much more slowly than their less active brethren.

Wina Sturgeon is an active boomer based in Salt Lake City who offers news on the science of anti-aging and staying youthful at: adventuresportsweekly.com

Click here to comment on this story »