Training for the Mature Athlete - How to Stay in Shape as we Age

Training with Mature Athlete

Weight training is beneficial at EVERY age

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For years people have hunted hr the fountain of youth, while we of the lion age smile smugly - we found It long ago.

In writing here and there about the aging process, I've always been fond of saying that very little of the process is inevitable. Most, if not all, can be slowed, stopped or reversed with the proper lifestyle interventions. I have noticed, though, and you've noticed it too if you've been living for a while (you'll note I absolutely refuse as a mailer of principle to say "getting older"), that the body starts to hurt in places it's not supposed to and at times that are inappropriate. Like, it's okay for a muscle to hurt if I trained it hard the day before. It's not okay if I didn't. Unless I fell down the steps, it's absolutely never okay for my joints to ache. That's all hypothetical, of course. None of this stuff applies to me, you understand.

For all you guys who've been training a long time (for purposes of this discussion if you've been training half your life, you're a novice), I have a few hints. Even if you haven't been training all that long but you've been alive a lot longer, well, I have a few ideas for you, too.

First, no matter how old you are, if you're over 30 you can count on the healing process starting to slow down. You could argue it's been slowing down all along-and you'd be right-but the slowdown doesn't seem noticeable until the big 30 becomes history. Then all of a sudden you don't spring back the way you used to, so you should make a conscious effort to allow for more recuperation between workouts. This detail may have taken care of itself by now. Dedicating your life to the gym is a whole lot easier when you're younger. Having a family and a steady job can occasionally interfere with training. (A very wise man once said to me, "Employment is good-it allows you to continue silly little habits like sleeping indoors and eating regularly.") I used to train six days a week. Now I go three days a week. You know something? Three times a week works better. I'm stronger and bigger than ever. But I forget. This article isn't about me.

It's for all you mature folks. A big part of proper recuperation is adequate hydration and nutrition. If you live long enough you get to the point where thirst becomes less and less reliable as an indicator of hydration. You could be dehydrated and not feel thirsty. You should know that when you stress your body, particularly through exercise, you alter cellular pH levels. You become more acidic. The cells need ample fluid balance to flush out this acid. If you are even slightly dehydrated, the cells are unable to rid themselves of these acid components. The results are kinins, substances produced by the cells in response to this acid environment.

Kinins cause pain, meant to be a signal to the body to stop using that part of it until the cells can reestablish their equilibrium. However, they have a very hard time doing this without adequate fluid levels, so you need to drink more. I recommend a minimum of an ounce of pure water for every two pounds of bodyweight. If you have some stubborn aches and pains you may find they improve once you're hilly hydrated. But don't count on getting hilly hydrated in a day or two. If you are chronically dehydrated you may need two weeks of increased fluid intake to fully rehydrate your tissues.

Nutrition is another important factor. By this time I'm sure everyone knows vitamin C aids the healing process. You may not be as familiar with the fact that all the antioxidants have a similar effect. At a minimum that means C, E, selenium and beta-carotene. Not only do these substances improve the healing process and immune system, but they also shift the testosterone-to-cortisone ratio in favor of testosterone. They make your system naturally more anabolic.

Under stress-any kind of stress, although at the moment we're considering training-related stress - cortisone production goes up. Cortisone is naturally catabolic. It breaks down tissue. The antioxidants raise the threshold where cortisone will dominate over testosterone, allowing for more training with reduced risk of overtraining. I would recommend a B-complex, a broad-spectrum multimineral supplement, and also digestive enzymes since digestion and assimilation of nutrients aren't as efficient when you've been alive for a longer time.

Now, about training. The reason you ache in the morning in places you shouldn't is accumulated microtrauma from the years of working out. When you train you break down tissue. Training is destructive. During recuperation the broken-down tissue heals and compensation takes place. The result is that over time you get bigger and stronger. The destructive effects of training work on more than muscle tissue. Ligaments, tendons and joints are also affected. They heal significantly slower than muscle tissue does because of the relatively sparse blood supply to those areas. This situation is exacerbated, strangely enough, by consistency. Doing the same routines over and over again means stressing the body in the same way over and over again. This repetition leads to consistent trauma to the same aspects without adequate respite.

If you have a consistent ache - let's say your shoulders hurt when you bench-it's probably because you've been doing a lot of benching over the years. In fact, I'll make a guess that your favorite exercises are the ones that hurt you the most. The answer isn't to stop doing your favorite movements, but you should add some that you aren't as fond of get a little variety in there. If you're doing 3 or 4 sets of warm-ups before you can even think about adding any appreciable weight, you should take that as a wake-up call from your joints. Or so I've heard. Not that any of this applies to me, you understand.

The answer is to - right now - change your routine. Find an exercise for that bodypart that doesn't hurt. At all. Even without a warmup. I mean absolutely doesn't hurt the area. Then switch to that exercise. Don't do the one that hurts. (Yeah, we're talking real rocket science here. Don't do stuff that hurts you. Geez!) By doing a movement for the same bodypart that doesn't hurt, you accomplish two critical objectives. You stop hurting the area, and you flush fresh blood to the spot that needs it most. Don't do the new exercise long enough to get into the same vicious circle again. Find a new one that also doesn't hurt and move on to it. Soon you'll be able to do your favorite again and be pain-free. So you can go back to doing your favorite exercises again, right? Wrong!

Figure out for every bodypart you train at least four completely different routines, preferably more. Use a different routine each time you train. Your objective should be to train for a month without repeating a routine. This is easier than it sounds. Without even thinking about it, I bet I could list a dozen different exercises for chest. Using two per workout for the required number of sets means I don't repeat any movement for six workouts. Then I can change order if I wish and go another six workouts without a repeat.

If you have trouble making your own list, pick up a copy of Bill Pearl's Keys to the Inner Universe. There must be about a hundred different exercises for every bodypart in that book. I don't know how he came up with all of them, but almost every conceivable motion a human body could perform with a weight is illustrated somewhere in that book. Some of them look a little odd, but they all work. Don't try to stay only with ones that look familiar. Experiment. That's the fun of bodybuilding. Here's one way to organize your program:

Column A

... flat benches, incline benches, decline benches, flat-bench flys, incline flys, decline flys

Column B

... flat dumbbell benches, incline dumbbell benches, decline dumbbell benches, cable crossovers, pec-decks, dips

As if you were selecting from a Chinese menu, take one from column A and one from column B. Don't worry too much about avoiding similar movements. What would the terrible consequence be of doing decline flys and cable crossovers in the same workout just once? Would your upper pecs completely disappear overnight? I don't think so. You also have the flexibility to change the width of your grip on all barbell movements to add even more variety. Set up a Chinese menu for every bodypart. Also, don't forget to check out your individual house of torture for any equipment or machines that hit the bodypart in question and add them into the mix. Avoid any movement that causes pain. Wait and give it another try at a later date.

Doing the same workout every single time you trained clearly told you when you were making progress and when you weren't. That progress check may not be as clear with this kind of routine. Maintaining a journal becomes more critical than ever. You can't expect to remember a month later what weight you used on a given movement. Write down the weight, sets and reps for every exercise you do. When that exercise comes along again, look back at your records. Set yourself a goal of beating the reps or matching the reps but with more weight.

If you're at a stage where aches and pains are getting to be a problem, I can promise they'll improve on this routine. If you aren't there yet, sooner or later you will be, so think of these suggestions as preventive medicine.

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