It’s pos­si­ble to be com­pet­i­tive as we age

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - TRANSITION -

Although this all sounds like doom and gloom, this is not nec­es­sar­ily the case. Very lit­tle age-re­lated re­search has been con­ducted on trained older ath­letes and, ac­cord­ing to Steeves, with the proper train­ing pro­gram geared to both age and goals, the neg­a­tive ef­fects of ag­ing can be min­i­mized. To be­gin with, the con­cern about a de­creased max­i­mum heart rate is mostly to en­sure we are train­ing in the proper heart rate zone. For ex­am­ple, a com­mon for­mula for es­tab­lish­ing your max­i­mum heart rate is to sub­tract your age from 220. Your train­ing range would be a per­cent­age of this num­ber. So, to com­pare a 70-year-old with a 20-year-old, in the­ory the older ath­lete’s max­i­mum heart rate is 150 beats per minute, while the 20-year-old’s is 200 beats per minute. Us­ing a long, slow run as an ex­am­ple where you would typ­i­cally train at about 70 per cent of your max­i­mum heart rate, the older per­son should be run­ning with a heart rate of about 105 beats per minute, while the younger per­son will have a sig­nif­i­cantly higher rate, about 140 beats per minute.

As our VO2 max de­creases with age, the goal should shift from in­creas­ing our VO2 max to try­ing to im­prove the per­cent­age of our VO2 max that we ac­tu­ally use. With older ath­letes Steeves puts less em­pha­sis on in­ter­val train­ing and more on tempo work and long slow dis­tance, with the goal of im­prov­ing the anaer­o­bic thresh­old (which, very sim­ply, is how hard you can work be­fore lac­tic acid be­gins to ac­cu­mu­late in your mus­cles).

While we can­not re­ally do any­thing to stop the de­crease in mus­cle mass, what we can do is work to max­i­mize what we have left. Very few of us have max­i­mized our strength po­ten­tial so, with ded­i­cated strength work, we should ac­tu­ally see a very small and slow de­cline in strength. In fact, Steeves stresses that strength train­ing is as im­por­tant for older triath­letes as car­dio train­ing. Com­ple­ment strength train­ing ses­sions with ex­er­cises and equip­ment such as BOSU balls and wob­ble boards to im­prove bal­ance. As triath­letes, most of our train­ing is uni­di­rec­tional. We do very lit­tle in a side-to-side mo­tion so un­bal­anced ex­er­cises work the sup­port mus­cles that we gen­er­ally ig­nore.

Af­ter speak­ing with Steeves I was en­cour­aged that with a good train­ing pro­gram, I may be able to slow the ag­ing process. But that only ap­plies when we are healthy. What about in­jury preven­tion and re­cov­ery as we get older? For this I con­sulted with Earle Bur­rows, a phys­io­ther­a­pist and triath­lete him­self. Bur­rows has been prac­tic­ing phys­io­ther­apy since 1991 and has been com­pet­ing in triathlons since 1992. He has com­pleted four full dis­tance races and more than 20 half dis­tance races.

Ac­cord­ing to Bur­rows prob­a­bly 85 to 90 per cent of the in­juries he treats are a re­sult of train­ing er­rors. And most of those are from some­thing he calls the Ter­ri­ble Toos: do­ing too much too soon. While most of the ad­vice Bur­rows gives is ap­pli­ca­ble to ath­letes of any age, it is much more im­por­tant for older ath­letes try­ing to stay in­jury free. Most im­por­tant for older ath­letes is the need for re­cov­ery, which in­creases as we get older. Of­ten we would be bet­ter served to skip a sched­uled work­out and opt for a yoga class, or even a day off. Most ex­perts agree that at least one or two rest days per week is es­sen­tial for proper re­cov­ery.

To stay in­jury free, it is im­por­tant to have re­al­is­tic goals and ex­pec­ta­tions. For ex­am­ple, for those new to the sport, Bur­rows only rec­om­mends sprint and Olympic dis­tance races for at least the first year, leav­ing longer races un­til the sec­ond year and be­yond.

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