For Ma­ture Au­di­ences Only

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Features - BY CLINT LIEN

RE­CENTLY I WAS asked how I coach older ath­letes dif­fer­ently than younger ath­letes. The an­swer might sur­prise some: not very much.

The Mer­cury Ris­ing swim club in Vic­to­ria, where I coach, is home to a wide range of swim­mers. On one end of the spec­trum I’ve got young peo­ple with dreams of win­ning big. On the other end I’ve got ma­ture swim­mers, who also have dreams of win­ning big.

One of the most suc­cess­ful triath­letes in the pro­gram is Va­lerie Gon­za­les, who has made it to Kona more times than most of us can re­mem­ber. She’s in her 70s now and is as keen to­day as she was when she first ap­peared in one of my lanes al­most ten years ago. She works hard, wants swim tips and is coach­able. While Gon­za­les is the old­est swim­mer in the pro­gram, I’ve got many oth­ers who are over 40, 50 and 60.

Race results are bro­ken down by age group, but swim lanes are de­lin­eated by abil­ity. Age isn’t a fac­tor. Gon­za­les will ex­e­cute the es­sen­tially the same ses­sion as the swim­mers in the fastest lane, but with less dis­tance since she’s not as fast. Over­all, though, she’s in the wa­ter for the same length of time and work­ing just as hard. The one ad­just­ment I will make is rest time. It has been my ex­pe­ri­ence that ma­ture ath­letes can work just as hard as younger ath­letes, but they re­quire a lit­tle more rest to best ex­e­cute a ses­sion or a pro­gram, so there’s more rest within the ses­sion and in gen­eral.

I’ve also found ma­ture ath­letes ben­e­fit more from an in­crease in strength train­ing. I en­cour­age older ath­letes to swim with pad­dles a lit­tle more than the younger swim­mers, but I don’t en­cour­age the largest size of pad­dles. Small palm, or even fin­ger pad­dles, are usu­ally enough. A cou­ple vis­its to the weight room with a well-de­signed strength pro­gram that uti­lizes sport spe­cific move­ments can pro­duce no­tice­able results.

An­other fac­tor with ma­ture ath­letes is flex­i­bil­ity. Avila Rhodes swims with me. She’s over 60 and holds sev­eral age group world masters records. She’s a beau­ti­ful swim­mer who’s been com­pet­i­tive most of her life. She’s in­cred­i­bly flex­i­ble and ex­e­cutes a tra­di­tional stroke that’s a won­der to be­hold.

But not ev­ery­one has a life­time of swim­ming un­der their belt – most of us aren’t blessed with that kind of flex­i­bil­ity. While it al­most al­ways helps to work on that flex­i­bil­ity with yoga and other well-planned flex­i­bil­ity rou­tines, many will find it dif­fi­cult to gain the range of mo­tion that a teenager or some­one like Avila has. Those swim­mers need to ad­just their stroke to ac­com­mo­date. For most, this means a shorter en­try into the wa­ter. When flex­i­bil­ity isn’t an is­sue, I in­struct swim­mers to reach for the wall, which can help them ro­tate. When tighter swim­mers reach for the wall, they pull their hips out of align­ment and you start to see “snaking” in the wa­ter. If they shorten their en­try and thrust the hand quickly down to the pull po­si­tion, they can main­tain a more stream­lined po­si­tion. This max­i­mizes power and min­i­mizes mo­men­tum loss. For some swim­mers, this means en­ter­ing the wa­ter three to four inches past their head. But again, this is about flex­i­bil­ity and not nec­es­sar­ily about age. I will have younger, stiff-shoul­dered swim­mers to do the same thing. They can ex­tend their en­tries as they gain flex­i­bil­ity.

For two ath­letes, both age groupers, both with goals of mak­ing it to Kona, a base week might look like this:

Fit­ness, flex­i­bil­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence are more im­por­tant fac­tors to con­sider than age when craft­ing a swim pro­gram. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that re­gard­less of your age, you can work just as hard as any­one else, but older swim­mers will re­spond bet­ter if they in­crease their rest, both within ses­sions and in the over­all pro­gram.

Clint Lien is the head coach of Mer­cury Ris­ing Triathlon. Visit mer­curyris­ing­

Va­lerie Gon­za­les at Kona 2017

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