Aging in Sports
Body Helix is excited to have Guest Blogger, Candice Case, join us today. Case is a certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and CrossFit coach. Read on to see what Case has to say about the topic of aging in sports and what it means for today's athlete.
Newsflash: people are living longer! Okay, so maybe that’s not a newsflash, but you might be surprised to learn that the number of masters athletes are rapidly rising. A masters athlete is typically one who trains for or competes in a sporting event designated for those 35 years and older. Masters athletes have doubled and in some cases, quadrupled their participation in athletic events since the 1980’s. Clearly sports organizations are paying attention to the changing needs and are providing more options for this group.
Statistically speaking, 20-something continues to be the optimal point for performance and record setting regardless of the sport. Swimmers tend to peak at age 21, while baseball players have their best performances from ages 27 through 30. There are the outliers like swimmer and silver medalist Dara Torres, who at age 41, became the oldest swimmer to earn a place on a U.S. Olympic team.
Aging and aging well in sports is most prevalent in tennis. In 2012, the average age of top 10 men was 27 and top 10 women’s was 25. A decade before, it was 24 for men and 22 for women. In the early 1990’s, men in the top 10 were an average of 23 years old, while top 10 women were 21 years old. Fast forward to today and Roger Federer, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams continue to dominate the ranks in tennis in their mid to late thirties.
As our knowledge and application of training programs and nutrition practices have evolved, masters athletes are achieving improvements in exercise performance. “Age is just a number” is becoming more true with each passing decade.
Let’s be realistic - we’re not all trying to set records. Most of us simply want to lead active, healthy lifestyles and enjoy our sport. Some of us weren’t competitors in our youth, but now have the time to devote to our passion and seek our potential. Some of us have been given a second chance at life and we’re out to experience all of it. Most of us want to do our best without hearing “for her age” after a compliment.
There are many things masters athletes can do to slow the aging process and make the most of their training programs.
MAINTAIN YOUR MOBILITY
Once your flexibility and range of motion begin to decrease, your risk of injury and imbalance increases. Connective tissue becomes less elastic as you age, so the damage is more likely to happen in that tissue around the joints and muscles. Perform dynamic stretching, taking the body through athletic movements and also include foam rolling and massage for optimal results. Intentional warm ups are necessary for masters, preparing the muscles for the work that is planned. Gone are the days of jumping into a workout cold or using the first half mile of the run as your warmup. With age comes wisdom.
MOVE WEIGHT AROUND
We all know muscle is better than fat. The more muscle you have, the better your body composition and the higher your bone density and metabolism. My training clients are usually sold on working with weights when I explain that a higher metabolism allows them moments of laziness while still burning more calories. As we age, we lose muscle size and strength, so resistance training is an absolute must.
MODERATE USE OF INTENSITY
Proper intensity will keep you performing and performing long term, so masters athletes can’t train hard at every session. A successful program will be one that offers variety throughout the week. Multiple maximum strength sessions will stress the joints too much, as will a high volume of the same, repetitive movements. Vary your intensity and exercises. Also, working at a moderate percentage will stimulate necessary growth hormone production and slow down the aging process.
Masters athletes notice the biggest difference in their ability to recovery quickly. After a hard training session, there is a delay in the repair of muscles and connective tissue. Again, masters can train hard, but we have to be smart about it. Alternate days of high intensity with days off, active recovery, or lower intensity training. There are many options for recovery and there is no special fix or magical combination. Recovery is individually based and dependent upon the athlete’s physical state, training program, goals, and personal preferences. Masters athletes who devote time and effort into their recovery will see results.
Nutrition plays an important role in energy levels and recovery. Consuming extra protein shortly after exercise will aid in muscle recovery and restore fuel to the muscles. Age and excess exercise can result in nutritional deficiencies so taking an antioxidant or multivitamin supplement is also recommended.
Increasing the blood supply to tired muscles and promoting muscle relaxation are key for recovery. Research indicates compression garments, like Body Helix compression sleeves, ice therapy, active recovery, and mobility are the most effective recovery strategies for all, but especially for masters athletes.
The wear and tear on our bodies is a by product of living an active life. Age related aches and pains are no reason to avoid sports, but they are a reason to modify our approach to it.
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