Although this article applies to what I would call the mature athlete, there is a lot of take away for anyone aggressively training for a competitive sport or involved in goal driven strength training at any age. The following are my personal observations that really became evident and began popping up on my radar within the last decade.
I consider myself both focused and driven when it comes to training. At age forty-nine, this is a blessing coupled with a curse. At times I find myself with the desire to train more, not less. I often advise others to be patient, repeat movements over and over, focus on quality over quantity or reps, rest, and to see the big picture. Behind ”training doors”, I find it extremely challenging to control my ambitious training expectations. In other words, I train hard and often.
So, what’s wrong with that? Nothing….as long as it is properly programmed and balanced with copious amounts of rest.
Definition of a mature athlete?
I consider the mature athlete to be beyond the age of 30 years old. Obviously, the older you get, the more mature you become. As we age these observations become more noticeable. The 25-year-old athlete is vastly different from the 50-year-old one. The younger athlete can get away with a lot more than the older one. For example, when I was a young marine, I found it easy to go on a 5-10 mile run after a heavy night of drinking and one-hour of sleep (if any). If I tried that today, I would be a frazzled mess for a week. Huge difference.
The great thing about observation and experience is the fact you don’t have to get lost in a sea of details to discover if something is real. I never was fascinated with the lust to have all of the details. If I am absolutely sure it works, that’s good enough for me.
Cues of overtraining:
- Continual soreness– Are you going into your next training session sore? Don’t.
- Unable to sleep– This can be many things ranging from breathing, blue screen viewing before bed, mental activity (stress). But overtraining is one of them. Watch this one. If you sleep like a rock, your good.
- Loss of motivation– How do you feel right before training? There may be a reason you don’t want to be there.
- Mild anxiety– Are you mildly anxious before a training event? This was common before my kettlebell quick-lifts (mostly snatches and swings, lasting longer than 5 minutes).
- Tremors-Hold your hand out. Is it noticeably shaking? If it is congratulations, you fried your nervous system. Not good. There is only one benefit of going that hard that I know besides “testing” yourself, that is your body will adapt to being able to take a beat-down. I found that a great benefit when I was dangling from an ice wall with my hands clinging to my ice axes, where hanging on was quite essential (being comfortable with being uncomfortable). Besides that, you will not get stronger, you’ll be causing permanent biological damage, and you are wasted after your training session. I have even gone as far as experiencing mild deep tremors days after a training session. Not a super great idea.
- You get sick– Overtraining stresses your immune system.
- Strength plateaus– You never seem to get stronger just more tolerant to discomfort. What’s the point?
- Nagging injuries– Injuries that keep hanging on. Your going to want to attend to this one. There is only one outcome, and its not in your favor.
In a nutshell, you feel beaten up. Once again, everybody reacts differently to overtraining. Listen to your body. Really… listen to what’s happening inside. There are benefits of aging, and one of them is body awareness. Use it.
Smashing Lego Town:
When my son was a toddler, he had this elaborate table with trains, people, buildings, cranes, and other pieces in which he created a well designed and thought out town (as far as a toddler is concerned). Each personality had its place, every building was positioned to facilitate function. Towers and cranes were positioned to deliver their payload to outgoing railcars. The people in the town were diligently working to make sure there was order. A perfect little village with purpose.
Once he completed his creation and was satisfied, he would pause momentarily and look at me. The creation phase was over. The man-child instantly changed. His eyes widened and his little body tensed up. After a momentarily brief “stare down”, he took both arms and swept away the entire village. He left nothing standing. Everything was destroyed like it never existed. The destruction-phase. Human behavior through the eyes of a toddler.
Sorry, I love images.
There are times in life where we must clear the real-estate to build again. Start over. When you are over-trained or in a vicious cycle of overtraining, you must start again. This is absolutely essential if you want to survive the game. There are only two outcomes. It comes down to failure or success. Join the piling bodies of victims or become fluid and adapt to the constant change. Sometimes we must force ourselves to submit to certain realities and use successful tactics that other successful people have used.
I believe in the collaboration between athletes and coaches (peers, partners, etc.). Many, tend to place all of the responsibility on the coach. It is essential to treat your coach as a partner with the same objective in mind. Why? Two reasons. For example, if you’re 55 years old, your coach is most likely going to be much younger. I constantly surround myself with professional, educated, and experienced coaches. Over 95% of them are much younger than me (I am 49). They can claim they empathize with you. The bottom line is no matter how much they know, they don’t know how the human body feels or reacts to intense training at age 49. Terms such as “You got this” or “You’ll crush it” serve me no purpose. Most instructors/coaches/ trainers mean well, don’t get me wrong. It’s just something they have not experienced yet. That’s where you come in.
I think it is helpful sometimes to walk away. Take a breathe, and reassess. Get help if you can. Collaborate with a quality source and go back into your history. (This is where the journaling pays big dividends). Then get creative. Next, look at the big picture.
At this point, you’re doing becomes more of a journey than a destination. I have personally found that these transitions become more psychological and spiritual in nature. The trip is really good!
The common belief is your fourth and fifth decade is the beginning stages of physical death. I do not see that as being remotely true. It is not my perception that is important though, it’s yours.
Beware of the Silver Bullet:
The only thing I would say about every “system” out there is there are a lot of claims that “this is the one”. The truth is the new thing out there has already been used before. What’s old is new again. Find something you enjoy, but if you intend to continue for the long haul, you will end up integrating new things that will work for you. Enjoy learning something new. Keep what you like. Discard what you don’t.
If you have been in the game for a while, you already know this. Although, some of these things may require “tweaking” as we age. We are all different, but not that different. Experiment.
Adherence to a solid training Plan– Once you have a game plan, stick to it. This doesn’t mean there can’t be flexibility. But be reasonable. You get what I mean.
Hydration- I have observed this to be a major shift, it is a difference between on the spot “energy” and “no energy.”
Nutrition- Experiment with good Macros (proteins, carbs, and fats). If you have not done this so far, now is the time. At 49, I have found it easy to feel what works and what doesn’t. If you are eating out of a box (processed foods) don’t bother, your diet sucks.
Appropriate sleep- This is a sliding scale. I have heard everything from 5-10 hours. Start at the latter. Get as much as possible. It effects every aspect of your life! Make time and quality a priority. Sleep has been found to help increase testosterone in older males.
Have a movement system- I feel it is absolutely essential to have a system that addresses human movement. This is critical for the aging athlete. Even if you do everything right during training, it’s what happens between your next session that will get you. Most of us are slaves to modern culture. We slouch over our computers, we no longer look behind us to back up our high-tech cars because of cameras, and we walk with our smartphones in one hand while drooped forward without even swinging our arms. We are all guilty to some degree.
There are several movement systems available. The several I have found are pretty good if you consistently integrate them with training and life. The one I use and teach is Original Strength because it is effective, simple to perform, easy to teach, and doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to perform. Simple. Look for yourself. Choose what best fits you.
Find a good coach/mentor- This is a no brainer. If you don’t have one. Find one. Do your due diligence. The money you spend on quality training could save you years of practice and more importantly, keep you from pushing too hard or injuring yourself. Finding several professional coaches allowed me to do more than I could ever imagine. It also wasn’t cheap. Think value.
Sleep Quality- Sleep can be hollowed out by lack of quality. Restricting screen time up to three hours prior to sleep has a major effect on sleep quality. The difference between hitting the rack like a ton of bricks and unable to sleep due to tossing and turning. Stress and excitement (from news to pornography) from your phone, computer, or T.V. will have a direct effect on sleep quality. I have found this very apparent the last year or so.
If you are high strung, a great way to prep for solid sleep is simple deep breathing prior to bed for at least 5-minutes. There are many ways to “skin a cat” on this one, but this is a simple and easy way to start.
- Lay flat on the ground-be comfortable
- Breath through the nose only. (if possible)
- Close your eyes
- Swallow- take note of your tongue position (at the roof of the mouth). Keep it there.
- Image breathing into your feet (gently-blow them up like balloons).
- Start with a 1:1 ratio/ think of a sine wave: your breath isn’t on and off, its a constant flow. If you desire, you can progress to a ratio of 1:4:2. (Inhale one second-Hold four seconds-Exhale two seconds)
- Super charge relaxation by looking at your forehead between your eyes (eyes are closed).
- Most important- Start simple. Keep any tension out. Relax.
Are you burning with gas or oil?
Go for the slow burn, not for the hot flash. Training later in life is a journey, not a destination, so enjoy it. Don’t let over-training ruin other aspects of your life. Being in pain when you are “living” is not worth a PR (Personal Record).
Training becomes an art after 40!
For me, I recognized the years around 45 to be the age of real physical awareness. The idea of “Bulldozing through” to an objective have become more apparently futile. Finesse becomes the name of the game.
Look at a truly talented runner, skier, climber, or martial artist who outperforms the masses of the young and up comings with relative ease. The combination of drive, humility, creativity, high level of skill, and a higher form of thought create a perfect storm for lasting performance. A journey that never dies, rots, or is forgotten.