Training Through the Lifespan

Maintaining peak performance capacity for life is easier said than done. But there are a few secrets to being an athlete for life.

Kicking ass for life requires careful consideration and artful application. It comes down to two things:

  1. Finessing Workload and Recovery
  2. Leveraging Your Strengths and Weaknesses

We’ve talked about workload quite a bit here at TLA. Workload is defined as the intensity (I) of a training session, which is the effort utilized, times the duration (D) of the workout, or length of time or distance it lasts. This gives us the ability to predict and assess the degree of challenge within the training session. The critical requirement with workload is to keep it between a minimum effective level and a maximum absorbable amount. This allows for the most efficient stimulus-adaptation response in our bodies.

No matter how healthy we are (and Lifetime Athletes are healthy), our ability to tolerate workload tends to decline slightly with age. The amount of impactful training you could benefit from in your teens and twenties will most undoubtedly be a bit less in your 50’s and 60’s. As we mature, we need to be aware of the necessity to slightly reduce the workload of our “fitness maker” training sessions, keeping them in the sweet spot that does not cause breakdown. 

Generally speaking, trimming down workload is usually best accomplished by keeping the relative intensity high (for major workouts, not necessarily easy days), but shortening the duration slightly. Thus, workload (W = I x D) will be mathematically lessened but we still preserve the all-important intensity stimulus (relative to our current level of conditioning). This adjustment applies to most resistance, interval or repetition, speed training, and endurance work. GO HARD…JUST NOT QUITE AS LONG.

The other side of the finesse equation resides with recovery. We usually see recovery demands increasing with age. This means that most maturing athletes will require more time and only light training between those all-important “fitness-maker” sessions. Even in our Lifetime Athlete population, with the healthiest lifestyle habits, recovery time generally increases slightly over the lifespan. Obviously, sleep, nutrition, stress balancing, recovery-based training, and modality use can all play a part…but we must respect time as the essential ingredient in the recovery recipe. GO HARD…JUST NOT QUITE AS OFTEN.

And now, as we understand the utilization of workload and recovery in the Lifetime Athlete, there is a trap which we must avoid. And that is downshifting into a pattern of moderate intensity workouts of moderate duration with moderate frequency. It’s a trap because our sometimes rational minds may think that this training middle ground is the place to go. But in reality, too much of that aforementioned pattern lacks the true high intensity needed to create and maintain optimal gains, while at the very same time it is deficient in the easy, restorative training that nurtures repair, recovery, and health. While it’s OK to get into the middle now and again, chronic patterns can lead to increased fatigue and inflammation, and lackluster performance. In this case the middle is a rut…and you never want your training routine to become a RUTine. Just sayin’.

Strengths and weaknesses are fascinating aspects of physical function and performance. A strength is a capacity, or several, at which you shine. There are five qualities we can consider:

  • Speed
  • Power
  • Strength
  • Agility
  • Endurance

These are the capacities, which can be presented in any order, that describe our movement prowess. Everybody is usually gifted in a couple of areas, and also has some room for improvement in one or two. That’s just the nature of the human beast. Once you know your strengths, and what sports or exercise patterns match up for your best success and enjoyment, you can consider your weaknesses, and how you might want or need to shore them up for both performance and/or long-term health. But here’s where things get a bit spicy. The ratio or emphasis on strength-to-weakness you apply in training may need to vary as you move through the lifespan. We can use strength/weakness as our base and in very simple terms describe this adjustment.

  • Youth (15-30) = MAX/MIN (Exploit your strengths)
  • Middle Age (30-60) = MOD/MOD (Balance strengths and weaknesses in training)
  • Mature (60+) = MIN/MAX (Focus less on strengths and shore up weaknesses)

The age ranges are quite general and variable, and the degree of adjustment will also be entirely dependent on each individual athlete. However, this pattern of shifting emphasis has proven successful with hundreds of my clients. It just requires an open mind and a bit of willingness to change (not always easy). 

So there you go. Finesse workload and recovery, and leverage strengths and weaknesses. This is one of a number of methodologies that I use with peak performance coaching clients, and with myself. If you’d like to learn a bit more, listen to the podcast on this topic. I wish you great success in your training, competing, and health endeavors. Coach JZ out!

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