top of page

The Aging Athlete

By Dave Jack

Health and fitness sales have doubled, bike sales are up 55%, and boat sales are at all-time highs with a jump of more than 34% as consumers are buying into more recreational activities. Ski resorts, mountain bike and hiking trails, and rivers and lakes are experiencing usage like never before. According to Forbes, mountain bike trail counts across the U.S. have climbed anywhere from 100% to 500% in the last year.

Many of these new recreational athletes are middle-aged men and women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who have decided to finally take off their business attire and get dirty with more outdoor fun. However, with more people eager to get after it on their new toys, mountain sports injuries are rising. Especially in the middle-age years, it’s important to be prepared mentally and physically to stay injury free in those new fun recreational sports.

As we age into our 40s, 50s, and 60s, it’s important to be smarter about controlling intensity and recovery.

Tom Brady suggests in his book, The TB12 Method: How to Do What You Love, Better and for Longer, that for every decade over 20 you need to increase your recovery-to-exercise ratio; from 1:1 in the 20s, 2:1 in the 30s, 3:1 in the 40s, and 4:1 in the 50s, etc. So as we get older, the time needed to focus on recovery after exercise is 100% more per decade.

Before you freak out about how much time that adds up to, keep in mind that recovery time is everything related to recovery — warm-up, stretching, foam rolling, yoga, massage, icing, hot-tubbing, sauna time, meditation, and proper nutrition.

Having a daily fitness plan that you can stick to most days helps to prepare yourself mentally and physically to stay on top of your interests and goals. Books like The Daily Stoic remind us that having a morning routine of preparation and an evening routine of reflection helps us to maximize our enjoyment each day.

Morning Routine Starting the day with a regimen of breath work such as the Wim Hof Method — 30 deep breaths with long exhales followed by a deep inhale, hold, and deep exhale, hold, for 3 rounds or 10 minutes — helps us relax and better use the oxygen our muscles need to start the day. Incorporating some light warm-up mobility such as yoga and dynamic stretching movements in the morning will help get your body moving while increasing blood flow and range-of-motion to your muscles. Even simply getting out for a quick morning walk and taking more deep breaths will jumpstart your body for the day.

Evening Routine Ending the day with a routine of reflection and relaxation to help bring your muscles back to proper length tension relationships will keep you limber enough to wake up the next day feeling refreshed. Use the evenings to ice, hot tub, sauna, foam roll, and static stretch. Icing or cold plunges will help increase vascularity, reduce inflammation, and expel metabolic waste such as lactic acid from the muscles. Try to ice overused joints for 20 minutes or take a cold plunge for 2 to 5 minutes each day. Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete known known as “The Iceman” for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures, suggests that even just switching your hot shower to cold at the end for 30 seconds up to 2 minutes a day will help your circulation and recovery, and even will improve emotional stress.

After icing or taking a cold plunge, try jumping in the hot tub. The heat will help relax the muscles before you go into your evening foam rolling and stretching.

Create a foam roll routine that you can do for 10 to 30 minutes on the floor at night. Try 30 to 60 seconds of each of the following: calves, piriformis, lower back, upper back, lats, quads, inner and outer thighs, hip flexors.

Static Stretch: After you’re done foam rolling each of above, follow up by performing each stretch holding to the end of a range of motion for 30 to 60 seconds. Some favorite stretches to do are kneeling hip flexor, “pigeon,” “cobra,” “downward dog,” “child’s pose,” “seated butterfly,” standing hamstring reach, standing quads.

Strength Intensity As we approach our 40s, 50s, and 60s, managing our intensity each week will help ensure we don’t overdo it. Limiting strength training to three days a week for 45 to 60 minutes a session will maintain muscle mass while adapting the body to increased soft tissue stress without overdoing it. It’s important that in resistance-based workouts, repetition counts don’t go below 4 to 6 reps at 70% to 80% of your one-rep max. Trying to lift heavy for more weight and less reps increases injury risk. That said, always start with a 6- to 10-minute warm-up that produces sweat. That will get blood flowing and prime your system for the added intensity you’re about to put on it. Furthermore, since avoiding injury is of utmost importance, it’s best to start with more reps (10 to 15) and less weight.

Balance and Core Focusing on more balance and core exercises will also keep your body balanced. Incorporating unilateral movements (one arm/leg at a time) such as step-ups, lunges, and single-arm rows, and chest presses are great to ensure each side of the body is equal in strength while also focusing on the stability of each joint. It helps, as well, to incorporate balance-based equipment such as a Bosu Balance Trainer, stability ball, or TRX suspension system.

Considering experts estimate that 80% of the population experiences low back pain in their lives, core work such as planks, side planks, “bird dogs,” and “dying bugs” are also good to strengthen the core.

Bone Density and Joint Stability Compound movements that work multiple joints in one exercise are a great way to add a higher metabolic effect to your resistance workouts while also increasing bone density. Just as maintaining strength with age, bone density is also needed to protect our bones, joints, and ligaments. Try mixing in step-up shoulder presses, or reverse lunge bicep curls.

Also, don’t underestimate the use of resistance bands. They’re great because they increase resistance through range of motion, which helps the joints strengthen safely. Doing standing resistance band exercises such as chest presses, rows, bicep curls, or tricep pulldowns for 20 to 30 seconds at a moderate tempo are a fun way to build strength stability.

Aerobic Capacity As we age it’s recommended to focus on improving aerobic capacity by adding more low impact cardio training. Again, always start with a 6- to 10-minute warm-up. Low intensity cardio mixed with HIIT (high intensity interval training) will help push heart and lung capacity so your body maximizes its metabolism and continues to burn fat. Having 1 minute of high intensity followed by 3 to 4 minutes of light recovery for 5 to 10 intervals once a week will leave you feeling a good sweat with an even better endorphin rush. Keeping cardio low impact will save your joints, so mix it up with various forms of cardio like biking, rowing, jogging, hiking, paddling — don’t overdo it with just one.

Not into HIIT? That’s fine. Try incorporating your new bike, paddleboard, or whatever outdoor equipment you choose a couple days per week for low-to-moderate cardio. Getting out on the mountain for a hike or on the lake for a paddle is a great way to enjoy burning calories and keep your cardiovascular system working while enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. When you’re finished, don’t forget to recover!

11 views0 comments


bottom of page