(Running) Training at older ages – what to consider with training while aging

Running training and training in general is complex. Different types of training have to be optimally coordinated with each other, so that on the one hand the training stimulus is right, but on the other hand the regeneration needed to improve performance is sufficiently available. The fact that the body changes as it ages makes it even more difficult. This blog post should shed some light on the complex topic of “Run training while aging”.

Advantages of training in old age

There are many reasons why to remain active with increasing age. For example, an active lifestyle can help with problems including high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes and the threat of vascular calcification. In addition, staying active can counteract to a certain extent the natural decline in performance of the muscles, heart and lungs.

Even at the age of 50 or older, it is still possible to do intense training without any problems. At this age it is even possible within a few years achieve a similar level of performance as established athletes with many years of training experience.

The Facts

It is not a controversial to say that performance decreases with age even if the optimal training remains unchanged. This can be observed, for example, by looking at the age world records in a marathon.

The curves for women and men are similar. For men, the first smaller bend (which is equivalent to a faster decrease in performance) comes from age group “60”. From the 35 year olds to and including the 55 year olds, the time loss over 5 years is on average almost exactly 6 minutes. From the 60-year-olds to the 80-year-olds the five-year time loss then increases to an average of 10 minutes.

For women, the first break in the Masters world records can be observed five years earlier. Interestingly, the average speed loss of 35 to 50 is smaller than for men (4:41 for women compared to 5:56 for men), but afterwards a unique jump of 19:35 of the women’s Masters World Record between the age groups 50 and 55 can be seen. The 5-year decline between the world record of 60-year-old women and that of 80-year-old women is 16:13 on average (compared to 10:00 for men).

The biggest jump is then visible for both women and men over 80.

A second example shows the course records of the Bolder Boulder, a traditional 10km run in the USA. Interestingly, the first “bend” in this example comes five years later than in the marathon for both women (60) and men (65). On the other hand, a second, clear “bend” is already visible from 75 years on, whereas in the marathon this was “only” the case in the age group of the 80-year-olds.

Causes

There are several reasons for this performance decrease. One of them is the onset of muscle loss from around 40 years of age, whereby the decline in fast muscle fibers (fast-twitch) is faster than that of slow muscle fibers (slow-twitch). The fast contracting fast-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for intense and explosive movements and work anaerobically, the slow-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for slower endurance movements and work aerobically. The general muscle loss can be counteracted to a certain extent by training.

The same applies to the VO2max value. This describes the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can take in during exercise, transport it to the cells and finally use it. The decrease in this value averages 10% per decade from the age of 30. With regular training this value can be reduced to about 5%.

Another important aspect that should be considered as you age is the fact that the body needs to recover longer between workouts.

Tips for older athletes training

  • Even in old age, intense exercise may still be carried out. However, short anaerobic training can potentially be substituted with specific strength training.
  • As you age, the required recovery and adaptation phases become longer. Be aware of this and include additional recovery phases in your training.
  • Continue to do a complete training with different types of training (long runs, interval runs, endurance runs, …) – simply put more emphasis on recovery, especially after interval training.
  • Complete your training with additional strength training.

This post is also available in DE.

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