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Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance

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New Sports Science Findings Allow Masters Athletes to 'Cheat' the Ageing Process - and Remain Competitive for Years to Come

Once upon a time, older sportsmen and women were a rare species indeed – and regarded as something of a curiosity.

How times have changed!

In rowing, cycling, running and many other sports, the fastest growing rates of participation are in the over-40s category. There have never been so many older athletes participating in sport.

And they’re not just there to make up the numbers – master athletes are in it to compete, to explore their physical limits, and to win!

Because thanks to recent discoveries in sports science, masters athletes can remain highly competitive for years to come – if they know the right way to train... to recover... and to avoid injury.

Yes, if you’re over 40 and looking to achieve new personal bests in your sport, there’s lots of good news. Apart from being a thoroughly healthy thing to do, the right kind of training balanced with optimum recovery can and will help to cheat the ageing process and perform well beyond the level that chronological age alone might lead you to expect.

Of course, as the years roll by, there are some inevitable physical and biochemical changes that take place in the sporting body. Because of this, when maximum performance is the goal, older athletes need to adopt a canny approach and train smart. And key to this is harnessing the latest sports science findings relating to older athletes.

Which is why my latest Peak Performance Special Report deals with this increasingly important issue.

Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance contains a wealth of insider information on how to exploit your full competitive potential using the latest training, nutrition and injury prevention techniques.

In all, you get 90 pages of expert strength training and conditioning advice from this high-powered team of sports medicine professionals, elite coaches and other experts:

Andrew Hamilton BSc Hons, MRSC, ACSM – a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American College of Sports Medicine and a consultant to the fitness industry, specialising in sport and performance nutrition.

Dr Gary O’Donovan – Research Fellow at the University of East Anglia and an exercise physiologist accredited with the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Eddie Fletcher MSc – a sport and exercise physiologist and coach specialising in endurance events and indoor rowing.

Sam Oussedik – Clinical and Research Fellow in Orthopaedics at University College London. His primary interest is football.

Laurence James – an Orthopaedic Registrar with a special interest in gene physiology and its effects on human performance.

Fares Haddad BSc MCh (Orth) FRCS (Orth) – a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at University College London Hospital and editorial consultant to our sister publication, Sports Injury Bulletin.

Adam Cohen – an Orthopaedic Registrar with a particular interest in diseases of the hip and knee.

Dr Richard Godfrey – a Senior Research Lecturer at Brunel University, who previously spent 12 years working as Chief Physiologist for the British Olympic Association.

You can imagine how much it would cost to get this sort of expert information in a face-to-face setting with any one of these medical and sporting professionals!

Instead, for a fraction of the price of a 60-minute personal consultation with any one of them, you get to read and digest the very latest training, recovery and injury prevention and rehabilitation advice from all nine of these professional practitioners.

And you can reserve your copy of Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance at a special, pre-publication discount rate if you order it today (more on that below).

Reserve your copy today, and you’ll find out:

  • What does Denise Lewis’ coach have to tell us about hormone response and strength training for master athletes?
  • How much recovery between sets do masters athletes need when training for strength?
  • Which naturally–occuring amino acid holds out the promise of being the ‘new creatine’ for the over 40's?
  • What’s the most effective way to boost aerobic capacity in masters rowers?
  • Could masters-level cyclists be at heightened risk of BMD – and if so, what can they do about it?
  • Joint replacement in athletes: what options are currently open to us?
  • Which sports should not be played after knee or hip joint replacement surgery?
  • Blood clots in athletes and coaches: what are the risks, and what precautions can we take?

All of it essential information for master athletes, coaches and anyone else with a serious interest in maintaining their competitive edge – and participation – in sports for many years to come.

Strength Training for Older Athletes – leverageing the power of hormonal response to increase your gains

Sportsmen and women weight train to improve performance because, all else being equal, a weight-trained muscle is more resilient and better able to generate force.

Maintaining strength is particularly important for older athletes – but the natural changes in the human body make this more difficult over time. Simply put it’s harder, the older you get, to maintain muscle strength and size.

But, as recent sports science research reveals, there are some smart ways to counter the ageing process – and boost your sports performance.

So we kick off Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance with a look at the science of training for strength – with a specific focus on using the body’s natural production of hormones to leverage the results you get out of the time you spend strength training.

First we share with you the secrets of success of two top UK Olympians – heptathlon gold medallist, Denise Lewis, and world record and gold medal-winning long jumper, Jonathan Edwards. While neither of them was a masters athlete – at least, not at the time of their Olympic success – their approaches to weight training point the way to success for those of us who are over 40 because of the way they leveraged the body’s hormonal response to strength training.

You see weight training (and exercise in general) has both outward and inward training effects. As a coach or athlete you may tend to think only of the former, i.e. the production of greater power producing muscles, and not the latter. However, the design of a weight-training programme can have significant hormonal effects, which in turn can significantly affect the amount of lean muscle gains.

The benefits for Masters athletes are several – and we outline these in Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance focussing on the production of Growth Hormone (GH), and how this can be leveraged to best effect.

Growth hormone (GH) is released from the anterior pituitary gland in the brain soon after exercise commences; however, the precise effects of this GH release seems to be relative to the age of the exerciser. GH is often regarded as the ‘sport hormone’ because it is involved in numerous anabolic functions relating to cell proliferation and division throughout the body.

Specifically, GH stimulates bone, cartilage and muscle growth and can play a very significant role in lean muscle mass and fat deterioration/accumulation. This explains why it has been used as an illegal ergogenic aid.

GH release via exercise is also augmented by a further chemical reaction. Basically, hormones that would otherwise act to blunt GH production (eg somatostatin) are suppressed by the production of other chemicals produced during exercise (endogenous opiates). In short, GH’s ergogenic, training-induced effect can contribute toward creating a leaner, stronger, more powerful athlete.

In Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance we explain how to weight train for maximal GH response. In the course of our discussion, we provide suggested workouts for six different groups of athletes across several different sports.

The bottom line: you’ll learn that, when planning a weight training schedule, you should not only take into account the perceived benefits of the session per se on muscle fibre power output, but also the hormonal effects it can have on influencing your weight.

Nutrition and Supplementation: could this amino acid be an elixir of youth for masters athletes?

Back in the 90s, the use of creatine as a strength-building supplement revolutionised sports nutrition. That’s because, unlike most other supplements out there, it actually did what it claimed on the tin! Since then, a number of would-be pretenders to the throne have appeared on the market, but none has matched creatine for its sheer efficacy.

Creatine is able to produce strength gains because it enhances the short-term, high-intensity energy pathway in muscles known as the ‘phospho-creatine (PC) system’. An enhanced PC energy pathway allows muscle fibres to contract vigorously for longer, thus producing more intense loading and fatigue. This in turn produces a greater repair and growth stimulus, and in the longer term, with adequate rest and nutrition, greater strength gains.

Now, sports scientists have discovered that a certain amino acid – naturally produced by the body – may well play a similar role because of its ability, in certain conditions, to stimulate the natural release of Growth Hormone (GH).

As mentioned earlier, GH is one of the key players in muscle repair and growth following exercise. It is a large protein molecule that is synthesised, stored, and secreted by specialised cells within the anterior pituitary gland in the brain.

In the body, GH has a number of biological functions, but of particular interest to older athletes is the fact that it increases protein synthesis and promotes fat burning, increases calcium retention and therefore strengthens and increases bone mineralisation, and it also stimulates the immune system.

However, the problem for older athletes (as mentioned earlier) is that GH secretion tends to fall away with age; anything that can counteract this tendency could therefore be of benefit.

In adults, GH is not secreted steadily, but in discrete bursts resulting in about five large pulses or peaks of GH release each day. These peaks last from about 10-30 minutes and the most predictable of these peaks occurs roughly an hour after the onset of sleep. However, another extremely powerful GH release stimulus is exercise, particularly high-intensity exercise such as resistance training or high-intensity anaerobic training.

Given that GH promotes muscular growth and repair, and also stimulates fat burning, it’s not surprising that some athletes have been tempted to resort to GH abuse in order to accelerate recovery from training, increase strength and maintain low body fat levels. However, not only is this illegal, GH abuse is a potentially risky business, leading to potential health complications such as high blood pressure and heart damage.

If you want to maximise natural GH release and create an anabolic environment, intense exercise and adequate sleep are vital. But new sport science findings suggest that there are a couple of nutritional ‘tricks’ you can use to further enhance GH secretion – and we set out these findings in Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance.

In essence, the investigators discovered that taking the appropriate amount of a particular amino acid (which we name for our readers in Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance ) could massively increase levels of Growth Hormone – up to three or four times as much GH secretion in some people.

For older athletes seeking to gain strength, lose fat and recover quickly, this is surely a win-win-win situation!

Training Intensity: should older athletes be taking it easier?

Serious athletes could be forgiven for thinking that they might be training too hard, given the universal endorsement of moderate activity and the much publicised deaths of Jim Fixx, Marc-Vivien Foe, Reggie Lewis and other famous athletes in recent years.

So Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance considers whether, in the interests of health, older athletes should give up high-intensity exercise in favour of brisk walking.

We start out with a review of some recent research into the benefits of exercise – analysing the results of a meta-analysis (i.e. a study of the results of several different sports science research projects). The results are surprising – and go against a lot of what passes for conventional wisdom in the general medical community as it applies to older people.

Speed and Power: a sprint-training programme that’ll bend your starting blocks

Master athletes are atypical compared to most sedentary adults, who display huge physiological decline over their middle and older years.

However, despite this, the body of the master athlete still suffers the ‘normal’ physical decline (albeit far less so) associated with ageing – e.g. a decline in speed- and power-producing fast-twitch muscle fibres, and an associated declining muscle mass.

However, the good news is that there are a number of ways in which age-related physiological decline can be slowed (and even reversed), with specific reference to speed and power and muscle composition in master athletes.

So in the next section of Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance we examine a training programme that can help offset much of the age-related decline in speed and power. It’s a 20-week mixed (weight training and plyometrics) programme proven to enhance the physical capacity of older athletes. We take you through the programme’s six phases, one at a time, explaining which exercises to do – and at what level of intensity.

It’s powerful stuff – and proven to work wonders for anyone who needs greater reserves of strength and speed!

Masters-level Rowing: the secrets of maintaining a high level of performance

The specific sport of indoor rowing is well suited to older athletes. The sport is organised in 5 or 10-year age bands, male, female, heavyweight and lightweight categories (75kg for men, 61.5kg for women – the border between the 2 weight categories). Typically races are over 1609m (1 mile) or 2,000m.

Master rowers tend to improve when they commence training and then quickly achieve peak performance. It may be possible to hold peak performance for a limited period before age related decline sets in.

The key to success in older rowers is maximising the efficiency of the aerobic system. Performance is determined by how close to the maximum oxygen uptake level (VO2max) a rower is able to maintain performance throughout a rowing session, and by the economy of the performance (how much of the oxygen consumed by the rower’s body is actually converted into performance).

In Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance we identify the most effective way to boost aerobic capacity in older rowers – setting out what duration, frequency and intensity of training delivers optimal results.

You’ll learn how Anna Bailey (world record holder for the 2,000m 50-59 age category) used her training programme to improve her aerobic capacity and enhance performance. Anna followed a very specific indoor rowing marathon programme in 2002 and 2003 before breaking the British Indoor Rowing marathon record, twice.

We also set out details of an actual training week as followed by Alex Brown – another highly successful masters rower.

The bottom line: you’ll learn the most effective single way to boost your aerobic capacity – and be a more competitive rower.

Osteoarthritis in Athletes: can anything be done?

Scientists now agree that staying physically active as the years advance confers a large number of health benefits. However, does it also increase your risk of joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and if so, what can you do about it?

The next section of Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance homes in on this thorny issue.

Because athletes are in no way immune to arthritis – indeed it is a common and perplexing problem among this group. But despite there being an obvious public health interest in understanding the potential risk of exercise-induced osteoarthrosis (OA) in weight-bearing joints, very little is known about it.

This may in part be because of the large number of factors that can contribute to OA, making it difficult to pin down the effect of isolated influences such as exercise or participation in sport.

What is osteoarthritis? This term covers a widely varying group of conditions characterised by abnormality in the articular cartilage on the ends of bones and surfaces of joints. The disease can be primary, in the absence of any predisposing factors, or secondary, resulting from a known condition, in one of four categories:

  • metabolic disorders
  • anatomical derangement
  • major trauma or surgery to a joint
  • inflammatory disease

In Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance we discuss the findings of several recent studies into osteoarthritis – and address head on the question: are athletes at greater risk of osteoarthritis than are the general population?

The answer may surprise you...

We conclude by examining the various ways in which osteoarthritis can be managed – be it operative or non-operative.

Masters Cycling and Health: a bone of contention?

Assuming that master cyclists undertake a properly structured training programme with manageable increases in training volumes and intensity, and that they allow adequate time for recovery with good nutrition, the physiological and health effects of increased cycling performance will almost always be beneficial.

For example, research shows that increasing the intensity of aerobic type exercise such as cycling confers several health benefits such as:

  • Enhanced insulin sensitivity
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved blood cholesterol profile
  • Reduced body fat
  • Reduced risk of coronary heart disease (as the result of all the above)
  • Better quality of life in older age

However, one area where (unlike many other forms of exercise) cycling might not deliver health benefits for the older athlete is bone health, or more specifically, increasing bone mineral density (BMD).

Because recent research on bone density in pro cyclists makes for uncomfortable reading.

Studies have revealed that the higher the muscular and impact load (gravitational) forces, the higher the BMD produced; so for example, gymnasts whose sport requires high loadings and impacts tend to have higher BMDs than endurance runners. By contrast, those who participate in sports with plenty of muscular motion, but without substantial loading (eg swimming) do not achieve the high BMDs of sports with higher loading.

So in the next section of Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance we examine the issue of cycling and BMD, looking at the findings of recent research into road cycling, track and mountain biking. We also investigate whether there is a link between the number of miles cycled in a week and the incidence of BMD.

You’ll find out to what extent BMD is a real problem for cyclists – and what you can do about it.

Joint Replacement: what options for master athletes?

An increasing number of people are undergoing joint arthroplasty (replacement) surgery.

Within the next 25 years it is anticipated that in the United States demand for total hip replacement will increase by 174%, and for total knee replacement by 673%. Looked at another way, it is estimated that by 2020, arthritis will affect 4.6m people in the world’s most sporty nation, Australia – 20% of the adult population.

Joint surgery has a long and well-proven record of success in resolving the pain and disability of severe arthritis. Traditionally, joint replacement has been reserved for people over 65 years old, whose physical demands are much lower. Increasingly, though, a somewhat younger age group is undergoing joint arthroplasty, and for some, their expectations and physical requirements are much higher.

It seems that the increased need for joint replacement among the younger age group is mainly the result of higher levels of obesity in the population. However, not all candidates come into this category. For anyone who takes part in sport of any nature, the onset of pain in a joint may indicate the presence of osteoarthritis.

Previous surgery or trauma may predispose an athlete to an arthritic joint. And certain types of sport expose participants to certain forms of arthritis. Soccer, rugby, racquet sports, track and field events and long-distance running are examples of sports in which over-use of joints, even without injury, may cause joint degeneration.

Masters athletes who wish to return to strenuous activity after joint surgery will need appropriate counselling and may have to alter the level or type of sport they play.

So in the next section of Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance we provide a comprehensive update on the full range of options for older athletes, drawing on the considerable expertise of the orthopaedic and sporting experts on our panel of contributors. After first looking at the cause of joint failure, we then turn our attention to the solutions on offer and evaluate the pros and cons for each in turn. That done, we look at which rehabilitation methods work best, and what the outlook is for an individual’s successful return to sport.

NB: the discussion includes a list of sporting activities ‘not recommended’ by experts following surgery. The good news is that the list of such sports has decreased substantially in recent years.

Nonetheless five sports remain on the proscribed list.

To find out whether or not your sport is prohibited after hip and/or knee replacement, be sure to read Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance.

Blood clots: what are the risks for masters athletes and coaches?

As the years advance, the risk of blood clots and associated complications rises dramatically, even in sportsmen and women.

So in the final section of Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance we look at the implications for athletes and their coaches – drawing on the real life story of one of our contributors who, notwithstanding a long history of multi-sport competition, was himself a victim of a blood clot.

We evaluate the risk profile of both coaches and athletes – recognising that the former are frequently not in the same state of health as those they look after.

Crucially, we remind you of how best to deal with upper respiratory tract infections – when can one continue to train, and when would it be best to take off a few days for recovery?

Given the prevalence of long-distance travel amongst athletes and coaches alike, we then turn our attention to the phenomenon of deep vein thrombosis – what are the symptoms, and what can be done.

Finally we spell out what practical steps can be taken to minimise the risks of blood clots in athletes and coaches.

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Over 40’s Training: How to Maximise Your Performance is one of a series of special reports from Peak Performance, the sports science newsletter. This practical work book is not available elsewhere.

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