Diving straight in this week with some knowledge bombs straight from the masters certification manual…
Myth #1: Older Athletes Cannot Get Stronger or Improve Their Physical Capacity
It is a common belief that with age you get weaker and lose capacity. It is implied that older athletes cannot get stronger or improve their capacity
Where masters athletes have been studied, the research is often confounded by a focus on endurance athletes who have not undertaken continued strength training. However, if the research controls for a sedentary or endurance population and investigates an athletic population that undertakes resistance training, the findings support the notion that strength and muscle mass do not decline with age but rather with inactivity (Wroblewski et al., 2011).
Myth #2: Older Athletes Should Not Train at Intensity
Older adults are often told that low intensity training is most appropriate and to avoid strenuous activity. A common piece of advice is to take “everything in moderation.” The misconception that older adults should not train with intensity seems to be based on a misguided belief that intensity places the athlete at risk, more so than it would a younger athlete.
Intensity is important within our program because it is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing the rate of return on favorable adaptation.
What makes intensity a safe prescription for an older adult is applying it relative to the individual. Relative intensity is defined as working to the boundary of physical and psychological tolerance and not beyond. Adhering to our charter of teaching correct mechanics first, achieving consistency second, and only then applying relative intensity mitigates the risk for an older athlete who is in good health.
Myth #3: Older Athletes Need a Segmented Program That Is Simpler and Has Reduced Skill Demand (I.e., Avoid Complex Gymnastics and Weightlifting)
Older adults are often told by medical practitioners that the most appropriate form of exercise is walking. Although this may be a good starting point for someone who has lived life on the couch, there is no evidence to support the myth that older adults need a simplified exercise program.
Neurological capacity cannot be overstated, and the requirement to train these components does not diminish with age. On the contrary, it becomes more essential. It is the case that older athletes, particularly late masters in the 55+ bracket, find neurological skills more challenging to learn, but that is also precisely the reason that they need to be included in the program. The teaching of complex skills may have to be adapted, but they can and should be learned. Everybody can learn gymnastics with appropriate scaling, and everybody can learn the Olympic lifts with appropriate loads.
Myth #4: Older Athletes Can’t Train Hard Because They Have Diminished Ability to Recover
It is a common assumption among coaches and athletes alike that it is harder to recover as you get older and therefore older athletes need less work and more recovery time.
Where there has been continuity of training, recovery only diminishes in much later life (70+ years) and is consistent with a decline in VO2 max. But in sedentary masters the diminished recovery is significant and occurs much earlier, which suggests that lifestyle factors are more of a contributor than age alone. Recovery inhibiting lifestyle factors—factors such as limited training time, work demands, poor sleep, stress, inadequate nutrition, social commitments, alcohol, etc.—are probably more prominent in the masters population, particularly for the early masters. For most masters, it is likely that their physiology can handle much more than their chosen lifestyle allows.