Age related performance decline/strength training and mental training
by on Monday, September 8, 2014  (2 comments)

So I'm still a bit behind but I'm getting back on schedule. However, I wanted to ensure I didn't rush my writing about these topics.

Interestingly, within my coaching, I wanted to focus on going a little deeper in a few areas next year. Two of those areas are addressed below. I wanted to focus more on strength training and the mental aspect. I'll explain more below but I did find it interesting that, as I was thinking about these aspects of training, I came across these.

First, one of my favorite bloggers Alex Hutchinson wrote about age related decline.

The chart he included is very interesting. Basically, peak sprint power drops off rapidly once we age beyond our 30s. Likewise, VO2max seems to have a general downward trend as we age, accelerating as we enter our 60s but generally downward throughout life. Efficiency, on the other hand, declines but less rapidly than the other variables. We also seem to experience a fairly significant drop as we age into our 60s before it apparently levels off going forward.

Beyond that, though, I think it's interesting what Hutchinson brings up at the end.

So is this a measure of "intrinsic" aging? It's not that simple. These masters triathletes are certainly fit, but they may well be neglecting the types of training that maintain muscle mass, strength, and power. Indeed, a study back in 2011 (with one of the same co-authors) found that (a) strength training improves cycling efficiency, and (b) the improvements are bigger in older cyclists.

I wanted to add a greater focus on strength training next year because I believe it will take our injury prevention efforts to a higher level. That is still my focus. I believe a basic level of strength makes you more resilient. It allows you to train harder with a lower risk of injury. For the more veteran runners, though, we may have an added benefit of potentially significant efficiency gains. Sounds like a win/win to me and is another reason to believe we're heading in the right direction.

Second, one of the runners I coach sent me this link to an interesting article about "brain training".

The runners I coach might recognize things I do in parts of this article. The idea of keeping positive is a big one. I always find something positive. I can read a runner's training log and, in a workout where the runner thinks he or she bombed, see a positive we can take out of the workout. Then I'll focus on the positive that I see in the workout. Not that we can ignore the misses but, in my effort to always be positive, why can't we look at the misses and learn from them? Are they negatives if we use them as learning opportunities? See what the runners I coach have to deal with? I guess I know why I've been called annoyingly positive.

I think there are a few things every runner can take from this. The runners I coach can expect much greater detail in discussion of this but here are a couple key takeaways I think we can find in this article:

1) Be process oriented, not results oriented. As I often say, take care of the present and the future will take care of itself.

2) Focus on the positive. We all have negative thoughts creep into our minds. No matter how much we practice being positive, they will at times. When things are going good, it's easy to be positive. What do we do when these things happen? Put a positive spin on it. If I'm racing a 5K and things start hurting late in mile 2, I might for a moment think can I hold this all the way to the finish? Then I turn it around. I'm supposed to be hurting at this point. That means I'm running a good race. Now, let's keep pushing through this part so I can keep this good race going.

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Regarding age related performance decline, I think everyone who is over 40 knows it's true. Even if you didn't start running until late in life and your times are still getting better, you know in other aspects of your life that you're getting older and things aren't as easy as they once were. Losing muscle mass definitely becomes more obvious around age 50. I know because I'm there. 20 years ago I didn't have to do much to keep my upper body toned. Now if I do nothing the flab quickly takes over. Running keeps my legs pretty toned, but the strength does not last like it did 10 or 15 years ago. Lifting weights and strength training are definitely essential now. It makes a lot of sense that strength training would help in running as in any other sport.

I haven't read the brain training article, but I know this is true. Another thing that I learned at a very young age from gymnastics is that you have to train your brain to perform gymnastics skills to execute them successfully with your body. Sometimes you still fall off the beam, but that's when it's especially important to shake it off, stay positive and focus on the remaining skills. Same is true with running. You have to see yourself cross the finish line achieving your goal. You have to train your brain to believe you can do this. It's not enough to just think it, you have to really believe it. People sometimes think I'm unrealistic and I live in Never Never Land because I actually really believe you can do whatever you believe you can do. The key is, you have to really believe what you're thinking. It really does work!

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I think there are very few people who deny age related performance decline. The interesting thing here is we have a pretty nice visual on why. It's primarily loss of peak power and VO2max. Efficiency is also lost but not as much. Again, not surprising news but the visual is nice.

More importantly, it gets connected to the benefits of strength training. Your efficiency declines as you age but the benefits of strength training on your efficiency increase as you age. Does that mean we can halt the decline of efficiency? At this point, I'm not sure if it's that or just slow the decline but, either way, it once again stresses the importance of strength training for aging athletes. We know there are a lot of reasons to keep (or begin) strength training as we age. Here's another reason.

I like how you tie things back to gymnastics. There are a lot of cross-sport connections and the brain training one is another case. Staying positive and focusing on the remaining skills sounds like this article's discussion of staying positive and being process oriented (focus on what you're doing right now as opposed to thinking about the final result).

I like that you also bring up visualization. I didn't really notice the article discuss that but it's such a powerful thing. When you've already seen yourself accomplishing your goal dozens of times, you believe it's inevitable. Obviously, I can't just visualize my way to a 2:10 marathon but, used properly, it can definitely give you an edge.

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