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Commonwealth Champion Powerlifter – @DomCadden
Maybe you’re a MAMIL (middle-aged man in Lycra) or an enduring wife or mother who decided to use those skills in long-suffering perseverance for triathlons or other endurance events. It’s always a challenge to fit the training in, right? So you’ll no doubt deliver your best Danny Glover (“I’m too old for this sh__”) when I say you should really consider making time for a little resistance training – but here are seven great reasons to do it.
Sarcopenia – that’s the term for the loss of muscle mass that occurs naturally after our mid-20s unless we move to stop it. This gets much worse after age 50 as natural levels of testosterone and growth hormone plummet. So if you’re a man or woman over 35, you shouldn’t think that a bit of weight training will make you look like Ronnie Coleman – more likely, you’ll simply be avoiding the decline in muscle mass and making the muscle you have stronger. That means more force from a given body weight, which translates to things like an easier hill climb on the bike or run.
As muscle decreases, the calories burned all day also decrease, which results in later life weight gain. Another factor is that GH (human growth hormone) and testosterone have a significant influence on body composition and fat accumulation. Intense resistance training will naturally spike GH levels, which will help maintain lean muscle mass. For men, resistance training can help slow and even halt decline in testosterone – in several studies, men as old as 70+ experienced increases in testosterone after training with weights.
So muscle mass declines with age – but particularly the proportion of fast twitch (speed and power-producing) muscle fibres – you lose as much as 30% between the ages of 20 and 80. As you get older, you are usually trying to produce speed and power with less of the relevant muscle fibres, which means those you have left will need to be well-conditioned!
Fast twitch muscle fibre is not just for speed and power alone – any time the body is under stress, fast twitch fibre will kick in to support slow twitch muscle fibre, e.g. even during fatigue stages in an endurance run.
Fast twitch muscle fibre tends to be predominant during exercises where you are lifting 60% of your maximum weight, which would equate to something you can do for about 15 repetitions, although this will vary depending on a person’s predominance for either fast or slow twitch muscle, and the muscle groups worked.
Bone mineral density (BMD) peaks at about age 25 and unless you do some resistance training, it’s all downhill from there!
Strong bones play a role before you hit retirement age, too. They support your muscles and connective tissue both for your activity and prevention of fractures that can set you back for months.
The higher the muscular and impact (gravitational) forces, the higher the BMD produced – it has nothing to do with muscular motion. That means activities like swimming and endurance cycling, the total ‘bone loading’ will be low. A vigorous bone-loading activity such as weight training is also very effective at stimulating the uptake of calcium into bones, which helps reduce the loss of bone mass in later years. There’s also evidence that activities that develop strength (such as weight training) are particularly effective at producing high BMD in the hips and spine.
None of us have perfect muscle symmetry and ideal strength proportions. As we get older, these imbalances can get worse because the body naturally reverts to using stronger areas while other areas become more efficient at being lazy. Add overuse or traumatic injuries or a sport that stresses one side of the body more than the other and things go even more haywire. Weights training provides a very specific way to isolate and even out strength imbalances, work on flexibility issues and train you to get into the habit of activating muscles that are not being used as they should.
The most common injuries among endurance athletes tend to come from the stress of repetitive movements that lead to the breakdown of connective tissue – tendons, ligaments, fascia and cartilage. Weight training strengthens and hardens these structures to increase joint stability and help prevent injury.
The more you can stay free from illness and degenerative conditions, the more consistently you can train and compete. The Australian Sports Commission lists just some of the general health benefits of weight training for older athletes as:
Allow for a general adaptation period of 4-6 weeks. Here the repetitions will tend to be higher (12-15) and the loads lower – you should reach your goal reps with a couple more reps still left in the tank. Recovery will be about two minutes.
After this, it’s recommended that masters endurance athletes do 4 sets of 10 reps at a fast tempo with slightly incomplete recovery, which means you may have to reduce the weight between sets to maintain the same speed and number of reps. Some plyometric work in a similar range will also help joint stability and fast-twitch muscle recruitment, but make sure you stop the set before you lose speed.
Train 1-2 times a week for maintenance, 2-3 times to build strength and/or muscle. If you are already doing endurance training, session can be 20-45 minutes after warm-up.
Get more bang for your buck by choosing exercises that: