Saturday, October 19, 2013

Aging: Risk, Dose and Density

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I’ve been making the point, based on the aging research, that experienced senior athletes are most likely to improve or maintain their endurance performance by focusing on aerobic capacity and muscular strength. Such training is high intensity. That presents the possibility of injury since older athletes are more “fragile” than they were when younger.

There isn’t just one way to train, however, that works for all senior athletes. The research is drawing general conclusions based on a wide sample. Not everyone has the same needs. The newer you are to your sport, for example, the more likely you are to improve or maintain your performance by simply putting in lots of training time. For the experienced athlete such training is of less value. High intensity is likely to be more beneficial, albeit risky, for these athletes. There are other considerations besides experience.

Aerobic capacity training may also not be your limiter. The other determiners of endurance performance are lactate threshold and economy. Let’s do a quick review of all three so you can draw a conclusion as to which you most need to address in your training. The best way to determine your training needs for each of these is to be tested for VO2max and ask the technician for a comparison of your data relative to other athletes of various ages. Such tests are often available at medical clinics; universities; health clubs; running, bike and triathlon shops; and are often offered as a service by coaches. Expect to spend at least US$150 for such a test.
Here is a very brief summary of each (click on the links to read more details to help determine what your major limiter may be).
  • Aerobic capacity (VO2max) – how much oxygen your body is capable of utilizing at maximal aerobic effort to produce energy. The higher this is, the greater your potential for high performance. In experienced athletes, this responds best to workouts that are done at or slightly below VO2max.
  • Lactate threshold – at what percentage of VO2max do you begin to “redline” due to increasing acidity. May also be referred to by the tester as anaerobic threshold, functional threshold, maximum lactate steady state, and other names. Be sure to ask for a definition. The higher the LT percentage is relative to VO2max, the better your endurance performance is likely to be. An LT between 80 and 90% of VO2max is common in fit athletes of all ages. Again, similar to aerobic capacity, in experienced athletes the most affective training to elevate LT is to do workouts at or slightly below LT.
  • Economy – how efficiently you use oxygen (a proxy for energy) to produce movement. As economy of movement improves, you race faster or use less energy at any given submaximal effort. It’s very difficult to improve economy in highly experienced athletes, but high intensity has been shown to be effective (Gunnarsson).


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