As a runner in my mid-forties, I’m beginning to notice a slight decline in my recovery ability and a more pronounced awareness of general muscle and joint pain. This time last year I felt as good as I did in my thirties (or at least I think I did), but now I feel that more visits to my massage therapist are in order.
The effects of aging on muscle function are different for each person, depending on other factors relative to your lifestyle, as well as genetics. But medical research has shown that in general a gradual loss of muscle function occurs, due to a decrease in both the number and size of muscle fibers. These changes may directly affect our ability to run by decreasing our endurance capacity and our overall strength and balance. The good news is that we can minimize the rate of decline by continuing to run (in a modified manner) and by giving our regular training routine and lifestyle a bit of an overhaul.
Switch to a Quality Over Quantity Mentality
Consider reducing the amount of time you spend running and then add value to your workouts by making each one purposeful. In other words, don’t just run to add miles to your weekly training log, but ascribe to each run a specific objective.
For example, include in your weekly run schedule one HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout, one easy-paced mid-distance run, one tempo run, and one long run. You can also take advantage of the various pace calculators available online and use them to determine specific training paces for any upcoming race goals you might have. Here are a couple of pace calculators you can use:
Learn to Love Strength Training
One of the bonuses of reducing your overall mileage is that it opens up extra windows of time to dedicate toward strength training. Too few runners give credence to the value of strength training and then wonder why they repeatedly suffer from injuries.
Doing a few strength exercises two or three times a week will help to keep injuries at bay by avoiding imbalances in overall muscle strength. Furthermore, stronger muscles improve running efficiency by enabling you to maintain good form when the body starts to fatigue. And of course, greater muscle strength may help you to run faster and longer. A few strength-training resources you might find useful are:
- McMillan’s Strength and Flexibility Training DVD Combo
- Runners World 10 Essential Strength Exercises For Runners
- Quick Strength For Runners by Jeff Horrowitz (reviewed by Breaking Muscle)
Do Exercises in All Three Planes of Movement
There are three planes of movement: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. Movements in the sagittal plane are back and forth, while movements in the frontal plane are side to side, and movements in the transverse plane are rotational. Runners tend to spend a lot of time exercising in the sagittal plane but neglect to do any exercises in the other two planes. This often results in muscle imbalances that can weaken your ability to move and run.
One of the best warm-up routines I’ve seen, which incorporates dynamic movements in all three planes, is Gary Gray’s lunge matrix. It is demonstrated in the following video clip by coach Jay Johnson: