WHAT DOES A MASTER ATHLETE NEED TO KNOW?
Strange as it may seem, I have lots of NON-athletic friends aged 35+, who take chronic back and knees pain for granted as their youth has passed. They are taken aback by the fact that strength workouts actually solve this problem successfully! Here are just some of the benefits that an adult body can experience:
- improved posture;
- increased stability;
- lowering cholesterol;
- strengthening the heart and bones;
- Alzheimer's disease prevention.
It’s common knowledge that compared with basic strength training, weightlifting is a more complex kind of sport in terms of mobility, flexibility, speed, coordination, and balance.
Even the most pessimistic coaches admit the breakout of Master weightlifting over the past 10 years to be nothing short of incredible. For example, in 2015, 244 athletes took part in the US Masters Championships (women - 44%, men 56%), and in 2019, 718 were present (women - 60%, men - 40%)!
One year ago, I released one of the most favored programs on my list - MASTER DIESEL. It was passed by more than 450 athletes around the world and it's impressive!
Why do people aged 35+ get involved in sport? It's a great question… perhaps it's connected with some extra benefits:
- it's cool;
- you set new specific goals;
- you find a community of like-minded people;
- you have an opportunity to compete.
Moreover, weightlifting exercises teach your nervous system and muscles to react and switch actions rapidly. Obviously, physical strength is essential but what is more important and practical is the ability to move your legs fast enough in order not to lose balance when a bus brakes sharply. Physiotherapists call this skill “reactive stability”, and that’s what people tend to lose during the aging process.
It’s also no secret that strength and coordination training develops learning abilities: more white matter means a better connection between different areas in our brain. It leads us towards an increased “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” which contributes to the new nerve cells creation.
When you simply go to the gym, your goal is just sweating and getting tired. There is nothing wrong with it but competing and trying to lift new kilograms will surely make your motivation more measurable.
On top of that, when you have a goal, the training consistency, the quality of diet, and your daily routine become second nature to you. If something doesn't work for your goals then there's no result because strength is very closely related to overall health.
But it doesn’t mean that weightlifting will make you feel guilty for not being robust. Your performance can be a rather useful metric to track the overall health condition.
Recently, I have received a few letters on this topic and answered them all right away but I suppose that others will find this article interesting too. Here are some insights that middle-aged people should take into account when starting their workouts.
Important advice for Master athletes BEFORE starting the training process:
1. Get medical testing
You may be eager to start a new life on Monday after having been a couch potato for 10 or even 20 years. Get examined by a doctor before you implement any changes, such as: "Turning the World." Check your heart condition, discuss injuries from past years or muscle imbalances;
2. Intensity and frequency of training
If you are an entry-level Master Athlete, 3 workouts per week is more than enough for you to maintain full recovery, continue a usual life outside the gym and not be hobbled by sore muscles.
Entry-level training can be limited by factors like mobility, performance and learning abilities. However, there is no need to rush into anything!
It's a good idea to break your workouts down into exercises: a snatch day, a clean day, and a jerk day. If this is a strength program then it makes sense to divide them into days of squats, pulls, or bench presses. You can also work on a shorter amplitude - snatches and/or pulls from the middle of your thigh, bench squats, etc.
3. Nutrition and recovery
We're all about progress and recovery, so it should come as no surprise that nutrition is an essential part of our workout routine. Workouts cause damage to muscles and push your body to rebuild them even stronger. Without adequate nutrition, your recovery and repair period is likely to fall short of your expectations, it might stop you from making headway and you might not be able to fully take advantage of all those hard-earned gains, such as better sleep or more life energy. When it comes to nutrition, strength training follows the same rules regardless of sport: enough protein and carbohydrates and a calorie balance. Athletes aged 40+ are always advised to reduce their sugar intake and increase omega-3 fatty acids intake to prevent joints inflammation and protect heart and blood vessels.
4. Expectations and reality
If you are aiming to get results quickly, you should always be realistic in your expectations. In order to figure out the most realistic goals, decide how much time you are ready to devote to the training process (both workouts and recovery). A time frame will mainly depend on your job and personal life, stress management, diet, sleep, etc. In my opinion, all coaches should be absolutely frank with their athletes if they really want to help them. Giving them false hope and making them believe that they can reach impossible goals is not only unfair but also unprofessional.
As to the training approach, loads and planning:
1. Keep it in mind that we are NOT getting younger, so learn to feel your body and always take a long-term view in planning.
2. In my opinion, an experienced Master Athlete shouldn’t work out more than 4 times per week: 3 is a gold standard and the 4th one can be light/technical/recovery.
3. My main rule for Masters: learn a perfect movement and then lift heavy weights. Another way wouldn’t work out!
In my training programs, I always tell athletes to mind their well-being and find a “comfortable” weight. I also mark some sets as OPTIONAL so you can do them if you feel well.
Remember that most of your load should be 70-90% with the average of about 80%. Concentrate on your speed and stability and add kilograms only when you start feeling confident and reach stable techniques on your regular weights.
4. Master athletes don't need to constantly train in the 90%+ zone. Leave that for young and hot weightlifters, they can go for it! In my opinion, self-doubt often causes people to lift too much before a competition but your main goal should be making sure there are no failures during training sessions.
5. My coaching background has shown me that masters who have been involved in sport before have better mobility than beginners. However, they will all face some kind of problems! For instance, squatting deeply might pose an issue for them while others can struggle when it comes to opening up the chest. Many exercises can be incorporated into warm-ups and cool-downs to increase your mobility. The must-have exercise for this would include overhead squats, snatch grip Sots press, or single leg work (Romanian deadlifts & squats). These will improve hip flexor flexibility as well as help train glutes. Ignoring mobility reduces the training quality and leads to injury. This is true for athletes of all levels and ages.
6. During training, speed is also an important component. Practice shows that many of the master weightlifters have a sufficient strength supply and can perform front squats at 150-160% of their best clean. In the aging process, strength is preserved better than speed which depends on coordination as well. But strength gives no benefits in weightlifting in case your speed is too low. During masters competitions, you can come across a lot of athletes who are rather strong but show little explosive strength and mobility.
Developing speed is important for masters because it helps to involve the right motor neurons and generate strength quickly and, secondly, allows to increase workload density.
7. Strength training is essential, but for most master weightlifters, working with reasonable-high reps and a comfortable load will be beneficial. It's especially important as we age, because muscle mass naturally decreases with time - so even if you're following the plan singles-doubles, don`t hesitate to do a few additional sets on lighter weights in advance.
My new program, the Master STRENGTH Program is for those “adults” who are seeking high-quality strength results. It is focused on boosting strength in a harmonious and comfortable training regime which consists of 3-4 workouts per week.
This program is founded on performing basic training and working on larger muscle groups (legs, back and upper body), core (abdominal) muscles and stabilizers. This program is a great choice for fans of squats, deadlifts, different presses and other pumping exercises. It includes a 4th optional workout that focuses on the snatch and clean & jerk technique for those who want to maintain their skills.
You'll be able to smoothly and systematically get stronger within 12 weeks with this program. The loads are balanced and have a wave-like pattern, so there's no need to worry about overtraining. Every fourth week of the cycle is a tapering one.
To summarize, weightlifting and strength training is a great way to stay fit at any age. The most important thing is to mind your peculiarities and abilities!
Masters, I wish you successful training and performances at competitions!