Can You Actually Get Faster After 40?

A lot of the phone calls we get from new athletes start out with, “I’m [insert age between 40-65]. Do you work with athletes my age, and can you help me get faster?” The answer to the first question is absolutely yes. The vast majority of CTS Athletes are between 40-65 and we have a strong contingent of 70+ and even 80+ athletes! The second question requires a bit more explanation, but I think the long-term success of CTS is a testament to the fact that, yes, we can help you get faster. You can help yourself, too. Here’s how:

Be Consistent

Doing something on a regular and frequent basis is more important than doing any specific exercise or workout. Your body benefits most from regular exposure to training stress, meaning only a few days off between bouts of activity. What you want to avoid is prolonged periods of inactivity, because it will be more difficult to regain lost fitness. Think of it this way: as you get older you have more forces working against you than you did when you were 20. Periods of inactivity favor detraining, and that’s not what you want.

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Train During the Week

For many athletes, the period from 40-60 years of age is the time for maximizing career growth and raising children. Both are stressful, fulfilling, and time-consuming, which can leave little time for training. As a result, many athletes resort to a “weekend-only” training schedule where they exercise on the weekends but struggle to fit exercise into weekdays. This schedule is better than nothing, but 1-2 weekday workouts are very important for supplying a training stimulus frequently enough to promote continued progress. If you wait from Sunday to Saturday to exercise again, it is more difficult for your bouts of exercise to have an additive effect on your performance.

Incorporate Intensity

Interval training is crucial for athletes in their 40s-60s and beyond for a few reasons. Your overall activity level tends to decrease, meaning you have to increase intensity in order to maintain or increase total workload. High-intensity interval training is also necessary for maintaining or minimizing the decline of VO2 max as you get older. Interval training is also the most time-efficient manner of maintaining fitness and improving performance. Endurance is rarely the older athlete’s weak link, it’s the cardiovascular fitness and muscular power required for higher-intensity efforts.

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Optimize Recovery

Mature athletes often have significant advantages over their younger competition. You are more settled and tend to have the means to afford better nutrition and utilize recovery methods like Normatec compression boots and/or massage therapy. You have the health insurance to care for your injuries and visit the physical therapist more frequently. Your priorities and perspective are also more mature; we frequently observe greater adherence to good eating, sleeping, hydration, and training habits from athletes in their 40’s-60’s compared to younger populations.

Do older athletes need more recovery? Not universally. It depends on your fitness level, your training workload, and the training frequency you are accustomed to. Rather than automatically assuming you need more rest between workouts, try varying schedules of work and recovery and monitor your personal results. That’s what we do with every athlete we coach. I’m 55 and notice that I need 2-3 days of recovery following a very long ride, but I can still recover quickly enough to only take 1-2 days of recovery following shorter, high-intensity workouts.

Include Variety

Single sport specialization is not ideal for school-age athletes or athletes over 40. During the years when you might have been focused on being the best you could be at a specific sport or event, single sport specialization made sense. These days it makes more sense to incorporate variety so you can be flexible with the activities you can fit into your schedule. Remember the advice to be consistent? Sometimes you may not have the opportunity to train in your preferred sport, so open up your options by incorporating others. Exercising is the priority; the specific kind of exercise is secondary.

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Should older athletes lift weights? Slowing metabolism has more to do with losing muscle mass than it does with getting chronologically older. Strength training can help maintain muscle mass, weight-bearing exercise may slow the loss of bone density, and strength training can be an insurance policy against silly injuries from moving furniture, hoisting the kids onto your shoulders, or a big day of yard work. Will it make a difference for your sport-specific performance? Probably not, but it can help you avoid missing sport-specific training days by ensuring you are better prepared for activities of daily living.

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Have a Great Weekend,

Chris Carmichael

CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 8

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    1. Hi Chris – always enjoy your articles. This one on helping the older, or “experienced” adults, was a good one. I disagree, adamantly on whether strength training “probably does not help” the older athlete. I workout with weights twice a week, and though the weight is not as heavy as I would or could go, I do 9 – 10 sets, 7 – 8 sets and 6 – 7 sets in three different forms to gain strength for the sport of triathlon and all three sports. My muscle structure shows it, and all three sports I can feel the additional strength helping, especially in the longer workouts in all three sports. This is not a scientific backed reply, but I am a USAT Level II and USAC Elite Level Coach. Thanks!

      1. I was going to disagree with the same part of the article. Just from my own experience, I lift weights regularly and it definitely helps my running! When everyone else is pooping out at the end of an interval workout or a race, I can kick my muscular legs into gear and pass everyone. Hills are also no problem for me!

  2. Good advice as always. I am 72 and follow this regimen. I am still strong and can hang with faster groups younger than me. I also won all 3 gold medals in the 2014 Delaware Senior Olympics setting a state record for the 40K road race by 5 minutes with this training method. Left some of young bucks in the dust. LOL.

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