4 Steps for Masters Athletes to Train Effectively

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 | By Carrie McCusker
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4 Steps for Masters Athletes to Train Effectively

Masters athletes, typically defined as racers over 40 years of age, often have bigger challenges than the younger set when finding consistent training and adequate recovery time. Work, family, increased recovery needs and a general lack of available time can all impede progress towards race success.

That doesn’t mean that olders athletes don’t have goals. Perhaps you're on a PR quest, or maybe taking on a new race distance. Whatever your motivation, being prepared is key. No one wants to show up on the starting line lamenting missed workouts and a lack of preparation. Some simple steps and planning can help every busy masters athlete reach their goals. Here are four ways you can make it happen.

1. Make a Plan

It’s crucial to start with a realistic understanding of what you can and cannot do with your time. Begin by estimating the amount of the time you have available each day of the week. This needs to be a very accurate and real assessment. Pretending you’ll get up every day at 3AM before work to hit the road and then do a second workout at 9PM after the kids are asleep is just not realistic. Sleep deprivation will mean inadequate recovery, general malaise, and probably make you a rather unpleasant person to deal with.

Now that you’ve figured out how much time you have available, create your long term plan. Take a monthly calendar or better yet, open up your TrainingPeaks account and schedule in your events. Next, note the days you need to have off due to work travel, vacations, etc. Then plan your important training sessions, staying within your daily estimated time. Last, you can schedule the extra sessions that you want to get in, but are not critical workouts. This way, your critical workouts are scheduled with priority, giving you a much greater chance of executing these important workouts.

As an overall guide, you should start with general fitness and build into a specific preparation period that allows you to practice or rehearse race day. Remember, you are building muscular strength, aerobic endurance, speed, and improving your efficiency and technique. A masters swim class can be a tremendous help for triathletes. You may find group training is more of a time drain than a help, so remember to keep your goals very specifically targeted and look to streamline the schedule.

If you feel you need guidance creating your plan there are plenty of options. TrainingPeaks has a large library of training plans available for purchase. You can also consider hiring a coach to help you along this path.

2. Cut the Fluff

When looking over your plan, you may be worried by a lack of volume. However, evidence suggests higher intensity work and less volume is as beneficial as long hours for the masters athlete. This means performing workouts that go beyond zone 2 and 3 heart rate or power. There are a myriad of ways you can do this, including interval training in each sport and different strength routines as well. If you train slower, you are likely to lose performance at a greater rate per decade than if you train fast. For the time deprived athlete, finding this “less is more” balance of hard work and recovery is key.

Shorter but more intense workouts also allow you find a better balance with all that may be going on in your life. Not only do they take up less time during each day, but it is easier to move these shorter workouts around. For example, swapping a 30 minute run with a 45 minute swim is a fairly easy switch to make. When your schedule is hectic, the ease of maneuvering workouts can not be underestimated.

3. Include Strength Training and Self Care

After the age of 40, muscle density begins to decline. This means you’re in a battle with time. Many masters triathletes feel that strength training is not something they can fit in their schedule with all of the swimming, biking, and running that is necessary. Remember, simple strength exercises can be performed at home, without a time sucking trip to the gym.

Get a few dumbbells, some stretch cords and use your bodyweight for as resistance. Some exercises that are good for triathletes, runners, and swimmers include bicep curls, tricep extensions, backward lunges, single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, bent rows, and chest press.These are all easy to do in a limited time frame at home. Stretch cords are great when outfitted with paddles and can be used for a wide variety of resistance activities. Add in plyometrics, core work, basic mobility and foam rolling, and your body will thank you over the long haul.

4. Be Creative and Flexible

Even the best planning can fall apart when life is made up of so many independent variables. Chaos inevitably will reign sometimes, but you need to learn to relax. Some strategies I’ve seen masters athletes employ include using the morning or evening commute for training time or including the kids in the foam rolling and strength training sessions. Take a full family day off every week if it achieves harmony and balance in family life.

Stress is stress whether it’s from training, work, or life in general. Your goal is to limit negative stressors and keep it to the positive and desired stress of workouts. If you miss a breakthrough workout you really wanted to hit, rearrange your schedule (see #1) and do it another day. Sometimes you just won’t be able to make up a missed workout. Let it go! Maybe the extra rest that day will be just what you needed.

Remember that consistency rules for the endurance athlete. If you can’t fit in your forty minute run, then make it a 30 minute run and bring dry clothes and a towel along so you can get right back to whatever else is ruling the day. Don’t skip a workout just because you can’t fit the whole thing in.  

In the end, the busy masters athlete can have still have PR performances, breakthrough workouts, and consistent training that professionals and the younger generation pursue, we just have to go about it differently. Make a plan, simplify, be realistic and concise, and get out there and chase your goals!

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