The hard truth is you’ll probably start to notice some significant changes in how your body performs and functions once you hit your early 30’s. Those personal best race times and performances might not come as easily as they used to, whilst the time it takes you to recover from activities you could previously bounce back from quickly is taking longer.

The side-effects of ageing are a natural occurrence that impact us all at some point, but there are ways that you can slow the decline. So, we’re focusing on how implementing strength and conditioning alongside your training as you get older can help you maintain your longevity in your sport…

How can S&C help older athletes?

We know from the research that strength training can have a beneficial impact on improving age-associated factors, such as bone density, balance and proprioception, and this has positive implications for your resilience to injury and overall performance.

As an older ‘or ageing’ athlete (defined as 30+ in this context), you should have a level of competency across a broad spectrum of full body strength exercises.

The simple practice of strength training and starting to apply more load during exercise will force physiological changes to occur within your body. Ignoring these loaded strength workouts will effectively encourage the loss of muscle mass, bone density and tissue strength.

Therefore, the aim of your strength and conditioning program should be to:

  • Increase the amount of lean muscle tissue
  • Bring more strength and stability to key joints (i.e. knees, hips, ankles, shoulders)

In turn, this will give you the resilience to start developing more speed, power and endurance, as you now have a stronger base to work from.

What strength exercises should you be doing?

When considering the right exercises to be using as an older athlete, the approach doesn’t really differ from someone who’s just starting out in their 20’s. You have to be thinking holistically, in the sense that you don’t want to have any weaknesses.

If you’re someone who's looking to pursue an active lifestyle which incorporates high volumes and intensities of run, bike, swim, or adventure efforts, your main focus should be on ensuring that your body is strong enough to handle this week-to-week workload.

A full body approach to your training is going to allow you to clearly identify where your obvious structural areas of weakness are. Any client starting with Strength For Endurance begins by working through basic Movement Screening and Bodyweight Strength Standards to identify where their areas of weakness and imbalance lie.

Without this testing approach, you’re effectively playing a guessing game and have no basis upon which to build an effective program. Assuming that you go away and work on these areas of weakness in order to have a strong foundation of strength, you’ll naturally look to become more specific.

There will be natural ‘wear and tear’ that comes with getting older as this will have built up over years of activity, as well as well as through everyday habits which will naturally see us lose the ability to hold strong postures. To help slow this decline, you should focus on a little and often approach when it comes to S&C.

Basic S&C exercises to try at home:

See below for examples of the baseline, bodyweight strength exercises that you should have an above normal level of competency in. These exercises are basic measures of what you should be able to perform to complete everyday activities, so as an aspiring athlete you should be looking at these as a very basic standard for yourself.

  1. Single Leg Squat
  2. Single Leg Hamstring Bridge
  3. Push Up

How to improve your bone density

Whether it’s an ultramarathon, triathlon or multi-day event you’re training for, the demands that you’re placing on your body are way beyond the 'Average Joe or Jane'. Those who don’t respect this fact are those who will see an accelerated decline in age-related issues such as osteoporotic changes, hormonal repercussions and joint injuries.

For real physiological change and long term resiliency, you have to think bigger and really appreciate the demands of the sport that you’re participating in. On a weekly basis, we see athletes in their mid-thirties who are showing symptoms similar to that of 60 year olds when it comes to their injuries and health markers. 

Essentially bone is formed and strengthened by mechanical loading. Repetitive loading in the form of strength training leads to the release of natural growth hormones that can stimulate the growth of bone and connective tissue.

To truly increase bone density you need to place a greater level of stress on the body than you would during day-to-day life, to essentially force new growth. And this goes for both male and females. For this type of growth response to occur, it's also important to recognise the importance of healthy hormonal status, sufficient energy availability (i.e. through good nutrition and recovery) and a sustainable training volume and intensity.

Like with any exercise prescription, there’s a necessary timeline of progression, meaning that your right to perform these heavier, more complex exercises will come once you’re confident and competent with the basics.

More complex S&C exercises to try at home:

  1. Heavy squat variations
  2. Lateral step up
  3. Plyometric exercises. e.g. vertical jump, broad jumps, lateral jumps

How important is flexibility?

Another key consideration around old age is the potential reduction in mobility and functionally of your joints. This is due to your tendons and ligaments becoming stiffer as a result of age-related changes.

A successful strength and conditioning program will involve you actively working on improving your mobility, with the most effective approach integrating key mobility drills into your weekly strength sessions, rather than going and doing 3-5 hours of yoga or pilates each week.

We suggest working two or three times a week from a training program that incorporates the aspects of mobility and strength within a 45-60 minute session. 

Mobility exercises to try at home:

  1. Shoulder Passover
  2. Inch Worm
  3. Squat Mobility

Don’t overlook R&R

As we age, it’s important to remember that our physiological recovery processes (i.e. the ability for your body to repair) aren’t going to be as efficient in our 50’s as they were in our 20’s. This is why there needs to be a strong focus on making sure that you’re getting enough recovery between your main strength or sport-based sessions.

Ideally, you want to be working with a 48-hour window between strength sessions, as certain recovery processes such as protein synthesis and muscle building take at least 24-36 hours.

For longevity in whatever sport or activity you’re pursuing, you have to consider the demands on your physiology first. Above all else, consider whether your body can meet the demands of you applying more volume and intensity.

Further reading