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Breaking the Myth: Why Masters Athletes Should Push Harder, Not Slow Down

4 min. read

If you’ve hit your 50s and think it’s time to slow down, think again. If you ask me it’s actually the time to ramp up the intensity and push yourself harder. As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” That couldn’t be more true for us masters athletes who, more often than not, might opt for comfort over challenge. I’m right there with you. Who doesn’t prefer a coffee ride over a hard session on the turbo trainer or intervals on the running track? 

Rethinking Our Approach

As a fellow athlete and coach in my 50s, I think that I’ve gained a good insight into what we, as masters athletes, truly need. And it’s ironic, that as a coach I’m spending most of my days urging my younger athletes to ease off and embrace Z2 training while reminding my older athletes to speed up and embrace those hard intervals. I must admit I also find it extremely difficult to push myself, especially when I train alone.  High intensity sessions are tough, uncomfortable, and the risk of injury is real; especially running – if you’re not a bullet-proof runner that is. But shying away from these sessions could mean missing out on crucial benefits. Masters athlete in wetsuit. Use it or lose it. Time to push harder, not slow down. High intensity workouts.

So, what is it all about?

As we age (generally from 30 – 40 onwards), our maximal aerobic power, or VO2 max, starts its gradual decline, dropping up to 7% each decade in trained athletes. This is due to ageing effects on the cardiovascular system (i.e. reduction in maximal HR, decreased efficiency in pumping blood etc.), muscle mass loss, and increased body fat. While this decline is inevitable with age, research indicates that engaging in consistent and systematic training can significantly slow down this process.  It’s definitely not about slowing down and making training easer as we age; it’s about making it smarter and staying consistent. 

Strength as your Foundation: Building strength and maintaining muscle mass is not only your first line of defence against injuries, maintaining lean muscle mass also helps to counteract the natural decline in VO2 max. But you need to lift heavy which means proper form is critical (if you’re new to lifting, please seek out a professional).

Speed is Crucial: Incorporate quality sessions into your training; high intensity sessions to boost VO2 max and lift lactate threshold (think fartlek sessions, sprint intervals etc.) but also neuromuscular work like cadence work, big gear work or short sprints for cyclists in particular. These build not just speed but also resilience. 

Don’t Skimp on Endurance: While it’s tempting to ditch those long rides or runs, don’t do it. It’s the endurance that keeps you going the distance. Stick with it. 

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Mix it up and try and schedule one hard session per discipline per week. I know it sounds like a lot but don’t be intimidated by it – try the following tips to ease the process:

  • Train in a Group: There’s unparalleled motivation in training with others which will boost your performance too. I’m super grateful for example that I have a great swim group which motivates me to keep pushing myself. Reserve your solo workouts fro steady, endurance-focused sessions instead. 
  • Participate in Events: Join a local 5k park run, mid-week time trials on the bike or a Zwift race to inject some competitive spirit into your training.
  • Schedule Sprint Triathlons: These can serve as high-intensity training milestones, sharpening your focus and training intensity.
Mapping Out the Week

Putting it all together, a balanced training week could look as follows: 

  • Monday: Run (Endurance)
  • Tuesday: AM Swim (Speed), PM Strength Training
  • Wednesday: Bike (Speed)
  • Thursday: AM Swim (Endurance), PM Strength Training
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Run (Speed)
  • Sunday: Bike (Endurance)

This schedule is a basic framework with lots of scope to add sessions if you have time. 

Aging is a given, but as endurance athletes we can mitigate its effects on aerobic capacity with focused and well-planned training approaches. Remember, consistency is key. It’s not about how hard you train in a single session but how consistently you engage with your training over time. 

Here’s to pushing harder, not slowing down, and, above all, keeping it fun.

Coach (spring chicken) Damo