Training the Masters Athlete: Context, Overload, and Recovery
To fit the pieces of training together, you have to think of them as inextricably linked to each other, and you have to understanding that each one is as important as the other. How they are prioritized will vary, athlete to athlete, and that may change cycle to cycle, but you cannot ignore one principle in order to double up on another.
Take the Principle of Context. This principle describes the relationship of each training component to the others, making the cycle fit together to produce a training effect. For a sprinter, there are speed development components, strength components, coordination elements, flexibility elements, and so on. Before you add another element into a training cycle, you need to be sure that it fits into the context of what is already being done. You cannot introduce an element that doesn’t fit, nor can you train one element to the exclusion of others. If you do, you will not see the desired adaptation to training.
Adaptation is at the heart of the Principle of Overload. Athletes progress when they experience changes to the amount of work, the intensity of work, or the frequency of work. All athletes have to careful not to subject themselves to consistent increases in more than one of the variables. Masters athletes especially will find that more subtle shifts, especially in volume or intensity, yield the right adaptation.
Violating those boundaries will make following the Principle of Recovery more difficult. All athletes must have adequate recovery built into their training regimens. For a regimen to produce a positive adaptation to the training stimulus, the body must have adequate time to recover from the stress of training. If the athlete cannot recover adequately, then the load is too high and must be adjusted. This is especially crucial for masters athletes, considering that many still remember younger versions of themselves where training loads were higher and recovery times were lower.
Putting it all together, your workload as a masters athlete can encompass just as many training hours as it always has, but the content of those hours has to adjust to accommodate your lessened capacity for overloads of various kinds. For me, that means that I concentrate on maintaining strength, maintaining speed, developing technical skills, and achieving coordination and flexibility. Technical skills development generally involves lower-impact activities, and coordination and flexibility works well with active recovery. That limits my high impact days to generally three days a week, leaving active recovery and outright rest to the remainder.
Hybrid athlete Alex Viada (follow him and his team at www.completehumanperformance.com ) recommends 10% more active recovery and technical form work every decade. He writes, “Simple way to look at it- Every decade, starting in your 20’s, allot an additional 10% of the balance of training hours to non-adaptive, repair or form work with NO training stimulus. So, 10% in your 20’s, 20% in your 30’s, and so forth.” This is from his March, 2017 article, “Old Man Training, Part 1,” a highly recommended, well-researched, and humorous look at how to change your training as you age.
You can still train hard and makes gains, even as you age. But the definition of "hard" and "gains" has to change. Father Time doesn't play games, and the truth is that "gains" sometimes means slowing the loss of strength and speed.
Think of it this way: when you see Usain Bolt pull away from the field in the 100 meter dash, it's not that he's accelerating away from the field, even though that's what it looks like. The truth is that maximum acceleration can only take place up to about 60 or so meters. After that, the whole field is decelerating. Bolt's "pulling away" is because he is decelerating less quickly than the field. He's literally slowing down slower than everyone else.
As a masters athlete, at a certain point, that's what you're trying to do. And if it makes you feel like Usain Bolt, that is not a bad thing.