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While triathlon is a fountain of youth for many, it’s important that the maturing triathlete doesn’t reapply the same training strategy year after year, decade after decade. With some adjustments to your annual plan, you can stay fit and fast into your 60s and beyond.
Many athletes can replicate the threshold training they did in their mid-30s through their early 40s. The biggest change is recovery time. The good news for the long-term athlete is that muscle memory—muscle familiarity that comes from repeating a motion—does not disappear with age, so experienced athletes can be more efficient than their younger counterparts with fewer lifetime training miles. Athletes can attain previous fitness levels with less threshold work so long as they can perform consistent, strong aerobic efforts.
Recovery weeks should take place every third week, and they need to provide a really good recharge. Increased focus on body maintenance through massage and stretching can also prolong an athlete’s high performance window.
Athletes in their 50s need to carefully “pick their spots” in the season. They can train for high-level performance but cannot sustain the same levels of intensity or duration as younger athletes. You have to be clear on what your peak event is, and have a longer aerobic base phase followed by a shorter threshold-emphasis peaking phase.
Strength training also becomes more important after age 50. Lifting two or three times per week much of the year and doing a core strength and flexibility routine regularly is a good idea. There’s more need for recovery, and a minimum of two weeks out of every five should be dedicated recovery weeks.
Research out of Australia has shown that cycling performance declines less with age than swimming and running. (This is more pronounced at iron distance than at Olympic distance.) Good cycling fitness will help support a declining run split. If you can start the run feeling fresher, you are capable of running closer to your open run abilities.
After 60, the injury risk and recovery required from frequent high-intensity training is not worth the benefit. A good guideline is one high-intensity swim, bike and run workout every two weeks coupled with frequent aerobic work emphasizing movement efficiency. Take two days off per week, and every second week should be a recovery week.
Along with aerobic conditioning, do resistance exercises that work the major muscle groups along with regular stretching. Yoga can help maintain strength, range of motion and stability.
Protecting the joints from inflammation, pain, stiffness and structural breakdown means a mature athlete has to respect the body’s pain signals. The healing process from injury at this age can be much longer.
Regardless of your age, the take-home message is: Use it or lose it!
LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 25 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Join Lance to tackle your first triathlon or perform at a higher level.