Managing the Aging Strongman Athlete

Dr. Mark Clevenger, Jr.

Father Time is undefeated. Period.

As strength athletes in our younger years we get away with abusing our bodies so much with things like partying all night then training the next day, eating garbage all the time, not getting enough quality sleep, lifting far too heavy far too often, not warming up (or cooling down,) and neglecting the less novel aspects of fitness like mobility and general physical preparedness. Along the way our bodies try to give us clues that we’re abusing it, but we often neglect to see these until it’s almost too late. You wake up one day and realize how labored simple daily tasks have become; the fact that you can barely reach over to put your socks on in the morning and you can’t remember the last time your back didn’t hurt. These are signs of the changing winds, regardless of what your sport defines as a masters athlete, if you feel this way… you’re now a masters athlete. This doesn’t mean the ride is over, it simply means it’s time to start listening to your body and adapt your training and competition mindset to accommodate your body’s needs so you can stay in the ring with Father Time a little bit longer. 

The biggest problem I see with managing the masters athlete is their lack of attention to details. Training is easy. We’ve been doing it for so long we know how to go out and lift hard but we either don’t know, or haven’t prioritized the foundational pieces at this stage of our life that allow us to keep training. So let’s take a look at some of the details that will allow you to continue training and competing against the young guns, even as you start to get a little long in the tooth and start receiving socks instead of Xbox games for Christmas.

Sleep. 

For the love of everything holy, get this one right. Move your schedule around to allow for this. Learn to become more efficient in handling your life responsibilities so you can have this. Your body recovers while you sleep. Less sleep = less recovery=less productive training. You can only train what you can recover from, so not making time for this just means the less you get to do in the gym. 

Nutrition. 

You need to make sure your body is adequately fed and hydrated to optimally recover. You need to have blood work done every so often to make sure you don’t have any holes in what your body needs or any imbalances in your hormone profile. Your metabolism isn’t what it used to be and any missing ingredient over time can lead to long periods of suboptimal training and decreased recovery overall, which limits your platform performance. 

Training Volume and Intensity. 

For the masters athlete less is almost always more. Focus on the important compound lifts, depending on where you are in your competition cycle, and limit the amount of heavy compound accessory lifts in your program. You can treat many of your accessories as prehab/rehab exercises or even as general physical preparedness (GPP). The days of walking away from every training session doing the stanky leg because you pushed your squat or deadlift workouts to their limit have to stay behind you. At this point in your career you already know how to grind, the goal now is making sure your body feels as good as it can from session to session until game day. That is what is going to maximize your performance. 

Active Recovery. 

Yes, you need more general heart health GPP in your life. Heart health activities… like cardio, keep you healthy and will help you recover faster. It doesn’t have to be running, just find activities that get your sweat glands going and your heart pumping and do more of those things. Active recovery is not just GPP. Yes, you need to be doing mobility work on the regular. Fact, as we get older we get stiffer. The more optimally your body moves the better it feels, the less it hurts, and the better your athletic performance is overall. Find a mobility routine or yoga class that works for you and do that several times a week. Another good recovery option is a 20 min pump session with bands or body weight a few times a week. This can do wonders for body recovery. So if you’re feeling beat-down, drop the barbell for the day, grab some bands and go to work. Your next training session will thank you. 

Be Selective. 

Your body can’t prep, peak, and compete every 3 months like it used to but that doesn’t mean you can’t still compete on the big stage. Pick the shows that get you to the highest level you’re capable of and be strategic in those selections. Choosing to go all-in on a contest full of events that are not your jam has a high probability of you not getting that bid to a higher level show. This forces you to do another show shortly after, just to get that bid, which only beats you down further throughout the year and leaves less time to prepare for the big dance. Invest your money where it counts when it comes to show selection. 

Lastly, learn to be ok with these changes. You still get to do this thing you love, just how you go about it looks a little different… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Heck, you may find other areas of your life improve as a result of how differently you are approaching your body and training. The difference between managing yourself as a masters athlete and continuing to train like you’re 23, is like the difference between lasting 12 rounds with Father Time and walking away from the game fulfilled, OR getting knocked out in the 9th and always looking back wishing you had done things differently.

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