Mike Bennett of North London Weightlifting Club shares his expert advice and experience when coaching Masters lifters (lifters over 40 years old).
Advice & Tips
Much of what I convey has been learned by experience, often the hard way, but with some book reference to substantiate.
The Master Lifter (ML) should be given longer to warm-up than younger athletes. Starting with Cardio Vascular type exercises, i.e. jogging for 5-10 minutes or on a bike, to raise the pulse rate. This is followed by an extensive variety of gentle stretching, and finally some empty bar work that is likely to replicate the movement patterns of the proceeding session. All in all, about 20 minutes of fairly vigorous activity.
Warming–up becomes more important for work-out preparation in terms of reducing injury risk.
The ML is less likely to demonstrate speed of movement initially; it can however greatly improve with time. They should be given a steady rate approach to reach faster exercise.
Mobility & Suppleness
MLs are more likely to display poor posture, imbalances and weaknesses than say younger lifters (aged 12 - 30).
These factors need to be addressed and fully taken to account in the schedule or programme, with remedial exercises built in.
Ageing makes joints, tendons and ligaments less supple, so developmental stretching exercises need to be regular but somewhat less intense. They should only be activated when the ML is nicely warm during or after the exertion of the workout session.
Stamina & Recovery
There is greater disposition to the effects of overtraining as the ML gets older.
They do need longer to recover from heavy workouts.
Workout sessions become unproductive if they are not shorter in duration, less intense, and have a reduced work loading, so be sure to adjust the session accordingly.
Strength & Exercise
The older athlete can progress strength gains, however, the rate of gain becomes slower and the limits of gain are more of a barrier to progress and so smaller increments of loading should be employed. The limits of gain are more likely to be reached sooner rather than later.
Maintaining strength levels from one year to another is a more realistic goal. Recognise that the human body does not continue to reproduce/replace cells at the same rate – the atrophy process. Unfortunately, competitive Master lifters are likely to lose 3-5 kilos on their totals each year, however hard they train.
More emphasis on regular squatting exercises (including Split Squat) are particularly beneficial. Also, I would include regular abdominal exercises as these tend to become slack and typically shows as poor posture and weak core.
Useful link: How Weightlifting Benefits Old Age.
With maintained mobility, conditioning and experience, skills can be improved through the later years, which can be one of the main advantages for the Master, a rewarding achievement from practise.
MLs certainly are more prone to injury as time goes by. The body’s tendons and sinuous fibres become less elastic. Consequently the older lifter should reduce the number of attempts at maximum/personal best efforts.
Injuries will take longer to heal and recover, so rehabilitation will be a longer and therefor training should be a much more careful process.
Small or petty injuries/ niggles should be given urgent recuperative attention, as the chance of these developing into serious injuries is high.
Length of work-out sessions should reduce in line with loading volume (work done), it is more productive, in terms of recovery and fitness maintenance.
The number of training sessions per week is adequately less but can be traded against more of the shorter duration sessions.
I know of one successful Master lifter who trains every day but for only 20 minutes!
High intensity sessions are best attempted less often, substituted by more work done in the lower percentage of 1RM range.
During sessions, time between sets should be a little longer as dictated by pulse rate reduction.
Good technical form should not be sacrificed for apparent maintenance of strength along with full range of movement for all exercises.
However, older athletes often display physical inabilities (from old injuries and/ or the ageing process) and these must be taken in to full account by the coach by adapting the exercises and approach.
Adaptation to training method is the key to sustainability and is more individualistic accounting for the lifter’s changing physiology.
Middle age and beyond, typically effects physiology by lowering the metabolic rate, which in turn leads to fat storage.
The desirable well-balanced diet with adequate protein, fruit and veg should actually contain less calories and have reduced carbohydrate content, particularly less sugar. Vitamin and mineral supplementation is highly recommended, also Cod Liver Oil for Omega 3 benefits and anti-inflammation.
Article By Mike Bennett (age 65yrs)
UKA Throws Coach
UK Masters Champion Athlete and LSE Masters Champion Weightlifter
North London Weightlifting Club Secretary - www.nlwlc.com
Encyclopedia of Weightlifting by Arthur Drechsler
Science & Practice of Strength Training by Zatsiorsky & Kraemer
Strength Training past 50 by Westcott