A growing number of people are not giving up competitive sports or action activities as they age. The older athlete is no longer a rarity. With winter coming on, many masters-age athletes are looking forward to alpine or Nordic skiing and to snowboarding.
If you don’t want your winter skills to be affected by your age, it’s important to train for the transition from summer to winter sports. Action in winter usually happens at a higher altitude and so requires extra aerobic capacity. These activities can also be more strenuous than summer sports, so a different kind of training is necessary to maintain or improve the skills you’ll need.
As you get older, your body’s physiology changes. Under ordinary conditions, muscle mass starts to decline, while body fat increases. Strength diminishes. The biggest loss is in aerobic capacity, or VO2 max. VO2 max is a measurement of oxygen consumption during exercise. It’s usually considered the best way to measure an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness.
But many masters-age winter athletes take to the slopes and hills without the specific transitioning required for winter activity, or without training at all. The lack of training is actually the biggest cause of lower performance and injuries. A formal study done at a German University by a coalition of scientists titled Physical Performance in Middle Age and Old Age, states, “Performance losses in middle age are mainly due to a sedentary lifestyle, rather than biological aging. The large contingent of older “newcomers” among marathon runners demonstrates that, even at an advanced age, non-athletes can achieve high levels of performance through regular training.”
The study also said, “A recently published longitudinal study including men older than 50 showed impressively the great effectiveness of regular sports activities at an older age: the life expectancy of active seniors was 3.8 years longer than that of their non-active peers.”
Being more sedentary after years as an active athlete is known as the ‘deconditioning effect.’ To overcome deconditioning and to move from summer to winter sports, the masters athlete should be increasing the intensity of their training after several exercise sessions. Always remember that it takes the older athlete longer to recuperate from a workout.
Unlike a more youthful athlete, ‘veterans’ can’t train every day. Gaining complete recovery from an exercise session may limit workouts to three or even two sessions a week. That’s why each workout must be efficient and packed with the physical work required for improved strength and aerobic capacity.
If you haven’t trained for awhile, it’s essential to start out slowly. Maybe when you were younger you could squat your body weight, but that’s not where you start now. Work with an un-weighted exercise bar at first. Get your joints and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) accustomed to the movements of the squat again. This holds true for every weight-bearing exercise you do at the gym.
Before starting any exercise program, first get an okay from your doctor. Next, begin to improve your VO2 max with high level interval training. This means pushing yourself to a hard sprint for a short period while biking or running, slowing down the pace until your heart rate returns to normal, and then repeating the sprint phase. Again, start slow. Your heart may be racing after a 10 second sprint. If so, keep the sprint phase to 10 seconds until your aerobic capacity improves. When it does, add five seconds to the sprint interval. Interval training may be uncomfortable, but it should never be pushed to the point of pain when you’re a masters-age athlete.
Your goal to get ready for winter sports is to improve your strength (especially in the glutes and thighs), and improve your aerobic capacity. The result will not only maintain your skills, but help protect you against the risk of injury as well.