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Training As You Get Older

Something we all have to contend with is ageing. In this article, Personal Trainer and Door Supervisor Alvin Soosay gives some practical advice to help the older among us continue to stay in fighting shape. 

Training as you get older, recovery methods and how to adapt training to ageing.

As a society on the whole we tend to become lazier as we get older, develop more illnesses, injuries, reduce mobility consequently having a negative effect on our quality of life and general health. Although all of you reading this article are keen and practicing martial artists who have some degree of physical activity under your belt, there will come a point in your life where the effects of aging catch up to you and will impact not only your fighting ability but more importantly your quality of life. You want to have the best quality of life for as long as possible, to be fit and healthy to enjoy your family life, participate in your hobbies and fulfil your work requirements.

Ageing brings about the development of several possible adverse health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiac related diseases among many others. However in this article I will focus on sarcopenia, which is ultimately the decline of muscle mass and bone density due to ageing. It is unfortunately a common condition that affects people over the age of 50.  This does not mean that you can’t delay the onset of sarcopenia with appropriate and regular strength training with the addition of cardiovascular training. I advise everyone regardless of age or gender to weight train at least 3 times a week. Now this training doesn’t have to be heavy max effort lifting, even light weight resistance training for those older individuals over 65+ will suffice and reduce the rate of sarcopenia.

I recommend consistently doing cardio vascular training 3x per week to combat the effects of age related illnesses in particular those associated with cardiac health. Your heart is a muscle, train it and it will become stronger for longer periods of time. Neglect it and it will get weaker with age simple as that. 

Those of you that are able to do heavier lifting I encourage you to do this, not only to develop strength,  force and power required to make you a fighting machine but it will also make you a more robust human with thicker bone density and muscle mass which will not reduce quickly as you age. Think of a house with a strong foundation, it is going to take longer to deteriorate than a poorly made foundation- the same applies to the human body. Years of resistance training will build a body which takes longer to lose as you get older.

As martial arts fighters you need to prevent the onset of sarcopenia as long as possible to enable you to train and fight with maximum power, strength, force and technique. I would like to touch upon prevention of injury with ageing. As we all get older we tend to lose balance, coordination, strength and take longer to recover from illness/injury. It is common for older individuals to slip, fall or injure themselves doing everyday tasks- these injuries can be prevented very easily by incorporating strength training with weights and cardio training into your life. The stronger and fitter you are the less chance of injuring yourself as you get older, in addition you would recover quicker should you injure yourself unfortunately. 

As we all get older we have to adapt our training, the simple fact is that we will not be as flexible and supple or strong as we once were at younger ages, however with anything else we adapt and overcome- this is not an obstacle to anyone to stop training. As I said earlier I recommend everyone to weight and cardio train a minimum of 3x week, the younger guys and girls I recommend training heavy with barbells and dumbbell avoid fancy machines and cables as this doesn’t build that robust body as mentioned earlier BARBELLS AND DUMBBELLS DO!!!!

Those of you able to run on treadmill or other surfaces I encourage doing so, however those who suffer from joint pain I suggest using a bicycle, rowing machine or cross trainer which will take the impact of the joints and allow you to do cardio without further pain. WEIGHT TRAINING WILL REDUCE JOINT PAIN REGARDLESS OF AGE.

As we get older training can be adapted to less free weight exercises and move into the direction of machines cables and band resistance training. Bands are an excellent training tool, I advocate the use of it religiously myself, and is very beneficial for the older generation who perhaps don’t feel comfortable in a gym setting. Bands can be used at home with limited space, provide enough resistance that a free weight or machine can offer and will reap the same benefits of lifting iron. If you are an older person who doesn’t like the gym scene PLEASE purchase some resistance bands and workout at home, focus on training your core, lower back and glutes as these are the 3 most important areas for pain free movement.

 

I would like to talk about the importance of mobility. Regardless of age we all need to have good mobility for a pain free life but also to be good at our chosen sport. Poor mobility means a reduced range of motion which will ultimately lead to injury. Most injuries are related to POOR MOBILITY/FAULTY MECHANICS AND POOR TECHNIQUE. Martial artists- you want the best mobility you can in order to perform kicks, grapples on the floor, punches and takedowns. Reduced mobility will impact your range of motion. Lets take a round house kick or push kick for example, with poor mobility and reduced range of motion you are weaker technically because the muscles responsible for executing a powerful kick do not work at maximum capacity, but due to a shorter range of motion you will need to get in closer to your opponent to kick which opens yourself up as more of a target for their offensive strategy. 

How do we combat poor mobility? First of all get some bands, I know I’m flogging a dead horse here but I can’t stress enough the benefit and importance of resistance bands. Having several injuries in my shoulders largely due to awful mobility I educated myself on how to develop proper mobility using bands multiple times a week to recover from injuries and back to full strength. Bands can be used to stretch every body part far better than you can naturally, with the added band tension your able to take your muscles past their limited range of motion to the point where you’re causing permanent change to the length of muscle fibres (if you’re like me you got pathetic natural motion you need a lot of band tension). Again for you fighters this is vital to keep your muscles as mobile as possible so you’re flexible and supple enough for you to perform the necessary movements and techniques specific to your fighting discipline.

 

Mobility brings me onto my next point which goes hand in hand with mobility (as I previously mentioned most injuries are the result of faulty mechanics and bad mobility) which is recovery methods. You are only as good as what you can recover from and believe me I’ve learnt this the hard way. For years I trashed my body in the gym and several sports leaving me with injuries which took a long time to recover from. My lack of recovery methods and awful mobility was the main reason for this. Once again, relating back to the topic of ageing, as we get older it will take the body longer to recover from workouts, sports, injury and illness hence proper recovery methods are crucial. DO NOT wait to get injured to start using recovery methods, as the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” The methods everyone can easily use on a daily basis which are very cost efficient are; ice baths, ice packs or ice compression sleeve (very cheap), trigger point release, foam rolling, massage sticks, gua sha (muscle scraping), hot and cold showers.

I use every one of these methods on a regular basis and it has tremendously improved my recovery from years of heavy lifting and improved my mobility and flexibility allowing me to train harder and reduce risk of injury.  Those of you who have desk jobs or physical jobs after a long day at work I advise taking a hot and cold shower and getting a trigger point ball or foam roller on your lower backs, as this is a common area to suffer tightness and weakness. Obviously if you have other troublesome areas then pay attention to those too in addition. I personally recommend hot and cold treatment either using a bath/shower or ice packs. 

I would like to wrap this article up by reiterating the importance of exercising whether it be heavy weights, cardio vascular training or band resistance. It will prevent the health implications associated with ageing. It will give you a better quality of life for longer periods of time. Make the necessary adaptations to your training depending on your age and current physical state, younger individuals use free weights, older guys use band resistance if weights are not feasible. Prioritise mobility into your lives, not only for benefits to your training but for a pain free life and reduced risk of injury. Spend time doing recovery techniques, it will increase your mobility and reduce risk of injury.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, hopefully it will benefit you not only in martial arts but in having a healthier longer and pain free life.

Remember… WORKOUT, MOBILITY, RECOVER= BETTER, HEALTHIER LIFE… quite simply just keep moving.