Why do older sprinters get slower?

The IntroductionSprinters - masters

The purpose of this review was to identify the major factors leading to declines in sprint (run) speed in track athletes. The German-based research describes the factors that affect age-associated changes, including reduction of training overload, reduction of maximum force, and change in body composition (mainly a decrease in muscle mass due primarily to a reduction in fast twitch muscle fibre size) associated with aging. The three major factors the research suggests are responsible for a decrease in sprint speed in older track athletes are: the lower maximum strength of the lower limb muscles, the slower rate of force development and force transmission to the ground, and reduction in the elastic energy storage and recovery in tendons.

The Research

The researchers reviewed 34 papers that have examined the effects of aging on the speed of muscle contractions and tendon elasticity in both rats and humans including non-athletes, endurance and sprint runners.

The Results

They concluded that aging sprint runners preserve their stride frequency but appear to reduce their stride length as they age. Moreover, this reduced stride length appears due to reduced propulsive ground reaction forces and the rate of development of this force. That is, the ability to push off the ground quickly is reduced. This reduction appears mainly due to three major factors:

  1. Lower maximal strength of the lower limb muscles (about 30% from young to old) due to reduced size of the fast twitch muscle fibres;
  2. The slower rate of force development and transmission of this force to the ground; and,
  3. Reductions (about 35% from young to old) in elastic energy storage and energy recovery in tendons due to reduced tendon stiffness in older athletes.

The So What?

The news isn’t good is it? However, while declines in all these factors appear inevitable in older sprinters, we can reduce the rate of decline in a number of ways. First, ensure hypertrophy (muscle enlargement) resistance training becomes part of a sprinters training regime, especially in the off and pre-season. This will help build or at least maintain muscle mass. Specific details (exercises, sets, reps, loads etc) on how this is done are found in chapter 7 of my book The Masters Athlete. Second, power training including pliometrics (bounds, hops, and jumps) and gym work (e.g. jump squats) is included in all training programs. This type of training develops the rate of force development and elastic energy stored in tendons and the tissue surrounding muscle fibres. Specific details on pliometrics (examples, principles, suggested repetitions) are found in chapter 8 of my book The Masters Athlete. Finally, flexibility training is crucial for all masters athletes, especially sprinters whose stride length decreases with age. Again, chapter 9 of my book The Masters Athlete discusses in detail the principles and how to’s of flexibility training.

Arampatzis, A., Degens, H., Baltzopoulos, V. and Rittweger, J. (2011). Why Do Older Sprinters Reach the Finish Line Later? Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews. 39(1): 18 – 22.

Photo Source: http://www.masterstrack.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=45390&g2_imageViewsIndex=1

What keeps us exercising once we start?

exercise-busy-schedule_FullMost of we older athletes know the health and social benefits of regular exercise. What worries me as an exercise scientist is that so many of my work colleagues and a few of my friends just don’t seem to understand that being physically active will promote both the quality and quantity of their lives. Many start a program but drop out quickly. In fact, the fitness industry data suggest 50% of people starting an exercise program drop out within the first 6 months.

The process of starting an exercise program is based on how people see themselves based on past and present realities. The keys to maximising the chances of someone starting an exercise program are the ones that improve self-perception and include:

  • Positive feedback and reinforcement from an exercise professional, doctor or close friend
  • Social support from significant others such as partners, exercise professionals, children, friends and close workmates.
  • Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound) goals

Once started, what motivates people to stick with it? Here is a list of what the research says:

  1. Demographic and biological factors: Women, smokers and overweight people are less likely to adhere to an exercise program.
  2. Psychological and emotional factors: A person’s confidence in themselves being able to do the activity is crucial, especially in women. The influence of the exercise professional in helping believe people can do it is crucial. This highlights the importance of ensuring initial success is important.
  3. Behavioural factors: Setting aside and planning time to exercise and monitoring improvements to see change help adherence.
  4. Social and cultural support: Working with a buddy, a personal trainer, a coach or within a group of supportive others aids adherence.
  5. Environment: Easy access to facilities or exercise venues appears important. Thus, find a gym or training group that is near your home or work to maximise your chances of sticking with it.

Once started and sticking with it, what does the research say about overcoming the many barriers that can get in the way:

  • Lack of time: Plan, organise and prioritise exercise
  • Lack of motivation: Try new and different exercise options, play music or look for different venues and places to work out.
  • Poor body image: Focus on accomplishments rather than comparison with others. Focus on the many benefits of regular exercise.
  • Need for support: Exercise with a mate or spouse or a small group.
  • Guilt: Gain the support of family and friends.

If you’ve got a friend or partner who wants or needs to get moving, use these strategies to get ‘em going and sticking with it. If you’re having trouble getting yourself going, I hope this helps.

Kravitz, L. (2011). What motivates people to exercise:  Reasons and strategies for exercise adherence. IDEA Fitness Journal. January: 24-27.

Photo Source: www.glasbergen.com

7 Most Common Training Mistakes of Masters Athletes

Top 12 Training Principles for Masters Athletes