Just hard enough and lots of rest

hands up

It’s been a lot of fun to watch amazing athletes reach for their best at the Rio Olympics. 

This article from Mens Health (December 2011) features tips from Olympians but its really advice that works for all of us. 

The article addresses the question of how hard should your workout should be. The authors explain, "If you're so sore it hurts to lie down in bed, you'll know you took it too far. And if the pain is in your joints rather than your muscles, you may have done something wrong.

Ill add that we dont need to be sore after every workout. Each workout should have a purpose, and that purpose may be fun or relaxation. It may be that you wish to improve your mobility, which wont result in next day soreness.  

However, if youre aiming to increase your strength, understand that the workout will be uncomfortable at times and you may feel sore the next day. Remembering that youre in control of it, and that you dont have to go so hard that you ache, may increase your willingness to suffer a bit. 

Meb Keflezighi, who is 41 years old, just finished 33rd in this mornings Mens Marathon in Rio. In this recent article from Outside Magazine, Meb tells the interviewer this about how to train as an older athlete:

People say, “Go the extra mile.” But that’s not always a good idea. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to go one mile less. [What's important is] staying healthy and being consistent. I still get my share of injuries, but, as I write in my book, Meb for Mortals, it’s about “prehab instead of rehab.” You’d rather do one less mile and be able to say, “I could have done more,” versus “I’m totally drained.” In physical therapy, people will ask me, “What hurts?” And I’ll say, “Nothing hurts. I just need to be tuned up. I’ve put my body through a lot of stress, a lot of mileage, and I want to get it taken care of before it becomes a problem.” You’d rather get to the starting line healthy than just be one percent over-trained. 

The message here is to work just hard enough, not too little and not too much. Invest at least as much time and energy in recovery and injury prevention as in the workout. 

Another tip is to keep it short. I do not love my upper body weight routine, but I like the results. I do it twice a week and Im done in under 20 minutes, which helps motivate me when I really would prefer to skip it. I also attach the weights to another workout, either a run or a ride on the ElliptiGo. That way, Im already warmed up. My body is already in exercise mode. 

Another piece of advice from the Men’s Health article is to change up your routine. Some exercise programs have variety wired into them, such as Nia classes, and other  forms of fitness, such as walking and running, can get monotonous. It can help to change where you walk or run. For instance, I live on the bosque trails, which means I go out my door for my run or walk or ElliptiGo ride. Its beautiful here! and I still crave variety. Ive learned its worth the extra 20 minutes to get in my car sometimes and head to a new portion of the trails or go to a new neighborhood to walk. 

In addition, we can vary our speed during a walk or run. Throw in some pick ups in which you increase the pace to a huff and puff level for a minute. You can do this even when its just you and a friend on a nice walk to catch up. This New Yorker article about older athletes (Meb and Bernard Lagat, who finished 5th in the mens 5000m) cites a physician and researcher, Michael Joyner, who believes we can keep up our speed as runners, even past 40, in part by doing interval training. The other part? Dont get injured. 

There’s another component to training that is important for us at all ages. Even Olympic athletes gain weight if they dont eat well. Theres an adage that you cant outrun your diet. Regular exercise helps us find and maintain a body weight and composition thats great for us (and for each of us, in different parts of our lives, thats individual). However, even regular intense exercise doesnt mean we can eat whatever we want. Some foods play havoc with our metabolism; some foods seem to function in such a way to store fat more efficiently. Its not just how much we eat but what we eat. When the Men’s Health article explains how to calculate calories, thats off base. Read in the article about how Ryan Lochte gained 13 pounds of fat in several weeks from a fast food diet even though he was burning more than 6,000 calories each day. Of course, how much we eat matters but it’s not all about calories in and calories out. Check out this article about why its not just how much you eat but also what you eat that matters. 

The best piece of advice here is to target your weakness. When I was teaching Nia in my early 40s, I noticed that the day after doing side kicks in Nia, I was sore and stayed sore. I decided that side kicks werent good for me. I decided the problem was the move, not me. Really, it didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t strong enough. A decade later, when I started running, I discovered that I have some weakness in my hips, which resulted in running injuries. I started a series of exercises to increase my hip strength - and now my running is better and I can do those side kicks.  

If theres something you cant do, consider that there are muscle imbalances and weaknesses. Your knees dont need to be strong, but your legs do. What might happen if you did specific, targeted exercises designed to make your butt and legs stronger? Its easy to work the same muscles, even in a dance workout such as Nia, and back off on any movements that we know can lead to strain and injury. Work on building a stronger support system. 

This gets more and more important as we grow older. We are going to get weaker unless were working on getting stronger, and its going to take more work (and especially more focused work) to get strong.

I leave you with this piece of Olympic inspiration. Kristin Armstrong won her third consecutive gold medal in the womens cycling road race, and this mama of a five year old son did it the day before her 43rd birthday. 

Now get out there and do what you love.