By Rob Shaul and Charlie Bausman
For athletes who use MTI programming, you’ve likely noticed a increase in programming designed for different age ranges. From Prep Athletes to 50+, we’ve enjoyed examining the demands of different age groups and adjusting the training methodologies to best fit their needs.
All athletes who train regularly will go through those transitionary periods that require some form of adjustment.
Injuries don’t heal as quickly, recovery from a heavy squat or interval run isn’t quite what it used to be, or simply a body composition change despite following the same training regimen as years past.
As we age, we’re forced to make adjustments to ensure the highest level of performance paired with ensuring athletic longevity.
Here’s our recommendations from teens to AARP members.
Note – we’re currently updating our SF45 programming and building out SF40, SF50 and SF55 training plans/packets.
This period represents the greatest growth potential for developing an athletic foundation, fitness base and lifelong commitment to fitness and health.
A teenager is gifted with a blank slate… highly adaptable to the training demands of sport and fitness training, soaring hormones, as well as injury resiliency and healing capacity. This blank slate is a wonderful opportunity to mold and harden your body, but requires intelligent direction from coaches or parents. Teen’s are notoriously hardheaded towards parents, and direction from coaches may be better received.
In the weight room, the focus during the teen years should be developing strength via the full range of gym-based lifts with basic linear progressions – but with the focus on on-field performance, not physique.
Basic squats, presses, pulls, and hinge movements with excellent technique should be taught and implemented by teens to establish solid mechanics for a lifetime – but there’s no reason not to also introduce olympic movements, and total body lifts like heavy thrusters, Craig Specials, “The Exercise” (hang squat snatch + overhead squat) etc.
Chassis integrity via sandbag work, sprint-repeat-based work capacity, and a solid introduction to endurance should all be introduced and encouraged.
Often we’ll see teens on team sports get heavy into the weight room, and endurance sports get heavy into running with not much cross over. As you’ll see below, our training emphasis changes over the years, and in the later years, endurance gains in importance.
Charlie’s Teen Experience:
After finding a few copies of my step-father’s Joe Weider Muscle Building manuals from the 60’s, I started hitting the gym hard at 12 or 13. This bodybuilding style of training quickly transformed to training that would assist me in my sport, Football. I hammered major compound lifts, and quickly turned from a slightly chubby pre-teen to a muscular linebacker. As I look back, I focused entirely too much on developing size and strength, and built a body that was too large for my frame. I suffered two ACL tears in High School that may have been avoided had I better balanced plyometric and agility training with strength training. Ego is key here, and requires quality adult supervision from coaches and parents to ensure a teen isn’t going overboard.
Rob’s Teen Experience:
My fitness has always been self-driven and in 7th grade I was regularly doing push ups, sit ups and running on my own. My first introduction to organized strength and conditioning happened as a high school sophomore when I jumped in with the football team for their Spring before-school weight training. The programming was classic Bigger Faster Stronger – a simple progression. I was small, started out weak, but saw rapid strength gains. I’ve never been much of an athlete and my competitive on-field success peaked in 7th grade … but in the weight room I found a welcoming home for my work ethic. Rarely in life is there a direct correlation between how much work you put in and how much you gain – but at least when you start weight training, this occurs.
Twenty to Thirty
For the Mountain and Tactical Athletes that MTI focuses on, this period of life has the greatest upside for performance and achievement. It’s when the athlete may push the envelope on training in order to reach maximum athletic potential.
For tactical athletes, this age range is when most will endure their most challenging physical requirements – whether it’s a combat deployment, a rigorous school/academy, or a selection course.
For the Mountain Athlete, it may be diving into ultra running, serious backcountry hunting, or attempting to climb Denali.
The form, scale, and level of ambition of the objective will differ from athlete to athlete, but your 20’s is generally the most advantageous time to attempt them due to the physiological intersection of skill, fitness, and recovery.
In terms of training, the Tactical or Mountain Athlete can push hard to develop their body and mind for their endeavors. The style of training will differ dependent on the profession and associated demands, and should be examined by the individual to lead you down the most appropriate training pipeline.
Regardless of which type of athlete you are, your 20’s is the time to get as fit as possible – you can handle the load, volume and overall intensity if done intelligently to get there.
It’s also a great time to see what you’re made of while training… balls to the wall in a Sandbag Get Up assessment, push hard on a loaded 2,000’ uphill movement, max a 12-mile ruck time. These kind of assessments can tell you where you are in terms of fitness and keep you hungry for improvement.
Charlie’s 20’s Experience:
I’d call my 20’s a decade of very different fitness demands. I added mass to an already overloaded frame to a top weight of 235 lbs at 5’11 during a short and undistinguished college football career until I quit my Sophomore year. I was a bit lost in terms of training, then found Crossfit (humbling), then found boxing (even more humbling) until I went to OCS for the Marines. Somewhere along the way I tore my ACL a third time, which I never had repaired.
I then transitioned to MTI programming to prepare for active duty, which greatly helped me get through the training pipeline with a solid base in rucking and running. Unfortunately, my knee was in shambles and I hid a large knee brace under my cammies during most training exercises. Deployed twice, failed an attempt at a SOF selection, worked full time for MTI before eventually transitioning into Firefighting and directing my training energy towards that and Jiu Jitsu. A wild, bumpy ride full of successes and failures. While I didn’t achieve all that I wanted to, I trained hard and went after my goals.
Rob’s 20’s Experience:
I never received formal strength and conditioning coaching in college – and so did my own programming throughout my 20s – which looking back was multi-modal … body-split weight training usually followed by some type of sprint or stair running work capacity, Two times a week and on the weekend I’d run distance. I did my share of stupid stuff – lots and lots of doing push ups – 500x before class, and sometimes 1,000x in one session (my shoulders feel it now….). More than a few intense bodybuilding cycles. In my late 20s work and family got really intense and my training, for the only time in my life, dropped off some – but picked back up in my early 30s.
Thirty to Forty
The thirty to forty age range has shades of grey in it. Many can continue to perform at an exceptionally high level through their 30’s, but as some point in this decade of a life, you’ll lose a step. Metabolism and recovery will begin to slow, and often this is when careers and new families begin to take away time once dedicated to training.
This forces us to get smarter and increase efficiency with out training. Perhaps we don’t need (or want) to find a true 1-Rep Max Back, but rather a very good technical max. Work Capacity and Endurance training don’t have to be so intense that we feel close to vomiting.
The movements you did in your 20’s should be the same as in your 30’s, but with a more intelligent approach. Pushing the envelope during every training session isn’t necessary, or even advisable.
Those nagging injuries will also become more of an issue than they were in the past… you should analyze those injuries and make adjustments to your training to prevent significant over use that can further aggravate them.
It’s a good opportunity for self-assessment and determine the best way to move forward for smart training that will enable you to continue in your profession or passion at a high level for the next twenty to thirty years. Have a plan for longevity, don’t crash and burn.
Charlie’s 30’s Experience:
I’m only half way through this decade, and it’s been interesting. I had to make adjustment due to previously mentioned knee injuries… I’ve cut down trail running despite really enjoying it, and significantly picked up my Mountain Biking which serves as my endurance work. I do a Strength and Chassis Integrity training session 2-3x week, with additional toned down work capacity that is based around the weekly intensity of Jiu Jitsu training.
My strength training is enough to keep me feeling strong, but I never go heavy anymore. I focus on good, clean reps that are completed with speed in the concentric phase (Compensatory Acceleration Training) and follow on plyometric movements to get the most out of the lift without overloading. It’s been a freeing change to not give a damn about max lifts! With a wife and family now, I’m far more efficient with my training – get in, get it done, get out in less than 60 minutes.
Rob’s 30’s Experience:
I continued to push the fintess/performance envelope throughout this decade. The first half of the decade I pushed on the endurance side with a lot of running, trail running and even pool-based swimming. I began carrying weight uphill (rocks – which I’d dump at top) and learned to run fast downhill. My athletic focus was on fast mountain movement – multiple 20+ mile fast packing trips, and 30+ mile peak bagging trips. Mid-decade Crossfit emerged and I dabbled in that for a couple months. Crossfit introduced me to olympic movements, strength cardio and multi-modal work capacity. I started coaching at age 35 and founded Mountain Athlete at age 37 and continued to push hard. I didn’t find I needed to pull back or take more rest – in fact, my “training age” seemed to enhance the volume I could endure and recover from. However, I began to feel my knees walking down stairs late in my 30s, and it has only gotten worse since then.
Forty to Fifty
This may be the period where the most significant changes are made to training style, frequency, and intensity.
For Tactical Athletes, this age range see’s individuals generally in higher ranking, administrative focused positions, but still should be able to compete with the younger crowd as required. Mountain Athlete’s may continue to see fantastic performance in endurance related endeavors, but likely need additional time to recover.
Despite best efforts, those nagging injuries may become much more prevalent in effecting day to day life. Metabolism will significantly slow down, and adjustments to diet are likely required to maintain a healthy, capable body.
Warm Up’s may need to be more robust. 1-Rep Max lifts should become a thing of the past unless you’re an competitive Oly or Power lifter – it’s simply not worth it. Instead, focus on maintaining a a full range of motion through the knees, hips, and shoulders with light to moderate loading. If you’ve had significant hip or knee injuries, considering pulling back on barbell squatting movements and replacing it it with hinge based movements.
Work Capacity should be replaced with longer, moderate intensity grind efforts which continue to develop conditioning as well as hammering the trunk. Sandbag’s are a great tool here, as they are forever challenging, yet more forgiving on the joints.
A increase in endurance work will help maintain a healthy and capable body composition, reduce muscle mass and hence joint impact, while reducing the risk of injury that may be associated with very intense, multi-modal work capacity efforts.
Consider adjusting training frequency at this stage. A 5:2 or 3:1 schedule with each training session capped at 45 minutes.
Rob’s 40’s Experience:
I continued to push well into my 40s – especially in the gym and on work capacity. However, at 44 I really started feeling my knees. Front squats became difficult because of wrist flexibility issues (common with many older men). I continued to do 1RMs and lift heavy – but found I did not enjoy gym-based training nearly as much. Work capacity work also began to lose it’s appeal – I no longer had anything to prove. Endurance became important – if nothing else because it got me outside. I developed our Chassis Integrity programming and really came to enjoy it and see it’s transfer to the field. Nagging injuries and joint arthritis and the pain they cause helped lessen the appeal of intense, high impact weight and work capacity training.
Fifty to Sixty
The same advice from your forties transitions to your fifties, but with further care. You’ll see very few Tactical Athletes who still operate at the tactical level, and may be transitioning to more outdoor activities to fill the gap. Mountain Athletes will still be capable of impressive feats, but with the intelligence of decades of experience backing them.
Training sessions should be no longer than 45 minutes, and at some point it may be smart to put the barbell away for the lower body (with the exception of Hinge lifts) and transition entirely to bodyweight, sandbag, and dumbbell exercises.
While strength and fast twitch enabled power will reduce significantly in your fifties, endurance sticks around for much longer. Increasing endurance work will continue to keep you lean, healthy, and keep away the cardiac issues that begin to plague this age group.
Training schedules should be adjusted to allow for more recovery time. A 2:1:2:2 training schedule (4 days/week) is appropriate.
There will be mental barriers in this age group recovering from injuries or surgeries. Knee and hip replacement surgery in common for athletes in their 50’s, which take focus and dedication to recover from. Keep at it, never stop moving.
Rob’s 50’s Experience:
I noticed a real drop off in recovery time and free weight training enjoyment at 50 (I’m 53). I also had to address injuries, including a right foot fusion at 51 and left hip replacement at 52. Now, ankle mobility, hip, knee and low back pain make heavy squatting difficult. I’m not unusual – few men my age who’ve pushed themselves physically over their lifetimes have similar issues. However, what I don’t know is if the hard fitness training ages 35-50 I completed accelerated my joint aging. This is one reason we are outlining these changes and designing additional programming for older athletes.
I find I don’t enjoy going much more than 45 minutes for gym-based strength sessions, but do enjoy sandbag, kettlebell/dumbbell and bodyweight strength work. I also enjoy extended combination work capacity and chassis integrity “grinds” using sandbags. These can go 30-60 minutes. I also still enjoy endurance, but knee pain limits my running to about 45 minutes. Though I’ve cut back significantly on heavy strength work, I’m still carrying around a lot of upper body muscle mass – which I’d hoped would have melted away. I currently weight 155 to 160 and would love to get down below 150. Recovery-wise, I can no longer train 5 days in a row and recover. After 3 days my performance drops … and I’ve had to go to a 3:1 schedule. I make all the “dad noised” you’d expect from someone my age when I wake in the morning – my body has stiffened up significantly. Recently, I began starting my day (while my first cup of coffee is brewing) with 10 minutes of mobility and stretching – and this has helped with stiffness and beginning the day, immensely. Overall, I’ve simply had to pull back on my self-expectations for fitness and performance. I do find that it’s not the heavy lifting I miss most, but the long endurance work. My hunch is this has a lot to do with being outside. As I age, I find myself wanting to be outside as much as possible.
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