WOMEN – TRAINING BY THE DECADE
Each decade of our lives, there are subtle shifts in physiology, thoughts, emotions and connection to spirit as we naturally progress through vagaries.
The plan I’ve outlined here has the goal of well-being, longevity and keeping you fit to enjoy the full spectrum of active living with an understanding of human development, ageing, the body’s natural hormonal rhythm, and of course, some common sense.
Generally, any physical conditioning for teenagers is best kept to activities that have low volume but are focused upon technique and motor coordination. The reason is because powerful motor engrams are set and developed at an early age. Contrary to popular belief, this means focusing on anaerobic type work over high volume aerobic activity. Shifting the focus from long distance running to high quality movements such as jumping, throwing, hopping, changing direction and lateral footwork type activities encourage the body’s neural muscular system to learn the fundamental pathways and recruitment strategies to play games and sport.
Participation in both structured organised activity, as well as spontaneous unorganised games is key to build confidence, develop a joy for movement and increase the feeling of being uplifted by endorphins. It is at this young age motor recruitment patterns are set, and any overloading of the system can cause faulty recruitment patterns that must be undone at a later time. Depending upon the physical maturity of the child, once recruitment patterns have been set, muscular endurance work can be introduced. Those with talent to compete at high levels aged 16 and upwards can see an introduction to resistance training in a gym setting, but emphasis should be on developing their neural system coordination and developing technique rather than maximal lifts.
The 20s will see a slight change in emphasis away from the spontaneous nature of play, games and sport, to more structured training in a gym environment. This is the decade to play hard and with the introduction of resistance training to strengthen the skeletal and muscular systems, this is where peak fitness and strength gains should be achieved and encouraged. Competitive athletes should specialise while the recreational enthusiast should opt for variety. Repetitive aerobic activities such as running can be implemented once the appropriate motor engrams have been laid and progressively built up over the early teenage years.
It is clear the 30s represent the decade of sustaining the physical activity of youth, having a well-rounded combination of multidirectional resistance training that stimulates the neuromuscular system, and cardiovascular activity that protects the heart and prevents weight gain. With extra pressure of parenthood, work and loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) if resistance training is absent, time management and the prioritising of physical activity is paramount. From your 30s onwards, if no training is present, you lose about 2kg of muscle mass and gain 4kg of body fat every decade. If you are not training, it’s crucial to start now, otherwise you are going to be confronted with a 6kg problem!!
In your 40s poor lifestyle choices will begin to show up, so it is important to implement parasympathetic modes of exercise and activity such as traditional yoga, tai chi and meditation to combat health disorders such as adrenal fatigue and related disorders, hypertension and atherosclerosis, among other things. Don’t be alarmed as these can reverse the damaging effects of stress and contribute to greater overall physical, mental and emotional health. In this decade I would recommend five year health check-ups. Resistance training needs to be retained as part of the weekly routine moving from the near maximal lifts of the 20s and 30s, to more sub maximal lifting to help protect wear and tear on the joints.
The 50s should be focussed on balance and proprioceptive-type exercises that utilise strategies that include top-down driving involving use of ground reaction, mass, momentum and communication up the kinetic chain, which would aid in fall prevention as the risk of hip fracture doubles every five years in postmenopausal women over the age of 50. Other increased risk factors include coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and lower back pain. Resistance training is still important to hold and keep muscle mass, but the added component of keeping balance is extra important when one considers that almost 24 percent of people over age 50 who have hip fractures die within a year.
The 60s are the twilight years with outdoor activities such as hiking and biking being a great way to keep healthy and happy. If you have been active your whole life, there is no reason for a slowing down of activity, rather an increase due to the advantage of winding down of working commitments and thus more time freedom. Move towards more gentle and mobilizing activity combined with resistance training and cardiovascular activity. As hormone levels steadily drop and the vigour and strength of youth slowly diminish, utilise your increased internal candle of connection to spirit by integrating the chi-building activities of yoga and tai chi which can keep the balance, strength and coordination needed for negotiating everyday life.
With many people living somewhat unconsciously and engaging in daily routines that build fat and disease, rather than muscle and health, many older adults outperform members of the same species up to 25 years younger. The human body is one of the most malleable of all mammals and with conscious effort, it can get stronger, bigger, faster and more athletic no matter your age. The one constant throughout my article is the need for resistance training, especially after the age of 30, to prevent muscle wasting, bone decay and the subsequent decay of the body as a result. Multidirectional resistance training that incorporates integration, balance, stability and mobility is vital for ageing people to keep healthy, and these habits are best laid down during the adolescent years, however, it is never too late to start!