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We Can Still Improve!

Like many of you, I have been training for a long time, having started as a young teenager. So, in my case, my training history is approaching 60 years, literally a lifetime, and I am training now as an older adult.

Recent issues of the Master Trainer have emphasized making adjustments in training, to, in fact, keep training, These adjustments have included reducing resistance on most exercises, improving form, and realizing that maintaining strength, fitness, and decent body composition likely does not require training at the absolute highest intensity. The "effort-based" resistance training I perform does require a good degree of effort. But, it does not require absolute all-out effort that can make training aversive and recovery very difficult.

It also has been noted that because as we get older our physiology is pulling us in the direction of decrements, staying even over the course of a year has to be seen as an accomplishment. Indeed, consistently showing up, training hard, not getting hurt, and remaining functional are accomplishments.

But, to use a well-known refrain: "Is that all there is?" Outside of taking up a new activity, is there no way we can actually improve? Are we no longer capable of showing any improvements because our bodies are no longer responsive to even a series of great training sessions? This isn't necessarily negative thinking because many of us have had a very good 'run' with training and likely compared to our age peers, we're doing great. Yet, it would be good to show some relative improvement somewhere. By relative, I mean improvement compared to a year or two ago.

If we are to make comparisons to our recent history, it helps if the exercises we are performing, and the protocols remain the same or at least similar for resistance training and some form of aerobic or interval training. If it is body composition, then the measurement approach needs to be the same. And, of course, to make comparisons, it helps to have ongoing records.

Looking at the Records

I admit to some frustrating times in training in recent years, mostly because my "'used to's", as in - used to be able to - sometimes stretch back too far. As an older adult, if my comparisons are 10 or 20 years ago, I'm sunk. I know that is the case, but sometimes it does happen that I let myself think back too far.

More realistically, however, using the last two years as a comparison base I have found some encouraging outcomes. Everything about my training over the last two years has been the same. And, that includes training hard in periods for two to three months, and then going on short or extended trips. I always train on these trips but the training is not absolutely identical to, nor quite as intense as my usual training. I suppose this is a form of cycling of workouts. After a couple of workouts back at home, I can pick up where I left off, e.g., weights and reps and time under tension.

My forte over the decades always has been on the performance side so it is not surprising that performance is my barometer for staying even or the slim possibility of moving forward. I have noted in my workouts and backed up by the data in my training diaries, that there is evidence of improvements within these training cycles. Here are some of those areas, all, by the way, without any real soreness from training.

I consider my form in the squat, good morning, and leg press, the best in my training career, albeit now using far less resistance. For a number of reasons, I perform all three of these exercises with higher repetitions, a long time under tension, and in a several seconds positive, several seconds negative repetition format. Sticking with the same range of motion, within a cycle, I have been able to add several to five repetitions, which amounts to 20 to 30 seconds greater time under tension. I recently have been able to do the same thing on a back extension machine and leg extension machine I have used for almost four years and perform my best sets ever on those two exercises in three consecutive workouts. For upper-body, I have been able to mirror the improvement in key lower-body movements for the seated row and seated dips and even for a gripping exercise. Everything else has more or less stayed the same. Interestingly, the exercises I can show improvements on are ones that I always could perform well. The one disappointment is chins which is an exercise I did very well but now even in a good training cycle, I have not been able to show any improvement. I will work on it.

I have performed the same modified Graded Exercise Protocol (GXP) on the same recumbent stationary bike for the last two years. I perform a graded 3-minute warm-up; then 2 minutes at about 75% HRmax (211-0.64 x age); 2 minutes at a bit more than 80%, a half minute at about 90%, and a half minute at about 95%. I then do a 2-minute easy cooldown. I like this modified GXP because it is similar to running a race; the change in intensity makes it more interesting to me, and given how the 5-minute workpart is set up, I may be getting the benefits of both an extended interval and also from the sprints at the end.

Within a training cycle, I have been able to increase the training pace while staying within the heart rate ranges and showing a rapid decline in my heart rate in the cooldown phase. This too is a good example of improvement as recently I performed my best three best GXP's over the course of a year. I also have always been good at performing these kinds of brief protocols and particularly good on the sprint parts.

I also have noticed something over the year which is reassuring and an overall sign of improvement in my training approach and recovery. As noted, I have very limited soreness and after lower-body training and then the GXP, I am not 'down for the count' as I often was in years past. In about 30-60 minutes, I feel normal.

I am not claiming that these are extraordinary gains or I have discovered the fountain of youth. But, I can claim that even as an older adult and training for decades, my body can still respond to training and likely you can too.