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[CB: The following article (edited and shortened) is taken from MASTER TRAINER (February 2005), a newsletter for lifetime bodybuilders and master athletes published and edited by my friend Richard Winett, PhD. It’s an excellent piece on training as age takes its inevitable toll. A few days away from 60 and a lifetime trainer, Dick has thought long and hard about this issue, and it shows. Dick and I have a little different perspective on the age factor. He is a health psychologist at Virginia Tech and devoted to the scientific process, while I’m more inclined to make my own tracks. Review of the available research leaves him with a somewhat less hopeful view than mine. Some might say that he’s a realist and I’m an optimist.
It occurred to me that Dick’s well-researched and thoughtful article would be a good vehicle to explore some of our differences. So I asked for and received his permission to insert bracketed comments at appropriate places to contrast our positions—or indicate areas of agreement. It was fun and challenging for me and, hopefully, will help readers formulate their own point of view. Are you a realist or an optimist or perhaps something in between?]
The ‘Secrets’ to Long-Term Training Success
By Richard Winett, PhD
are the ‘secrets’ to long-term training success?
secret is that there are no ‘secrets.’
are only ideas and lessons, often common sense, that make you successful over
is defined as your ability to consistently train and reach levels of strength,
fitness, and body composition commensurate with your genetic make-up. If you
have doubts about what your genetic limits may be consider that if you have been
consistently training for at least five to 10 years in some reasonable way, you
likely have reached those limits. If you still have some doubts, consider your
parents’ physical characteristics and that will provide another good set of
indicators. [CB: I
don’t like to think in terms of limits. Anyone who has seen early photos of
Arnold as a boy in Austria would never dream that he could develop the best
physique of his time, much less become Governor of California. Everyone in my
family was overweight in their later years and none were fit or exercising at
anything approaching my age. You never know what you can accomplish until you
try. I’ve been training for over 50 years and still find ways to improve.]
question for many of us experienced trainees becomes not what our genetic limits
may be or how we can get there but how do we remain there? How can we stay
One idea is to train in
ways that you prefer and find enjoyable. There’s nothing new with that idea. [CB:
Yes, very important for staying motivated.]
is a powerful idea that can be added to your preferences. Perhaps, it is a
in ways that play to your strengths.
how many of us have spent time trying to alter our training in some way to make
up for a genetically based weakness. It’s not much fun.
The reason is that for the most part you can’t overcome a genetic
weakness and therefore it’s unlikely that you will ever see very positive
results for all your efforts.
you train in ways that play to your strengths, workouts are fun and if you have
realistic expectations, you always see positive outcomes. Fun and positive
outcomes are a sure formula for continued training success.
powerful idea is to do the opposite of
conventional advice that advocates focusing on your weaknesses. [CB:
For further confirmation, see article 100, “The New Positive Psychology.”]
second idea, hardly a secret after so many issues of Master
is that simple training that fits into your lifestyle will provide good results.
The results will be as good as anything much more complicated and time
consuming. A lesson that many of us have learned from experience is that
training protocols requiring heroic efforts to complete each week have to fall
by the wayside when anything else comes up in your life. It helps, however, to
know that there’s little difference in strength and muscular hypertrophy
outcomes between a resistance training protocol that takes 90 minutes a week and
one that can take nine hours a week. It removes any inclination to go down that
you are considering any major change to your training that involves more time
and effort, simply ask yourself: ‘Given my lifestyle and commitments and
responsibilities, can I really do this training program week after week?’ A
lesson learned by many of us is if there is some reasonable doubt, don’t do
it. [CB: Right on.]
ideas and lessons pertain to diet and nutrition. Focus on eating a healthier diet that you find tasty and
enjoyable and do not make up for any real or perceived deficits in your diet
with large dosages of vitamins and supplements. There’s no evidence that special diets and nutritional aids
are needed to optimize your training outcomes.
In fact, some often used vitamins and supplements may have the opposite
effects for some people. It’s also difficult to imagine eating foods day in
and day out that you do not like. Even if there were some magical foods (fruits
and vegetables do come close), eating foods you do not like as if they are
medicine you must take in the long run will not work. [CB: Very true.]
is another set of ideas and lessons involving aging. If you stick around long
enough, it happens. You get older and you can’t safely do what you did even a
few years before. You either adjust or you pretend and live in the past with all
the attendant physical and psychological consequences.
to train with the same absolute resistance you used years before, or worse,
trying to duplicate records you made in your prime – now many years later –
is a prescription for failure as the years mount. Unless you’re still
comparatively young or a personal record you’re trying to beat was soft,
you’ll likely get injured by continuing to train as you did before and fall
short of the personal record.
you are set on ‘equaling’ a record from many years before, consider a
correction factor for age. From the peak of your strength at 35 or even 40, an
age correction factor is 1% less strength per year with a greater strength loss
after 60. If you were able to use 200 lbs on a movement for 6 repetitions at 35,
you would break your personal record if at age 50 you could use the same form in
the same exercise and use 175 lbs for 6 repetitions.
[CB: I don’t like such formulas, especially those that show a built-in
decline. While they may be generally accurate, they may not apply to you. An
example is the formula found in many exercise physiology books that says maximum
heart rate declines one beat per year, whether or not you train. It’s not true
for everyone. Mine hasn’t declined in 25 years; see FAQ 3, item 2. Plus, we
all change. I was about 30 pounds heavier when I did my best squat. Comparing
then and now is like comparing apples and oranges. More meaningful, and far more
empowering, to think in terms of improving on what you’re doing now. For
example, I didn’t do 20 reps in the squat back then (and never do singles
now), which gives me a new area for improvement. It’s counterproductive to
think about the distant past. I almost never do it.]
good way to look at aging and another powerful idea is that at each point in
your life you can find new challenges that are interesting and motivating. With
training, for example, small changes to a simple, long enduring protocol that
take into account physiological consequences of aging can set you up for great
training for a number of more years. Or, at some point, while keeping the ideas
and lessons about playing to your strengths and simplicity in mind, you may
embark on something quite new and beneficial. [CB: Exactly.]
Effective Protocols for Experienced Trainees
issues have emphasized that research shows simple training protocols are
effective for strength and muscular hypertrophy regardless of training status.
There is no need to use special performance of repetitions, multiple sets of
each exercise, periodization, or virtually any other particular way to perform
resistance training. [CB:
I believe periodization is one of the secrets of long-term success, because it
keeps training fresh and always moving forward; see article 8.]
still leaves a wide variety of possible training protocols. For example, for
experienced trainees (anyone consistently training for more than two years)
studies show that nine exercises for one set each performed in a whole body
routine three times per week1 produced similar outcomes to a split
routine. The split routine involved three exercises for one set each for each
muscle group with short ‘muscle group’ workouts performed four times per
week and each muscle group trained once per week2. The two
‘simple’ routines varied in volume, frequency, and exercise selection yet
with experienced trainees produced about the same outcomes.
study with experienced trainees compared a whole body routine with one set per
exercise performed three times per week with the same routine performed once per
week but with three sets per exercise3.
At the end of the study, the group training three times per week showed
marginally better outcomes (significant differences on one measure out of a
number of measures) than the group training once per week. However, over the
course of the study, differences between the groups narrowed. It is likely over
years of training that any differences in outcomes between such training regimes
would approach zero.
results of these studies suggest that different simple routines produce similar
outcomes and that personal preferences [are a sound basis for] following a
particular protocol. Most of us also would like to believe that we’re using
the most effective protocol for us. [CB:
If you enjoy what you’re doing and believe it’s effective, it probably is.
Believe in yourself.]
are a number of other facets of training that can be considered and tailored to
your preferences and experiences. Here is one example.
Everyone is urged to keep a training diary. Yet, there do not appear to
be any research studies comparing training with and without a training diary
over time. We really do not know how effective this strategy is. [CB:
It never occurred to me that I need a study to tell me whether or how to keep a
training diary. If I relied on studies, I wouldn’t have started training in my
early teens; I might still be at the starting gate.] Even assuming that record
keeping is an important part of self-regulation processes that facilitate
performing tasks entailing effort and consistency, we do not really know what
form those records should take to be most effective. Here again is an area where
personal preferences and history will indicate what to do. For example, some
people love and do well with detailed records while other people prefer and can
do quite well by keeping everything in their head.
Some people may want to have all their records on a computer with
spreadsheets and algorithms while a simple notebook will suffice for other
people. [CB: All
good part of assessing your success involves having realistic expectations.
Let’s look at realistic expectations for middle-aged to older experienced
discussed in prior issues and illustrated with cross-sectional data from Olympic
lifters and power lifters across the age spectrum, strength declines with age.
After age 35-40, strength appears to decline about 1% per year and declines more
rapidly at around and after the sixth decade of life. Similar patterns have been
found for aerobic capacity. If
you’ve been training for a number of years, are middle-aged or older, and
performing the same or similar exercises, you need to take the inevitable
effects of aging into account when evaluating the effectiveness of your
training. [CB: If
you expect to decline, you surely will. See article 97, “Learned Optimism.”]
no reason, however, to look at this prospect as a case of the ‘cup being half
say for a particular exercise you can use in good form 100 lbs for 10
repetitions. That is the maximum that you can use and every several months you
work up to that point. By consistently training and avoiding injury, even as
you’ve gotten older you can still perform the 100 x 10. In fact, you’ve been
able to maintain that level for the last five years.
we have been used to thinking about an effective routine as one where there is
discernible ‘progress,’ one conclusion is on that specific exercise no
progress has been made. You even may feel disappointed and frustrated with your
training. However, you’ve really made progress and should not be disappointed
much less frustrated. Here’s why.
from cohorts of lifters suggest that after five years if you were middle-aged or
older we would be safe to predict that the best you could do is 95 x 10. You
would have lost 1% of your strength each year. If you were near or past your
sixth decade of life, then the prediction is that you would lose more strength.
Likely after five years, you would only be able to perform 10 repetitions
with 92. [CB: The
1%-per-year rule of thumb may have little, if any, application to individuals
who continue to train at a competitive level. They do not decline at the
1%-per-year rate until they reach their early 70s; see
article 26c, “The Competitive Edge.”]
still being able to perform 100 x 10, you’ve found a very effective way to
train and have made considerable progress. Instead of only being able to perform
10 repetitions with 92 to 95, you are able to do 100 x 10.
For an experienced, middle-aged to older trainee to gain 5% to 8%
is an astounding feat. Consider that a younger person who has trained
consistently for a few years may only be able to gain 5% to 10% more strength.
You would have duplicated that degree of progress.
expectations can help you assess what is the most effective way for you to train
and to see that the ‘cup is more than half filled.’ [CB:
Agreed, but realistic for one person may be underperformance for another. If you
think you can, you probably can.]
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