I started Savage Masters because, as a 48 year old fitness and nutrition enthusiast, I found that despite all of the incredible information and welcoming communities available online, there didn’t seem to be any that spoke specifically to people like me. I am a Masters athlete. I’m a married mom of two teenagers. I have a full time job that I enjoy, but I’m also a nutrition nerd who really loves to work out. From my softball playing days as a youth, to teaching aerobics and other group fitness in my college days and into my 20’s, to marathon running into my early 40’s to my current love of Crossfit and Powerlifting – I’ve run the gamut. But the thing is, I love to train. I mean, I love to push myself to learn as many new things as possible while challenging my body to do things I never thought I could do. I want to lift heavy, run hard, jump high and have the best time doing it. Being strong makes me feel like a bad ass. I refuse to settle down and retreat to my rocking chair just because I’m no longer a teenager (although who doesn’t love a good rocking chair every now and then). And I’m finding that there are more and more people out there who are just like me. Yes, we know we need to take care of our bodies (who doesn’t). Yes, we have busy lives to balance (who doesn’t). No, we aren’t professional athletes. But we revel in challenging ourselves to learn and grow and we enjoy ourselves in the process. Now I don’t mean we all need to be deadlifting 600 pounds and doing backflip burpees. I’m certainly not (I wish I could!). I just mean that there are many of us who like to push ourselves to see what we can do. To be better today than we were yesterday. This is a place for us. For the sharing of training ideas, thoughts on recovery, nutrition and life in general. I’m not an expert in any of these things, but I’ve been around, have tried pretty much everything, have an unwavering curiosity and am looking forward to sharing my journey as I hear about yours.
Guess what? We’re halfway through 2017. Yikes, right? I figured it would be a great time to do a goal check. Goals are very important to me to keep me focused and motivated. So, how did I do? Well technically not so well.
But am I sitting here crying into my lunch? Nope. Here’s the deal: I worked hard. I stuck to my guns. Along with my coach I planned my work and worked the plan. I showed up. And on a couple of items, I backed off weight to work much harder on technique and that’s A-OK with me. For me, it’s about the process and not always about the end result. Yes, I set goals, and yes I map out a plan to hopefully reach those goals, but sh$t happens. Sometimes, the goal is just a little too tough in that time period (6:30 mile? Didn’t even come close). Sometimes, I change my mind and refocus efforts towards something else (I didn’t work on cleans much but significantly improved my strict press). Sometimes I add in new goals (I needed to make some adjustments to my way of eating to maximize my health and strength).
So – all good. I’m excited for the second half of 2017 and a new, updated set of goals. How about you all?
Ok not that kind of heat. But something happened this week here in Northern California. After a relatively cool and rainy winter and early spring, temperatures suddenly jumped and we found ourselves in the mid-90’s (around 35 degrees Celsius for our metric contingent). I tend to be cold in general, but this week working out felt very different. Instead of showing up in layers of clothes like I had been, I found myself sweating after a 5 minute warm up. A powerlifting session left me dripping in sweat and I had to break in the middle of jumping rope to wipe the sweat that was dripping into my eyes. Sweat is a good thing, since it’s our body’s way of cooling itself, but I hadn’t sweated so much in quite a while.
Growing up as an athlete, I learned the hard way what happens when we don’t take precautions while exercising in heat. There were quite a few times where I’d finish a softball tournament with a booming headache and kicked myself for not being more careful about hydration throughout the day. A few years’ ago after running the Chicago Marathon in record heat, and actually being pretty careful about hydration, I spent the next couple of days dizzy and nauseous with a mild case of heat exhaustion. Someone actually died that year as a result of the effects of heat during the race and the organizers eventually ended up stopping the race and pulling runners off of the course because it became too warm. I was thinking about this while sweating this week and became curious as to whether heat affects us differently as we age.
Guess what? Add this to the list of things that we masters athletes need to consider. While older studies were inconclusive, mainly because they weren’t conducted using participants that were well trained, the most recent studies are quite conclusive. Heat affects us more as we age. As an example, a study* had men aged 20 – 70 complete 4, 15 minute sessions on a stationary bike in 95 degree heat with a relatively low level of humidity. They rested 15 minutes between each ride. Heat loss and whole-body sweat rates were measured during the work and rest periods to get an idea of how efficiently the men’s bodies were at dissipating, or dealing with the heat. Results showed that the youngest men (ages 20-31) were able to handle the heat the best, and the oldest group of men (ages 56-70) were affected most negatively. With each 15 minute period of work, the men in the older age groups sweated less and less and this was consistent regardless of body fat percentage or level of cardiovascular fitness (as measured by VO2 max).
So, what does this mean? Do we need to stop training unless we can be in air conditioned comfort? No. But we do need to be aware that training in hot and especially humid weather will affect us and we need to be prepared. There are some basic things that we must keep in mind to ensure our safety as the temperatures climb, but first of all let’s review some of the signs of dehydration or heat exhaustion:
- Dark-colored urine
- Muscle cramps
- Pale skin
- Rapid heart beat
If you feel like you’re heading in this direction (or are with anyone who may be), it is imperative to stop training immediately, get out of the heat into a cool, dry space, get some fluids, and remove any tight or restrictive clothing. If possible, take a cool bath or shower.
Our goal however, is to entirely avoid these symptoms. How?
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. While your body can only absorb so much liquid at a time of course, studies have shown that hydrating more than your usual amount prior to training in warm temperatures will help to delay the onset of dehydration. Learning how much to drink before and during training sessions will take some experimentation. While there are scientific ways to try to determine the proposer amounts, everyone reacts to heat differently and you need to determine what is best for you.
- Stay away from the cocktails. Drink the right things. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. They will contribute to dehydration rather than help. If you find it helps you, consider a sports drink with electrolytes during and/or after your session. Personally, I can’t tolerate anything sugary while training, so I stick with water until I’m done. You need to find what works best for you.
- Do all the healthy things. Recover well, sleep, warm up slowly, pace yourself, eat well. All the things that make us healthy overall will also help us to thrive in higher temperatures.
- Use protection. Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s effects. A burn is not only uncomfortable, but it causes your skin’s temperature to rise which will not help.
- Be savage, not stupid. Slow down if necessary. As always, listen to your body and don’t ignore warning signs. If you begin to feel like you’re being affected by the heat, slow down, take a break or even call it a day.
One last point of good news? Our bodies do eventually get used to the heat over time. So, take it slow and steady initially and if you train somewhere where you’re in for a long summer with high temperatures, your body will begin to learn how to function more effectively.
Let me start by stating that I am not a medical professional and what I’m about to say is based on my opinion as well as articles written by qualified folks covering the subject.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably had well meaning friends or family members express concern over how much or how hard you train. “You’re not 25 anymore. You need to be very careful.” I’ve heard that many times. And for ammunition, these folks love to discuss the high profile deaths or health scares that have happened to some seriously fit athletes.
My husband (who is actually very supportive, but it’s a running joke between us) likes to refer to Jim Fixx, famed author of “The Complete Book of Running” which was a huge bestseller back in the late 70’s. Jim Fixx is often credited with jump starting the recreational exercise movement and popularized the idea of the “runner’s high”. He made public appearances on TV shows during which he extolled the virtues of running and how physical exercise could increase life expectancy. He went on to write three more books, all focused on the benefits of exercise and healthy living. Unfortunately, Jim Fixx died in 1984 when he was only 52. His death occurred during his daily run and shocked the fitness community. How could a man so vibrant and fit die so young? And from a heart attack? Isn’t cardiovascular exercise supposed to make your heart stronger?
More recently, Bob Harper, a young-looking, 55 year old, super-fit trainer and health expert best known for his role as coach on “The Biggest Loser”, suffered a massive heart attack. Apparently he technically died before being saved by some fast-acting doctors who happened to be on site. The doctors used CPR and defibrillators before paramedics arrived. Harper is now recovering well after being in a coma for two days.
So, what’s up? How is it that super fit people can suffer from heart attacks or even die at a young age? Are our friends and family correct? Do we need to back off of our training to avoid these consequences? When you dig beneath the headlines, you’ll quickly discover that the answer is no. Training is good for you and incredibly important, especially as we age.
Let’s go back to the Jim Fixx story. Fixx started running in 1967 when he was 35. He was overweight and a heavy smoker, smoking 2 packs per day. By the time “The Complete Book of Running” was published, he’d quit smoking and lost 60 pounds. Fixx’s heart attack was a result of severe atherosclerosis and his autopsy showed he had one coronary artery that was blocked 95%, one that was blocked 85% and a third that was blocked 70%. In 1986 an exercise physiologist, Kenneth Cooper, published an inventory of the risk factors that might have contributed to Fixx’s death. After extensive review of his autopsy results and medical records and after interviewing friends and family, Cooper concluded that Fixx was genetically predisposed to heart disease. His father had died of a heart attack at 43 after suffering an initial one at 35. Jim Fixx had a congenitally enlarged heart and prior to taking on a more healthy lifestyle, he was quite unhealthy
Bob Harper suffered a heart attack commonly known as a “widow-maker” – a blockage of the left coronary artery which is responsible for supplying blood to large areas of the heart. A blockage of this artery often results in a massive attack that can lead to very sudden death. Survival rates are low. Similar to Jim Fixx, it appears that Harper may have been genetically predisposed to heart disease as he says his mother died from a heart attack at a relatively young age. Unfortunately, Harper also says that he ignored some important warning signs, including fainting during a workout, leading up to the attack.
Now let’s go back to the original question. Is training dangerous for us as we age? The answer appears to be no. Study after study shows that physical exercise improves cardiovascular health and prolongs life. Even if you have a genetic risk, exercise and maintaining a level of fitness can help lower your risk and your ability to recover well should something happen. Doctors believe that Bob Harper’s level of fitness helped him to survive what would’ve killed many other people. And while no amount of exercise and healthy living can guarantee a disease free existence, there are countless examples of doctors stating that their patients have been able to more effectively fight through traumatic diseases such as Cancer and Diabetes because they were strong and healthy as a result of their lifestyle.
The bottom line is, keep on training! But be smart about it. Find out as much as possible about your genetics and family history. If you can, get tested for all basic health markers and especially heart health. Remember that nutrition, stress management and recovery are a huge part of overall health. And most importantly, don’t be hard headed and ignore the warning signs. Listen to your body. Bob Harper says he is kicking himself for ignoring signs which he now realizes were pretty obviously pointing towards trouble. We all want to be savage but we also need to be realistic. Here are some of the more common early signs of heart trouble:
- Chest pain or a full or squeezing sensation
- Pain or discomfort in other parts of the upper body (one or both arms, back, neck, jaw…)
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
- Upper middle abdomen discomfort (usually more of a heaviness than sharp pain)
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Upper back pain
Train smart and stay savage!
I know, I know. We are Savage Masters. We crush goals. But what happens when we have one of those days or weeks or months when we don’t crush our goals? What happens when our goals crush us?
I’ve been less than stellar on the nutrition front this week. Partially because I’m experimenting a little, verifying my guesses as to what works for me and what doesn’t, and partially because every now and then I just loosen up a little more than I should. I continue to be amazed at how a poor day of eating for me turns into instant crappiness in the gym. Instant. Like the next day. Apparently, gone are the days when I could eat a ton of sugar and then feel fine and go kill a workout. It just doesn’t work for me. So after having too much sugar yesterday, I sucked during a workout today. Sucked. Doing movements I know I can do. More on that later…
I like to play around online and here is a small sample of some of the setbacks I’ve seen folks posting about just this week:
- I’ve worked so hard for so long in Crossfit and my Open workout results were just not what I’d expected.
- I trained like crazy and bombed out during my powerlifting meet. Couldn’t even lift what I thought were my easy opening weights.
- My goal was to break 28 minutes during my 5k and couldn’t even break 30 minutes today.
- I thought my shoulder had healed but I tried to snatch today and it hurt so much.
So, what do we do?
1. Spend a little time trying to figure out what happened. Don’t dwell on it and don’t sit there and rhyme off a litany of excuses, but be honest with yourself and think through some questions, such as:
- Was my goal realistic? Really?
- Was I truly prepared to be at my best today? Did I sleep well? Did I eat well? Had I recovered from my latest workout? Am I under a lot of stress? Did I warm up properly? It’s not always obvious, but seemingly little things can affect us in ways we’d never though possible.
- Did I “get in my head” and throw myself off of my game?
- Am I trying to come back too quickly from injury?
- Was I too wrapped up in what everyone else was doing?
- Was everything okay, but it was just not my day?
2. Once you’ve been completely honest with yourself you can begin to move on.
- If your goal wasn’t realistic, adjust it.
- If you feel your goal was solid, check into your plan. Have you been doing the right things to get there?
- If you realize that you weren’t well prepared on this particular day, think about how you can better improve your nutrition, sleep, warm up, or whatever area you think messed you up.
- If you were too ‘in your head’, or too wrapped up in what everyone else was doing, give yourself a smack in the face! Just kidding (kind of). It happens to everyone. Give yourself a pep talk and if it’s a recurring issue for you, read one of the awesome articles out there about stepping up your mental game. *
- If you simply just had a bad day, and this happens to everybody, don’t make adjustments, just stick to your plan and…
3. Move on! Put it behind you and get back to training!
Back to my story. I don’t have a lot of issues with being honest with myself. I think it’s one of the gifts of age and maturity. I can own it and I know that I ate like crap and therefore I performed like crap. Shocker! Lesson learned. Again. Moving on. With better food this time. And you know what? I still got out there and trained. Better than sitting on the couch.
Stay savage, y’all!
*some good resources on the mental side of training can be found at: http://www.mensfitness.com/training/build-muscle/mental-toughness-training; https://strategicathlete.com/6-exercises-improving-mental-toughness/.
Ok, maybe not actually an ode since I’m not a poet, but let’s discuss the importance of intensity in training. First, a couple of disclaimers: 1. Safety first. Don’t push harder than you should according to your body, your fitness level, your coach or your medical professional; 2. Follow your training program. You’ll have programmed rest days and lighter days. Going all out every day is a recipe for injury. But there are times, lots of them, where pushing ourselves is not only welcome, it’s necessary if we want to reach our goals.
Intensity is officially defined as “the quality or state of being intense; especially: extreme degree of strength, force, energy or feeling.” For our purposes however, let’s go back to an older quote from one of the OG Savage Masters, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Intensity means working as hard as you possibly can. It is giving your best effort so that you walk out of the gym feeling completely satisfied because you know that you didn’t leave 1 or 2 or 10 reps in the tank. When you finally finish, it will hurt…but you also know that the discomfort and pain means one thing: growth.
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
To grow and improve, we need to ensure that we are not only training, but that we are training intensely. Intensity has been determined to be the most important variable in maximizing the health benefits of training. To be clear, NOT duration, NOT training 3 times per day 7 days per week, but intensity. This is something I need to remind myself of each day. My background is softball – not particularly intense. Then I ran marathons. I ran miles and miles at paces ranging from 8 – 10 minutes/mile. I didn’t do any speedwork, I just ran and chatted with my friends. I had a blast, and was happy with my results but I didn’t really improve at all. Then I moved onto more bodybuilding type workouts, where I hung out in the gym, did my prescribed plan for the day, never really pushed myself and had a grand old time relaxing between sets. Even now, I catch myself chatting during what should be a really tough workout and then kicking myself later when I realize I could’ve gone harder. So I’m challenging myself and all of you to take it up a notch. Be aware of how hard you’re working and leave it all out there.
How? There are a number of very scientific ways to measure and track intensity of any given workout but for our purposes, let’s keep it simple. Some ideas:
- If you’re doing accessory strength work and it’s appropriate given your training plan for the day, lift to failure!
- If you’re doing a max effort lifting day, again, truly lift to failure!
- If you’re doing cardio intervals, leave it all out there. Push harder. You’ll know when to back off. Just start by going a little quicker than you may have initially gone.
- Jumping rope? Challenge yourself – switch up the footwork, go faster, go longer.
- On a treadmill? Increase the speed a bit, inch up the incline.
- Training for distance? Add in some short sprints along the way. Works for running, cycling, rowing…
- Kettlebells? Try a few swings with a slightly heavier one.
- Finished your workout and feel like you’ve got something left in the tank? If it won’t mess with your training plan get in some extra work! Work on something that you find difficult. Knock out some pull ups. Run a quick mile. Do a few rope climbs.
Bottom line is, we do get lots of credit for just getting off the couch and moving. But if we really want to reach our training goals, we need to constantly challenge and push ourselves to grow.
Ok, hear me out on this one. My Coach turned me on to this concept many months ago and I’ve been on my soapbox about it ever since. In my opinion, it’s extremely important for athletes – even recreational, masters athletes – to train and not just to exercise. I’ll explain why, but first let’s start by looking at the differences between the two:
Exercising is generally defined as “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness”. Basically, exercise means getting up and moving in some way that burns calories. If you walk your dog, go for a run, head to the gym and throw some weights around – all of it is exercising, and that’s great. If you show up for the same cardio boxing class each Saturday just to sweat it out, you’re exercising. If you go to the gym without a plan and decide what you’ll do when you arrive, you’re exercising.
Training however adds in a few elements, specifically:
1. A specific longer term performance goal or goals.
This is the fun part. Pick a goal or even multiple goals – examples could include wanting to hit 20 pull ups by June 30th; finishing the local sprint triathlon under a specific time, rowing 500m under 1:45 by the end of May, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2018, or even being able to do 25 kettlebell swings in a row with a 50lb kettlebell by the end of the summer. Just pick one or more goals that will motivate you. I’m a big fan of the SMART rules of goal setting. For maximum effectiveness, the goals need to be:
- Specific – row 500m in under 1 minute, 45 seconds. Not “get faster at rowing”.
- Measurable – 25 kettlebell swings, unbroken, 50 lb kettlebell, by August 30th. Easy to measure.
- Achievable – this is sometimes tough – pick something that will challenge you but will also be possibly within reach in the given timeline. Sometimes a coach or training partner can help you think through this.
- Relevant – pick something that’s important to you or you won’t be motivated to focus on it.
- Time-bound – pick a specific date.
Training is very much about the process. This means you will need a plan that incorporates all that is needed to propel you towards your goal. This means tough days, recovery days, accessory work and periodic testing along the way. I am a huge fan of following a very specific plan, and if you can do it, a coach can also be extremely helpful. You’ll want someone who understands what it is you’re trying to accomplish and who can program, or help program, the various steps you need to get you there. If you don’t have access to a live coach, the internet can be a wealth of information for things like this. There are a ton of programs available for running, cycling, triathlon training, weightlifting programs, etc., all available at your fingertips. Make sure you do your research though, and make sure that the author of the program has some legitimate experience and a history of success. Try to dig up reviews from folks who have tried out the particular program before you jump right in.
3. Measurements and testing throughout the process.
Another key part of training – you need to be able to measure progress and results. If you’ve picked SMART goals, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Remember though, that the process is often not linear. You’ll have setbacks along the way – planned ones, where you’ve maxed out and are just tired, and unplanned ones where your body is just tired or under a lot of stress and not primed for a day or two. This is why the process is so important. A good plan works in the peaks and valleys and ensures that you’re ready for the target date you’ve chosen.
4. Exposure and focus on improving weaknesses.
This is hugely important – and this can also make some people nervous to commit to training. Training is hard. There’s risk. You’ll need to focus on the areas where you are less comfortable. If you want to improve your marathon time, you’ll need to do some speedwork on the track instead of constantly running comfortable 9 minute miles. If you want to do more pull ups, you’ll need to identify where you are weak and work on it. If you want to improve your clean and jerk, you may have to back off on the weight and focus your work on technique for a while. It’s not always fun, and training means you won’t always be doing the things that make you look like a beast in the gym. You’ll need to get comfortable with failing. A lot.
5. An all around effort that will go beyond the physical exercise.
Committing yourself to training means your efforts don’t end with your gym sessions. Recovery, sleep, and nutrition are all very important parts of any effective training plan. You may need to invest a little in some new equipment or gear or a membership at a gym. Training means making constant choices and asking yourself “is this taking me closer to or further away from my goal?” Of course, I’m not saying we all need to stop having any fun at all and go to bed each night at 8pm. But think about how you can best prepare yourself to meet your goal. Maybe this means that you go from having a beer every night so just having a couple on the weekend. Maybe you decide to cut out sugar because you can feel that it’s hurting your performance in the gym. Maybe it’s as simple as making a consistent effort to eat something healthy before your training sessions. It’s up to you, but if you’re serious about reaching specific and challenging goals, you need to have a look at all aspects of your life and figure out what you need to do.
So, why should we train? There are a lot of reasons, but here are some key ones that come to mind for me:
- Training gives you a “why”. Having goals and specific plans to reach your goals can give you the necessary motivation to keep going, even when you don’t feel like it. Crappy weather? Get out there or I won’t progress. Tempted by a pan full of brownies (Me. Tonight). Well, I know if I have too much sugar, I will feel terrible and my performance in the gym will suffer so I’ll skip the brownie for now. Bar hopping? If I have a key workout planned at 8am tomorrow, I’ll have a beer and then switch to something non-alcoholic for the rest of the night.
- The discipline from training can spill over into the rest of your life. When I’m training, I find that I’m disciplined in the rest of my life. To make time to train, I need to be on top of all aspects of my day – I have to do my work efficiently, I need to plan my meals properly, I need to get to sleep at a decent time. Trust me, I’m still living my life, but having a training plan makes me a more organized person in general.
- It’s fun! Anyone who’s trained hard for something and reached their goal, knows that the sense of accomplishment is incredible.
Ready to take the plunge? Some thoughts on how to start:
- Set those goals! As you can see above, I currently have a bunch of them – some specific training goals as well as a defined competition that is coming up. I’ve typed them onto a picture and keep them as the screensaver on my phone so they’re always top of mind.
- Figure out a plan to get you there. Find a coach or find a program that details the steps you need to follow to reach your goals. Be realistic. Can you do what’s needed to stick to the plan? Will it work with your schedule? With your family commitments? Reach for the stars and push yourself but do your homework to set some goals and a find plan that will work best for you. If you find a plan that requires you to drive an hour each way to workouts for the next 9 months, think about whether you will realistically be able to keep that up for the long term.
- Work that plan. Get going! And enjoy the journey.
We have defined ourselves as Savage Masters. Out there killing it in the gym and in life, pushing boundaries, getting all comfortable with being uncomfortable, relentless in pursuing our goals. BUT. Even for the most savage of us, sometimes we wake up and we’re just not feeling it. Maybe we enjoyed our neighborhood Super Bowl party a little too much, maybe we had a terrible sleep, maybe we’ve got a massive project at work that’s stressing us out, OR maybe it’s just too damn dark and rainy and cold and we’d really really like to just stay in bed and sleep a little longer….
Some opposites of the word savage as outlined by the dictionary – submissive, tame, benign, tender hearted – not necessarily terrible things from time to time I suppose, but these aren’t the traits that come to mind when you think about crushing goals. So, how do we maintain our savage edge? How do we manage to get our butts out the door even when we might not really feel like it? Here are a few thoughts:
- Goals, goals, goals. Set them. Make them measurable and give them a timeline. Then crush them. Plan to celebrate when you do. Even the most savage of us need something to drive us. Make a bunch of goals. Break 28 minutes for a 5k. Hit that 2.5x bodyweight deadlift. Get 10 pull ups unbroken. Train 5 days a week for a month straight. Whatever they are, set them, keep a log to track your progress and keep your eye on the prize.
- Sign up for something. A 5k run. A weightlifting competition. An obstacle race. A throwdown at your local gym. Anything. Pay the entry fee and look forward to getting that t-shirt. Pick something that you can work towards and enjoy the process along the way. Give yourself enough time to train for it, but keep it close enough that it will drive you through the next little bit of time when it’s dark and cold and gloomy and tougher to get out there.
- Find a workout buddy. Become accountable to each other. Engage in a little smack talk. Whether they are close and you can actually work out together or even if it’s someone who you check in with online – find someone with whom you can share your goals and successes, and who will kick you into gear when you fall off target. Someone who will listen to you complain a little bit and then will say “OK, now you’ve had your pity party. Go train.”
- Remember how great you feel after you train. Truly I can say I’ve never regretted a workout. Especially when I really, really didn’t feel like it. I always feel better after – even if my performance was a little sub par. Just showing up and moving always makes me feel better.
Of course, the one caveat is, don’t drag yourself into the gym if you’re actually sick. It’ll make you feel worse and no one wants anything to do with you and your germs, trust me. Take the day off, get some rest, and get back to crushing it in a day or so.
Other than that…
As I wrote when starting this community, this is a place for those of us who are no longer teenagers. But despite the fact that we are aging, we want to continue to push ourselves to new limits – in the gym or wherever we train, and in life. That’s all great but we need to be realistic and ensure that proper recovery is an extremely important part of our training plans.
This past weekend I competed in the NorCal Masters Crossfit competition. I had an incredible two days and left very energized, with a whole new set of goals to chase over the next few months. I fell asleep pretty early Sunday night and Monday morning I woke up feeling…sore. My mind wanted to get into the gym, and I’m sure I could have gone in and done something, but I made myself skip it (and my coach is great and careful and wouldn’t have let me do much anyway) and my only workout that day was to take our dog on a nice, long walk. Why? Because I knew that pushing myself would not allow my body to recover the way it needed and the rest of my week would’ve been filled with crappy workouts or worse, injury. And guess what? As I write this it’s Tuesday and this morning we had a running workout programmed. Nothing crazy – run a mile, rest four minutes, run 800m, rest three minutes and then run 400m. I was so excited to get back at it until a few steps into the mile and my legs felt like lead. Ugh. So frustrating. Turns out I’m still not completely recovered from the weekend. So I had to back it off a bit. It sucks, but for me this is part of growing up. Listening to my body (and my coach) and overruling the teenager in my head who wants to go out and push push push. And eat cookies. Ok sometimes that teenager in my head wins, but I’m working on that.
Hopefully it’s not news that recovery is important for any athlete, but it becomes even more important as we age. Why? As much as we may not want to admit it, as we age a number of changes occur in our bones, cartilages, tendons, muscles and ligaments that can make us more susceptible to sports-related injuries. If we don’t take the time to properly rest and recover, we’ll quickly notice the typical signs of overtraining and eventually our bodies will shut us down through illness or injury. One or two rest days now can save us from being forced to take a much longer break later.
So, what are some of the signs that rest is needed?
- Feeling excessively fatigued or sore
- ‘Heavy’ feeling in arms and/or legs (Me. Today.)
- Poor concentration
- Poor technique
- Inability to complete simple exercises comfortably
- Irritability or lack of enthusiasm for the planned training
And, as the symptoms further progress into the land of the overtrained:
- Increased resting heart rate and increased time to recover from elevated heart rate during training
- Poor sleep patterns
- Lack of appetite
- Increased blood pressure
All of the above is bad news for anyone trying to crush their training goals. So, what do we do to help our bodies recover and come back stronger than ever?
TRAIN HARD + RECOVER HARDER = PEAK PERFORMANCE
- EAT! Nutrition is important all the time but we sometimes forget about that on rest days. While we may be tempted to eat less since we aren’t burning as many calories, now is the time to ensure we give our bodies all that is needed for proper repair. This includes replenishing carbs, consuming high quality protein and balancing with some fats.
- Hydrate. Make sure you are taking in a lot of water and not overdoing it on alcohol or you’ll counteract your goal of coming back rested and more energized. You may not feel thirsty, but your body needs hydration or your training will very definitely suffer.
- If you feel up to it, try some active recovery. Very low intensity movements like walking, light rowing, swimming, a slow jog can help remove lactic acid and stretch you out a bit. Resist the urge to go hard (I’m talking to myself here)!
- Stretch, massage, foam roll, roll with lacrosse balls, whatever you need to do to help relax those muscles and keep them limber. Consider an epsom salt bath if you’re feeling a little bit tight.
- Sleep. Sleep is amazingly restorative. Go to bed early if you can. Take a nap. Close those eyes and let your body heal and get stronger.
Now, I also want to mention mobility work. I am one of the least flexible people on earth and it very definitely affects my athletic performance. To me, mobility and recovery go hand in hand, and while I’ve been focusing this discussion on taking actual recovery or rest days, it’s also extremely important that we take time each day as part of our training plans to work on recovery and mobility. It’s something I neglect too often, so maybe by confessing publicly, I’ll take my own advice!
“All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves.”
– Kelly Starrett
Kelly Starrett is the author of “The Supple Leopard” and founder of MobilityWOD. He is at the forefront of focusing on the basics of efficient movement so that we can all perform better as athletes, but also so that we can function more effectively as human beings in our day to day lives. Mobility work is the key to improving those basic movements we are doing wrong and may have already caused us injury, but it is also important for us to maintain our ability to move well as we age. His site mobilitywod.com features a ton of videos and “how-to’s” to help with specific issues we may have. There is a cost for some of these items, but he has also made a lot of videos available for free on YouTube.
Bottom line? This isn’t likely new information for most of you. But as masters athletes who thrive on pushing limits, we sometimes need to be reminded about the importance of rest. We have all set very tough goals for ourselves, but we can’t be savage if our bodies are broken. Treat your body right and it will reward you with results!
Sources and for more information:
- Reaburn, Peter. “Chapter 13.” The Masters Athlete: Improve Your Performance, Improve Your Fitness, Improve Your Life. Mackay, Qld.: Info, 2009. N. pag. Print. Mastersathlete.com.au
- Starrett, Kelly. “Mobility|WOD.” MobilityWOD. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. Mobilitywod.com
Savage Masters! As I said in my bio, I’m not a nutrition expert. I am a nutrition nerd however. I love to learn about food and the effect of nutrition on our bodies, and in my 48 years I’ve tried pretty much every possible “diet” and way of eating. The result? I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, dialing in my nutrition is the key to truly feeling my best and reaching my goals in the gym. The tough part is that there is such an overwhelming amount of information available about nutrition. What “way of eating” is best? Just have a look at social media or tv commercials. You don’t have to look very long to find information on Paleo, Zone, If It Fits Your Macros, Vegetarianism, Veganism, High Fat, Low Carb, Ketogenic, Carb Cycling, Whole30, not to mention the big corporate diet programs like Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig…the list goes on and on. But here’s what I’ve found after a lifetime of trying pretty much everything. All of these “diets” can be effective in the short term because generally the plans are based on taking in less calories then you’re burning. The holy grail is to find what will work for you long term, as a lifestyle. I’m talking about truly discovering which foods in what quantities work best for you.
Nutrition is probably the biggest thing I’ve changed as I’ve hit my 40’s. As a kid, I fueled softball and volleyball-filled weekends with donuts, pizza and soda and felt fine. At least I thought I felt fine. Even through college, we’d go out and drink and then order giant slabs of pizza at midnight. Then, filled with guilt the next day, we’d run or stairmaster or do whatever type of cardio torture we felt necessary to make us feel better until the next night when we’d do it all over again. Even into my 20’s and 30’s I’d do marathon training runs of 20+ miles fueled by handfuls of M&M’s or sometimes no food at all. Now I find if I don’t eat well it’s an absolute nightmare. I sleep horribly, my digestion is messed up for days and my workouts suck (such an awesome feeling doing burpees when you’re bloated and feel like your belly hits the floor before anything else). What I’m not sure about is whether I actually felt horrible when I was younger and just learned to live with that feeling? Would I have been a better youth athlete had I fueled my body better? Am I just more dialed in to my physical reactions to food now? I don’t know, but I do know that for me to reach my training goals and frankly, to just be able to live my life the way I want to, I need to fuel my body with premium grade fuel. And lots of it. I’m also of the generation that felt that eating as little as possible (when we weren’t consuming pizza and cocktails) was the key to bikini-nirvana. Wow, was I wrong.
To be clear, I’m not talking about short term, “lose 30 pounds in 30 days”, “get your beach body NOW” kind of dieting. I’m talking long term eating for performance. In the gym, on the trail, for your life and your job – wherever you need to perform. The key is finding what works best for you as an individual. For example, it’s taken me a very long time and the help of nutrition professionals to learn that I need to eat more. More! And, my body thrives on carbs! Those evil things I’d spent a couple of decades avoiding! Turns out that carbs are the key for me to lean out and perform my best in the gym. Who knew? Currently, the plan that makes me feel best is based on macro counting. I thrive on having carb, protein and fat targets set for me and all I need to do is plan my day of eating to hit those macros. I like the planning ahead and controlling aspect. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy having a plan to follow and not having to think about what I’m eating throughout the day. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve found I thrive on plenty of carbs especially timed around my workouts, but very little added sugar. Round out with lean protein and low-ish fat (at least compared to what I had when I was “strict Paleo”) and as little processed food as possible. I’m a volume eater, so I’ll happily trade in a half cup of pasta for a mountain of zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. I will bake (I have a massive sweet tooth) and substitute applesauce or Greek yogurt for butter and oil so I can eat more of whatever it is I’ve made. But that’s me. For now at least, this makes me feel fantastic. And as I said, it took a lot of experimenting to figure that out. Here are couple of key points based on my experience:
- If you aren’t focused on increasing muscle, and don’t want to gain weight on the scale, calories in need to be equal or less than calories out. It’s simply math.
- BUT – the math doesn’t work if you’re eating so little that you have no energy and all you can do is lie in the corner of a room and cry (not that I’ve ever done that. But I know someone…) The human body is ridiculously resilient. Your body will make some hardcore adjustments to your metabolism and it will be tough for you to recover.
- YOU DO YOU. There’s no silver bullet and we are all different. Try different foods and ways of eating to see what makes you feel your best. Experiment, experiment, experiment and you will eventually find a way of eating that satisfies you and fuels all of the savage things you want to do. That’s when you know you’ve hit it. And are 6 packs of donuts part of that plan? Probably not very often (trust me, I’ve tried). Will you still feel the need to polish off a giant pizza or dive deep into the world of Patron every now and then? Maybe. But as long as you know what works best for you, and it’s sustainable in a way that you can stick with it most of the time, you’re golden. If you’re feeling like you’re starving all of the time, weak, and white-knuckling it through the day to stop yourself from gnawing off your arm, you probably aren’t fueling yourself properly.
- The biggest one for me – FOOD IS FUEL. Good quality, premium food gives me premium results, in the gym and in life in general. Food isn’t something to fear but is something to appreciate and enjoy.
I highly suggest that if you haven’t already done so, try out some different plans, gauge your feelings, physical reactions (How’s your digestion? Your skin? Are feeling tried or bloated?) and results in the gym and in your day to day activities. Consider keeping a journal of what you ate and how you felt even just for a week. Dial it in, and you’ll be well on your way to crushing your goals.
What foods best fuel you? What ways of eating make you feel SAVAGE?
Savage is officially defined as ferocious, fierce, untamed. But I like the Urban Dictionary definitions best: “Bad ass.” “Cool.” “Someone who will do things that make other people say, ‘What the F, are you crazy?'” “Cool or hardcore.” “Going beyond the normal scope of the given situation.” “Something so incredibly bad ass that you can’t just say bad ass.” Love that. Now I’m not saying we all need to run around acting like crazy people. And I’m definitely not saying that we all need to be squatting amounts that will bend the bar or running 5 minute miles. I’m just saying, push your own limits, whatever they may be. If you’ve had a lifelong fear of heights and you get your first rope climb, that’s what I mean! Get out of your comfort zone and challenge what people think are the norms for the 40+ crowd! Try something new! Be BAD ASS.