Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lance Who? Make Your Own Comeback

With these training tips, it's never too late

There's no way to stop the years from ticking by, but you can do what Armstrong is trying to do: embark on an athletic renaissance no matter what your age. "We're seeing endurance athletes stay competitive later in life," says Peter Park, Armstrong's personal trainer and the owner of Platinum Fitness, in Santa Barbara California. Case in point: 38-year-old Constantina Tomescu-Dita, the Romanian who won the women's marathon in Beijing.

Advancing age often brings increased family and work duties, which can limit training. You may need to get creative about your schedule, waking early to hit the gym or using Saturdays for one of your longer rides (Park suggests two per week). And you'll need patience. Going too hard too soon can actually inhibit your progress.

But athletes often feel fresher and more motivated after a break, Park says. And with improved training techniques and experience earned over years of cycling, the results often defy age-related assumptions. "These days, older athletes believe they can still win--and they do," Park says. Here's how to get back in the game after age 35.

Take two for recovery Twentysomethings bounce right back from intense workouts, but after 35, athletes need two days--occasionally three--to recover after going hard. That's because levels of testosterone and human growth hormone--which increase protein synthesis for new muscle cells--drop by as much as 50 percent. Compensate by doubling your recovery time, and monitor your strength once you resume workouts. If you feel weak during your next hard push, insufficient recovery may be the culprit.

Embrace resistance

Let nature take its course, and you'll lose about 5 percent of your muscle mass every decade. But athletes can maintain strength and power by adding resistance training to their routine Yoga, Pilates and weight lifting are all useful for Armstrong, Park's program keeps upper-body bulk to a minimum, but strengthens hips, glutes and legs with kettlebell exercises and. Park's favorites plyometrics: planks (holding your body in a modified push-up position) for core strength, Bulgarian split squats (with one foot resting on a bench behind you) for glutes and quads, and kettlebell swings (bending low with a weight held between your legs and thrusting it forward using the pelvis) for glutes and hips. Do two days of full-body resistance training per week on the days you ride hardest. "That way, you can use one rest session to recover from both workouts," Park says.

Think quality, not quantity

At 40, you can ride just as hard as when you were younger--you just can't do it as often. In fact, building intensity into your regimen is key to attaining high-end fitness, which athletes over 35 can lose unless they regularly redline it. Do one interval workout (hitting 80 to 95 percent of your max heart rate) per week.

Stretch for speed

Flexibility suffers as you age, and tightness in your hips, hamstrings, and lower back slows you down. Stay limber with stretching or yoga, which creates the flexibility required to get low in the saddle. Loose hamstrings let you raise your saddle height for more powerful pedal strokes. Park recommends goblet squats: Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips, holding a dumbbell or medicine ball close to your chest, and squat to the floor, resting your elbows on your inner knees to urge them outward.

Watch your weight

Older athletes have slower metabolisms, which reduce calorie requirements. Weight gain compromises your VO2 max, which for sedentary people over 25 can decrease as much as 10 percent per decade, Park says. Keep your weight down and you can trim that decline to more like 3 percent.

Fuel recovery

Smart recovery eating is still critical to pursuing peak fitness. Park recommends consuming a 4-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein after hard workouts: fruit, whole grains, lean meat and poultry. And don't delay. You derive the best recovery benefit when you refuel within 30 minutes of unclipping.

Opt for antioxidants

Because antioxidants combat the muscle-munching free radicals produced during tough workouts, they're good for all cyclists. But Park says older athletes in particular benefit from a diet rich in antioxidants, because they improve recovery. Eat at least five daily servings of colorful fruit and vegetables for the widest array of antioxidants, or take a supplement.

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