It’s inevitable. The human body changes with the passage of time. Around the age of 40, even the fittest and fastest of athletes can begin to struggle with muscle loss and fat gain—body composition concerns that are inextricably linked to the metabolic slowdown both men and women face as they enter middle age.
These age-related changes often inspire athletes to pursue training strategies that offer equal parts improved fitness and health. Their logic is sound: exercise can slow the hands of time. But not all exercise is created equal. Based on recent research it appears that less can be more when it comes to evaluating the body composition benefits—especially for middle-aged athletes.
While it’s widely known that long, slow distance training can stoke the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel, it does little to support muscular strength and development. Building lean muscle is ultimately more important since it’s what drives and determines the body’s metabolic might. The stronger an athlete’s metabolism, the better his or her body composition, energy, and overall health.
Studies suggest that rotating two or three higher-intensity training sessions with lower-intensity efforts and some strength training may provide middle-aged athletes with a metabolic boost—a sound strategy for getting fitter, faster, stronger, and healthier as they age. Ideally, these workouts should include cross-training activities, which will challenge more muscle groups and reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries. In many ways, this is the perfect structure for sprint-distance training and racing.
According to Karen Smyers, former world-class competitor turned top-notch coach, “A good training plan for a sprint triathlon strikes a balance of high-intensity interval training, aerobic endurance work, and strength work with a time commitment that turns out to be an ideal recipe for both physical and mental health.”
Since going shorter and harder can benefit the health of older athletes, the sprint-distance might be the perfect medicine for athletes as they age.
In addition to its metabolic benefits, this less-can-be-more approach to training can help middle-age athletes: