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Programming for a Masters Athlete
I believe that it’s really hard to program for a Masters Athlete if you aren’t one. You might have an idea of some solid protocols, and there might be some solid research. However, you will have no idea what’s going on in their brain until you are one. You will also have no idea how their body feels and recovers until you are one.
I am no saying that it is impossible for you to program for them. I am just saying that it will be a huge challenge. That’s why I am writing this article. I want to help all of my fellow master athletes, and I want to help the coaches that are programming for them.
When I am talking about a Masters Athlete, I am talking about an athlete 35 and up in age. Obviously as we age, protocols will change. Hormone levels will decrease over time making it harder to add muscle and harder to recover, so we are going to discuss things in stages.
Testosterone Peaks in Males at around 18-years-old at a range between 300-1200 nanograms per deciliter, and then they level off for adults at between 270-1070. After 30-years-old, these levels will normally decrease about 1% per year. These numbers are exactly what make it hard to program for older athletes.
Let’s start with the range. 270-1070 is a huge range. That means that some men go into their thirties with four times the testosterone as other men. That means that some men will naturally put on more muscle than others and recover more easily. If you have 1070 nanograms per deciliter going into your thirties, you are going to handle aging quite a bit better.
Women on the other hand also peak at around 18-years-old, but they peak at 20-75 ng/dl. Then they level off around 15-70 ng/dl, and they don’t have significant drop offs with age. This makes programming for a female a little easier, and I will explain more on that later.
Before we get started, here are some points to consider:
• The Individual
• Training Age
• Demands of Work
• Marriage life
• Past experiences
Let’s look at each:
Gender– from the numbers above women can get stronger for a lot longer than most men. Their testosterone levels never get as high as men, but their levels never start to decrease after 30-years-old like men. All you have to do is look at the USAPL Women ‘s Champions like Jennifer Thompson, Priscilla Ribic, or Suzie Hartwig-Gary. These women are all considered Master Athletes, but they are all continuing to crush big weights.
Men on the other hand are going to start to drop off, and every year will be a little harder. Obviously some will roll into their thirties with more natural testosterone than others, so the effects won’t be notices as quickly. For example I wasn’t affected by aging that much until my forties, and then things got a little harder. Now every year it gets a little harder to recover, so I simply need to adjust things a bit.
As a coach you will either need to get a blood test, or get inside the head of your athletes. You will want to ask them how things have changed. You will want to know if recovery is getting tougher. This will be an ongoing process for the duration of their training life. Every year, most male athletes will notice changes, and it is up to the coach to adjust the programming for these changes.
The Individual– Some people have cookie cutter programs for master athletes. That’s insane. People don’t all of a sudden become exactly alike after the age of forty. We are all still very different. When I was doing Squat Every Day in 2015 at the age of 42-years-old, that didn’t mean that was the protocol for forty-year-old men. I was able to hit near lifetime maxes in the snatch, clean + jerk, squat, bench, and deadlift, but a lot of men my age would have been destroyed by that volume and especially by the loads that I was using.
Once again I suggest talking to your clients before programming. Don’t just send them a questionnaire, and then start going to work on a excel sheet. You will need to get inside the brain of your athlete. Some of the following criteria are things that you are going to want to know.
Age– There is a big difference between 35 and 50. Remember that a males testosterone level will drop about 1% each year, so at 35 they are probably still going strong. However at 45 they will probably start to notice some changes. Women will be pretty steady throughout the process.
Training Age– I have been training for over thirty years. You can’t compare me to someone that has only trained for five. I am going to have the capacity to handle higher volumes and loads. However, I am at a higher risk of injury because of the wear and tear on my body.
Children– man this is a huge one. I have three children. They are my priority not my training. If I were a 44-year-old without children, it would be a lot easier to focus on recovery, nutrition, and training. You will want to find out how many children that your athlete has, and what ages he or she has. Obviously when they hit middle school age life is going to get busy with ballgames, practices, and school functions.
Demands of Work– A doctor working 60-hours per week is going to have a harder time recovering than an accountant working 40-hours per week. Some people work in environments that are stressful and demanding. Personally I get to work from home a lot banging out articles and books for all of you. My life isn’t very stressful at all, so I have that one thing going for me.
Marriage Life– This is a big one. Are you happily married or not? If not, you are going to struggle in the recovery department. Nothing on earth is more stressful than a failing marriage. I suggest getting that in order first. I have an amazing marriage, and I can attest that nothing is better for all the things in my life than that.
Sleep– If a person doesn’t have time for at least seven hours of sleep per night, I suggest taking their volume way down. You can train as hard as you want, but if you aren’t recovering, you will go backwards. This is the first question that I ask when people of any age are struggling in the gym.
Past Experiences- This is one of the most important. You need to communicate with a masters athlete. You will want to know what has worked in the past, and especially what hasn’t. You don’t want to repeat something that has crushed them in the past. With all of your athletes, you will want to know this information.
I am excited to see the growth in Masters competing more often and at higher levels. A lot of these men and women are more competitive than the younger athletes that I coach. That’s all that I require. If someone wants it badly enough, I will work with them. As coaches, our job is to get them to their goals without hurting them and without affecting the other areas of their life. That’s the hard part, but now you know some of the questions to ask.
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