April 9, 2004

3 ways to match your training regimen to your body

As our bodies change and age, our exercise outlook must change too. Jessica Seaton, D.C., an orthopedic chiropractor and chair of the United States Masters Swimming (USMS) sports medicine committee, suggests athletes hone their workouts for what they can do now – not what they once did.

"Athletes show certain patterns as they age," Seaton said. "In their early 20s, athletes can train irregularly, train hard, injure themselves and bounce back pretty quickly. By their late 30s, irregular training, training too hard or training too little make a bigger difference than it did 10 years earlier. By the time athletes reach 40, they’re not spring chickens anymore. Irregular training has more dire consequences, often leading more quickly to injury, and often of a more serious nature. As the years go on, all of this gets more pronounced."

There is one caveat, Seaton said: We are each on our own physiological schedule. Everyone ages on slightly different schedules. Factors that affect the speed of aging include genetics, quantity and quality of exercise, nutrition, illness, habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, outlook and attitude, and stress. Each person also has a unique genetic make-up, with biochemical and physiological individuality. Different optimal workouts suit different times of life.

Here are three smart ways to avoid this breakdown:

  • Give your body time to heal. As we age, our basal metabolic rate--the rate of metabolism when the body is at rest--slows down. This same slowing of the basal metabolic rate affects tissue healing. Training is a process of overusing a tissue (muscle), causing it to break down, and then a rebuilding of the muscle as a reaction. As we get older, this process is slower.
  • Learn to listen to your own body. If you feel worn out or tired, your body is telling you to take it easy. If you are under stress, your body’s ability to repair itself may be impaired. Training hard during such times does not make sense and may very well lead to injury.
  • Stagger your workouts, cross-train, and do something different once in a while during a regular activity. Maybe it's some quick intervals during your runs or a shift to kicking for a couple of swim workouts. Your body – and mind – will appreciate it.
"If you train hard every day of the week, or several days in a row, you’re really not giving your body time to rebuild," Seaton said. "The result is that you simply end up being broken down."

Jessica Seaton, D.C., is a chiropractic orthopedist in private practice in West Los Angeles, Calif. She chairs the United States Masters Swimming (USMS) Sports Medicine Committee, and she has been swimming with the West Hollywood Aquatics Masters group for more than 10 years. She can be reached at 310-470-0282 or Jseaton@aol.com. United States Masters Swimming (www.usms.org) programs are open to all adult swimmers (fitness, triathlete, competitive, non-competitive) age 18 and over who are dedicated to improving their fitness through swimming and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Founded in 1970, USMS is organized with more than 1,100 workout groups and teams throughout the nation.


EDITOR’S NOTE: United States Masters Swimming has access to thousands of health and fitness experts nationwide.