One of the primary parts of exercise that people often neglect is recovery. The recovery time and the frequency of the training/stress days is something that a young person can just push through. However, with people over 30, let alone over 50, the recovery time becomes the most important part of training. This is true for any body-stressing exercise, be it running, strength training or intense hiking. Here, Daryl Maddern will walk us through what a strength training plan could be, and the same ideas apply to mobility training, spin classes or training to run a half marathon.
Do you find it hard to recover after exercise? Then maybe you should train like an athlete!
I’m often asked, “What’s the right number of repetitions (reps) and sets?” or “How many times per week should older adults train?” There is no simple answer to these questions. You might have heard things like “older people should use lighter weights and do more reps,” or “heavy weights and low reps are best for over-50s” — it can be very confusing. The truth is that there is no best way of training; it all depends on what your goals are. But no matter what your goals are, one thing we should all consider when planning our training is recovery. As strange as this may seem, this will help you decide what your reps and sets should be at any given time!
Train Like an Athlete: With Recovery in Mind
So what does recovery have to do with weight, sets and reps?
You should plan your training so there are times or periods when the weight is heavier and the reps are lower, and other times when the weights are lighter and the reps are higher. This is where we can take some lessons from elite athletes. Most elite athletes, or their coaches, plan their training using a system called “periodization of training.” To be at their best, they have to make sure they don’t overtrain and that they are at their peak of fitness when it’s needed. If they continually train at high intensity, their performance tends to drop because they don’t fully recover between training sessions. We don’t have to make our planning as complicated as it would be for an elite athlete, but using the same concept can make a big difference to helping us get the most out of our fitness training.
Periodization of Training
How does periodization work?
Basically, for us over-50s, we need to think of varying the intensity of our training so that we have periods of low intensity, periods of medium intensity and periods of higher intensity. This variation in intensity allows us to recover when needed while steadily moving toward our goal.
To set up a periodized plan, there are a few things that we need to find out:
- Your goal! What is it that you want to achieve? It’s important to spend some time thinking about why you want this goal. If it’s not important enough to you, your chances of achieving it are low.
- How long have you been training? This can help determine if your goal is attainable.
- Where are you currently at with fitness? This is important for setting the weights and reps in your plan.
Example: Plan for Building Squat Strength
Here’s an example of what a periodized plan looks like for someone whose goal is to increase their squat strength. The goal of this plan is to increase this person’s personal best squat from 5 reps on 120 kg to 5 reps on 130 kg over a 12-week period. That’s an increase of about 8%. We would have to establish that this is possible based on the information from the above questions. Someone new to strength training could expect more significant increases, but if they had been training for years the percentage of improvement would be smaller.
So, based on the above info, I would break the 12-week plan into three periods of 4 weeks each. Keep in mind that the following program is only the squat segment of the plan. The program would include all other necessary exercises. This example is to give you an idea of how the sets, reps and weight vary over the plan to allow for recovery and adaption.
The first 4-week period might look something like this:
Week 1: 3 sets of 14 reps on 147.5 lb
Week 2: 3 sets of 10 reps on 157.5 lb
Week 3: 3 sets of 8 reps on 167.5 lb
Week 4: 3 sets of 6 reps on 180 lb
The second 4 weeks would look like this:
Week 1: 3 sets of 10 reps on 157.5 lb
Week 2: 3 sets of 8 reps on 167.5 lb
Week 3: 3 sets of 6 reps on 180 lb
Week 4: 5 sets of 4 reps on 190 lb
And the third 4-week period would look like this:
Week 1: 3 sets of 8 reps on 167.5 lb
Week 2: 4 sets of 6 reps on 180 lb
Week 3: 4 sets of 5 reps on 190 lb
Week 4: 1 set of 5 reps on 200 lb
If you were to just continually train at the intensity of the last 4-week period, and particularly the last 2 weeks of that period, you would tend to develop sore joints and feel fatigued and demotivated, and your progress could stall.
This type of plan works equally well for endurance training and can be adapted to fit most goals. You don’t have to be out to set world records to use periodization. If your goal is to keep yourself in good shape and fit and healthy, then you should give it a try. Periodization is a great way to keep your fitness training fresh, help reduce the risk of developing overuse injuries, and keep yourself motivated.
If you have any questions or would like some help setting up a plan. Feel free to contact me using this link: https://www.astuteonlinefitness.com.au/contacts-from-ageist.html
Daryl is a nutritionist and personal trainer with a masters degree in Human Nutrition and a diploma in Fitness. He has over 20 years of experience in the fitness industry and has a background in strength training and endurance training that spans over 40 years. He is a two-time Australian champion powerlifter and holds 2 Australian records which have remained unbroken for over 18 years. He also has experience in endurance sports having completed 7 Ironman 70.3 triathlons and numerous sprint triathlons.