Saturday, 24 October 2015


Speed | age | sprint training

Speed and age - The bad news is that speed declines with age; the good news is that you can arrest, even reverse, this degenerative process
Of all the physiological variables, speed seems to get written off most quickly as we age. Football pundits make jokes about outfield players being ‘a few yards slower’ and goalkeepers diving in ‘instalments’ as soon as the former hit 30 and the latter become David Seaman. But England’s Rugby World Cup winning pack averaged well over 30 and, despite being called ‘Dad’s Army’, still fathered a victory; the likes of Neil Back and Martin Johnson were certainly very speedy around the field. In track, Carl Lewis, Frankie Fredericks, Linford Christie and Merlene Ottey are – or were – still winning titles well into their thirties and, in the case of Ottey, beyond. But can veteran athletes still put in speedy sprinting performances in their forties, fifties, sixties – and beyond?

First, let’s take a look at why we slow with age. One significant factor is a decline in muscle mass and muscle fibre (sarcopenia). We will all experience a 10% decline in muscle mass between the ages of 25 and 50 and a further 45% shrinkage by our eighth decade – if we do nothing about it. To illustrate this decline by example, the biceps muscle of a newborn baby has around 500,000 fibres while that of an 80-year-old has a mere 300,000. As we age, we also produce less growth hormone, which leads to reduced levels of protein synthesis and, again, muscle atrophy. This is not the kind of acceleration needed by the veteran athlete in search of speed, as decreased muscle equates to reduced strength and power and less ‘oomph’ for sprinting.

Unfortunately, the bad news keeps on coming! Fast-twitch muscle fibre, that most precious of commodities for speed and power, displays a much more marked decline than slow-twitch fibre as we age. Speedsters, it appears, are not as blessed as endurance athletes in the ageing-and-performance stakes. The latter can expect to maintain their slow twitch fibres and even increase them – by as much as 20% with the right training – as they ripen. They can also hold on to nearly all their aerobic capacity until late into their fifth decade at least. If only it were so for their sprinting counterparts, whose fast-twitch fibre can decline by as much as 30% between the ages of 20 and 80.

To add another blow, creatine phosphate, that premium ingredient for short-term activity, also declines with age. With less quick-release energy in our muscles, we’re theoretically less able to tackle high intensity sprint-type workouts.

Flexibility, another important physiological variable for sprinting, also declines with age as our soft tissue hardens and our joints stiffen.

What are the known effects on performance of these various reductions in capacity? It gets worse! Numerous studies have indicated that stride length declines considerably with age. Korhonen analysed the performances of 70 finalists (males 40-88, females 35-87) in the 100m event at the European Veterans Athletics Championships in Jyväskylä, Finland in 2000, using high-speed cameras with a panning video technique to measure velocity, stride length, stride rate, ground contact time and flight time(1). Unsurprisingly, his research team discovered a general decline in sprint performance with age, which was particularly marked for those aged 65-70. Velocity during the different phases of the run declined, on average, between 5 and 6% per decade in men and 5-7% in women. Key to this decline was an accelerating reduction in stride length and an increase in contact time, with stride rate remaining largely unaffected until the oldest age groups in both genders.

Table 1: Masters world age records
Age group Time (secs) Athlete Age when record set Country
40 10.84 Erik Oostweegel 40 NED
45 10.96 Neville Hodge 45 US
50 10.95 William Collins 50 US
55 11.57 Ron Taylor 57 GB
60 11.70 Ron Taylor 61 GB
65 12.62 Malcom Pirie 65 AUS
70 12.91 Patton Jordan 74 US
75 13.40 Patton Jordan 75 US
80 14.35 Patton Jordan 80 US
85 16.16 Suda Giichi 85 JPN
90 18.08 Kozo Haraguchi 90 JPN
95 24.01 Erwin Jaskulski 96 AUT
100 43.00 Everett Hosak 100 US
Source: World Masters Athletics Association as at 24/09/02

Hamilton compared 35-39-year-old runners with 90-year-olds and found that stride length declined by as much as 40%, from 4.72 metres per stride (2.36m per step) to 2.84m per stride (just 1.42m per step). The implication is that the oldest veteran sprinters may need to take almost twice as many steps in the 100m as their younger counterparts. More positively, though, this research group also found that stride frequency did not decline significantly with age (2).

If you take a look at table 1, you’ll find some much better news. Take note of the phenomenal times recorded by master 100m sprinters; these indicate that it is possible to maintain a significant amount of speed with age. So now let’s take a look at what we have to do to achieve that goal.

Hill training for stride length
As we’ve seen, two crucial factors affecting speed decline in the older sprinter are a reduction in stride length and an increase in ground contact time. Hill sprinting can reverse these negatives; the gradient will emphasis dorsiflexion (a greater toe-up foot position) on foot strike, which will, in turn, generate more work for the calf muscles on push off, enhancing stride length and reducing contact time on the level. Lower limb and ankle strength and power are crucial for sprinters of all ages, although they can be overlooked by coaches and athletes in favour of conditioning the quadriceps and glutes.

One of the key factors contributing to the age-related decline in stride length is the action of the free leg as it leaves the running surface and the foot travels a curvilinear path beneath the body to a forward position in preparation for the subsequent foot strike. An older runner’s ‘return phase’ is much less dynamic than that of his or her younger counterparts. For optimising speed transference into the next running stride, the lower leg needs to ‘fold up’ towards the butt and be pulled through quickly and powerfully as a short lever. This action relies on hip, glute and hamstring strength.

Returning to Hamilton’s work, she and her co-workers discovered that range of motion at the knees during running decreased by 33% – from 123° to just 95° – between ages 35 and 90. For the oldest runners in the study, this meant that the lower part of the leg attained a right angle with the thigh at the point of maximum flexion, dramatically slowing free leg transition into the next stride.

Hill sprints can play a key role in combating this lower leg lethargy; by creating a greater leg drive, they can increase the speed of the free leg through reaction to the ground and condition a much more effective and speedy biomechanical sprinting action.

Weights for fast-twitch maintenance
Weight training is crucial for mature sprinters determined to hang on to as much zip as possible, particularly after 50 when muscle mass begins to decline more steeply. Training with weights set around 75% of one rep maximum will offset fast- twitch fibre shrinkage quite significantly. Unfortunately, though, it has no impact on muscle fibre reduction, which is governed by an age-related decline in motor cells in the spinal cord.

Weight training, by strengthening soft tissue, will also go some way towards protecting older speed merchants from injury.

Plyometrics for stretch/reflex
plyometric exercises condition the stretch/reflex in our muscles and, as well as boosting speed and power, can stimulate the fast-twitch fibres of older sprinters into further action. As mentioned above, stride length declines significantly with age, and plyometrics, like hill training, offers another significant training option for offsetting this decline. Bounding and hopping are two very effective exercises for enhancing stride length.

Intense exercise for GH release
Exercise is known to stimulate growth hormone (GH) release, which is crucial for speed maintenance in later life (3). Growth hormone helps us hold on to more lean muscle mass, retain more energy and offset some of the general effects of ageing. The positive release of GH begins almost immediately after we start to exercsie, and it seem that the higher the intensity of the exercise, the more GH will be released.

Stokes and co-workers compared the effects of maximal and less intense cycle ergometer sprinting in a group of 10 male cyclists, who completed 2 x 30s sprints separated by one hour’s passive recovery on two occasions (4). The first effort was completed against a resistance equal to 7.5% of body mass and the second to 10% of body mass. Blood samples were taken at rest, between the two sprints and one hour post exercsie. Analysis of blood samples showed that the first effort elicited a much more significant serum GH response than the second. Note that, although both sprints generated the same peak and mean power outputs, the first allowed the cyclists to generate higher RPM scores – ie to pedal faster.

Despite the apparent attenuation of GH release in the second effort, since speed is maintained and enhanced by regular anaerobic training, silver sprinters should benefit from regular and above-normal GH release.

Creatine for muscle power
Intense speed and power training can also combat the normal age-related decline in creatine phosphate. Research has shown that anaerobic (and aerobic) training increases the production of creatine phosphate. Research by Moller and co-workers showed that six weeks of cycle ergometer training increased the creatine phosphate levels of 61-80 year olds to levels similar to those of younger adults (5). The regular anaerobic workouts of sprint training will maintain and increase the ability of our muscles to replenish high-energy phosphates, regardless of age.

But since there’s nothing wrong with giving Mother Nature a legal helping hand, the older sprinter should take supplementary creatine. Numerous studies have shown that creatine supplementation can increase muscle power and power maintenance over a series of anaerobic repetitions and will contribute to the maintenance of lean muscle mass.

One interesting piece of research that specifically addressed sprinting threw up some encouraging – and other slightly less encouraging – information for veteran sprinters supplementing with creatine. Schedel et al looked at whether the improvement in maximal sprinting speed after creatine supplementation could be attributed to an increase in stride frequency, stride length, or both(6).

Seven sprinters completed four consecutive sprints after one week of placebo or creatine supplementation. By comparison with the placebo condition, creatine-fed sprinters increased their running speed (+1.4%) and stride frequency (+1.5%), but not their stride length.

This research also substantiated the use of creatine for sustaining power output, as decline in performance of subsequent sprints was partially prevented after supplementation with creatine. The researchers concluded that their findings could be related to the recent discovery that creatine supplementation can produce a shortening in muscular relaxation time, thus promoting increased sprint times.

Train smart for all-round benefits
Finally, the older sprinter needs to make use of the wiser head on his or her shoulders. Training needs to be intense to minimise the age-related decline in sprint speed, but it also needs to take account of the fact that older bodies may be less able to sustain daily, flat-out power-oriented work. Rest, proper nutrition, supplementation and a commonsense approach that involves ‘listening to the body’ need to be key features of the training routine of any veteran sprinter intent on maintaining speed.

John Shepherd

Friday, 16 October 2015


Health Food Impostors
These sneaky diet downfalls deserve a bad rap for undermining your health and training.
By Amanda MacMillan THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2015, 9:04 AM

Sports nutritionists get asked a lot about which foods runners should eat to boost performance or health—and which foods to avoid. It's not always easy to figure out. Health-food impostors can fool even savvy runners. “Some foods simply don't add much benefit,” says sports dietitian Heather Mangieri, M.S., R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “and some can be detrimental to performance.”
Sure, you know that triple-scoop ice cream sundaes fall on the rarely-to-never end of a runner's ideal diet spectrum. But here are a few surprising foods and beverages that should be an occasional treat at most—or even better, swapped out entirely for healthier choices.

Top of Form

Flavored Yogurt
Dairy is a great source of calcium, potassium, and protein. But flavored yogurts are typically sweetened with sugar—some pack more than 30 grams per serving. “Stick with plain Greek yogurt,” says Mangieri. It has just eight grams of naturally occurring sugar, plus 20 grams of protein, per serving. “Top it with fresh fruit and crushed nuts.”
Multigrain Bread
Loaves marketed with the word “multigrain” can still primarily contain refined white flour. “I've seen athletes buy 'honey wheat' or 'seven grain' bread because they think it has more nutrients,” says Lindsay Langford, M.S., R.D., a sports dietitian at St. Vincent Sport Performance in Indianapolis. “These may actually just have more sugar and calories and very few whole grains.” Look to the ingredients: The first item should be whole-wheat flour or another whole grain, rather than anything enriched or bleached.
Sports Drinks
Carb-rich electrolyte drinks can be lifesavers during runs that last an hour or longer. Too often, though, runners down them during short workouts or when they're not exercising at all. “Their main ingredient is sugar, and lots of it,” says Langford. “When you're sitting at work, they're not giving you a performance benefit—just added calories you don't need.”
Anything Partially Hydrogenated
If you see partially hydrogenated oils on an ingredient list, it means the food contains artery-clogging trans fats—even if the label lists zero grams. Companies can round down if a food has less than half a gram per serving. “Trans fats increase cholesterol levels,” says Langford, “and the body can't easily convert them to energy, so they can also decrease athletic ability.” Last June, the FDA announced that companies must phase out trans fats completely within three years. Until then, read ingredient lists on foods like margarine, popcorn, nut butters, and cookies—if one has partially hydrogenated oils, skip it.
Runners love to socialize over postworkout beers—but having more than one can hinder your body's ability to repair itself. “Beer does have carbs, but it's not a good recovery drink,” says Jim White, R.D.N., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Norfolk, Virginia. That's because alcohol is a natural diuretic that can leave you dehydrated. “Have a beer, but don't let it replace water,” White says. In fact, drink extra H2O if you're imbibing.
Energy Drinks
In small amounts, caffeine can boost athletic performance and make a hard run seem easier. But get your buzz from a cup of coffee or energy gel instead. A 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that athletes who used energy drinks did see slightly improved speed and distance, but they were also more likely to experience agitation, insomnia, and nervousness for hours after competition.
Nut Butter Impostors
Peanut and almond butter can be a runner's best friends—if you're buying the real deal. The ingredient list should include nuts, salt, and that's about it; if you prefer sweetened versions, opt for those with no more than three grams of sugar per serving, says Langford. (And yes, you should have to stir it!) Flavorings like cinnamon are fine, but watch out for chocolate-and-nut-butter spreads: Some pack more than 20 grams of sugar and four grams of saturated fat per serving (and often, hydrogenated oils).
Protein Bars
“Many of my clients think they need a protein bar or shake after they work out,” says Felicia Stoler, D.C.N., M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist in Red Bank, New Jersey. “But that usually comes at the expense of the carbs—and real foods—they should be eating.” Skip the bar and instead eat a little protein throughout the day, says Stoler, which is how the body best absorbs it. If your diet includes foods like fish, chicken, dairy, legumes, and whole grains, you don't have to add processed protein to your postworkout routine.

You know regular soda is a source of empty calories, but runners should steer clear of diet drinks, too. A study published last year in the journal Nature found that artificial sweeteners used in these drinks may alter gut microbes in a way that increases glucose intolerance, potentially increasing risk for diabetes (though more research is needed). And artificial sweeteners like aspartame—not to mention carbonation—can cause GI distress in runners, says White. “An occasional soda won't hurt you,” he says, “but when people drink it regularly and in place of water, the effects can be devastating.”

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Obesity Epidemic

This article is dynamite. As we all suspected, counting calories does not work. Everyone who has done a calorie-controlled diet ends up after a while heavier than before starting. This article explains the science behind that fact. It then goes on to explain that cholestrol in food does NOT go into your blood (again, as we all suspected). It summarises basically by saying: take exercise, avoid all factory-processed oils & fats, avoid carbs (sugar, rice, bread etc), eat fresh foods such as meat and fish. It's a long article, with lots of references to relevant studies. But if you value your health, or just want to lose weight, it's worth reading all the way through. And yes, I've just ordered the book 'The Obesity Epidemic'!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Scoop on Supplement Safety and Regulations


More and more people are turning to supplements as a way to fill in the gaps in their diets. The elderly rely on nutritional supplementation to keep their bones strong and minds sharp. Bodybuilders and weightlifters have turned off the steroids and turned on to natural supplementation to increase muscle and reach training goals. There are nutritional drinks available for children to keep their recommended daily allowances at a positive level.

With so much reliance on supplementation, it’s a good idea to answer a few of the questions that are brought up on a regular basis: Are supplements safe? Are supplements regulated? What do they do?

Supplement Safety

The safety of supplements has long been in question since the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not actively regulate supplements. In fact, there is little interference by the FDA unless gross negligence is found to be present — and even then what items are pulled is arbitrary.

The USDA also has no say when it comes to supplements. When it comes to choosing a supplement, it is best to choose a name brand and a company that has been around for a while and deals with nothing but supplements. These companies are built on their reputation and integrity — if they lose either, they lose their company altogether. This may not seem like the greatest way to choose, but it is better than finding out your supplement is made by a company that also makes tires.

Supplement Regulation

Supplements are not required to meet the same safety and effectiveness guidelines as drugs because they are considered a “food.” FDA approval is not required in order for a dietary supplement to be sold, but there are some governing groups that do sift through the imposters and put their stamp of approval on proven supplements.

The United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International and United National Products Alliance are groups that can help distinguish the good from the bad. You’ll find at least one of these seals of approval on supplements that are legitimate and pure.

A lot of supplements sold cheaply worldwide are often found to have completely worthless substances in them and usually not a speck of the supplement you are purchasing. The next step is to do some research. There’s a lot of information at your disposal online, and it’s worth your time to discover what is legitimate and what isn’t. A third option is to check with the Better Business Bureau and look at other sites to check for complaints about the company or manufacturer.
Ingredients, Side Effects and Allergies

Reading the label will sometimes give you a very good idea of what you are getting. It only takes a minute, but it can be the difference between buying a pure product and bogus one.

Not all supplements will list their ingredients — that’s a red flag. Ingredients are listed in the order of most to least. If you buy a protein powder and whey is number seven or eight (or last) on the list, you are getting powdered filler with a dash of whey protein. That’s not worth your time or money and will do nothing for your health.

In early 2015 in a crackdown on misleading labels, GNC agreed to strict testing regulations after New York’s attorney general alleged that 80 percent of herbal products sold by GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart didn’t actually contain any of the herbs listed on the product labels.

Be diligent and don’t be swayed by “deals,” because you may end up with something that will do absolutely nothing for you. You will also need to check the label for possible side effects and/or allergic reactions. If a supplement has a filler with a milk base, a person who is lactose intolerant may react to it. If you’re on prescription medications, checking with your physician is important to rule out any possible drug interactions.

What About Muscle-Building Supplements?

Weightlifting is an important part of so many people’s lives — it’s no longer just the 20-something men trying to build up their bodies. Women, teens and the over-50 crowd have all begun to seek the benefits of weightlifting. You don’t have to supplement to lift weights, but muscle mass, form, strength, agility and recovery will be greatly enhanced by using an all-natural supplement.

Pure whey protein or 100 percent creatine and amino acids are all excellent supplements that have science, years of testing and results to back them; the improvements made with these supplements is undeniable. So if weightlifting is part of your fitness routine, taking a supplement is more helpful than not taking one at all.

Considering all these issues may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Bottom line: Do your research and talk to your health care providers and you’ll be able to reap the many benefits of supplements.


Thursday, 13 August 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Common Cause of Running Injuries Most People Overlook

It may sound counterintuitive, but the best long-distance runners didn't get so good from running alone. To run harder, better, faster, stronger, they supplement their runs with other forms of exercise like cross-training, strength training, and interval running. Studies show these are all important elements in any training plan to become a better runner .

But many runners still neglect one crucial component of training: improving their balance. Research shows balance training can be used to prevent and treat acute ankle sprains, and reduce the chances of ankle injuries in the future .

After all, the last sound any runner wants to hear while running is a Rice Krispies-style snap, crackle, or pop signaling the dreaded ankle sprain. Depending on its severity, a sprained ankle can disrupt even the most carefully planned training schedules and take anywhere from four weeks to a seemingly endless 12 months to fully heal. Ain't nobody got time for that.
The Source of the Sprain

Unlike repetitive stress injuries—like shin splints or runner’s knee—traditional ankle sprains are acute, trauma-related injuries from rolling an ankle on uneven terrain. This stretches or tears one or more main ligaments that connect the ankle to the foot, creating swelling and bruising at the site of injury. And it's even more common than you may think: An estimated 25,000 people suffer an ankle sprain every day in the U.S.

But you don’t have to twist your ankle on a trail or an uneven sidewalk to experience a bothersome feeling in your lower leg. Moderate (rather than trauma-related) ankle or foot pain can also affect runners. "A large percentage of runners tend to overstride or pace improperly, which can lead to ankle soreness,” says Chris Johnson, a physical therapist, All-American triathlete, and triathlon coach.

Another reason why runners get the short end of the ankle-sprain stick: Running is a plyometric activity, and bounding from one leg to the next with relatively short contact times puts considerable demand on a runner’s muscles and joints, which can lead to injury, Johnson explains.

And that's where balance training comes in: “If a runner has difficulty balancing on one leg on solid ground, running will be that much more difficult due to the increased forces and dynamic nature of the sport,” Johnson says. 

Need more convincing to improve your balance? Check out these four reasons:

1. You'll develop Herculean ankle strength.

"Balancing exercises can strengthen the ankle and surrounding musculature that provide stability while running," Fitzgerald says. One study found that athletes with chronic ankle instability demonstrated significant improvements in their ankle strength after completing a four-week balance training programs .

2. You'll improve your sense of awareness.

A neuromuscular component of balance known as proprioception (try saying that 10 times fast), or your sense of where your limbs are positioned in space, becomes impaired during an ankle sprain. Single-legged exercises train the brain to anticipate and coordinate movements in one’s leg muscles, making athletes less prone to recurrent ankle sprains . That's also why strength training, with a focus on improving balance and proprioception, can help runners (especially trail runners) skirt around surprise bumps and obstaces on the ground by heightening their awareness of where either foot will land, relative to other objects .

3. It helps you balance on one leg (a.k.a. run).

“When you run, there’s a period of time when you’re completely in the air—unlike walking, when one foot is always in contact with the ground,” Fitzgerald says. “In this sense, running can be considered a very coordinated series of one-legged hops.” Single-leg exercises (like the ones we highlight below) can improve running-specific strength and limit any imbalances that might occur.

4. It requires little to no equipment.

Balance training can be done literally anywhere, at any time. Most single-leg rehab exercises fit easily into any routine, allowing injured runners to multitask like a boss.

Your Action Plan

So you've twisted your ankle—now what? First, it’s important to keep pressure off of the injured leg (remember RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Next up: See a doctor who can recommend the best course of treatment, which may or may not involve an ankle brace to maximize ankle protection and minimize swelling.

Whatever you do, don't run. Running too soon after a sprain may inflict permanent damage. In fact, people who have already had an ankle injury are five times more likely to have another ankle issue in the future . “Too often, I find that injured runners who seek physical therapy services are in denial,“ Johnson says. “They make the situation worse or prolong it by trying to run through it.” Chronic ankle instability from an incompletely rehabilitated ankle sprain can lead to further impairments and dysfunction, he adds.

A better plan of attack: Focus on low-impact activities, like swimming, cycling, or rowing, which don’t require sharp, sudden ankle motions. As athletes gradually ease themselves back into the groove of running, Johnson recommends safeguarding against injury by not increasing their mileage more than 30 percent each week. (Other pros suggest following the 10 percent rule as an even more moderate plan for increasing mileage.)

Finally, improve ankle strength and minimize the risk of re-injury with simple balancing exercises. These five moves are easy enough to do anywhere, anytime—even while brushing your teeth—to fortify injured ankles.

1. Single-Leg Balance

"Simply balancing on one leg without shoes is a great first step for most runners,” Fitzgerald says. Begin by balancing on the injured leg with a stable object nearby, such as a desk or a table. Perform the exercise without shoes, standing on a flat, stable surface. Count to 10, then rest. Eventually, work up to 60-second holds. Try to do three 60-second sets twice a day.

2. Single-Leg Balance with Additions

For an added challenge, balance on your injured leg with crossed arms, then with closed eyes. Finally, attempt to stand with the injured leg on a cushion (but build up to this slowly). Each of these additions will destabilize the body, making the single legged balance more difficult to perform. For each, count to 10, then rest. Eventually, work up to 60-second holds. Try to do three 60-second sets twice a day.

3. Single-Leg Alphabet Drawing

Once balancing on one leg becomes easy, Fitzgerald recommends dynamic balancing exercises. Stand on one leg, tracing the letters of the alphabet in the air with the elevated foot. “This dynamic motion requires the ankle to work much harder to stabilize the body,” he says. Complete the alphabet on one leg, then switch. Complete three sets on each leg.

4. Single-Leg Squat

Single-leg strength exercises such as pistol squats are very specific to limiting asymmetries and improving running strength, Fitzgerald says. To perform a single-legged squat, begin by standing on one leg, arms extended straight in front of the body. Slowly lower the body so that the standing leg almost makes a 90-degree angle with the ground. Return to the starting position slowly, controlling the movement as you rise. For added ankle strength, perform these exercises barefoot. Work up to 10 reps on each leg.

5. Slow-Motion Marching Drills

To further recuperate functional ankle instability and correct gait imbalances, Johnson recommends dynamic slow motion marching drills. March forward in a slow motion, keeping the thigh and knee flexed at a 90-degree angle. Perform the exercises barefoot with relaxed toes. First, attempt to march wobble-free for 30 seconds. To master the exercise, march wobble-free for 60 seconds.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Weightlifting, sprints and high-fat diets. The rise of the superfit 60s

1 of 2
Fitness trainer Joe Friel, 71 Brandon Sullivan / The Times
  • Fitness trainer Joe Friel, 71 Brandon Sullivan / The Times
As America’s leading endurance sports coach, Joe Friel, 71, has many reasons to be interested in the toll that ageing takes on fitness. He is an elite triathlon and cycling instructor, has coached sportspeople of all ages and abilities, and is the author of more than a dozen books for athletes including the bestselling Training Bible series. His curiosity about whether people can extend their sporting activities into the decades beyond middle age also has personal resonance. “I was approaching my 70th birthday and I was wondering what to expect. The number was scary because of the drop in fitness and performance that’s supposed to happen,” he says.
For the fitness enthusiast, growing old can be particularly tough. After a lifetime of being active, suddenly he or she is told to avoid strenuous exercise or risk broken bones and heart attacks. Cyclists, runners, swimmers, skiers, rowers and triathletes do not want to be told that they should potter around in the garden or do a bit of gentle swimming, says Friel. Though reluctant to take it easy, they acknowledge that their bodies are changing. They are slower to recover after workouts, for example, and want to know how to address these changes. This week, research reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine from studies monitoring a group of over-60s for ten years, showed the importance of exercise. Even those who exercised but failed to meet the recommended target of at least 20 minutes a day still were 22 per cent less likely to die during the study period than those who did no exercise. Those who did manage the recommended target were 28 per cent less likely to die. Six months before his big 7-0, Arizona-based Friel set out to look at all the research on ageing and sport. He wanted to pin down why some older athletes are regarded as “legends” by younger athletes for their continued fitness, while others appear to age quickly and see significant drops in performance. Is there an athletic fountain of youth? In his latest book, Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life, Friel explains that vigorous exercise is possible well into your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. “We’re capable of achieving far more than we are currently accomplishing if we learn what’s happening to the ageing body and gently coax it to greater fitness,” he says. Where fitness is concerned, the three main downsides of ageing are as follows: firstly, decreasing aerobic capacity because the maximum amount of oxygen consumption measured during exercise declines at the rate of ten per cent or more per decade — and muscles need oxygen to work. Secondly, body fat will increase because the basic metabolic rate slows down, often resulting in weight gain — mostly fat. Lastly, muscle shrinkage: muscle mass decline begins during your 40s but decreases more rapidly after the age of 50, due largely to a decrease in anabolic or tissue-building hormones. There are other consequences too, such as reduced bone density and joint motion, which can lead to an increased risk of injury and a weakened immune system. Friel acknowledges that while these signs of ageing sound depressing, most of what we know about the process is based on “normal” subjects — sedentary old people like our parents or grandparents who saw their later years as a time to take it easy and snooze in armchairs. With baby boomers now in their 50s and 60s there is more positive research about ageing, thanks to people who push their physical and mental limits. “It appears that about half the loss is due to a sedentary lifestyle, not ageing per se,” says Friel. Therefore, though genetics play a part in ageing well, many of what we consider to be inevitable changes are in fact things that we have some control over. As we get older there can be a tendency to lighten the training load. Friel, who trains 15 hours a week on his bike, said he experienced this. “From my mid-60s I was doing less weight training, more long, slow, distance runs and fewer high-intensity workouts,” he says. “It wasn’t an intended change, it just kind of crept up on me.” Plus, he had the beginnings of a belly that he found harder to shift because of his changed workouts and the hormonal changes brought on by ageing. A daily diet of easy workouts “won’t get the job done”, the American coach declares in his book, and he sets out the four areas of training to focus on in later life:
Workout intensity
In any sport, as we age there is the tendency to increase duration of workouts at the expense of intensity, Friel says. Workouts become longer and slower. And yet you should be doing just the opposite. “Research shows that with athletes who maintain high intensity training, their decline is slowed by about 50 per cent compared with athletes who do lots of long, slow, distance training. There’s considerable evidence that supports this conclusion.” Training should be two or three times a week with an emphasis on muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and sprint power.
Muscular endurance involves long workouts — for example running or cycling for a long period of time. Anaerobic endurance involves working out above the anaerobic threshold (where your body starts to produce lactic acid) for shorter intervals — running or cycling hard for a minute at 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate then recovering. Sprint power involves high-intensity workouts at maximum power for very short periods of time.
These workouts help to maintain muscle mass and stimulate testosterone release (this hormone, which aids muscle growth, is produced by both men and women, though women produce less, and its production declines as we age).
Strength training
Lifting weights is one of the best ways to build bone density while also stimulating testosterone release to maintain muscle mass. An alternative for the cyclist or swimmer who prefers not to use heavy weights on their legs in the gym is walking or running for several miles each week. This type of training should be done regularly and frequently, depending on your individual level of fitness. “Research suggests that you can rebuild bone and muscle no matter how old you are,” says Friel. Over-50s athletes should be cautious about introducing intervals and weight training to avoid injuries, he continues, but when practised safely and increased gradually, the regimen is the surest way to stay strong and competitive.
Older people cannot afford to burn the candle at both ends. Friel writes that the purpose of sleep is the growth and rejuvenation of the body — the muscular, skeletal, immune, nervous systems. Several studies have found that the amount of sleep people get is closely associated with not only health but living longer. Short sleep durations can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Aim for six to seven hours per night. “Sleep is critical to sport success,” says Friel. “The standard I use to determine if someone is getting enough sleep is [whether] they have to use an alarm clock in the morning. [If they do] they haven’t had enough sleep. Go to bed earlier.”
Protein plays an important and unique role in recovery. “The research shows that, as we get older, we need more protein in our diet. We need to replace carbohydrates with protein, which is anabolic and promotes muscle growth,” says Friel. Overdoing carbohydrates is likely to lead to an increase in body fat because insulin secretion interacts with another chemical in the body, lipoprotein lipase (LPL), to store fat, he writes in Fast After 50. “When we are younger, testosterone keeps LPL in check, allowing us to eat lots of carbs without increasing fat, but that changes with age because testosterone decreases in both women and men.” Dietary needs also change with physical shifts, and Friel says he has changed his diet at two pivotal times in his life. “The first was in 1994, shortly after my 50th birthday, when I was eating a lot of carbs because I was an endurance athlete. A friend tried to convince me to cut back on the refined carbs and eat more vegetables, fruit and animal products.” For the first three weeks of the new diet he felt terrible, he remembers, and then he started to feel better and to recover from workouts more quickly. His friend, Loren Cordain, with whom he later wrote The Paleo Diet for Athletes, explained that his immune system had been weak due to an inadequate intake of the micronutrients in vegetables, fruit and animal protein. At the age of 68, Friel switched his diet again when he noticed that his formerly flat belly was plump. His weight had been stable for most of his life at 154lb (11st / 70kg), the same weight he was in high school, but went up to 166lb. On the advice of Dr Timothy Noakes, author of Lore of Running, Friel switched to a low-carb, high-fat diet, cutting back on the five servings of fruit he ate daily, which were high in carbohydrates because of naturally occurring sugars, and eating more high-fat foods such as avocado, nuts, nut butters, eggs, bacon, olive oil and fish. “I’m back to 154lb, which has been my standard weight for most of my life,” says Friel. “I’m lean and that makes me happy.” While researching his book, Friel began to incorporate changes into his own fitness regimen, ditching the long slow workouts that his ageing body had become accustomed to and going for a pattern of high-intensity workouts interspersed with periods of moderate or easy workouts. What worked for him was three vigorous workouts within a nine-day period — on the other days he did easy workouts. This can be adjusted for the individual, he says. Some people may benefit from three vigorous workouts interspersed with three moderate and three easy ones. This intensity, coupled with vital rest periods in between, is, he says, the key to maintaining performance with ageing. Soon, he said, he saw improvements and measured a 7 per cent increase in his fitness in a short space of time. “If you currently have a relatively high level of fitness, there’s a great deal to lose by becoming sedentary or even just cutting back on intensity. It’s use it or lose it,” he says. A month after his 70th birthday, in January 2014, Friel had a serious crash on his bike. “I’d thought about not riding at all that day because the wind gusts were really strong, but I went out anyway and an exceptionally strong gust came from my left side and blew me into a kerb, where I landed on my head and shoulder, and did a lot of damage,” he remembers. He broke seven bones, had concussion and was in hospital for six days. He developed blood clots in both legs and both lungs and was on blood-thinning medication for six months. Though he returned to cycling three weeks after the crash, Friel’s long recovery continues. “A major issue is that my body is not coming back as fast as when I was younger, and it has had a tremendous impact on my performance. So my focus now is just on health and enjoying whatever exercise I’m capable of.” Not even an athlete can out-run or out-cycle the ravages of time, Friel says, and athletes don’t only have to deal with the wear and tear caused by years of training. They also have to battle the psychological effects of being in an ageing body, and remembering their body at its best. Being respectful of the physiological changes that occur with age and adapting accordingly, he continues, there is no need to settle down into a sedentary old age. Friel still travels the world advising athletes. “When people start losing their performance they think ‘I probably shouldn’t expect to race so well or be as fit as I was years ago’, but that’s just an excuse. Ageing is first and foremost an attitude. If you decide you’re over the hill, you are.”

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Does Working Out in the Rain Make You Sick?

It's a common medical myth that being outside in the rain or cold makes you sick. So, it's natural to assume that, by the same logic, working out in the rain or cold -- or both -- makes you sick. Neither, of course, is true. Being in rainy or cold conditions during exercise is not a direct cause of viruses like cold or flu. You must come into contact with a virus to contract these illnesses.

Why the Myth Endures

The myth endures because it appears to people as if rainy or cold weather contributes to illness. Certainly there is a strong correlation between rainy or cold weather and viruses like cold or influenza. This is because more people are infected with these viruses during cold and/or rainy months. Plus, being outside in cold rain can cause temporary flu-like symptoms, like shivering or a runny nose. But in these cases, correlation does not imply causation. Viruses cause these illnesses, not weather patterns.

Being Indoors with People

Cold and flu viruses tend to spike any time cold or rainy weather keeps people indoors more often than usual. During these times, people tend to be in closer proximity to one another as well. When you inhale the virus particles that a person breathes or coughs into the air, you can be infected. Whether to exercise indoors or outdoors is not the issue.

Body Temperature Drop

When you get wet outdoors, your body temperature drops. This is offset somewhat by exercise, which increases your body temperature. Even so, especially cold rainy conditions may cool the body enough to cause hypothermia, particularly if your clothes are drenched in water. Hypothermia strains the body, including the immune system, and this may heighten your chances of becoming infected with a virus. In such cases, rain may aggravate your immune system, but it is not the direct cause of illness.

Immunity Benefits of Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise helps boost the function of the immune system. This is true regardless of weather conditions. In other words, your immune system function will improve whether you choose to exercise indoors or outdoors during a cold rain. This can make you less likely to contract a cold or flu virus.


Exercise common sense when carrying out your exercise plan in the rain. recommends staying indoors if the outside windchill reaches zero degrees F or lower. By the same token, it's probably unwise to exercise outdoors in freezing rain, in which quick accumulation can make you more prone to falls and injury. If you have asthma or any other chronic illness, consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

Sunday, 10 May 2015


Fast food kills bugs that keep you thin

FAST food diets make people fat not just through excess calories but by killing off the gut bacteria that help people burn off their excess energy, a leading British researcher has found.
Diets with just a few highly processed ingredients, rather than the dozens of foods found in a healthy diet, are so toxic to these bacteria that it takes only a few meals to wipe out hundreds of the species humans need to maintain healthy digestion, according to research by Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London.
The findings emerged from a series of studies in which Spector, whose book on the topic, The Diet Myth, is published this week, investigated links between gut bacteria and health. He was seeking insights into why some people put on weight while others stay slim on similar diets — and why less than 5% of fat people succeed in long-term weight loss.
In one study, Spector’s 23-year-old son, Tom, agreed to spend 10 days eating just McDonald’s burgers, chicken nuggets, chips and Coke.
“Before I started my father’s fast food diet there were about 3,500 bacterial species in my gut, dominated by a type called firmicutes,” said Tom Spector, a genetics student, who gained 4lb during the experiment.
“Once on the diet I rapidly lost 1,300 species of bacteria and my gut was dominated by a different group called bacteroidetes. The implication is that the McDonald’s diet killed 1,300 of my gut species.”
For his father, this supported other research suggesting the reason almost twothirds of Britain’s adults are obese or overweight is far more complex than eating too much.
“Microbes get a bad press, but only a few of the millions of species are harmful and many are crucial to our health,” Spector said. “Microbes are not only essential to how we digest food; they control the calories we absorb and provide vital enzymes and vitamins.”
Spector is well placed to investigate such issues. He oversees Twins UK, a registry of 12,000 twins who are being tracked and tested throughout their lives to tease out the relative importance of genetic and environmental factors in a range of complex diseases including obesity.
“What is emerging is that changes in our gut microbe community, or microbiome, are likely to be responsible for much of our obesity epidemic, and consequences like diabetes, cancer and heart disease,” he said.
“It is clear that the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your microbes and the better your health at any age.”
Spector’s research reflects growing global interest in the relationship between gutdwelling bacteria and human health. Scientists have long known that human intestines harbour 3lb of bacteria but the numbers and diversity made research hard.
This is changing, largely because of the advent of highspeed genome-sequencing machines, which mean samples taken from the gut can be rapidly and cheaply analysed. In large-scale studies such variations can also be linked to conditions including obesity, allergies and asthma.
Professor Rob Knight, of the University of Colorado Boulder, who collaborates with Spector, began investigating the links between gut bacteria and health after he and his wife suffered a severe stomach infection during a trip to Peru. In the months afterwards he lost 80lb, going from obese to a healthy weight — a change he suspects was linked to the change in his intestinal flora.
Since then he has launched his own research programme, becoming a leader in the field, and founded American Gut, a project that offers people the chance to have the genomes of their gut bacteria analysed cheaply if they make the data available to researchers.
His recently published book, Follow Your Gut, sets out some of the findings from his and other laboratories. One was the discovery that gut bacteria vary not just between people but between countries too, because of variations in national diet. Another was that transferring bacteria from the gut of an obese human to a lean mouse made the animal obese as well.
Such experiments lead to a highly controversial possibility: that obesity is at least partially infectious. In his book, Spector describes how lean mice put into cages with fat ones also became obese.
The findings are powerful evidence for gut bacteria playing a key role in controlling obesity and suggest there might be certain combinations that could aid weight loss.
Other scientists have used antibiotics to target the bacteria that proliferate on a high-fat diet, leading to weight loss in mice.
Such research is in its early days but expanding fast. Spector recently founded the British Gut Project, the UK equivalent of Knight’s study, but some early practical conclusions are emerging already.
Healthy diets are not about excluding things such as fat or sugar, or about eating lots of protein, a currently popular idea. Instead, said Spector, they should simply be as diverse and natural as possible.
One finding is that Belgian beer, garlic, coffee, leeks and celery are perfect foods to increase gut microbes.
“Fifteen-thousand years ago our ancestors regularly ingested around 150 ingredients in a week. Most people nowadays consume fewer than 20 separate food types and many, if not most, are artificially refined. Most processed food products come, depressingly, from just four ingredients: corn, soy, wheat or meat,” said Spector.
“The promotion of restrictive diets that depend on just a few ingredients will inevitably lead to more reduction in microbe diversity and to ill health.”

Friday, 8 May 2015

On Saturday16th May at 7am, we will be holding our first Beach Session. It's going to be fun, fast and dynamic - but it will not be as physically demanding as some of our other sessions on weekdays. Expect action, games and water (plus a bit of sand!).

Meet up just before 7am in the entrance to Prince Philip Park, by the No 1 Beach Car Park, Tanjung Aru.

The session is a normal one for all holders of monthly subscription and for ticket holders. And please bring friends & family (over 15 yrs, please) - there will be a RM 25 charge for non-Warriors. If you are bringing non-Warriors, they MUST have filled in the online registration, or bring a downloaded and completed form. (Go to We will NOT have time on the day to complete manual forms.

Hopefully, if the foodstalls are open by then, we can all have breakfast after the session.

Come and enjoy yourselves. See you there!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


At the Trail Running Forum (Sunday, Sutera Harbour), both main speakers emphasized that training should focus on strength rather than running. Vlad Ixel, currently 100k trail champion throughout SE Asia, said quite specifically: out of say 10 hrs training a week, no more than 3 or 4 should be running. The other 6-7 hrs should be spent on improving strength, balance & agility. Exactly what we've been doing for you at Warrior! He also emphasized the importance of core strength! And he also recommended lots of glute training ie lunges for downhill running.

Both talked at length about nutrition, and had the same basic message: avoid all processed foods!
It was nice to find that the experts agree with us. See you all at the next session. Don't forget - Fitter, Faster, Tougher, Stronger. whatever your chosen sport.

Thursday, 2 April 2015


6 Reasons for Muscle Cramps


We are sure that all of you have already had their experiences with painful muscle cramps – be it during or after training or even at rest.

How does a cramp occur?

Muscles exist of a large number of muscle cells. With the help of mineral ions, also called electrolytes, your brain sends electric impulses via the nerve pathway to those muscle cells. This chemical energy gets transformed into mechanical energy within the cells: Your muscles react and move your skeleton.

In case of miscommunication – meaning that the nerves send too many, too strong or just wrong signals or that muscle cells cannot process the correct signals adequately – your muscles cannot react properly. This leads to erratic, lagged or conflicting contractions which we perceive as painful cramps.

                                          Why do miscommunications occur?

1. Mineral deficiency

There are several causes for a muscle cramp. Often, it is tied to a magnesium deficiency. In fact, the cause of a cramp often is an impaired concentration of electrolytes – however, it does not always have to be magnesium.

Through sweat, your body loses a lot of fluids during exercise and thus important minerals. To keep your body supplied with minerals during a workout, it is critical to drink enough water before, during and after training. Water provides essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. They all play a role in the communication between the nervous and muscular system and therefore are important.

2. Dehydration

However, the concentration of electrolytes does not have to be causal itself. In general, it can also be dehydration. Without enough liquid, your body cannot transport nutrients smoothly which is also the case for minerals. So it might be that your minerals are in balance but that there is not enough liquid for them to reach their destination.
Both aforementioned reasons are mainly responsible for muscle cramps – which is why we again want to point to the huge importance of sufficient hydration.

3. Blood flow disorder

Another major factor is an impaired blood flow, e.g. due to bad posture and form, one-sided loading or just shoes that are too tight. During a workout, your muscles need oxygen as fuel to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy. If the blood vessels do not convey enough oxygen, muscle cells cannot process impulses correctly and tense up.

4. Overload

Training for too long can also lead to muscle spasm. After too intense effort, meaning that you train well beyond muscle fatigue, your muscle cells are irritated. This makes them hypersensitive for any orders of the brain: the electronic signals are too strong for the drained muscle cells and cannot be processed properly.

5. Cold

Very cold temperatures – especially sudden changes from warm to cold – can lead to heavy tension within muscles which in turn can eventually result in a cramp.

6. Anatomical and medical reasons

Other and rather rare reasons can be misalignments in legs, hips or trunk as well as constrained nerves and vessels but also illnesses – from a simple cold to diabetes – and side effects of drugs. Whenever you are suspicious of those factors, you should consult a doctor.

                                              How can I treat cramps?
Many people are almost paralyzed when they experience muscle spasm and just hold the aching spot. Instead, the opposite is necessary: Active but cautious stretching of the muscle and activation of the antagonistic muscle to slowly release the contraction.

For example, if your calf hurts – one of the most common cramps – it is useful to pull your toes towards yourself and thus tense its antagonistic muscle on the shin. In doing so, the calf gets stretched and relaxed. It can also be helpful to carefully massage it lengthways. As soon as the tension ceases, you should slowly move the muscle again to remove potential contraction residues.

The best treatment however still is prevention. Besides a sufficient intake of fluids and minerals which is needed to ensure supply and transmission of electrolytes, two aspects of training are often neglected: A warm up before the workout and a thorough stretching afterwards.

Fresh fruit such as apples or fruit juices (ideally freshly squeezed) are also often used as a preventive. This is because fruit contains a lot of minerals which your body can utilize quickly due to the fruit sugar.

Warm and cold showers as wells as heat baths can also be quite helpful to accustom the muscle to temperature changes and to increase blood flow.