Training like an elite athlete is (relatively) easy when you’re 25.
When you’re 35 (or even pushing 40)? Not such a lot.
But here’s the thing: Nowadays, professional athletes are competing better, and for much longer, than ever before. It’s not simply because nutrition has gotten better, either—it’s because athletes—and their coaches—are beginning to understand how the body must train to remain nimble, agile, and versatile whilst the natural aging process starts to require a hold.
Here are six ways to form sure you’ll do an equivalent, consistent with a number of the simplest strength and conditioning specialists on the earth.
1. within the weight room, specialize in bar speed—not weight.
The sobering truth of aging: regardless of who you’re, it slows you down. (Even Usain Bolt’s fastest times are all from his early and mid-20s). And if you play a sport that demands speed and explosiveness, you’re not getting to have employment for very long if you’re slow. That’s why, as athletes grow old, strength coaches have an equivalent mantra: Forget maxing call at the load room and specialize in “the rate of force development.”
In other words: bar speed.
“When I’d see a man squatting incredible weight, I’d tell him, ‘Lighten up and move the bar faster,’” says Johnny Parker, a courtly Mississippian who was an NFL strength and conditioning coach from 1984 to 2007 and won Super Bowls with both Bill Parcells’ NY Giants and Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I’d stop a player at or before he was squatting double weight. You don’t get to squat any longer. And if you train ballistically—which goes down in check then up as quickly as possible, really rattling the plates—you’ll maximize the speed of force produced. That’s the simplest thanks to preserving your speed.”
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The problem with explosive movements—whether it’s ballistic lifting or, especially, plyometric exercises—is that they will strain your joints, particularly if you’re an older athlete with mobility issues. As Jeremy Holsopple, athletic performance director for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, says, “It’s hard to try to explosive things on an ankle that has zero degrees of dorsal flexion…or a knee or hip that has some arthritic changes.”
Holsopple was hired by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban specifically for his sports-science expertise, and when he’s employed together with his team’s aging star, 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, he puts his knowledge into practice. “We do high-force outputs with Dirk, but we keep fast-twitch muscles firing during a way that’s not breaking down the joints,” he tells me. The training clearly worked—during the 2017 season, Nowitzki became just the sixth player in NBA history to attain 30,000 points in his career.
Nowitzki and Holsopple still do plyometric drills, but they lessen the load with a replacement high-speed isokinetic squat machine, a specialized piece of kit that maintains a uniform resistance throughout the concentric (raising) phase of the lift and applies virtually no resistance during the eccentric (lowering) phase. this suggests that on an isokinetic machine, Nowitzki has got to push even as hard at the highest of his lift as he does at rock bottom (a normal squat gets easier as you get more leverage on the bar), and once he starts moving downward he has got to affect only his own weight.
“The whole movement’s very aggressive, but it doesn’t feel that way on his ankles, knees, or lower back,” Holsopple says. “It lets us do something that’s a high force without the wear and tear and tear.”
2. Maximize your use of free weights
Isokinetic squat machines are often great for targeted explosive exercises, but when it involves build up the whole body, exercise science still has no replacement for traditional free weights.
“I’ll tell you one thing that’s definitely helped players,” Parker tells me. “The age of the fitness machine is fading into history.”
That’s because machines target only limited groups of huge muscles, whereas Olympic-style lifts train the body’s kinetic chains, which include the easily ignored but crucial muscles that stabilize and assist.
“The reason traditional methods like free weights are tried and true is that they prepare those support structures,” says L.A. Lakers strength coach Tim DiFrancesco. “There’s nothing you’ll substitute for that.”
A lot of athletes are told incorrectly to avoid beneficial exercises just like the deadlift, and there’s a reason for that: Deadlifting with bad form may be a tried-and-true thanks to eviscerating your lower back. (There are differing types of deadlifts. If you’re battling the classic deadlift, try an option just like the hex-bar. See The Flaherty Formula from our May issue for the definitive hex-bar primer.)
But lifting weights with propriety incorporates critical support muscles just like the erector spine, structure, and smaller hip muscles, which sitting isolating on a machine won’t always do as effectively. Strengthening these muscles can mean fewer lower-back, shoulder, and knee injuries, and a career with fewer of these injuries nearly always means an extended career.
To ensure you’re giving your body a solidly built base, DiFrancesco recommends sticking to the basics: squat, deadlift; lunges for the lower body; and bench presses, pushups, rows, and pullup variations for the upper body.
3. Hit your hips horizontally
Of course, when it involves bulletproofing the body’s support structures over time, Olympic lifts aren’t the entire story. Bill Foran, the Miami Heat’s strength coach since 1988—the franchise’s debut season—has seen a serious evolution in approaches to training the core and hips within the decades since he came on board.
“Back within the day, if you squatted deep and you probably did lunges deep, you were doing enough hip work,” Foran remembers. “But that’s vertical hip work. We’re finding athletes got to do horizontal hip work also .”
Foran has his Heat players perform bridges, lateral shuffles with resistance bands, and hip raises with a sandbag or a barbell placed across the waist for resistance.
“When you develop the hips, they correct above and below,” he explains. “When you’ve got strong, mobile hips, you’ve got stable knees and a stable back. When your hips are weak and stiff, your back and knees become mobile, and that’s when injuries happen.”
4. Train your tendon fibers as hard as possible
Not too way back, the traditional wisdom was that tendons couldn’t be trained. They were considered “hypovascular,” meaning they didn’t have sufficient blood flow to get over microtears like muscles.
Now we all know better. Recent studies have consistently found that tendons can, in fact, be trained, and that—with the proper training interventions—they can increase in rigidity and explosive potential.
“It’s been an enormous paradigm shift,” says the Mavericks’ Holsopple. Holsopple has his players train their tendons with high-load isometrics, holding positions while supporting 1.5 to 2 times their weight. This approach not only strengthens the tendon, researchers believe, but also actually reconstitutes the fabric of the tendon. Holsopple’s ultrasound scans of his players’ tendons have revealed an equivalent thing.
“It will actually change the fiber combination we see,” he says. “It’s been tremendously helpful. It helps us with both strength and sturdiness .”
For the oft-injured Achilles tendon, Holsopple puts his players on a leg-press machine and has them hold a single-leg calf extension at the midway point (neither flat-footed nor fully contracted) for five seconds. It’s an easy high-load isometric that when repeated pays real dividends.
“Everyone should roll in the hay,” he says. “When it’s possible to load the tendon structures 3 times every week, that’s a perfect scenario.”
5. Consider your legs more important than your arms
Here’s what happens once you age: Your tendons and ligaments get creakier. Your muscles subsided supple. Your testosterone levels drop. Your maximum pulse and oxygen consumption drop. You become slower, less explosive, and have less endurance.
And while you can’t change these biological facts, you’ll delay and soften their harmful effects by not easing abreast of your training.
For years, aging athletes did less work—particularly less power work—than their younger counterparts. rather than explosive movements, they focused on static stretching. After all, why would older athletes risk injuries by going all out? Wouldn’t it add up to slowly drift from the squat rack to the elliptical machine?
Short answer: Hell no.
Talk to age-defying pro athletes today, and that they all praise high-intensity workouts, putting a huge emphasis on maintaining the facility in their legs.
Hockey legend Jaromir Jagr is legendary for his lung-and leg-busting fitness routine. He sprint-skates wearing a 45-pound weight vest, with light weights taped to his ankles. On the road, he runs resistance sprints in hotel hallways, dragging the team’s strength coach, Tommy Powers (for more on him, read The Secrets Behind Hockey’s Ageless Wonder: Jaromir Jagr), behind him for a brief, 10-to 20-meter bursts. He also utilizes a drug ball to figure on his core and resistance cables to create and maintain upper-body strength.
And if he stopped the rigorous training? He’d pay the results, he says.
“It’s sort of a truck, an important truck,” Jagr told The Wall Street Journal. “When you’re going, you quite go—and fast. But once you stop, it’s tough to start out again.”
And take 39-year-old Memphis Grizzlies forward Vince Carter. He’s not the type of athlete you’d predict would have an extra-long career. When he first entered the league in 1998, he was more show pony than work-horse, becoming known more for his above-the-rim, acrobatic exploits than his hustle or determination. He was “Vinsanity”! Slam-dunk champ! A pure athletic talent!
But as he’s gotten older, he tells me, he’s increased his output within the weight room, particularly together with his lower-body routine.
“I’m not as fast today, I don’t jump as high, but I just do more work now,” he says. “I lift more, I lift heavier. i used to be never an enormous squatter, but now I’m doing box squats, lunges, leg presses. You’re getting to lose your lower body first. Everything I do is to form sure my lower body can sustain the season. I didn’t need to do this before.”
Bottom line: If you’re not 22 years old any longer, get won’t to squats, lunges, thrusters, and sprints.