Lukus Klawitter M.S
Beginning at the age of 30 years and developing great significance at 40 years, muscle loss (atrophy) and strength begins to decrease. Research shows that starting at the age of 65 the increase in fall risk increases, due to the general decrease in muscle activation and strength. Falls are greatly devastating at this age because if muscle mass is not maintained, bone strength is at great risk for injury. With age, the connection between our brain and muscle activity decreases, specifically fast twitch muscle fibers, which in turn decreases muscle recruitment. Essentially, we are losing activity of the muscle, thus, use it or lose it.
Many research studies have concluded that regular endurance running increases aerobic capacity and running economy. Aerobic capacity is the amount of time we can utilize oxygen as energy and running economy is how we utilize and maintain energy for movement. Increases in running economy decreases the demands for oxygen at the muscle during exercise. Therefore, as running economy increases, the need for energy decreases. Previous studies have stated that when combined correctly, strength training and endurance training increases running performance due to large increases in running economy.
In a study looking at 21 Master’s marathon runners, researchers wanted to see if performing a six-week strength training program added to regular endurance training would have an effect on one-repetition maximum leg press and running economy. The researchers broke the groups into a maximum strength, resistance training, and control group. The researcher’s concluded significant improvements with the maximal strength training group in both running economy and one repetition-maximum leg strength. It was concluded that strength training increases the rate of force development which in turn increases running economy. (link hill tension interval article?)
Strength training is a vital component in master’s athletes training in order to prevent muscle atrophy, increase, or maintain muscle mass. Regular strength training also increases the strength of connective tissue and increases bone density. Regular heavy loading of the skeletal system has been shown over and over that it is the number one method of maintaining bone density, which prevents bone related injuries associated with running.
If new to strength training master’s athletes should focus on body weight exercises, resistance bands, and balance movements. These exercises help to increase muscle activation, joint mobility, and muscle imbalances if present. Therefore, the transition into heavy strength training with weights will lead to less soreness and less risk of injury. Additionally, technique must be the number one focus before increasing to heavy weights. There is a great risk for injury with performing heavy movements and technique needs to be developed first.
Athletes should look for movements that load the spine like deadlifts, hex-bar deadlifts, back squats, and split squats. Then move into foundational movements like single leg Romanian dead lifts, single leg Bulgarian squats, assisted pistol squats, etc. Finally, core exercises that range from high back to the hips that specifically support the spine such as plank variations should be implanted. Additional research shows that increasing the strength of muscles associated with respiration further increases running economy because oxygen utilization can be focused on muscles working to move the body. In conclusion, regular strength training should be incorporated in a regular training plan for master’s athletes to improve running performance, decrease injury, and increase long-term health.