Working with age, not against it

With an increase in the population of ‘aged’ individuals (over 50’s), endurance sports such as triathlon have also seen an increase in the number of ‘aging’ participants – from complete beginners to those switching from other competitive sports. So, what should aging athletes  be looking for in a coach to support their needs?

At Tri and Run , we believe in knowing our athletes and planning a tailored training plan.  When working with athletes we apply sports science to ensure our athletes can meet their sporting potential, which includes accounting for age; so we work with it, not against it.  Training plans are aligned to an individual’s needs, goals and athletes feedback on their health and wellbeing.

As we age, there is a gradual decrease in function. Specifically, after the age of 30 there is an increase in body fat and a decrease in muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia). However, a variety of training programmes can decrease or even reverse age-related muscle decline1.  In particular, strength training, along with appropriate nutrition can counteract age-related muscle mass decline.  The intensity, type and weight depends on the athlete’s background.  Aging also impacts bone density, due to a reduction in bone mineral content1.  Bone loss is also linked to hormonal changes, with women at a higher risk.  By using a tailored, individual, progressive resistance training programme, as we do at Tri & Run , the impact of aging can be off-set, reducing the decline in bone mineral density, maintaining muscle mass and preventing fat deposition.  With specific, overloaded and consistent training, the loss of type II (anaerobic) muscle fibres, after the age of 60, can be reduced2

There are a number of age related changes to the cardiovascular system, which include a decline in stroke volume and, therefore cardiac output, along with a reduction in the maximal heart rate.  With a decrease in the surface area of the lungs, which reduces gaseous exchange, the impact is on VO2 max or the maximal oxygen consumption3.  Studies have estimated the decline in VO2 max takes place at a rate of 10% per year, after the age of 30.  Given that even a sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20k bike and 5k run) is considered an endurance event, addressing the age-related decline in VO2 max is a priority for master’s triathletes and endurance athletes.  A carefully developed training programme can reduce the age-related decline in VO2 max. However, care is needed to allow sufficient recovery and prevent injury.  The optimal changes for any training programme will be observed in a holistic programme which also includes nutrition and recovery. So, whatever your age, you can reach your athletic potential in triathlon or endurance sports with

1Lloyd, R. and Faigenbaum, A.D. (2016). ‘Age- and sex-related Differences and their implications for resistance exercise’. In Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, Eds. Haff, G.G. and Triplett, N.T. pp 150- 152, Human Kinetics. 

2Skelton, D.A. and Dinan-Young, S.M (2008). ‘Chapter 6 – Ageing and older people’. Exercise Physiology in Special Populations. Ed Buckey, J.P. In Advances in Sport and Exercise Science Series, Exercise Physiology in Special Populations,Churchill Livingstone, Pages 161-223. Available at:

3Loudon, J.K. (2016). ‘The master female triathlete’. Physical Therapy in Sport 22:p123-128. Available at: 

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