By Dr. Hays Estes, DPT
Owner, Premier Physical Therapy & Sports Performance – Clearwater & Palm Harbor
You’re only as old as you feel, right? At least that’s what your kids, younger siblings, primary care physician, and (maybe?) your grandkids tell you. But that only helps so much when you get lapped during a WOD by some [insert younger generation slang term here] who was out until 3am the night before and smells like a dirty bar rag. Stings, doesn’t it?
Well, as someone who has recently hit a milestone birthday himself and experienced his fair share of injuries in and out of the gym, allow me to weigh in on the subject of “lifting for life.” That is my goal for any patient who walks in my door, and if you’re still reading to this point, then it’s presumably your goal, too.
So how do we get there?
Since I don’t own a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor (man, I hope that reference still works), we can’t go back in time. So that means we need to start TODAY if you want to keep lifting for several more TOMORROWS.
It first starts with acceptance, meaning that some things related to aging we cannot stop (but we can slow them down). These are things like sarcopenia (the gradual decline in skeletal muscle mass), speed of muscle “twitch” and peak tension of the contraction (Davies et al, Mechanical Properties of Young and Elderly Human Muscle, 1986), and changes in enzyme activity in both anerobic and aerobic activities that means it is more difficult for your energy pathways to be replenished after a workout (Kaczor et al, The Effect on Aging of Anerobic and Aerobic Enzyme Activities in Human Skeletal Muscle, 2006).
Once you accept that these things are going to happen, you can move on and make yourself a more efficient CrossFitter. And we even managed to skip the first four stages of grief!
Let’s talk efficiency. What does that look like in a real-world setting? It consists of 3 things:
- Pre-workout prep
- Within-workout strategy
- Post-workout recovery
For key #1 (Pre-workout prep), that means extra mobility work and extra warm-up sets. I know, I know. But this is the epitome of “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” I’m not saying you need MORE foam rolling or MORE stretching. You can do these things, but this is not where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. I am talking more about “loaded mobility” and using your bodyweight and/or extra weight (like a kettlebell or barbell) to help you achieve positions like a deep squat, the end-position of any overhead lift, flexing and extending your spine and then holding in those positions for 5-10 seconds at a time and working farther and farther into that position for 2-3 minutes total…DAILY but especially before a workout that includes squats, overhead work, or a lot of flexing or extending. Examples include hanging onto the rig and sitting into a deep squat while breathing and bracing, performing a slow, controlled weighted pullover, Jefferson curls, prone press-ups, etc). THEN we need to warm up for the main lift of that workout. So if deadlifts are the main lift of the workout, and let’s say your working weight is 225 LBS for sets of 10, then your warm-up will look something like this:
Bar RDLs x 10
95 LBS x 8-10
135 x 6-8
175 x 4-5
195 x 3-4
215 x 2-3
The best way to warm up for a specific lift is to do more warm-up sets of that lift.
For key #2 (Within-workout strategy), this means PACING and BREATHING. As I like to say in my clinic, rest breaks are allowed and encouraged. I cannot guarantee you won’t hurt yourself by taking rest breaks, but, anecdotally, this allows for better technique and pain management within a workout. What does this look like? Let’s say you have a “death by” exercise where you have to perform a certain number of reps within a minute time span. Take the first 40-45 seconds and get all of your reps done then, leaving 15-20 seconds of rest each round. If you try to time it so that your last rep is finished at the 59-second mark, then guess what? The next round starts IMMEDIATELY after you finished that rep. During this rest break, focus on NASAL BREATHING. While you’re going to want to suck in air like you’re at the bottom of an ice luge, try to fight against it. Nasal breathing has been shown to have better physical and psychological benefits during exercise compared to oral breathing (Dallam and Kies, The Effect of Nasal Breathing Versus Oral and Oronasal Breathing During Exercise: A Review, 2020). How else can you manage yourself during a workout? Drop the weight…A LITTLE. If every workout is at a 9 or 10 out of 10, you run the risk of running yourself into the ground and “red-lining.” This is one of the simplest strategies for reducing pain and injury risk. You can still get strength and hypertrophy gains at intensities as low as 70% (7 out of 10).
Lastly, for key #3 (Post-workout recovery), what does your recovery look like? Do you just shower and go straight to work where you sit at a desk all day? When’s the last time you took a rest day? How is your nutrition? How is your sleep? These are things in the healthcare community that we call, “low hanging fruit.” If you’re in pain and have not taken the time to cool down, don’t take standing or walking breaks at work, haven’t taken a rest day this month, ate an entire pizza by yourself last night, or tried to party with that [insert younger generation slang term here] who was out until 3am the night before…then maybe address one of these issues. Now, I admit that I am not a nutritionist but do know something about recovery and supplementation. And if there is one supplement out there that has been studied extensively, it is creatine. When combined with a strength training program, creatine supplementation in the older adult can enhance both muscle strength and hypertrophy and is safe to use (Dalbo et al, The Effects of Age on Skeletal Muscle and the Phosphocreatine Energy System: Can Creatine Supplementation Help Older Adults, 2009). I am not prescribing or diagnosing any internal disease or dysfunction, and, clearly, consult with your primary care medical doctor, but the evidence for creatine is pretty darn overwhelming for its benefits.
So that’s it. Use these strategies to keep lifting and playing the long game. You’re going to be on this planet for a while. Might as well enjoy your time here, and exercise is going to help you do that.
With that said, if you use these strategies and STILL have pain or aren’t recovering from your workouts they way you’d like, then that’s where I can help. I’m Dr. Hays, board-certified orthopedic Doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Premier Physical Therapy here in Clearwater and Palm Harbor. I also hold my USA Weightlifting Level 1 certification and am a lead instructor for Barbell Rehab, a continuing education company who teaches other rehab and fitness professionals how to manage their athletes in pain.
Call us at 727-442-7500 or find us at www.ptandsportstherapy.com
…where we’re going, we don’t need roads!