28 Weeks to Turn Back Time

28 Weeks to Turn Back Time

coach vicky bio squareBy Coach Vicky

Do you want to improve your splits this off season? Consider doing a strength training program this winter. There’s no better time to hit the weight room than when the weather turns ugly. Investing 28 weeks in a strength training program will pay big dividends next season. This is especially true for those of us who are getting to be of a “certain age.” In this article, I intend to express the importance of strength training to turn back time, and a basic guideline to follow.

What ignited my interest on the topic of strength training and the aging process was a recent visit with my father out in Colorado. He has always been athletic and I brag about him all the time. He is an avid hiker who still travels the world. He was a downhill skier well into his 70’s and only quit because of a run in with a rude snow boarder. A minor health issue caused my father to be sedentary for several weeks. In that time, it seemed as though the aging process sped up dramatically. It was a terrible scare to watch my active father appear frail in such a short period of time.

As a fitness instructor, I am all too familiar with this phenomenon. It is known as sarcopenia. I began researching ways to help my father get his strength back and explain that with hard work, his frailty would be temporary. Wikipedia has some very interesting things to say on the topic of sarcopenia. For the sake of this article, I’d like to highlight the information given about Exercise:

“Lack of exercise is thought to be a significant risk factor for sarcopenia.[1]  Even highly trained athletes experience its effects; master-class athletes who continue to train and compete throughout their adult lives exhibit a progressive loss of muscle mass and strength, and records in speed and strength events decline progressively after age 30.[2][3]  Master-class athletes maintain a high level of fitness throughout their lifespan. Even among master athletes, performance of marathon runners and weight lifters declines after approximately 40 years of age, with peak levels of performance decreased by approximately 50% by 80 years of age.[11]  However a gradual loss of muscle fibers begins only at approximately 50 years of age.[4]  Exercise is of interest in treatment of sarcopenia; evidence indicates increased ability and capacity of skeletal muscle to synthesize proteins in response to short-term resistance exercise.[5]

In my studies to be certified as a Fitness Instructor, I learned that type II muscle fibers are the first to decline. My Senior Fit Manual from the American Academy of Health and Fitness states: “Because of the preferential atrophy of type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers that occurs with advancing age, the remaining muscle mass is not only smaller and weaker, but slower as well. This has a dramatic effect on potential power generation. In fact, the power output of type II fibers is approximately four times that of type I fibers.” This tells me that if I am not actively participating in resistance training, I will see a steady decline in my race results as the years go on.

There are 4 phases of strength training that will give the best results . Start the program 28 weeks prior to your first major event of next season to benefit the most. The key is to work through each phase leading up to your triathlon season. For best results, consider reaching out to a Triathlon Coach to help you put together a personalized strength training program. Muscular imbalances are common causes of injury. They are difficult to identify and correct unless you have a trained professional to help you.

Training Phases:

Phase I-Stabilization=4 weeks.
Correct imbalances and build up tendons/soft tissues before you move on. Start with 1 set of 12-15 reps using weight that you could easily complete 3 more reps with.

Phase II-Endurance=12 weeks.
Begin using 2 sets of 12-15 reps that are challenging but as in Phase I, not maximal effort. Allow 90 seconds between sets for recovery. Progress to heavier weights as strength increases.

Phase III-Hypertrophy/Maximal Strength=6 weeks.
3 sets as 1×10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6 with 90 seconds of recovery between sets. This is where you will see the greatest gain in strength. If you can complete more reps than prescribed, your weight isn’t heavy enough.

Phase IV-Power=3 weeks.
2 x 12 reps. Reduce your weight (similar to what you were using in Phase II), and increase the speed of the exercises to stimulate your fast twitch muscle fibers and reduce the amount of recovery after each set to 30 seconds. End this phase 3 weeks before your first A-race to allow ample recovery time for peak performance.

Each phase should be done 3 times a week with a minimum of 24 hours of recovery. Exercises performed depend on the equipment available. If all you have are dumbbells, you could perform bicep curls, triceps kickbacks, overhead press, squats, lunges, dead lifts, back extensions and core work. A more detailed work out can be provided by your coach.

Don’t be fooled! Sarcopenia can begin much sooner than you think. After you hit your 20’s you begin to lose up to 10 ounces of lean body mass per year. Quoting from My Senior Fit manual again, it states: “On average, a person will lose approximately 40 to 50 percent of muscle mass and 50 percent of muscle strength from age 30 to 70”. That is a significant loss in the ability to produce power. It is power that catches and pulls the water in your swim. It is power that turns the cranks on your bike. It is power that generates the force to lengthen your stride on the run. When you age up, you don’t have to go slower, you just have to train smarter. Turn back time by beginning your strength training program this winter!


1. Ryall JG, Schertzer JD, Lynch GS (August 2008). “Cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying age-related skeletal muscle wasting and weakness”.Biogerontology (Review) 9 (4): 213–28. doi:10.1007/s10522-008-9131-0.PMID 18299960.
2. Abate M, Di Iorio A, Di Renzo D, Paganelli R, Saggini R, Abate G (September 2007).”Frailty in the elderly: the physical dimension“. Eura Medicophys 43 (3): 407–15.PMID 17117147.
3. Faulkner JA, Larkin LM, Claflin DR, Brooks SV (November 2007). “Age-related changes in the structure and function of skeletal muscles“. Clin. Exp. Pharmacol. Physiol. (Review)34 (11): 1091–6. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1681.2007.04752.x. PMID 17880359.
4. Yarasheski KE (October 2003). “Exercise, aging, and muscle protein metabolism“. J. Gerontol. A Biol. Sci. Med. Sci. (Review) 58 (10): M918–22.doi:10.1093/gerona/58.10.m918. PMID 14570859.


Vicky Tate is a USAT certified Triathlon Coach and certified Group Fitness Instructor with Experience Triathlon.   As leaders in the endurance services industry, Coach Vicky and the Experience Triathlon staff help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life.  Learn more about Coach Vicky and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com.

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