Use it or Lose it!

Use it or Lose it!


How many times have we heard those words,”use it or lose it,” and really stopped to think what it means to us each time we move into a new age group? If many of you are like me you would love to be moving down in age groups, unfortunately it does not work that way. So, rather than fighting the idea why not take those words ‘USE IT OR LOSE IT’ more seriously and take a new approach to stepping into the next age group. Age is only a number in our young minds, and in reality we are going to lose speed as we age, but we can help to slow or reverse this process if we are smart in our approach and willing to work at it.

So, let’s take a look at some of the physiological reasons why our speed changes. First, we have a decline in muscle mass. According to one study we may see a 10% decrease in muscle mass between 25 and 50. Another study stated maximal muscle strength peaks between 25 and 35 years of age. Then we produce less growth hormone which effects muscle atrophy. Research shows that there is a greater loss of fast twitch muscle fibers as compared to slow twitch, but the percentage of this is can bee reduced by use of these fast twitch fibers. There are changes in our cardiovascular system and our bodies ability to transport oxygen. Another key factor I found in my reading that effecting our speed, is flexibility, which naturally decreases as the soft tissues hardens an our joints stiffen.

The above paragraph seems to paint a pretty dark picture for maintaining speed or slowing as we age, but again, this can be slowed or the process reversed/delayed if we are willing to work at. Training needs to be approached with smarts and common sense. Greater rest and recovery time between speed workouts or hard training sessions need to be determined as they maybe slightly different for each person. Rest not only includes days between speed sessions, but the actual rest we get when sleeping. Nutrition, use of supplements(as determined by you and your coach and/or physician), listening to our body, and a structured approach to our training.

As much as I like the idea of typing a thousand times in this paper, USE IT OR LOSE IT, it does not help us with understanding the physiological reason we have changes in speed or what types of things we can do to keep it. Above provided some of the physiological explanation; below are some suggestions I found in my readings to help us in maintaining or even improve our speed as we age.

1. Hill Repeats – this will help improve the stride length and reduce contact time on the ground through improved lower leg strength and power.
2. Weight Training/Core Work – with the correct strength and core program we can help decrease loss of fast twitch fibers as well as improve the strength of our muscles and soft tissues.
3. Plyometrics – also, when done with correct supervision and set-up, like strength training, plyometrics, such as bounding and hopping can help improve stride length which in turn helps to improve or maintain speed.
4. Intensity of exercise – it is known through research that exercise stimulates growth hormone(GH) and GH is necessary for maintaining speed as we age. It helps us to maintain more lean muscle mass while slowing some general aging.
5. Rest and Recovery – time and time again articles and discussions with other coaches and athletes
go to the importance and for the appropriate amounts of rest and recovery between intense/stressful training sessions.
6. Structured Training Plan – use of a well thought out training plan with goals and objectives that
provides the right balance of easy and hard training sessions to work on the athletes speed and

In the process of preparing to write this article I kept thinking, this is common sense…….you have got to work on your speed or you will lose it. However, with further research and reading there is a needed understanding of the physiological reasons why we want to work on our speed and recognizing that speed is relative to each of us as individuals. There are things we can do to help maintain or slow the loss of our speed, but this also needs to be done with a well thought out plan that takes all things into consideration. So, do more than read this article to convince you to work on your speed. Go out and do some of your own research. Take time to talk with your coach about what might be most effective for you and how you can devise a plan that will help you to continue to perform at your highest level of speed.