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Why do we train? When people use the verb “to train” it’s usually with a purpose. There is an event, sport, or other endeavor that is driving their efforts. When people say they’re going “to workout” they usually don’t have such a purpose. They are usually looking for general fitness.

Of course, training for different sports will involve doing different things in the gym. That’s a no brainer. However, an athlete’s age is also going to have a big impact. I’m not talking about recovery periods, volume etc… I’m talking about training for durability.

Risk

Risk is a combination of probability and consequence. The risk of injury for an older athlete increases via both factors. The consequences of an injury at age 35 are very different than they were at age 20. Recovery that may have taken as little as 2 or 3 weeks can stretch to 6 months. Likewise the probability of injury to a body burdened by a couple extra decades of imbalances is notably higher. As a result, the purpose of training becomes mitigating these risks: making the athlete durable.

Durability

Durability is the combination of a lot of things.
A durable athlete has to be balanced. There can’t be physiological time-bombs ticking away inside an athlete’s body. For example, someone with powerful quads but a weak posterior chain is not going to stay healthy once the power requirement goes up. (power is the amount of work produced for a unit of time)
A durable athlete must have stable and mobile joints. An athlete can avoid a lot of problems by focusing on a stable lumbar spine and stable knees and shoulders. On the flip side, joints that tend towards stability, such as the hips and ankles, need to be restored to full ranges of motion.
A durable athlete is strong. Injuries happen when muscular fatigue sets in. A stronger athlete gets fatigued less quickly. This is even more important for older athletes because recovery times are longer, so getting less fatigued in the first place lets you get up and do it again the next day.

I learned these lessons the hard way after breaking my ankle and injuring my shoulder. It took nearly 5 months until I could really train again (broken left ankle, right shoulder in a sling at the same time). It will probably take a full two years until I have my pulling strength back to what it was. That is an eternity. The ankle injury was unavoidable unless I had chosen not to step onto the rugby pitch that day. However, I could have saved myself a lot of shoulder trouble by having a stronger more balanced musculature and a more stable joint.

This is one of the reasons that I actively discourage friends from jumping into Crossfit as it’s practiced at most affiliates. Durability isn’t a focus at all. Rather, the focus is on a narrow conception of gym-based fitness and a method of getting there that rarely includes any form of periodization or progression. A large number, if not the majority, of Crossfit clients are over 30 and would derive more benefit training for durability and correcting whatever imbalances they have accumulated.

Durability is also important for younger athletes. However, for older athletes it should be the primary purpose of their training. There is little doubt that if you tell most 35-40 year-olds to trade 100% performance with the near certainty of 1-2 years of rehab at some point in the next 10 years for 90% performance with the near certainty of being able to do their sport with no injury during the next 10 years, how do you think they would chose?