Here’s What It Takes to Become a Veteran Athlete

As we get older, it becomes more difficult to stay active. But while it is widely believed that aging means a dramatic decline in athletic performance, loss of strength and fitness is not as inevitable as we once thought. Research has shown that it is possible to maintain a high level of fitness for decades, although it takes a lot of hard work and careful balance.

So what does it take to stay competitive well in your later years? To find out, we reached out to two senior athletes – Rick Bobigian, a 73-year-old Masters boxer, and John Chino, a long-distance runner who recently took up ice hockey – to understand the official guidelines for older athletes look in practice.

As it turns out, both Chino and Bobijian developed a training program that, although it looks different in appearance, includes elements that scientists are beginning to realize are necessary to maintain athletic ability for decades. This is how they look in practice.

What is it like to continue doing intense sports?

Rick Bobigian, an oil and gas executive who has founded several companies, started boxing ten years ago after a friend took him to spar at the Main Street Boxing and Muay Thai club in downtown Houston. Although Bobijian was in great shape at the time, one round left him exhausted.

He immediately decided to start training, choosing to work with the co-owner of Main Boxing Bobby Benton. In addition to training white collar clients, Benton also coaches a number of professional boxers such as welterweight Regis Prograis , currently ranked 2nd in the world, and O’Shakey Foster , welterweight, currently ranked 6th. e place.

Shortly after starting, Bobigian brought in two more colleagues, including his lawyer, Rod Drinnon, and friend Allen Keyes. For the past ten years, they have trained and sparred together every week, eventually calling themselves the “Three Amigos.” (The jury is still not deciding who gets the best deal: the lawyer who hits his client, or the client who hits his lawyer.)

Bobidzhan’s original goal was just to spar. In 2017, he began competing as a boxer in the master category, competing in US-sanctioned boxing matches that require him to face opponents under his age and have had 18 fights since then.

John Chino has a similar story. A 63-year-old California insurance broker, Chino was also in good shape and spent most of his adult life running, including 60 marathons, before taking up hockey and playing in the league four years ago with other players his age. As someone who came with little hockey experience, he had to learn everything from scratch, including skating.

“Who knew ice skating was difficult?” Chino said. He hired a trainer and now devotes a significant portion of his training time to skills training.

Part of the attraction was Chino’s complete lack of knowledge of the sport. Learning ice hockey, he said, was about being “really, really, really, really, really awful, humiliatingly awful” on the game, only to have all of his hard work come together one day, which allowed him to finally master the skill he didn’t think he was capable. Chino is fascinated by the joy of discovering his abilities, as well as the need to learn something really difficult.

“There is no athletic bone in my body. I’m terrible, ”Chino said. “But in sports, it all depends on how much you invest in it. When people like me plateau, it becomes a problem. What do I need to change to get better? “

Strength training really matters

As we age, we lose muscle mass. Starting at age 30, we begin to lose about 3-5% of muscle mass in a decade . However, this does not mean that maintaining or gaining muscle mass is impossible. What it means is that a senior athlete must work hard to maintain their muscle mass.

As for Chino, he only started strength training after his coach told him that he needed upper body strength to run a marathon. Since then, he has become more dedicated and now regularly engages in strength training, which includes bodyweight exercises and free weights. To stay on track and avoid overtraining, he closely monitors his pulse.

Bobijian is regularly involved in strength training for most of his life due to a back injury he sustained while serving in the military. When he was demobilized from the army, the doctor told him that to prevent future back problems, he needed to avoid getting a belly and strengthen his back muscles. Bobijian took the advice seriously.

For resistance training, he solely relies on bodyweight exercises, which include pull-ups, push-ups, squats, leg raises and planks with an emphasis on staying in good shape and doing reps to exhaustion. Whenever he needs to, he will modify these exercises to make them more difficult or to include additional movements.

Working with mobility is an overlooked but necessary component

When it comes to maintaining athletic performance throughout life, one of the most overlooked components is mobility work. While we tend to think flexibility and mobility are the same thing , flexibility simply means how much a joint can move without injury, whereas mobility is how much you can move a joint without injury. The first is passive movement, and the second requires strength, balance and skill.

As we age, our range of motion tends to decrease, usually due to muscle stiffness, injury, or a general lack of activity. This decrease in mobility makes it difficult to perform certain actions, especially if these actions are complex and difficult, for example, going to the ice rink to roll with a hockey stick, or going into the boxing ring to hit an opponent and try not to get into it. myself.

In recent years, Chino has realized how important mobility work is to improving his athletic performance. By his own admission, he was guilty of neglecting this in the past, often skipping it altogether in his early years. In the past few years, he has begun scheduling specific stretching sessions with support at StretchLab . Much to Chino’s surprise, the mobility work he gets from these stretching workouts was the missing ingredient that he needed to improve as an athlete. By his own admission, Chino would have been a much better runner if he had started mobility earlier.

As for Bobijian, he combines strength training with mobility training, doing bodyweight exercises in such a way as to ensure that he gets a full range of motion with every rep. As his trainer Benton points out, while he usually needs to enable mobile work for other boxing masters he works with, the work that Bobigian does on his own is more than enough for his needs.

“When Rick walks in, he’s ready to go,” Benton said. “We work hard on boxing all the time.”

High Intensity Training Is Essential

It is widely believed that high-intensity training will wear you out faster and that sticking to endurance training is best if you want to be active for a long time. As it turns out, not only is this not true, but regular high-intensity training is critical to maintaining and improving as an athlete throughout life.

Research shows that one of the main differences between athletes who lose their physical fitness significantly as they age and those who do not is regular high-intensity training . Athletes who exercise regularly but do not include high-intensity training lose their average fitness level with age, which is what we expect. However, it is common among athletes who maintain much higher-than-expected fitness levels for longer than expected is regular high-intensity training. It seems that a strong emphasis on high-intensity training does play an important role. But balance is important as older athletes take longer to recover.

Realize that your body will take longer to adapt.

The biggest difference between a young athlete and a master athlete is the time it takes for their bodies to adapt to new workouts. As older athletes require more rest and recovery, it is all the more important for the Master athlete to train smarter – gone are those training days without a plan and ignoring the impact of training on your body.

“I train Rick as one of my professional fighters,” Benton said. “The only difference is the amount of time.” Since Bobijian cannot spend as much time in the gym as a younger boxer, he is much more conscious about where he wants to spend his time, with an emphasis on analyzing his sparring sessions.

Chino also found that in order to achieve what he wants as an athlete, he has to be more focused. “When I was 20 I could cheat a lot and get away with it, but now I can’t,” Chino said. “Those days are over.” When Chino was younger, it was his fault that he just went out of his way for miles without thinking too much about long-term strategy.

Chino is now taking a closer look at his training, making sure he needs rest, recovery and nutrition to stay competitive. “There is no junk,” Chino said. “This is very deliberate.”

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