PT on the Net Research

Master Training for Master Athletes - Part 1

So you still want to rock with the young guns, but the years are coming hard and fast? You are not alone, and you have more at your disposal than you may think! We are living in miraculous times, times defined by technologies that not only add years onto people’s lives but add more life to those years. Today, we are feeling younger and living longer. The urge, time, means and desire to stay active and competitive is prevalent among many within the middle aged and even senior population. Whether once an athlete or taking up a sport for the first time, the master classes in many sports are seeing an enormous growth. What is really alarming is that many “master athletes” are still competing at the national and world level. This means some of these 30, 40 and even 50 year olds are giving the Olympic hopefuls a run for their money. As a matter of fact, it is not uncommon now to see athletes competing into their late 30s and early 40s on the world’s stage of athletic competition. So why is this happening? What factors play into our ability to tap into the fountain of youth? This article series will cover some of the lifestyle, nutritional and training strategies we have used at the Institute of Human Performance (IHP) to allow our not so young, ocean loving seagulls to still sore with the eagles. The first part will deal with some general recommendations, ideas and concepts. We will also offer a basic example of the program most master athletes can use as a template. In the second part of the series, I will share with you my 40-pound journey into the USA Judo Masters Championships.

IHP is located in sunny and beautiful Boca Raton, Florida, a coastal community with an affluent and mature population. The city is a haven for sports 12 months out the year. There are leagues, clubs and national organizations that support just about every sport you can imagine, from deep diving to snow boarding. If you can imagine it, we have a club for it. Most clubs will hold some form of event that will allow the participant to show their stuff. Therefore, training the master athlete has become one of the things for which we've become very well known. So what makes our training so different? One simple word: ATTITUDE!

Most of our master athletes are just like you or maybe just like your parents: between the ages of 35 and 50 years old, who played high school or college sports and is heavier then they were when they were playing those sports. They have careers, businesses, families, little time and all of the other concerns that make their way into excuses. All have some daily physical condition, from your nagging aches and pains to your chronic health issues. Some control their ailments with medications, and others see aggressive training and competition as their lifeline and method of avoiding medications. All of our clients could see their shortcomings in the genetic pool as excuses as to why they can’t do some things, but they don’t! They focus on the one reason why they should do it!

When the aches and pains show up, we do the intelligent thing: we refer to our PT department. I have never been part of the industry’s push to try to turn trainers and coaches into therapist or “corrective specialists.” We believe in being great at what we do: kicking people's butts without causing injury. We let our physical therapists do what they do best: assess and provide a diagnosis and plan of attack. Once they have that plan, our trainers take and launch it with a deliberate and progressive vengeance. We have all of the love and understanding for our clients but no pity on their conditions. Here is the short and skinny on our experience with the aches and pains of our master athletes and all of our clients for that matter. Most of the aches and pains we see are related to being out of shape. The master athlete is still trying to participate in activities and at levels of a much younger population. So, our first order is to get our master athletes in the best shape possible. If after addressing all of the issues set forth by our PT department we still have aches and pains, then we will learn to live with them or forget about pushing the envelope and competing. Even young athletes ache everywhere when they push the performance envelope. What makes you think a master athlete won’t? If you want to be pain free, then walk, mediate, do some tai-chi, chill and just watch the tides come in and out. If that is not for you, then shut your pie-hole and train hard. It’s that simple.

General guidelines followed by IHP physical therapy include:

Many master athletes and middle aged people in general have weight issues. They usually are way behind on new nutritional and supplement developments. Although we do research, are a wealth of knowledge and work with the top people in the industry, our clients still see us as their coaches and not the place they turn to for sound nutrition advice, supplement ideas and recommendations. Referring out the nutritional component associates you with a very powerful sphere of people and keeps you out of that ugly controversy we read about so much: whether coaches should even mention well-published, efficacious supplemental strategies. We always refer all nutritional cases to anti-aging expert, Dr. Allyn Brizel. Dr. Brizel is an absolute monster on supplements, hormonal therapy and weight lose. I first referred to him with no ulterior motive; it was simply the best things for my clients. However, since then, this is what has developed:

All of our clients who have made the commitment to their goals and followed Dr. Brizel’s advice have achieved the weight and look they wanted. But 24/7 nutrition is not easy, and many will just accept how they look rather then go through the sacrifice necessary for change. OK, now that we have taken care of the “this hurts” and the “I wish I looked 17 again” issues, let’s look at some of IHP training approaches.

Dr. Brizel's general guidelines for weight reduction:

Note: These guidelines are then tailored to the specific profile of the patient as delineated by physical examination, blood work and individual preferences.

Whether we are working to get someone out of pain or optimizing their performance levels, our attitude is the same: “Hurt in practice, so you don’t bleed in battle.” Performance is often a battle of wills and has little to do with skill. The one standing at the end wins. Therefore, we make a concentrated effort to create people mentally capable of enduring the pain of superhuman efforts. Seasoned adults have survived and dealt with challenges and adversities that would cripple a younger person (e.g., birth, death, responsibilities, divorce, relocation, financial despair, etc.). We use the mental toughness and discipline that only many years of life can provide to make up for the physical decrements that this same longevity brings. With metal toughness on our side, we can bring on the pain of training.

Our professional clients compete on weekends as if their lives were on the line. Here one of our competitive tennis players practices on his rotational mechanics.

The training modalities and intensities of the master athlete are pretty much the same as for younger athletes. The only difference is the recovery. We have seen master athletes cut the volume of work so they can train regularly, and we have also seen them train hard but less often. Both approaches work. I personally prefer training hard and less often versus lowering the training intensity. The reason for this is that intense training more closely mimics competition. Therefore, I never have to go into uncharted waters during the competition. The way we see it, our clients go into the competition knowing they will outlast anyone. Knowing they can take their opponents to pain thresholds they have never visited is a great weapon. IHP sends all of its master athletes out with this weapon in hand. Let’s look at some of the protocols we use.

In between the hard stuff, active recovery can be as simple as practicing your sport mechanics on a single leg or with the non-dominant side. Here one of our competitive golfers practices his drive on a single leg.

The following blueprint has been successfully used by our police department and master athletes to get them in shape for their events. We can make slight alterations in the program to make it very specific to the event for which they are preparing. Remember, this is just a blueprint to give you a feel of what a program may look like. We have mixed some traditional modalities (i.e., free weight or machine equivalent) with some stability, balance and metabolic runs. We assume the person has had some time off and is coming into the gym not knowing too much about functional training. So we start with some familiar moves and slowly convert the training to a more aggressive and eclectic approach. We also assume that putting on muscle is part of the game, so we have some standard hypertrophy exercises. We love Free Motion as machine alternatives to the free weight exercises. Towards the end, you will see the metabolic demands really kick up with the sprints and metabolic runs (300 yard shuttles). We use the NordicTrack Incline Trainers when doing indoor metabolic work.

One of Boca Raton’s finest works on hamstring and glute strength with a stability ball bridge. Two Boca Raton police officers get ready for their yearly challenge.

Feel free to perform this program as circuits. For example, after the warm up, perform exercises two, three and four as a circuit. Then perform exercises five and six as a circuit and finish with the core work as a circuit. This approach allows one to finish the program faster and adds a bit of cardio to the game. You can also mix a traditional exercise with a core and a balance to create circuits that allow for better focus on one traditional exercise at a time. This hybrid format is very popular at IHP, and we call it the tri-plex scheme (e.g., a traditional exercise, a core exercise and a balance exercise). Our hybrid protocols allow us to use stability and balance work to serve as an active rest between the big bangs of strength work. Our athletes live on our hybrid programs.

The tempo of our hypertrophy and strength work is controlled but dynamic. I think that too much has been made of tempo work. A couple of people cited some research, and everyone jumped on the wagon without ever questioning who was driving it. I have used tempo work and do not find it any more or any less effective than the dynamic tempos we use at IHP. I’d rather have my clients get the work through additional reps as apposed to taking five to 10 seconds to do reps. Personally, I suffer from training ADHD. This means I fall asleep if you slow things down too much. To me, slow tempos are flat out boring. If I want someone to do 30 seconds of work, I’ll rep them for 15 with a load that will force them to finish in about 30 seconds. Using challenging loads for the appropriate rep range will not allow the weight to move faster than one and a half to three seconds per rep. We do make sure that the eccentric gets the most amount of control. When working heavy loads, the drop has to be right or injury will result. A controlled eccentric takes the longest part of the rep and ensures safe training. The concentric can be powered up much faster, as long as you take a bit off the top. I know what you are thinking – this guys is nuts! Maybe, but I can only speak from my experience.

Personally, my legs have never been bigger than when I was doing six leg cranks in a row with body weight once per week (508 speed reps in under 10 minutes). This bodyweight protocol uses speed to load the muscle, and the tempo used is “as fast as you can.” Our clients see excellent hypertrophy with this speed/power protocol. I have kept my bench press within 350 to 375 without benching. I have used our metabolic chest protocols to keep our clients' bench press numbers relatively high without tempo work or even benching. Finally, the bodybuilding we do at IHP is for the purpose of moving the body. So if I have the option to develop sufficient hypertrophy through a power model as opposed to a slow tempo model, I choose fast tempo/power every day of the week (and twice on Sunday). I have read the research on activation thresholds, motor units and fiber types. I understand the science and everyone’s desire to adhere to it, but I personally don’t have the time for science to explain all of things I see working. So I respect everyone’s opinions and their preferences, but I will not blindly adhere to one way of doing something when many different and effective approaches exist. Tempo training is one of those things.

The recovery between exercises and sets is dependent on many variables and the focus of the cycle. If you are performing exercises in succession (e.g., all squat sets in a row), we like the one to two minute rest. I prefer to get more rest and use heavier loads. If you are performing a hybrid circuit, then we just slowly walk from station to station so all exercises are completed in one to two minutes. In a strength phase, we may slow down the rhythm of the session. If the goal is to break some records, then we get after it and use complete recovery. If we are in a power endurance cycle, then we will power through with minimal (i.e., incomplete) recovery.

The set and rep schemes are also very flexible. For example, if a beginner starts a four week cycle in a two to three set scheme, we usually go two sets the first week, two sets the second week, three sets the third week and three sets the fourth week. If the set scheme for an advanced person is two to four, then we can go two, three, four, four on successive weeks. The rep scheme runs inverse to the sets for all strength moves (i.e., as sets increase, reps drop). Don’t take all of this as the ONLY way to do it. Stay free with the program. Shake it up a little and make it taste right! When doing stability work and metabolic runs, we increase reps to add volume and increase stability endurance and functional capacity. For example, we will go 12, 10, eight, eight if we want to concentrate on strength during the hypertrophy cycle. If we want more volume and hypertrophy, we will use a 12, 12, 10, 10 rep scheme during successive weeks.

1-4 weeks – General Hypertrophy and Intro to Function/power

ABC - Right side, left side and center OH - Overhead
BB - Barbell SB - Stability Ball
DB - Dumbbell 1A - One Arm
FM - Free Motion machine 1L - One Leg
Exercise Sets/Reps NOTES
MONDAY (Hypertrophy)
1. Weighted Skip rope circuit 1-4 weights x 20 jumps 1-4 lbs
2. BB Squat 2-4 / 8-12
3. BB Bench Press 2-4 / 8-12
4. FM Cable Row 2-4 / 8-12
5. Standing OH Dumbbell Press 2-4 / 8-12
6. BB Curl 2-4 / 8-12
7. SB Knee tucks 2-3 / 10-15 Prone knee tucks
8. SB Bridges 1-3 / 10-15 Progress to one leg
9. Treadmill (inclined) 2-3 / 1minutes- 6 mph, 10-20% 1: 2– work: rest
WEDNESDAY (Function – stability and power)
1. Warm up (Chop-rotation-PNF) 2 / 10 each Med-ball Chop protocol
2. Anterior reach warm-up 2/10-20
3. Squat Jumps 2-3 / 5 Progress to weighted vest
4. Dumbbell Matrix 2-3 / 72 total reps Attached protocol
5. Reclined Rope Pulls or Climbs 2-3 / 8-12 or climbs Progress to no legs
6. SB Push-Up Progression 2-3 / 8-12 Progress from SB
7. SB Leg Curls 2-3 / 15-20 Progress to one leg
8. MB Throws (chest) 2-3 / 5-10 2-4 kg MB
9. Treadmill runs (track runs optional) 5-7 minute run 2% incline for distance
FRIDAY (Hypertrophy)
1. Weighted Skip rope circuit 1-4 weights x 20 jumps 1-4 lbs
2. Deadlift 2-4 / 8-12
3. Incline Dumbbell Bench 2-4 / 8-12
4. 1A DB Row 2-4 / 8-12 Stabilize with free arm
5. Alt DB Upright Rows 2-4 / 8-12 Use Barbell
6. Alternating DB Curls 2-4 / 8-12
7. SB Hip lifts 2-3 / 10-20 Progress to one leg
8. SB Skiers 2-3 / 10-20 Progress to one leg
9. Treadmill (inclined) 2-4 / 30 sec-6 mph, 10-30% 1:3– work: rest

*Each major lift is performed heavy (i.e., close to failure) once per week. The other day 60 to 70 percent is used to train.

Anterior Reach warm-up
One leg balance with an opposite arm reach forward
SB Skiers
Roll from side to side
Reclined rope pulls or climbs Simply climb a rope

5-8 weeks – Peak Strength/ Develop power

ABC - Right side, left side and center OH - Overhead
BB - Barbell SB - Stability Ball
DB - Dumbbell 1A - One Arm
FM - Free Motion machine 1L - One Leg
1. Warm up (Chop-rotation-PNF) 2-3 / 10 each Med-ball Chop protocol
2. Box Jumps 2-3 / 5 18”-24” – add vest
3. Standing DB Push Press 2-4 / 3-6 Perform explosive
4. BB Squat 2-4 / 3-6
5. Incline BB Bench 2-4 / 3-6 Bodyweight
6. Bent over Row 2-4 / 3-6
7. Knee tuck + skiers combo 2-3/ 10-20 of each exercise Use two legs – non-stop
8. Triple threat (SB Bridges+leg curls+hiplifts) 2-3 / 10-15 of each exercise Use two legs – non-stop
9. 300 yard shuttle 2-3 1:3 –work:rest
WEDNESDAY (Function – stability and power)
1. Weighted Skip rope circuit 1-4 weights x 20 jumps 1-4 lbs
2. Squat Jumps 2-3 / 5 Progress to vest
3. Gary Gray’s DB Matrix 1 / 72 total reps See attached protocol
4. Leg Crank 1-3 / 84 total reps See attached protocol
5. Reclined rope pulls or climbs 2-3 / 8-12 or climbs Progress to no legs
6. MB Explosive Cross-over push-ups 2-3 / 8-12
7. MB throws (OH, Side and Back) 2-3 / 5-10 2-4 kg MB
8. Treadmill runs (track work optional) 7-10 minute run For distance
1. Gary Gray’s DB Matrix 1-2 / 72 total reps Use 5-10 lb DBs
2. Weighted Vertical jumps 2-3 / 5
3. BB Deadlift 2-4 / 3-6
4. Flat BB Bench 2-4 / 3-6 Use Barbell
5. FM Cable row 2-4 / 3-6 Stabilize with free arm
6. Triple threat (SB Bridges+leg curls+hiplifts) 2-3 / 10-15 Use two legs – non-stop
7. Knee tuck + skiers combo 2-3/ 10-20 of each exercise Use two legs – non-stop
8. 300 yard shuttle 3-4 1:4 –work:rest

*Each major lift is performed heavy (i.e. close to failure) once per week. The other day 60-70% is used to train.

9-12 weeks – Peak Power and Power Endurance

ABC - Right side, left side and center 1A - One Arm
DB - Dumbbell SB - Stability Ball
1L - One Leg OH - Overhead
DAY Sets/Reps Notes
MONDAY (Power Endurance)
1. Weighted Skip rope circuit 1-4 weights x 20 jumps 1-4 lbs
2. Leg Cranks 3-6 / 84 Use Med ball or Vest
3. Alternating MB Push-ups 2-4 / 10-20
4. Alternating Band Pull (rotating) 2-4 / 20
5. Alt Curl and Rot Press (DBs) 2-4 / 10-20
6. Sit-ups 1-2/ 45 sec BW+10%
7. 300 yard shuttle 3-4/300yrds 1:3 –work:rest
8. SB Triple Threat – 1 Leg 2-3 / 10-15
WEDNESDAY (ST and Power maintenance)
1. Warm up (Chop-rotation-PNF) 2-3 / 10 each Med-ball Chop protocol
2. BB Squat (super set #1a) 2-3 / 5 1 min between exercises
3. Box Jumps (super set #1b) 2-3 / 5-8 2-3 min between supersets
4. Bench Press (super set #2a) 2-3 / 5 1 min between exercises
5. Explosive push-ups (super set #1b) 2-3 / 5-10 2-3 min between supersets
6. Pull-ups (or lat pulldowns) (super set #3a) 2-3 / 5 1 min between exercises
7. OH Med ball throws (super set #3b) 2-3 / 5-10 2-3 min between supersets
8. Cable rotations 3-4 / 10 Various angles
9. Incline Trainer runs (track optional) 10-15 minute Run for distance
FRIDAY (Power Endurance)
1. Weighted Skip rope circuit 1-4 weights x 20 jumps 1-4 lbs
2. Vested Verts 3 / 5 15-20-15% BW
3. Matrix 3 / 72 (15-20 lb DBs)
4. Push-ups 2-3 / 25-30
5. Reclined rope pull 2 / 20
6. SB Fab 5 2/10 reps per exercise
(Push-up, Hypers, rev hyers, knee-tucks, and skiers)
7. 300 yard shuttle x 5 1:3 –work:rest
8. SB Triple Threat – 1 Leg 2-3 / 10-15

NOTE: Many of these exercises can be found in the Exercise Library

This plan has a little bit of everything in it and there is lots of room for change. If you study the progressions over the 12-weeks, you will notice the slow but steady increase in intensity, and in some cases volume (e.g., runs and stability protocols). An eight week version of this protocol made the Boca Raton Police department a wrecking machine. Some of the most improved officers were females.

Level of performance and training can get so high, that we often can’t tell the difference between our master athlete and our younger competitors.

Use this program to help develop your own approach to training master athletes, watch for the “itis” problems and work around them and not through them. This program will provide an interesting game plan for any individual involved in an aggressive sport (e.g., basketball, flag football, soccer, etc.). It has plenty of muscle and a good bit of hustle.

I know I have gone against the grain on some issues like tempo, but that’s OK. Embrace change and possibilities. Leave your self open to options. Many people in the industry want to be scientists, performing miraculous rehabilitations and using $10 words. That’s cool by me – but it is not me. I’m a coach, a personal trainer and a PE teacher, and I'm happy with that. At IHP, we are great at what we do: kicking them in the butt and slapping them on the back. I leave the other stuff to those who like it, and I respect them for the perspective they bring to the industry. Now, this does not mean I always have to agree with them on everything. I can assure you what we are doing absolutely works. Our clients would not be coming back if we were not delivering the goods. I ask you to take it all in and then make up your own mind and use what you like.

In the next article, I will share with you my own personal journey to the Judo National Masters Championships. I tell you about the nutritional program Dr. Brizel turned me on to and all of the supplements I used. The program was brutal, but you’ll find it interesting how I made it work with my travels and work schedule. Of course, lots of pictures will be included. You know me – NO BS! I will give it to you straight and nasty. If I did it, you’ll know about it. We will even cover some things people don’t admit or talk about! So stay tuned, and I’ll show you why the old phrase, “Youth is wasted on the young” may have some truth to it!

This is one of my favorite ways to practice my Judo lifts – FreeMotion, Wings and 200 lbs.

THE MATRIX by Gary Gray

This circuit was designed to provide total body training in all three planes. It is composed of a pressing sequence (three exercises), a curling sequence (three exercises), a lunging sequence (three exercises) and lunge-to-press sequence (three exercises). Each exercise is performed six times (three per side). The total circuit is 72 reps, and a target of 1:45 to 2:00 minutes should be the aim.


THE MATRIX Sequences

LEG CRANKS by JC Santana

Circuit I
25 sec Speed Squats – below parallel 24 Reps
35 sec B Alternating Lunges 24 (12 Reps Each Leg)
30 sec C Alternating 1 leg box push-off (lots of air over box!) 24 (12 Reps Each Leg)
15 sec D Jump Squat (to parallel) 12 Reps
105 seconds
Circuit II
25 sec A1 Speed Squats – below parallel 24 Reps
15 sec A2 Jump Squat (to parallel) 12 Reps
35 sec B1 Alternating Lunges 24 (12 Reps Each Leg)
15 sec B2 Alternating Split Jumps 12 (6 Reps Each Leg)
15 sec D Jump Squat (to parallel) 12 Reps
105 seconds
Med Ball Leg Circuit (Use 3-7 kg ball)
25 sec Speed Squats with Push – below parallel 24 Reps
40 sec B Alternating Lunges with rotations 24 (12 Reps Each Leg)
30 sec C Alternating Split Jumps with rotations 24 (12 Reps Each Leg)
20 sec D Jump Squat with overhead reach 12 Reps
110 seconds

Note: You should be able to do three sets of 24 lunges or 24 squats without any pain or discomfort before trying week one. Be sure to spend two or three training sessions mastering the correct rhythm and execution of each exercise in the circuit. Following the above recommendations will avoid the crippling DOMS that would result from trying this circuit for the first time.

Circuit Progression - Twice a week (Monday and Friday)

The eventual goal is to go through the circuits continuously without a rest. This is a six-week progression. The total volume in reps for each workout is in parenthesis.

Week Sets Recovery between exercise Recovery between circuit
#1 2 X Circuits 1 Min Recovery 3 Min between circuits
#2 3 X Circuits 45 Sec Recovery 2 Min between circuits
Circuit Progression - Once a week
#3 4 X Circuits 45 Sec Recovery 90 sec between circuits
#4 5 X Circuits 30 Sec Recovery 60 sec between circuits
#5 5 X Circuits 30 Sec Recovery No rec between circuits
#6 6 X Circuits No Rec Recovery No rec between circuits