PT on the Net Research

Training by Decade

What do you need to consider when faced with putting together an effective program for a client in a non familiar age group? A basic understanding of human development, ageing, the body’s natural hormonal rhythm, and of course, some common sense is important. Each decade of our lives, there are subtle shifts in physiology, thoughts, emotions and connection to spirit as we naturally progress through vagaries. The plan outlined here has the goal of well being, longevity and keeping your clients fit enough to enjoy the full spectrum of active living.

The Teens

For children growing into fully functioning adults, the focus for this decade should be variety through participation in both structured organized activity, as well as spontaneous unorganized games that encourage multidirectional movement and skill acquisition. Playing and participating in activities will help to build a joy of movement. These should encourage directional changes, changes of speed, balance, coordination and, most importantly, they should be fun and build a clear connection with the feeling of being uplifted through the chemical release of the endorphins. Generally, any physical conditioning for teenagers is best kept to activities that have low volume but are focused upon technique and motor coordination. The reason is because powerful motor engrams are set and developed at an early age. Contrary to popular belief, this means focusing on anaerobic type work over high volume aerobic activity. Shifting the focus from long distance running to high quality movements such as jumping, throwing, hopping, changing direction and lateral footwork type activities encourage the body’s neural muscular system to learn the fundamental pathways and recruitment strategies to play games and sport. Children must learn to develop these movement patterns before engaging in them over longer distances, since it is at this young age motor recruitment patterns are set, and any overloading of the system can cause faulty recruitment patterns that must be undone at a later time. The muscular endurance work can be introduced in the mid to late teens, depending upon the physical maturity of the child, once recruitment patterns have been set.

A wide variety of sporting activity, especially in the early teenage years, should be encouraged so that developing children may try a range of different movements and experiences so they are most likely to find an activity that really engages the mind and heart and, most importantly, develops balance skills. There is plenty of time for specialization as they get towards the end of their teenage years. Most talented athletes will identify themselves across a variety of activities in their early years. Towards the end of the teenage years, those with special talent can look to develop this further in a gymnasium setting.

Those with talent to compete at high levels aged 16 and upwards can see an introduction to resistance training in a gym setting, but emphasis should be on developing their neural system coordination and developing technique rather than maximal lifts.

The 20s

It is during the 20s that the adolescent body matures into a fully functioning adult. Here testosterone production is the highest in males, while females are in their reproductive peak. The 20s will see a slight change in emphasis away from the spontaneous nature of play, games and sport, to more structured training in a gym environment. The 20s should emphasise specialization for the competitive athlete and variety for the recreational enthusiast. The 20s sees the introduction of resistance training to help both strengthening of the skeletal system and the muscles for the decades to come. It is in the 20s that peak fitness and strength gains are most likely to be achieved and indeed encouraged. If there was ever a decade to play hard, this is it. Strength and conditioning as well as repetitive aerobic activities such as running can be implemented once the appropriate motor engrams have been laid and progressively built up over the early teenage years.

The 30s

The 30s invariably bring with them the additional responsibilities of parenthood and pressures from work. These two combine to influence time management and the prioritizing of physical activity to keep the fitness and strength levels from the 20s. It is in this decade that begins a gradual loss in muscle mass if resistance training is absent. This condition is known as sarcopenia, derived from Greek words for vanishing flesh. It has been shown that up to five pounds of muscle mass may be lost each decade, starting from the 30s, if resistance training is not part of the lifestyle equation. Furthermore, generally, men and women add about 10 pounds of body fat every decade during the midlife years, so combined with the muscle mass loss of around five pounds actually represents a 15 pound problem each decade. It is clear the 30s represent the decade of sustaining the physical activity of youth, having a well rounded combination of multidirectional resistance training that stimulates the neuromuscular system, and cardiovascular activity that protects the heart and prevents weight gain.

The 40s

The 40s are generally the first decade that any effects of poor lifestyle choices will begin to show up. For this reason, it is from this decade that a five year check up should become part of everyone’s health regime. The pressures at work can continue to expand as more responsibility and higher positions take their toll. For this reason, parasympathetic modes of exercise and activity such as traditional yoga, t’ai chi, qigong and meditation can be added into the exercise plan. Over stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is associated with many health disorders such as adrenal fatigue and related disorders, hypertension and atherosclerosis, among other things. The stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system has been shown to reverse the damaging affects of stress and contribute to greater overall physical, mental and emotional health. Resistance training needs to be retained as part of the weekly routine moving from the near maximal lifts of the 20s and 30s, to more sub maximal lifting to help protect wear and tear on the joints.

The 50s

The 50s begins a decade of increased risk factors including coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and lower back pain. In fact, Cummings et al point out that the risk of hip fracture doubles every five years in postmenopausal women over the age of 50. It has been shown in the research that muscle mass and strength play a key component in fracture prevention, and balance and propioception are important factors in fall prevention. For this reason, exercise prescription should move towards balance and propioceptive-type exercises that utilize strategies that include top-down driving involving use of ground reaction, mass, momentum and communication up the kinetic chain, which would aid in fall prevention. Resistance training is still important to hold and keep muscle mass, but the added component of keeping balance is extra important when one considers that almost 24 percent of people over age 50 who have hip fractures die within a year.

The 60s

The 60s move towards more gentle and mobilizing activity combined with the old friends of resistance training and cardiovascular activity. If the person has been active all his life, there is no reason for a slowing down of activity, rather an increase due to the advantage of winding down of working commitments and thus more time freedom. As hormone levels steadily drop and the vigour and strength of youth slowly diminish, this is often replaced by an internal candle of connection to spirit as mind/body practices can become a more integrated component of everyday life. The chi-building activities of yoga, t’ai chi and qigong can keep the balance, strength and coordination needed for negotiating everyday life. The great outdoors can play a part, with hiking and biking being great ways of keeping active, healthy and happy throughout the twilight years.


The human body is one of the most malleable of all mammals. With conscious effort, it can get stronger, bigger, faster and more athletic, enabling many older adults to outperform members of the same species up to 25 years younger. However, with many people living somewhat unconsciously and engaging in daily routines that build fat and disease, rather than muscle and health, we have living proof of the plastic nature of the human form. It is common to see some 60 year olds run marathons while many 20 year olds can’t run for a bus. One thing is certain when periodizing for life. The research is clear, and there is a common thread throughout all literature that remains constant: the need for resistance training, especially after the age of 30, to prevent muscle wasting, bone decay and the subsequent decay of the body as a result. Multidirectional resistance training that incorporates integration, balance, stability and mobility is vital for ageing people to keep healthy, and these habits are best laid down during the adolescent years.


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