Training for Master Athletes

There is an increasing amount of master athletes participating in sport. Therefore, understanding how training needs to be adapted is critically important.

The Science:

Master athletes are generally considered people who are over the age of 35 years (as opposed to senior athletes who are older than 50 years) and trains or takes part in athletic competitions. Furthermore, There are three types of master athletes: ones who have been consistently training most of their life (advanced), ones who stopped but have been through structured training in the past (Intermediate), lastly, athletes new to the sport with little to no prior experience (Beginner). Understanding which type of Master athlete you are will either help tailor your training or decide which BCA training plan to pick.

But what are the age-related declines?

Current evidence supports a 10% decline in VO2 max every ten years. Which is in part due to a reduction in maximal cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped around the body by the heart per minute) caused by a reduction in max heart rate. However, despite a decline in VO2 max, lactate threshold (LT) tends to remain the same in proportion to VO2 max. For example, if you have a VO2 max of 65 mL/kg/min and your LT was at 37.7 mL/kg/min of VO2 max (58%) then in ten years time your VO2 max would decline to 59 mL/kg/min (10% decline), but your LT would still be around 58% of 59 mL/kg/min.

Additional central factors include decreased stroke volume (amount of blood pumped in one beat of the heart) which is affected by a decline in total blood volume.

Age related decline in skeletal muscle mass (also known as sarcopenia) begins around 35 years and effects type II muscle fibers most (fast twitch). By the age of 80 years 50% of muscle fibers a have disappeared from the limb. The size and contractile performance of type I muscle fibers (slow twitch) also decline. So how can training accomodate all of these factors?


Lactate Threshold:

Repeating the same intervals over time results in less improvements/adaptations made. It is therefore, advised that LT intervals (high zone 3/4) start with longer interval duration to focus on endurance. As training becomes more race specific shorten the interval length, but increase the intensity and decreases the rest period. Example below:

1. 20 minutes @ 085% + 5 minutes @ 65% x 2 - tempo intervals

2. 10 minutes @ 095% + 2 minutes @ 65% x 4 - sub-threshold intervals

3. 08 minutes @ 100% + 2 minutes @ 65% x 5 - threshold intervals

4. 05 minutes @ 105% + 1 minutes @ 65% x 5 - maximal aerobic power intervals

Rest Days:

Training should have a ratio of 3:1 meaning on average for every three days there is a hard workout. One of those 3 days may include a strength workout or a rest day. Therefore, a rest day at least twice a week and ideally one of which on a Friday. A Friday rest day allows you to go into the week (when training load is higher) feeling rested. Your second rest day may be best on a Monday to recover from the endurance miles.

Strength Training:

As mentioned, muscle mass begins to decline from the age of 35. As a result, aim to include strength training 2-3 times a week. The first 3-4 weeks of training should focus on muscle hypertrophy (to increase the size of muscle fibers). Hypertrophy means a slower speed of contractions (3 seconds down - 3 seconds up). Before progressing to strength, then power 3-4 weeks before your first event.

Example Training Week:

- Go into the weekend endurance load rested.

- Strength twice a week.

- Assumes the following Monday (day 8) is a rest day to recovery from weekend.

- Mid-week intervals to focus on LT.

- Endurance rides are not too long to prevent an overload of fatigue.


To conclude, you should aim to maintain your LT while decreasing the rate of decline in muscle mass. In addition, prioritise rest, as master athletes are less likely to recovery from overtraining.

©2019 by Breakaway Coaching and Analytics.