Holiday Reading 1: Joe Friel
I read and re-read Friel’s Training Bible books for years. When it come to heart rate training, he’s one of the best, and if you’re a cyclist with $, his work with power meters is just as good. But when Fast After 50 came out, I gave it a pass. I already know his training method, and it clashes with Maffetone, which is my preferred way. Plus, I’m not in that age group anyway. But I heard a great review from a friend who competes in the 60-65 AG, and who successfully used Friel’s methods to self-coach his way to the XTERRA World’s for his AG. I listened to a few podcasts with Friel, and it sounded intriguing, so I added it to my holiday reading.
This book is definitely different from the others because of its narrower focus on aging. It also has much more of a personal story to it, since Friel just turned 70. He has also coached a zillion athletes, including many masters. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on aging athletes. Exercise science is pretty young anyway, and it’s only recently that there were any aging athletes to study. So, a lot of what we know about aging is based on a sedentary population and will be different for athletes. Friel dug into the research to see what was available and combined it with his own decades of experience as an athlete and a coach. It’s all definitely a work in progress, because there are no definitive answers. Not yet. That’s what makes this so exciting.
So the book lays out what research shows, as closely applicable as possible to athletes and explains the limitations. It’s much more of a discussion than a prescription, though he does give his best guesses.
He identifies three factors for an aging athlete:
Decreased aerobic capacity
Decreased muscle mass and strength
Increased body fat
These are the factors that aging causes, and athletes are no exception, though compared to the average Joe, they will still be way ahead.
To fit these issues he suggests:
“High” intensity interval training (high here is relative, and specific to his method)
Year round strength training, planty of it intense
Strict diet (high fat paleo for him)
He believes aging athletes slow down because they start training slower all the time. As for intensity, it’s not necessarily as hard as you might think, and not as much as you might think. It sounds very similar to 80/20 training, as another aging concern is recovery. Focusing on intensity means being very careful with recovery to avoid injury, illness, and burnout. The evil trifecta of overdoing it. As an exapmple, he interviewed Ned Overhand, one of the legendary pioneers of MTB racing and still very active and fast, who explained he still the same training he always has, it just takes him longer to do it. One of his suggestions is to rearrange training cycles into nine day “weeks” instead of the traditional seven day calendar weeks.
The good news is, according to his research and experience, a lot of fitness and speed can be maintained until age 70, when there is an inevitable drop. Serious athletes who are also data nerds might notice a decline begin at any point from the mid 30s on, but that’s only if they always trained and competed without taking any real time off. So many of us leave sport for awhile, or don’t take it up until later in life. Good news for us, a lot of that decline we thought was inevitable may really just be inactivity.
A good read, with a lot to think about. This book is for those who want to be as fast as possible. This is not about what is necessary for good health. It’s for those who have tougher goals. The whole idea of aging athletes is fascinating, and with baby boomers that started a lot of it getting older, there will be lots more to learn.
Should I change trains, and move away from Maffetone towards a higher intensity plan? If so, at what point in the season? Food for thought.