There comes a point in time when everyone has the feeling that they don't move the way they used to. 'I used to be quick', or 'I used to be strong' is such a common catchphrase that it's almost become a cliche'. People generally aren't interested in the things we 'used to be', nor should we be overly hung up on what we used to be. When we make a statement that 'we used to be' such and such, we limit our current potential and dismiss the thought of ever being that way again.
In some ways, athleticism is something that becomes less attainable with age. Our ligaments and joints become stiffer and our muscles less capable of growth and hypertrophy. Even though this is the case, we can still maintain and even gain athleticism with age. It's just something that takes work.
Here are a few techniques to help to develop and maintain the inner athlete.
Improve your mobility.
Was there a point in time where you could leap out of bed, jump into the shower and run out the door? Most likely. So why is it suddenly so difficult to reach down to put your shoes and socks on, impossible to stand on one leg to put your pants on, and unthinkable to get in and out of the car without groaning? It wasn't always this way.
This incredibly limited function of oneself can be reversed by making a commitment to some daily mobility and stretching exercises. Some foam rolling and dynamic or static stretches can go a long way to get you moving less like the tin man in desperate need of some oiling. Focus on hamstrings and glutes, hip flexors and calves and the thoracic spine/chest.
Incorporate Glute Strength and Single leg Exercises.
In a culture fixated on technology, we are spending more time sitting on our glutes, than actually using them. Funnily enough, they were not designed to cushion our coccyx bone when sitting on a chair, they were designed for power, strength and joint protection. The incidence of decreased glute strength and control is huge, turning potential athletes into nothing more than injured and inactive couch potatoes. If you want to maintain athleticism, stop sitting on that goldmine of glute potential, and start with some squats, lunges, hip thrusts and bridges.
Develop more efficient movements.
In the physio world we talk a lot about 'movement patterns'. A pattern is defined as a regular sequence in the way in which something happens or is done. In life, we know that movement 'just happens.' We don't think about it and it becomes subconscious. Every day we tend to move in very similar ways, developing our own specific movement patterns. Do we always use our hands to push us off the chair? Do we lean our left hand on our thigh when we bend forward? These things become ingrained. What if you'd ingrained the same movement patterns over years that were actually inefficient? Detrimental to your joint and muscle health and potentially injurious. Surely this is something you'd want to be aware of and change. Luckily you can. By learning to squat, hinge at the hips, move one joint in relation to another, we can help to regain our favourable movement patterns and start to move in a more efficient, athletic way.
Add some variety to your fitness.
Have you been going to the same gym for the same amount of time, to do the same machine exercises, for the same weight for the last 5 years? Maybe it's not that extreme, but it's not uncommon. You see, we're creatures of habit and we tend to move towards and continue doing things we are either good at or comfortable doing. We know how to use that one leg press machine, so it becomes a staple in our daily gym program. We don't know how to use the free weights or other pieces of equipment, so we tend to stay away from them.
When we are young, we naturally squat down, bend at our hips and run and jump. We experiment and we learn how to do things by learning from our failures. As we become older we tend to take less risks, preferring to take the safe option, not learning anything new. In reality, we need variety, where a range of different exercise techniques are trialled and incorporated into a program. There might be a tendency to gravitate towards one, but we shouldn't only expose ourself to 'just weights' or 'just stretching and yoga.' We need a variety of functional strength work, mobility/flexibility, higher intensity exercise and sports or play.
Move out of single direction training.
Our gym programs consist mainly of unidirectional movements. Our joints aren't designed to go straight up and down and solely forwards and backwards. This is why we need to move out of the sagittal plane of movement (forwards and backwards) and start working sideways and on angles. Lateral lunges are a great example of this.
Our body needs variation in movement and the more this is included in a workout, the more your body will adapt to various situations. Athleticism is really just an ability to be able to adapt to any physical situation well. Include these tips in your workouts and you will maintain that inner athlete.