Peyton Manning and the ‘Aging Athlete Phenomenon’ | PostIndependent.com
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Peyton Manning and the ‘Aging Athlete Phenomenon’

Steve Wells
Aging Personal Trainer

The transition from young athlete to older athlete is tricky. You must change your way of thinking to compete and survive. “Youth is wasted on the young” — this saying is so true. We older athletes can survive if we change how we eat and train and think.

I feel your pain. I gave up my hopes of playing pro football when I sustained a nasty injury during an extremely competitive drill at a pro combine. They occasionally televise these events on ESPN2. If you want to see the next-generation of NFL players really compete, check it out.

Anyway, even at the tender age of 25, I started to feel the aches and pains more and more. As it became more difficult to outrun 20-year-olds, I realized that I needed to change my training approach in order to stay healthy and keep competing. Luckily I was a certified athletic trainer and I had just received my CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist). I figured that I would just train my way out of my injury and get right back to football again.

The problem I had was typical of many college/pro athletes; I could not recover fast enough to stay competitive. My head was so wrapped around conditioning and standard rehabilitation techniques that I wouldn’t even consider alternative methods — like many teenagers, I knew it all.

It didn’t work. I was still training like I was 18; lots of weights, running, ice and vitamin I (ibuprofen). Even the advanced physical therapy and athletic training techniques were not working. This is when I started to think outside the box, as I was fearful that all my experience, education and genetic ability were not fixing my problems.

I see many athletes that still train like this. Some get results, but most do not. We are learning that there are ways to get good results without wearing out cartilage from all the pounding. “Work smarter, not harder,” my dad used to say when I was a teenager. Of course I didn’t listen because I knew it all back then, too. You can get away with almost any type of training and diet in your teens and 20s. That’s why athletes like Peyton Manning are so special. That’s also why athletes like Peyton get paid a lot. If anyone could do it, it wouldn’t be special.

Peyton is getting old. Everyone is amazed at how well an aging quarterback can do. He is at the top of his game in his late 30s. How can this be? Nobody really knows what makes great athletes so great, but hopefully I can open your eyes to some of the things that athletes like Peyton do to compete.

When I look back at the stupid things that I’ve done in preparation for athletic events, I’m amazed that I’m even alive. There is no right or wrong way to train or eat. Athletes get results on just about anything from bologna sandwiches to “natural steroids.” Modern athletes have a wider range of therapies to choose from, but they are trying to do the same thing; assist the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Genetics are a big factor for this function that nothing can be done about, so quit blaming your parents. No matter how you train, there is a way to avoid a proper balance of rest, nutrition, hydration, therapies and modalities, conditioning and mental health. These must be in place in order for the natural inflammatory response to take place, and heal your injury.

I’m not talking about acute injuries. You can’t prevent accidents. Thank goodness we have amazing orthopedic docs in the valley to fix that. I’m talking about the 50 percent or so of “overuse” injuries that are due to poor preparation, poor training and poor management. The human body requires objective maintenance.

Don’t expect to perform like Peyton unless you put the time into proper maintenance. Maybe a better comparison is, don’t expect to ski and bike and run well, without injuries, with little or no preparation for too long because there are consequences. I have clients who are performing extremely well into their 70s and 80s, many of whom do not have the best genetics and have had extensive injuries and medical issues.

Anyone can do well in the 20s and 30s — the crucial transition period. In the next couple of articles, I’ll try to explain some advanced therapies and secret training techniques that you may not have thought of that will help you do your best as you age. You won’t throw a perfect spiral like Peyton, and you won’t have his offensive line protecting you as you weave through the grocery store, but you will learn what athletes really do to stay in the game.

Steve Wells is a personal trainer and co-owner of Midland Fitness. His column appears on Tuesdays.


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