In this week’s column, reader Tim Swail is wondering how adult exercisers should arrange different workouts with the limited amount of time they have available each week for fitness training.

Q: “Does the allocation of time toward aerobic, high intensity, strength and mobility/agility training change as we age? Is there a specific percentage that we should assign to each?”

A: Tim is following a training model based on a fictional Olympics featuring activities that 100 year-olds would need to be able to do to live a happy, satisfying life. The idea comes from Dr. Peter Attia, a physician specializing in the applied science of longevity and the activities include getting up from the floor with a single support (just one arm), squatting to pick up a child who weighs 30 pounds, lifting a 30-pound object overheard (like putting a suitcase in an overhead compartment), getting out of a swimming pool without a ladder and carrying bags of groceries up and down flights of stairs.

Tim Swail is 55 and a long way from the Centenary Olympics, but, he is mindful that the way he moves in the present will dictate how he’s able to move in the future and, therefore, has created a workout program designed to meet the challenges described above. He loves working out and likes to push himself with activities like cross country skiing, weight training and high-intensity circuit workouts.

In formulating my answer for Tim, I referred to the book “Ageless Intensity” by Pete McCall, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) which describes how exercise can reduce the biological effects of aging. Using science-based evidence, McCall describes how three specific types of exercise can do the most to mitigate the aging process; mobility training, muscle force production (traditional strength training) and metabolic training (high-intensity interval exercise).

As we age, another training variable that becomes vitally important is rest and recovery. Getting older doesn’t mean that we can’t do all of the things we used to do, it means that we have to be more thoughtful about how we do them. This is where periodized program design comes into play. Periodization refers to a length of time that is designated for a specific type of training as a way to help an exerciser reach a specific outcome. In McCall’s book, he describes two types of periodization; linear and non-linear.

Linear periodization is used by people who are preparing for a specific event like a competition, trip, photo shoot, reunion or even surgery. It is an extremely effective way of preparing for a date specific “destination” that is used by athletes and non-athletes alike. Over a set period of time, exercise volume and intensity are adjusted and manipulated until the event takes place. Specific training phases (strength, power, metabolic endurance etc.) are used for weeks and months at a time in a progressive fashion.

Non-linear periodization, on the other hand, adjusts workout intensity and volume on a much more frequent basis; weekly and sometimes even daily for the sake of enhanced recovery. This is easily the preferred training model for most adult exercisers hoping to stay fit, active and injury free, most of the time. Also called “undulating” training, non- linear periodization means that you would do heavy strength workouts, body weight mobility routines and high intensity interval workouts all in the same week. This allows for more frequent exercise, greater recovery between any specific training modality and less chance of suffering from overuse injuries or getting bored.

My favourite way to train, longterm, is to use an undulating system on a regular basis unless a specific destination goal is on the calendar. Some examples of these types of goals, from my client base, include; ski trips, hiking vacations, class reunions, major surgeries, triathlons, weddings, photo shoots and the start of sport seasons like golf, softball, skiing or hockey. When these come up, move to a linear periodization program until you arrive at the “destination” and then go back to undulating, until the next goal comes along.

The ideal breakdown for an undulating program would be different for every exerciser. While age is definitely a factor in considering how to design such a plan, there are many other factors involved that will determine someone’s response to exercise like training experience, general health and/or injury status.

Until you are working toward a clearly defined goal, plan each training week to consist of two to three high intensity strength or circuit workouts, two to three moderate intensity mobility body weight sessions and one to three low intensity, recovery workouts like walking, yoga or water exercise. While the weekly makeup will differ depending on energy levels and life demands, your intention should be to have a variable schedule so that workouts fluctuate in intensity from one day to the next, allowing for maximum recovery and rebuilding of muscle tissue and energy stores.

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