Q+A: Am I training too hard for my age?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 3 September 2000
by George Gandy

Q I’m a 53-year-old male who races all distances from 5K to the marathon. I train six days a week: four hard sessions, two easy ones, plus a rest day. Do you think this is too much for someone of my age?

A The real key to making any training programme successful is to get the right balance between the work (volume and effort levels) and opportunity for recovery (sleep, relaxation, easy/rest days etc). The ideal balance will differ for individuals, but lifestyle and age are important factors.

Rather than having a set number of hard sessions every week, I would recommend anyone to phase them in gradually. Thus, in the first phase (a few weeks) of a training programme, just concentrate on easy and steady running and gradually increase your mileage, particularly via one weekly long run. When the mileage has crept up sufficiently, begin to include one hard session per week. After a few weeks of progress on this basis, a second work-out can be added.

My opinion is that four hard sessions in a six-day training week is too many at any age. I think that at 53 you would do much better to limit yourself to one guaranteed hard session (eg Monday or Tuesday) with the option of a second one (eg Thursday or Saturday) if you feel you have recovered enough to benefit.

You should replace the other sessions with relaxed runs and moderately paced tempo sessions. Your present inclusion of one easy day and one rest day is a very good idea.

George Gandy, Director of Athletics at Loughborough University.

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Discuss this article

I worry about losing lean muscle!
I am a woman of 52 who started running last December. I weigh 109lb at 5'4" tall and feel fit and healthy. At the moment I only run up to 15 miles three times a week but am inceasingly becoming an enthusiast. However, I worry about the effects of having low body fat and whether I will lose lean muscle if I run every day. Should I cross train instead?

Posted: 04/05/2003 at 21:29

I'm no expert but I would think you will gain lean muscle and lose body fat by running every day. I do know that muscle weighs more than fat. I think cross training is a benefit to any runner, you use muscles that you don't normally use during running.
Posted: 04/05/2003 at 23:52

Keep your calory intake up (1 mile = 100 calories) to the right level and get a good proportion of the extra as protein and you should be ok.
Posted: 04/05/2003 at 23:55

Thanks everyone, that's reassuring. I had read that muscles need more time to recover in between bouts of exercise as we get older so the same ones shouldn't be exercised every day or they could get wasted. I'll trust how my body feels and see how it goes.
Posted: 07/05/2003 at 23:44

I think you can safely forget the muscle wastage bit. I don't know where that's come from. As previously said, you will build muscle if you keep up a sensible protein intake and it's scientifically proven that you will increase bone density with regular training.
I'm 62, I do little else but running, and I have increased my leg muscle size over the last few years , not reduced it.

Posted: 08/05/2003 at 07:09

JJ - Great, I'll trust to your personal experience and keep at it.
Posted: 10/05/2003 at 00:07

You'll only lose lean body mass like muscles and bits of organs if you don't eat enough and need to burn muscle tissue to fuel your running, Ronny. As others have pointed out, you're more likely to gain muscle mass and lose a bit of fat.

There is, however, an inexorable decline in muscle mass with the passage of time which can be offset most effectively by doing resistance training, and it would be worth thinking about a session or two a week of upper body weights and core strengthening work as well as running. It's good for your bones, too.

On which important subject, having low body fat may increase your risk of osteoporosis, so do make sure you avoid other things that might make you lose bone mass - smoking, too much booze, salty snacks, fizzy drinks or caffeine and a high-protein diet are the main risk factors that are within your control. Aim for plenty of calcium - 1,200-1,500g daily, ideally from food but take a supplement if you're not able to manage that much. Running increases bone mass at your hips but not your spine.

Enjoy your running!

Cheers, Interfering Auntie V-rap.

Posted: 10/05/2003 at 11:03

Auntie V
Wise advice thanks, and relevant. I noticed my weight was dropping so started eating more about a month age and feel better for it. Also, I left the gym after running became part of my routine, used to do upper body weights there but only manage these once a week at home. So I will increase this now. From your checklist above, my diet seems OK but I'll check the calcium.
All this advice has been very useful and I can now stop worrying and improve my running!
Posted: 10/05/2003 at 11:28

Ronny, don't worry about losing the lean muscle. As the other say, as long as you eat enough to replace the energy used you will be OK. I'm 44, 5'4", weigh 52kg (107 lbs-ish) and have been running for nearly 10 years now. The only weight i lose is about 3-4lbs every spring and i put it back on in October each year when the weather cools down. I think it's winter fat!

Posted: 10/05/2003 at 19:31


Low budget muscle conservation. Do lots of gardening to maintain upper body strength and run and walk for the rest.

You've really got to starve yourself to lose muscles that you are using regularly. Most muscle loss in older people comes from inactivity.

My uninformed opinion only.

Similarly brain loss is fuelled by a tendency to stop thinking as you get older.

Posted: 10/05/2003 at 20:24

At 79 I find that 2 or 3 runs per week are about all I can sustain without feeling that I'm taking out more than I'm putting in. My main problem is that 'mini-muscle strains' esp in hamstrings can just 'appear from nowhere' even on non-running days. My runs are 4 to 7 miles depending on how I feel & the weather & underfoot conditions.  I jog a mile before 10 mins stretching & stretch again at the end. How does this sound?

I aim to do the occasional 10k, as I feel anything longer would be asking fore trouble! 

Posted: 31/10/2007 at 20:19


Christ! That's low

Posted: 31/10/2007 at 20:22

No one including you, Ronny, has mentioned intensity. As you get older, you lose lean muscle mass. Aerobic exercise is not enough to stimulate muscle fibre growth, only to maintain what you have, in effect slightly slowing the decline. However, if you exercise anerobically, either within the context of your running, or with strength/resistance training, you can halt the slide. If you are already including eg hard hill reps, short fast intervals (very short, very fast!), or weights or circuit training then fine. If you are exercising aerobically then more aerobic will not make a lot of difference. Second, and also not mentioned in the posts above, is the amount of carbs you eat. Regualr high-carb intake = regular bursts of insulin, = a tendency to not gain lean muscle mass. So adding calories is ok, but adding them in the form of fat and protein is crucial to maintain insulin sensitivity, which in turn is crucial in promoting muscle growth.

 Huw, www.runflux.com for your daily dose of running.

Posted: 01/11/2007 at 16:35

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