First, let’s start off by describing what ‘training age’ means. Training Age is how many years that individual has been training. For some people, they may have started lifting weights and doing technical work when they were 10-11 years old. For other individuals, their training age may have only started when they joined a CrossFit gym at the age of 23. Many competitive people commenced their training around the ages of 16-18. Clearly, there is quite a bit of variation in training age and when that may occur but to answer the question: “What changes may occur as an athlete’s training age progresses?” I want to address the athlete that began training between the ages of 16-20 years of age.
Let’s cover four main adaptations that occur as an athlete progresses. Improved muscular coordination, improved flexibility (with proper stimulus), improved cognitive capability, improved dietary habits. As an athlete adapts/ages, they typically become more invested in their sport and thus improve in various other areas of life. Time management improves, socializing priorities change and goal setting improves. Training is much more than what is done in the weight room, training comes down to long term commitment of positive habits that can lead to excellence in a competitive atmosphere.
Improved muscular coordination: Scientifically, this is caused by the thicker development of myelin sheathing surrounding neurological transmitters. Think of a young child playing with a bouncy ball. They may struggle in the beginning to even follow the ball with their eyes, let alone their hands and feet! Over the span of 2-3 weeks of playing with the bouncy ball, the body adapts by developing thicker myelin sheathing to ensure the synapses fire faster to move their hands based around what their eyes are telling their brain. This is EXACTLY what happens over time as an athlete progresses in their sport. In Olympic weightlifting, throwing, wrestling, football, etc...the athlete learns the appropriate motor patterns and practices them over and over again to lead to more efficient and EFFECTIVE movement.
Improved Flexibility: As noted above, this must be done with PROPER STIMULUS. If an individual is training movements that are always in the partial ranges, there will be a shortening of muscle fibers and a lower rate of recruitment from the golgi tendon organ. It is important that as athletes develop and age, they focus on flexibility as a recovery method AND as a training method. If the lengthening of muscles are continually ignored, serious injuries, odd motor patterns and dead muscles may arise in training. Injuries are ALWAYS going to occur to some extent in sports based training but when flexibility is addressed on a consistent basis, wear and tear will not be as commonplace as the individual whom trains in the partial range pattern.
Improved Cognitive Capability: This may seem like an odd progression because it isn’t necessarily “physical.” BUT...it is. As an athlete ages in training, they begin to learn unique motivation tools, they learn how to hold a stronger mind/muscle connection and they learn greater focus. These are all mental aspects of training that cannot be ignored. In reality, these aspects of training should be focused upon the most. The difference between an above average athlete and an ELITE athlete almost always tends to be the mental/cognitive ability of the elite athlete is more advanced. Physically, there is minimal difference between the top athletes and the athletes just below the top. It comes down to the elite athletes understanding the power of their mind and their mind’s ability to properly recruit and execute in stressful and intense situations without flaw. Improved cognitive capability is also the trait that transfers best to the “real world” when the sports career has come to a halt.
Improved dietary habits: This is something that takes longer in some athletes when compared with others. Becoming an elite athlete requires an individual to learn about their body and how their body feels on a regular basis. Over time, that transfers into eating and drinking healthier options that nourish the body and thus improve general feeling and raise homeostasis on a day to day basis. When athlete’s learn what and how certain foods may negatively impact their body, they begin to recover faster, stay healthier, have less inflammation and thus improve their performance.
All of these factors are important for developing through the entirety of an individual’s training age. Prioritize these factors by analyzing weaknesses and strengths and move forward with a progressive mind to become a champion.