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How Much Training is Too Much?

Three ways to match your training regimen to your body's stage of life

As our bodies change and age, our exercise outlook must change too. Jessica Seaton, D.C., an orthopedic chiropractor and chair of the United States Masters Swimming (USMS) sports medicine committee, suggests athletes hone their workouts for what they can do now ­ not what they once did.

"Athletes show certain patterns as they age," Seaton said. "In their early 20s, athletes can train irregularly, train hard, injure themselves and bounce back pretty quickly. By their late 30s, irregular training, training too hard or training too little make a bigger difference than it did 10 years earlier. By the time athletes reach 40, they're not spring chickens anymore. Irregular training has more dire consequences, often leading more quickly to injury, and often of a more serious nature. As the years go on, all of this gets more pronounced."

There is one caveat, Seaton said: We are each on our own physiological schedule. Everyone ages on slightly different schedules. Factors that affect the speed of aging include genetics, quantity and quality of exercise, nutrition, illness, habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, outlook and attitude, and stress. Each person also has a unique genetic make-up, with biochemical and physiological individuality. Different optimal workouts suit different times of life.

Here are three smart ways to avoid this breakdown:

"If you train hard every day of the week, or several days in a row, you're really not giving your body time to rebuild," Seaton said. "The result is that you simply end up being broken down."

first published on the USMS web site's News Bulletin page on April 9, 2004