Why We Slow Down and What To Do About It

It’s insidious.

Your speed slowly sneaks away from you a little bit each day, each month, each year until, if you’re not diligent about changing it, you might find yourself shuffling to and from the kitchen.

It’s true.

We slow down as we age.

But why?

Is there anything we can do about it?

Why We Slow Down

We slow down for a couple of reasons.

First, from the age of 25, we lose a little lean muscle mass each year and by age 70, the total loss will be close to 30% with an associated 40% loss of strength.  The loss of strength is directly tied to the loss of speed.

You can’t move fast without being strong.

Second, with the absence of training and an inadequate diet , two key hormone levels drop: testosterone and growth hormone. And yes, women need testosterone (although it’s a very small amount, it’s still important). Both of these hormones help you recover from taxing physical work and facilitate muscle strength and growth( oh, and if you want to keep younger looking skin, well, growth hormone helps you).

The loss of strength comes from atrophy of a specific type of muscle fiber – fast twitch. And things like walking, slow runs, cycling, swimming don’t do much to awaken the sleepy fast twitch. You have to use fast movements and some degree of resistance.

Too much load and you can get hurt as you try to push, pull, squat, or lift with speed.

Too little load and nothing really changes.

How to Increase Your Speed

One of the first things to do is test yourself. Find out your strengths and weaknesses and get your overall ActiveAge below your calendar age before you start training for speed. You need a solid foundation first. I was lecturing at a conference a few years ago about this topic and the importance of establishing the foundation  and afterward one of the attendees came up to me and said, “You know, this reminds me of Star Trek. It’s like trying to go to warp speed with crap in your engines.” Well said.

Once your ActiveAge is low enough, add power training to your training schedule. I’ve designed specific Elements  to work on speed but with lower loads so your risk of injury is much less (and there’s always risk of injury with any form of training or exercise – it’s all controlled trauma). Here’s an example of a drill from the Power Element, Silver:

Add High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) but instead of a bike, elliptical, or other device, try sprinting. Now, this has to be done slowly. The impact loads of sprinting are high and if you’re not used to it, well, your body will likely let you know.

When I use the word “sprint”, I mean move as fast as you can. This might be walking very fast or even a slow run. It’s whatever fast is for you within your capability.

  • Use 10 seconds for the sprint and 60 seconds for an easy recovery (walk back to the starting point).
  • Do no more than 8 rounds.
  • Priming first.
    • Round 1 – use about 40% effort
    • Round 2 – 50% effort
    • Round 3 – 50% effort
    • Round 4 – 60% effort
    • Round 5 – 60% effort
    • Round 6 – 70% effort
    • Round 7 – 70% effort
    • Round 8 – 80% effort
  • Stay with this pattern for 5 sessions then you can gradually increase the effort across the rounds.

When you sprint, you do it no more than one day in a week. It’s taxing to your joints, muscles, and nervous system.

The benefit of speed / interval training is significant. After just one round of the above sprinting intervals, you will boost growth hormone by over 400% and that increase can last up to two hours.1

Talk about return on investment.

So why don’t more people do this? Why do you see lines and lines of “aerobic” equipment in gyms instead of sprint lanes?

People don’t know the difference.

Most people get their “fitness” information from magazines, friends, or maybe some Internet sites. And most of those sources will suggest aerobic training to lose fat, improve cardiorespiratory function, etc. And that information is true but short sighted.

So, they drink the sand.

We’re going to slow down at least some as we age but you can make significant improvements in yourself if you really want to. And it doesn’t take a lot of time either.

Let’s speed up a little? What do you say?

How do you work on your speed What works for you?

Photo by: Kitti.Jakobovits


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About Doug Kelsey

DK_bball_post Doug Kelsey is a physical therapist and healthy lifestyle “guru”. Doug is formerly an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Oklahoma Health Science and is the owner of Sports Center Physical Therapy in Austin, Tx. He writes on how to “actively age” – how to get healthy and fit over your lifetime and take charge of your health. He and his brother Joshua created the ActiveAge Blueprint.

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  1. Stokes, K. A., M. E. Nevill, et al. (2002). “The time course of the human growth hormone response to a 6 s and a 30 s cycle ergometer sprint.” J Sports Sci 20(6): 487-94. []