As endurance athletes we all face the same hard truth: Eventually age catches up to us and begins to pass us by. What we all fear begins to happen: We slow down.
If we look at this aging process strictly from metabolic (aerobic) fitness, that decline begins at the young age of 25! This is derived from scientific studies measuring VO2max as an indicator of metabolic fitness: After age 25, we start to lose it.
Twenty five?? But wait! Many of us don’t discover our passion for all things endurance until much later in life. Are we starting already on the downhill slide? What’s going to motivate us if we don’t feel like we are getting faster?
There is Hope!
We can continue to get faster, even beyond that aerobic prime at 25 years old. And even when we do begin to slow down some time later in life, we can continue to experience improvement in the arena of endurance athletics. We can enjoy a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment well into our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond.
How? The short answer is “K.I.” – “kinetic intelligence”.
Kinetic Intelligence explains why the top male and female triathletes crowned each year as world champions at Hawaii Ironman tend to be in their mid-30’s – a decade beyond aerobic primetime.
So what is this K.I.? And how can it outrun that decade of aerobic decline?
To explore this form of intelligence, let’s begin with this question: “What is the benefit of KI, and how will it make me a better athlete – at any age?”
The primary benefit of kinetic intelligence is better and more efficient technique. No matter how old you are, if you improve your technique, you will swim, bike, run, ski, paddle, etc. faster and/or farther with:
- less energy and less exertion
- less pain and less risk of injury
- faster recoveries
- a more accurate sense of pacing – without relying on monitors and gadgets
- greater flow and finesse – even at high intensity
- greater versatility in the distances, formats and terrain you perform at
- a higher level of perceptual acuity and mental engagement
With KI, you are a smarter, more versatile, adaptable and efficient athlete – at any age.
Training Kinetic Intelligence: PAGES
How do we train and develop KI? Will it compromise targeted metabolic training?
We train and develop KI by expanding our focus for each training session to target more than just metabolic fitness. In the entire spectrum of metabolic intensity – from easy recovery to high-intensity intervals – we focus on training “PAGES” technique with every stroke, every stride.
Underlying PAGES as the very foundation of efficient technique is our ability to translate the (vertical) pull of gravity into (horizontal) forward movement. This begins with the “A” in PAGES – Aligned.
I call this “effortless power”. It’s a term coined by Peter Ralston. Effortless power arises as we use and direct forces available to us while minimizing the amount of force we actually generate. The slogan I have for this:
Finesse is stronger than force.
I have been building and improving my alliance with gravity for over four decades now. And this improvement continues. At age 61, yes, I am slowing down. However, I enjoy both my day-to-day training and my frequent racing performances more now than ever before.
What About Aerobic Fitness?
My emphasis on pursuing KI in each and every training session does not seem to compromise or adversely affect my metabolic fitness. Recently I tested at 99th percentile for VO2max at my age group.
You can train both metabolic fitness and kinetic intelligence simultaneously.
Tips For KI Training
For most of us, our training sessions are structured and focused on “hitting the numbers” to improve or preserve metabolic fitness. We focus on heart rate, power and pace to govern each session. Expanding to include KI training may be unfamiliar at first. To introduce this new pursuit, start with your recovery training sessions. In these sessions you are not driven or distracted by metrics. You can relax and be more present with the sense-felt experiences of your body, and less fixated on the mentally distracting metrics.
During these easy sessions, focus on what you feel, and not on what the monitors tell you. Focus on each stride, each stroke and each breath. In simplest terms, BE HERE NOW: Often times when we train, our fixation with hitting the numbers distracts us from really feeling what we are doing right now. And this is the only place where we can improve PAGES – here and now.
In Zen tradition, there is an expression – Beginner’s Mind.
Approach your training session with the humble curiosity of a beginner, instead of the proud certainty of an expert. This approach empowers us to discover, learn and improve regardless of age. Curiosity encourages us to navigate towards PAGES technique by sharpening our perceptions of what is occurring in this moment, what we are feeling in the moment.
With the curiosity of Beginner’s Mind, we are able to let go of the goals and our finish-line-focus. We can patiently develop our body’s kinetic intelligence. Yes, kinetic intelligence is stored more in the body than the goal-driven frontal cortex of the brain that typically drives us to “hit the numbers” as we train.
This Beginner’s Mind, it sounds naive and ignorant doesn’t it? Consider this:
In the mind of beginner, there are infinite possibilities. In the mind of the expert there are very few.
We learn and improve rapidly when we are curious, patient and open – regardless of our age.
Ah… The House of Cards:
I teach swimming technique for a living. As I explain to my students, swim technique is
A House of Cards:
- We begin with one core element of technique.
- Then we add another, and another, and another…
- Eventually we realize that we lost touch with one of the elements, and that house of cards falls.
In the pursuit of kinetic intelligence, we train the mind-body awareness to maintain more and more elements of technique without losing touch. Our technique improves. We become more PAGES.
Book One of the series Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery explores each element of PAGES in depth and elaborates on the training methods for improving each element of PAGES in your technique – regardless of your sport. This book connects you with your innate wisdom as an endurance athlete – your kinetic intelligence. It guides you to expand your training focus beyond aerobic capacity so you can “hack” your performance potential at any age.
We can accelerate the process of improving PAGES technique by participating in technique-focused clinics like:
- Total Immersion Swimming
- Pose Running
- Zendurance Cycling
- Kaizen-durance Endurance Arts (swim, bike and run technique)
All of these educational methods are based on gravity-sourced propulsion.
However, each of us has the navigational skills to pursue our alliance with gravity and PAGES technique on our own – if we are patient, curious, and humble as we train. To do this, we must trust and listen to our body’s sensations. Most importantly, we must develop an acute sense of balance. That is our alliance with gravity.
For over four decades, I have been improving my alliance with gravity through my daily practice of T’ai Chi. It is simply the best investment I have made in my life. I produced a DVD “T’ai Chi for Athletes” that will guide you through a few easy-to-learn movement sequences you can practice for just a few minutes each day to improve your alliance with gravity.
We can continue to develop and refine kinetic intelligence for many decades beyond “aerobic primetime” and enjoy the benefits and improvements in our athletic performance. With patience and curiosity, focus on your alliance with gravity and PAGES technique.
In my next offering, we will look a little deeper into our pursuit of mastery through KI. Until then, remember this:
Less than one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population has the health, wealth, political and cultural freedom to live the endurance lifestyle we enjoy. Make it count… for more than just podiums and glory.