‘As the Baby Boomers age and want to stay fit, they’ll also want to avoid injury,” says board-certified sports medicine specialist Dr. Adam Redlich. “That will be very important.”
Redlich will present “Aging Athletes: How to keep a competitive edge and stay fit while avoiding injury as we age,” at the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, September 11, at 7 p.m. His talk is part of the part of Princeton Senior Resource Center’s ongoing Engaged Retirement & Encore Careers Speaker Series.
Redlich’s sports medicine practice in Robbinsville has treated adult, youth, and even pediatric patients since 2003. He favors a holistic approach that unites conditioning, injury prevention, and, if needed, state-of-the-art treatment.
A major thrust of the September 11 presentation, he says, “will be how aging affects the athlete, how to deal swiftly and efficiently with injuries or aches and pains — or even avoid them.”
For both conditioning and injury prevention — especially for the aging athlete — Redlich strongly advocates cross training: using a variety of related exercises to maintain or increase fitness while avoiding unvarying workouts that invite staleness or injury.
A classic example of cross training is runners who don’t pound the pavement constantly, but spend some workouts biking or swimming. Their joints are given a rest, and their cardiovascular fitness is maintained. It may even be improved.
Athletes young and old, Redlich stresses, “should not be ignoring stretching, flexibility and core strength.” The core, broadly speaking, is the basket of back and abdominal muscles and tendons that help unite the entire body. Core strength is emphasized in yoga.
“I’m really a huge proponent of yoga,” says Redlich, who typically practices the art once a week. He suggests that athletes identify the multitudinous styles (from gentle to “power” yoga) that suits them best. When creating custom workouts for patients he will often include yoga-style exercises that promote flexibility and core strength.
Briefed on Jerry Fennelly’s severe triathlon crash, Redlich (who has completed several sprint triathlons himself) agreed with Fennelly that slowness in processing a re-balancing reaction; being in the first competition of the season; and lack of personal coaching might all have been contributing factors.
One approach to prepare for the unexpected in competition is what Redlich terms “functional training.” These are actions and drills that mimic the body’s natural movements. For example, “plyometric” bounding exercises can not only build explosive power; some can prepare the body for sudden jumps or side-to-side moves. The athlete who only does straight ahead jogging is less prepared during a road race to avoid a pothole that suddenly appears underfoot.
Proprioceptive ability, a sense of the body’s position and equilibrium, is important for simple everyday movement and even more crucial for complex athletic performance. But it may inevitably decline with age. Doing single leg dips or standing on a wobble board — with eyes closed — can do wonders for balance; such drills come under the broad heading of “vestibular” or balance therapy.
“It’s good for athletes who want to prevent falls or want a competitive edge,” says Redlich. He notes that injured athletes will act to reduce pain and swelling, then do physical therapy to regain strength. But they often forget that their proprioceptive skills need to be trained back to former levels.
Many gyms, Redlich adds, give new members brief functional movement screening tests that evaluate flexibility, balance, and ability to turn or rise suddenly.
Injury prevention starts literally from the ground up. When Redlich evaluates new clients, he pays close attention to their footwear and its affect on body balance and joint positions: “I’m taking a look at your feet when you’re standing, walking, jogging, and running.”
Redlich also urges athletes to train on varying surfaces. Running on the track may get you extremely fit, but it doesn’t prepare your body and reflexes to run on a road or a cross country trail.
The first competition of the season may indeed be fraught with risks, whatever the athlete’s level of fitness and motivation — or their age. “If it’s the start of the season, your body has to regain its muscle memory,” Redlich says. Even if the athlete has been exercising all winter, his/her body has in a real sense been sitting off the competitive field.
Interestingly, concussion is becoming a real problem for today’s older recreational athletes, not just young pros. “I’m starting to see a fair amount of concussions among the aging athletic population,” Redlich reports. “Especially among people who have remained active in soccer and volleyball. That’s why these aspects of maintaining and recovering balance are so important.”
Redlich will also talk on September 11 about new treatments for tendon and ligament sprains (such as the “tennis elbow” and “runner’s achilles” that plague senior athletes). If the athlete has not responded to standard courses of rest, ice, and anti-inflammants after six months, he will employ new, non-drug injection therapies such as prolotherapy using dextrose sugar or platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) using the athlete’s own blood elements. “These are state-of-the-art treatments,” he says.
Redlich trained at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, where he is still an adjunct faculty member and volunteer clinical instructor. He is also on the staffs of RWJ Hamilton and University Medical Center at Princeton-Plainsboro. He has served as an event physician for the New York and New Jersey marathons among other competitions. He was an assistant team physician at Rutgers and is currently head team physician for Allentown High School and Hightstown High School.
But what about the aging would-be athlete, someone who may be hearing the call of swifter, higher, stronger a bit later in life?
“Ease your way into it and get a certified sports trainer,” advises Redlich, who is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
And although motivation is key, being too driven can mean driving yourself to injury.
“You find people working out seven days a week without any rest days. Or working out hard all the time,” he says. Redlich advocates the principles of “periodization” in which the week’s or month’s exercise is consciously structured to incorporate rest and recovery. For example, an athlete may do two days of hard training in a row but then back off for two days of easy workouts.
“Aging Athletes: How to keep a competitive edge and stay fit while avoiding injury as we age,” Adam Redlich, M.D., Princeton Public Library, Witherspoon Street, Tuesday, September 11, 7 p.m., 609-924-7108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Free.
A+ Athlete — Sports Medicine, L.L.C., Robbinsville Shopping Center, 38A Robbinsville-Allentown Road, 609-223-2286, www.aplusathlete.com