Sports isn’t supposed to be an old man’s game.
You know it, too. From basketball to football to baseball to track and field, most sports are known for having young stars. You’re supposed to dominate the athletic field in your 20s and 30s, then gradually fade into the background as your athletic gifts diminish after age 30. Your athletic prime is supposed to be finite, because things like explosive power, agility, and strength fade faster than, say, your basketball IQ or your “feel” for throwing your fastball.
Except here’s the thing: More and more athletes are continuing to dominate their sports well after the age of 30, and more athletes are talking about playing past the age of 40, too. That includes Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, who now talks of playing until he’s 50, and Lakers star LeBron James, who continues to dominate the NBA. It includes Serena Williams, who remains a top tennis star, and surfer Kelly Slater, who’s 49 but still crushes big waves.
How are these athletes doing it? Well, advances in sports science are helping these elite athletes excel into their late 30s and beyond. We talked to top trainers to learn the moves that will enable you to extend your peak, too.
How LeBron Stays Explosive
LeBron James turns 37 this year, but he’s still crushing it because of his focus on muscle elasticity and explosiveness. Maintain yours with these moves from basketball trainer Paul Fabritz, C.S.C.S.
Muscle elasticity—which helps you accelerate and brake—deteriorates as you get older. A go-to for aging athletes should be low-impact jump-rope drills. Jump rope from side to side, and add rotational hops. Focus not on leaping high but on feeling “bouncy and rhythmic,” Fabritz says. Jump for 1 minute, then rest for 1 minute, for 3 to 4 sets daily.
Instead of heavy, joint-pounding power moves, do full-body med-ball throws. Start standing, holding a 20-pound med ball at your chest, then squat down, lowering the ball to the floor. Explode upward, throwing the ball as high as possible. Do 5 sets of 3 reps, 3 times per week.
Brady’s Durability Secrets
Tom Brady, 43, has played in ten Super Bowls—and won seven—over 21 NFL seasons. He sustains peak performance thanks in part to daily foam rolling and dynamic body work from his longtime body coach and TB12 co-founder Alex Guerrero, as well as a regimen of functional core-strength moves that help his body absorb hits. Do this circuit 4 times.
Banded Pallof Reverse Lunge
Standing next to a handle band’s anchor, extend your arms straight out and step back into a lunge position. Return to the start. Do 10 reps on each side.
Sumo Squat to Rotation Press
Holding a handle band with one hand, squat, and as you rise, pivot on your back foot, turn, and punch your arm out. Return to the start and repeat. Do 10 reps on each side.
Split-Stance High-to-Low Chop
Attach a handle band above head height and set up in a lunge. Bring your hands down to your opposite pocket and back to overhead. Do 10 reps on each side.
How Kelly Slater Builds Balance and Stability
Eleven-time surfing world champion Kelly Slater, 49, still schools rivals half his age partly because of his catlike balance. Use these tactics from movement guru Drew Morcos, D.P.T., P.T., to sharpen yours.
Balance, like other physical skills, erodes as you age, says Morcos, who works with some of the world’s best surfers. The good news: Most people don’t intentionally balance, so a little bit of work will go a long way. “Balance comes from our eyes, inner ear, and nerve endings,” he says. A stable core and hips that are strong on both sides are also critical. If one hip is unstable, it can cause the other hip to dip, leading to falls and injuries. Sync your balance system each morning by “getting a really fluffy pillow and standing on it on one leg and doing everyday stuff, like when you’re brushing your teeth or working at a standing desk,” he says. To square your hips, do the following move, the hip drop, a handful of times throughout the day. Stand with your right foot on a step or a thick book, your left leg hanging off the side. Keep your right leg perfectly straight as you drop your left hip, then raise it as high as you can. That’s 1 rep. Do as many as you can while maintaining good form. You should feel the exercise in your right hip. Repeat on the other side.
How Serena Williams Stays Explosive
Serena Williams, 39, has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and counting. Credit a combination of flawless footwork and lights-out power, says Kacper Owsian, owner of LA Tennis Coaching Academy and a former ATP player.
Williams’s physique tells only part of the story: “Body rotation on the ground strokes is mainly responsible for power,” says Owsian. Muscles help, he adds, but Williams’s capacity to rotate her hips, turn her upper body, then whip her racket in lethal arcs to both sides is a skill you can’t develop with bench presses. Instead, he says, try these drills.
Superhero Bird Dogs
Assume a pushup position. Slowly raise your left hand and your right foot off the floor as far as possible and hold for a 2-count. Lower, repeat on your other side, and continue for 60 seconds. Do 2 or 3 sets.
From a wide stance, jump back and forth repeatedly from one foot to the other, covering as much ground as you can side to side and landing softly with each jump. Do this 3 times for 20 seconds each.
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