I'm a 60-year-old male. I'm a professional whitewater kayaking instructor, and I like to compete in kayak surfing. My goal is to get in as good a shape for those sports as my limited time allows. While I've always been very active, I am not and never really have been a top-flight competitor/athlete.

Because of joint issues I've had to stop hard weight training, but paddling hard is still within my abilities. Between an injury and an operation, I'm still getting back into decent condition.

I have been doing Tabata intervals with the kayak between one and three times a week. While they feel great, and they do give me a serious workout-- my paddling stamina is far better and I can feel my lats bumping up against my triceps lately -- I know that running would be an even better cardio workout.

I know that Tabata should not be an everyday thing. However, should it be considered as separate types of workout for completely different muscle groups? In other words, if I do my kayaking Tabata workout on M-W-F, and on one or two of the alternate days I do a running Tabata, is that too much stress on the aerobic system?

Or should I consider each Tabata day as if all of them were the same, and only do three a week no matter which one I do? Or maybe max out at two Tabata days/week for each muscle group?


2 Answers 2


This is not an answer to your question, but I have something useful to say for your situation, and it is too long for a comment.

Because of joint issues I've had to stop hard weight training

As you probably know, resistance training is your Nr. 1 ally against age-related sarcopenia. I suggest you don't give up in weight training, which of course you haven't done yet (hence the adjective strong in your sentence). But for other readers in your situation, I would like to suggest the following tips:

Work out twice a week at most

Forget about working out on a M,X,F or similar schedule. Over the age of 50 you can build muscle but the optimum frequency is TWICE A WEEK (Stadler, Stubbs, and Vukovich 1997; Westcott and Guy 1996; Westcott et al. 2009)

Ignore all bodybuilding routines you read about

They are meant for much younger people, and most times they are designed with the aim of exhausting them and make them feel the need to buy supplements. When applied to older people they are a sure recipe for injuries. This does not mean that you cannot build muscle any more: every day a lot of people in their 70s and beyond recover from broken bones and torn tendon surgeries. In those cases, their bodies have the ability of putting on some bone and muscle mass. It is obvious that our bodies retain a certain ability to get stronger at advanced ages, but the workout patterns must change in some way.

Go easy on your joints by reducing weight but lower the execution speed so that you still target your soft tissues

Aged cartilage in your joints can be damaged by using too much weight. By lowering the weights you reduce that risk. But then you must focus on slow execution speed in order to trigger the growth signal within your muscles.

Do smart substitutions for shoulder exercises

Shoulders are a common concern above mid-age. The small and delicate rotator cuff muscles (responsible for placing the humerus head in the right position for each movement) usually have worn off or are weaken, which means that the humerus head will not be placed correctly in certain positions (specially overhead movements) and this will lead to soft tissue impingement. The coracromial ligament is often hypertrophied due to age wearing, reducing the subacromial space. This makes again certain overhead positions dangerous for the supraspinatus tendon and for the shoulder in general.

Therefore, you should avoid overhead presses and work out your shoulders by avoiding lifting your humerus above horizontal: do pushups and lateral raises instead. But be careful with lateral raises: do them with thumbs pointing up in order to avoid reducing the subacromial space, and do not move your arms strictly in the same plane, but advance your hands slightly to the front, the so-called "scapular plane elevations" by physical therapists. You can be sure they give a good workout to the lateral deltoid (Reinold et al. 2007) and not only to your supraspinatus.

Avoid overhead exercises in general

Not only for shoulder exercises as mentioned above, but also targeting other body parts. For instance, if for any reason you insist in doing triceps isolation exercises, choose Cable Pushdown instead of Triceps Extension

Pay special attention to your Rotator Cuff

Slow external and internal rotations if done slowly, with light resistance and with emphasis on the eccentric movement will help your worn out rotator cuff tendons gaining health. Be very careful to include these exercises only at the end of your workouts (you don't want to exhaust those tiny but important muscles before doing the other exercises, because it is important that they assist the big exercises by positioning the humerus head correctly) and NEVER use a high resistance, because it is very easy to damage these muscles inadvertently.

Avoid bench pressing, do pushups instead

Avoid bench presses, where your scapulae and rear shoulder muscles are pressed against the bench, and do pushups instead. Not only they work out the same muscles, but they will contribute to your shoulder health by strengthening your shoulder girdle, serratus muscles and also by giving your core a gentle, isometric workout. If they are too easy for you, do them with a weighted vest. If they are too heavy for you, do them with your hands on a Smith machine bar whose elevation you can change in order to increase/decrease leverage.

Take care of your wrists by using push up handles and pull wrist straps for pull exercises (rows and similar)

Do not neglect those two accessories. Once you injure your wrists they take a very long time to heal.

Do NEVER work to failure. Choose a very slow linear progression instead

Start any exercise with a volume you can handle easily. Resist the urge to push through. In the next workout add no more than one rep per set. Do not change weight or leverage until you have achieved at least 15 repetition sets. This will ensure a very slow and safe progression. You may feel you are wasting time at the beginning but, as elementary logic dictates, you will sooner or later reach a training intensity that demands adaptation to your tissues, and you will have reached it slowly and safely.

Take special care on your knees

Unless you have been a life-long runner, choose swimming instead of running for cardio. A stationary bike is supposed to be OK too, but the ergonomics must be perfect and the progress should be carefully slow.

Take your time to warm up thoroughly

Do tons of shoulder circles and (empty hand) reverse flies before working out your upper body. Use the stationary bike for 8 to 10 minutes before squatting.

Do not push through exercises that give you joint discomfort. Choose surrogate exercises for them, or decrease range of motion

It is natural for instance that you feel joint pain at the most outstretched position of a chest fly. But by setting up the machine as to limit your range of motion, you can still work out.

Avoid isolation exercises if the muscles concerned are already at work within compound movements

For instance, by doing triceps isolation exercises you put your elbow joints under unnecessary stress. If you do pushups, your triceps are getting more than enough load to stimulate muscle growth and slow down or (partially) revert sarcopenia.

Stay away from too many crunches and abdominal work

Unless you have been doing them for years and your core is hard as iron, stay away from hard abdominal work, or you will be risking a hernia. During pushups your abs gets enough workout.

Do not hold your breath at all during resistance training

This may lead to dangerous blood pressure increase.


And pay a visit to a cardiologist before engaging in sports at advanced age.

  • My answer would probably fit better in such a question as "How should I train for strength at advanced age?". If there is such a question already, I agree that moderators move my answer if they feel like doing so.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 14:45

In other words, if I do my kayaking Tabata workout on M-W-F, and on one or two of the alternate days I do a running Tabata, is that too much stress on the aerobic system?

I don't think so. You're only taxing your system for four minutes, which really isn't a lot of load on your aerobic system. Personally I'd be more worried about the stress caused by doing sprint work (you'll be running that fast) three days a week. Sprints are terrific, but hard on the body.

It's worth mentioning too that Tabata (the guy) didn't set out to design a long-term program that would help you incrementally improve. If you're looking for that, you're much more in the realm of traditional strength and conditioning programs that have controlled parameters, balancing stress (exercise) and over-compensation (gains).

Or should I consider each Tabata day as if all of them were the same, and only do three a week no matter which one I do? Or maybe max out at two Tabata days/week for each muscle group?

It's worth pointing out too that in the original study that Dr Tabata did, he had his high intensity group working out four days a week, so he had back-to-back days on there.

If you have the recovery capacity for it, I would really look at mixing in kettlebells or bodyweight strength training. Additionally, I would add them on the days you're doing tabata. Do your classic strength training + tabata (runs or kayaks) on the same days.

I like having complete rest days, and given your job it sounds like even on rest days you're still moving around a bit (which is great).

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