How skating slappies causes muscle & strength loss & what to do about it...
Losing muscle and strength is a natural and unavoidable part of aging, but skating slappies or lowering the intensity of how you skate might actually be accelerating these losses...
So if you’re an older skater who’s started skating slappies because you feel like your body can’t handle much else. Or you’re younger and you want to extend your skate life as much as possible, dreading the moment when you’re also summoned to slap the curb, then this video/article's for you.
I’ll be going over what you need to do to reduce losses in muscle and strength so you can continue to skate at a higher intensity and feel good whilst doing it.
We lose muscle & strength from about 30-40 yrs old
I know it doesn’t seem this way as most skateboarders don’t work out, but muscle and strength are essential for skateboarding. They’re essential to protect your joints from damage, to absorb impact from gaps or repetitive impact from long sessions, to reduce soreness, and to help you jump onto ledges, balance in slides and grinds, and even skate slappies.
The thing is, from about the age of 30-40 years old we start losing muscle and strength progressively as we get older - a process known as “sarcopenia”.
Along with sarcopenia also comes a loss in power, speed, balance and pretty much all the bodily shit you need to skate. Lose these things and skating is going to take more effort, you’ll lose pop, you’ll ache more, your energy will drop and motivation to skate will even go down too.
Now I know lots of people just enjoy skating slappies, but for many skaters it’s a low impact option they go for because they feel like they can't handle the intensity of skating how they used to.
Regardless of what your reason is to skate more slappies, the truth is, you’ll be accelerating muscle and strength loss if they’re all you skate and don’t do any other kind of exercise.
Ok it isn’t all bad news though, because even though losing some muscle and strength is a natural and unavoidable part of ageing, you do have a lot of control over how severe and quick it hits you, including if all you skate is slappies.
Doing less and losing more
Ok so one of the biggest accelerators of muscle and strength loss as we get older is simply inactivity. People start sitting down more, exercising less and at a much lower intensity.
With the body you lose what you don’t use, so this drop in activity makes it think there's no point in hanging on to the muscle and strength it needed to support the more intense movement you used to do, because you're just not doing hitting that intensity anymore.
In the same way, as skaters get older they seem to gravitate to skating spots that are less intense, like slappies.
Now, lowering the intensity to a certain degree makes sense, I doubt we’ll ever see someone 70yrs + skating Hollywood High. But if we look at skaters like Reynolds who’s still dropping hammers at 44, or Ryan Decenzo who’s 36 and arguably skating better than he ever has, these guys show us the speed we lose muscle and strength or drop the intensity of our skating doesn’t need to be so fast.
Maybe it won't come as a surprise but the key to it all is found largely in doing what Reynolds and Decenzo do.
The "size principle" & skate intensity
Your muscles are divided into a load of fibres which are activated in groups of up to about 1000 fibres - known as motor units. Some of these motor units are small and produce lower force, some large producing a lot of force.
The amount and size of the motor units a muscle activates at one time depends on the intensity of the thing you’re doing and the force required. This is known as the "size principle".
For example, if you pick up a pen you only need say a few of the small motor units to do it, because it’s so light. Activating all your motor units would not only be a waste of energy, but you’d create so much force you’d probably throw the pen across the room.
Whereas if you’re a hysterical mother lifting a Fiat Panda off her child’s leg, you’ll activate close to or all of a muscles motor units, including the larger ones because the task needs so much more force.
Basically, as the amount of force needed to do something increases, the more of your muscle and the larger, more powerful motor units you’ll activate.
We can put skating on a similar graph where the type of skating we’re doing is related to the amount of muscle and motor units it activates.
High intensity skating like popping as high as we can, or repeated max effort movements in a short time, or jumping down big gaps will activate more motor units. Whereas slappies, chilled flat skating, mannys, skating lower ledges, etc are much less intense and as a result will activate much less of these motor units.
Why is this important? Well, as we age we tend to lose the larger, more powerful motor units, and as we literally can't generate high forces without them, the loss will slowly start closing the doors on our ability to hit a higher intensity with our skating.
We'll essentially be forced to lower the intensity of our skating and we'll enter into a viscious cycle where the drop in intensity will speed up the rate we lose these larger motor units. Remember we lose what we don’t use.
How to claim your power back over this process
Ok so how do we slow down muscle and strength loss and avoid human raisin mode? Well, the research shows there are two pretty basic things we need to do:
1. Eat enough protein
I'm not going to go deep into protein here as I've done a big video/article on everything you need to know about protein and skateboarding here.
2. Regularly generate enough force to activate your larger motor units
Now I’ve been picking on slappies in this vid - partially due to the fact that I can’t do them, which is a constant reminder of the small and pathetic man I am - but if we go back to our skate intensity graph, it can be pretty hard to do this with just skating alone anyway.
Even though you’ll be doing a better job by skating gaps, and popping as high as you can, and this is a key piece of the equation, there’s still more you need to do. This is where the secret sauce comes in... and I'm sure many of you have already gussed it, it's resistance training (aka strength training, working out, strength & conditioning, or whatever you wanna call it).
With training we can easily hit the intensity we need to activate the large motor units and protect and increase our muscle and strength.
As we go against heavy loads or reach a high amount of fatigue during an exercise, we start to recruit progressively more motor units to create the force needed to do what we're trying to do.
As sarcopenia hits all muscles in the body, we need to go for 2-3 sets of different strength based exercises for all the muscle groups 2-3x a week, at a rep range of about 6-12 per set (70-85% 1 rep max - 1 rep max is the max weight you could move for 1 rep).
For each set you need to be getting close to failure (the point where you're unable to do another rep), by aiming to pick a load heavy enough where you have no more than about 2 reps left in the tank for a given set of an exercise.
For example, if you're aiming for 10 reps and you pick a load of 10kg you should be heavily fatigued at rep 10, where you could hit 12 reps if you had to, but you wouldn't be able to do 13-14. If so, you could have gone heavier.
Higher reps up to about 30 will get you similar results in muscle growth (as long as you're hitting failure), but lower reps are going to do a better job at increasing strength. So just make sure you're hitting those heavier loads and lower rep ranges on a regular basis.
Power, speed & balance loss
One other characteristic that drops off as you age is the speed you're able to recruit your muscle - something that's key for almost all areas of skating as pretty much every movement and trick we do is relatively fast.
But research also shows that resistance training, and especially power based exercises (where you're moving lighter loads quickly), can develop your speed and power, and reduce this drop as you age.
Aim to include power exercises for all the muscle groups about 2-3x per week. Make sure you're moving fast with low loads (up to about 30-40% 1 rep max) for a low number of reps - up to about 5.
Now the key to resistance training is being progressive (known as progressive overload). Start off super heavy with 6 reps straight or power training at 40% 1 rep max and you're going to do yourself over big time. Not only are you going to be insanely sore and throbbing for about a week straight, but you'll probably tweak something and end up injured.
If you've got no experience resistance training you're going to notice big increases from pretty much anything you do, meaning you don't need to go as heavy.
The ranges about however are something you'll need to work towards as you get more used to the exercises and load you're using.
For example, if you lift 10kg for 10 reps of an exercise for 2 months and it's no longer difficult, the amount of those larger motor units you'll recruit with the same load will be much lower. Stick with this easy load and you'll actually losing strength over time.
Along with a drop in speed and power loss, is a loss in balance and coordination. Skating regularly is going to be huge for maintaining balance and coordination, but research also shows training can be a key piece of the equation.
Ok so even though this article has been focused on training to prevent sarcopenia, there isn't really any difference in how the average person should train.
A blend of strength, power, balance, plyometric, movement exercises - amongst other things - should be included in any program (for young and old) and if you're looking for a progressive training program for skateboarding that combines all these styles of training then you're gunna be interested in the NBD Skate Performance training program.
Are you too old or too young?
If you’re thinking “I’m already too old for this shit”, I’m sorry mate but that excuse isn’t valid because the research also shows that our ability to put on muscle and strength isn’t affected by ageing, meaning it’s never too late to start training and feel the improvements.
And if you're on the other end of the spectrum using the excuse of still being young, it’s also not valid.
Not only will resistance training for skateboarding help you skate better in the moment, but you’ll be one step ahead of sarcopenia. This means you'll potentially delay it from kicking in, but your increase in strength and muscle means that when you do hit your 30s - 40s, you'll start declining from a higher point, taking longer to hit that threshold where you can only skate slappies.
Keep skating what you love
So to sum it all up - we lose muscle and strength as we age, but we have the power to slow it down and even reverse it, up to a point.
Do your best to maintain a higher intensity of skating for as long as you can, even though it's going to take more effort as you get older, it will be worth it.
Ultimately skate what you love, whether that’s slappies, ledges, gaps, or flat, just realise that whatever you chose to skate, to protect your muscle and strength you need to combine it with some resistance training at an intensity that will activate those larger motor units.