Tackling a Spartan Race at Age 50: Don’t Just Guess... Assess!

Written by:
Blake Dalton
July 28, 2022

Because I’m a Performance Specialist at Activcore, I have a good sense of my own physical condition. Nonetheless, I knew that getting an outside, objective perspective from other health and wellness professions would help me optimize my Spartan training plan.

So I booked an appointment with a co-worker at the studio. The session type was a "wellness physical" where the physical therapist looks at your overall physical health through comprehensive testing of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system. I knew this information could help me optimize my movement.

I also decided to go to Stat Wellness. They do an InBody scan to get some specific data points about my body mass index (BMI) and muscle mass. Upon testing, they found that my BMI was 24.4, just within the favorable range. They said my body fat was under 16%, also within the favorable range.

These two data points were interesting to me, since BMI is not always the most helpful measurement for athletic or muscular people. The muscle mass itself can skew the BMI to the high end, even with a low body fat percentage.

InBody scanning also provides information on how muscle and fat are distributed through the body. Here are some key findings from my lean muscle analysis:

  • Pretty symmetrical from right to left arm – happy about this! I’ve been training to overcome some of my right dominance asymmetries.
  • Right leg has less muscle than the left! Aha! Here’s some imbalance from a full achilles tendon tear and repair on the right side... hmmm 
  • Also noticeably more muscle in the upper body than lower. Initially I found this curious. But, as I reflected, I realized I had cut back on my deadlifts, squats, lunges, jumps and running training for a while when I had an inguinal hernia. Since the surgery, I have been cautious in scaling those exercises back up. 

With the Inbody data in hand as a foundation, I was ready to build on it at Activcore.

My physical therapist started off with some basic analysis of my cardiovascular health and then moved on to functional movement pattern measurements. She also used the Redcord suspension system to do a series of kinetic-chain tests to better understand how my stabilizer muscles function during movement. I love this testing approach because it starts with a general overview of my health, then focuses on my specific needs.

My physical therapist took the information that I came in with and integrated it with her findings from the wellness physical. My goal was to safely compete in a Spartan race.

Her cardiovascular screening revealed that I had good blood pressure and resting pulse rate, even though I’d just had two double espressos. I was pleased about that! She also found that my heart rate increased appropriately during an aerobic step test, then recovered quickly. The ability to recover quickly from a burst of cardiovascular activity is an important measure of overall cardiovascular health.

In the functional movement pattern screening, she found the following:

  • Slight forward head
  • Slight upper back kyphosis (rounding)
  • Slight left hip hike and tendency toward external rotation in left hip
  • Left hip limited internal rotation
  • Tightness in lats noticed in deep squat pattern
  • Some limitations in thoracic and lumbar spinal mobility
  • Excellent score on push up test
  • Strong core endurance in flexion and extension; stronger in flexion than extension and stronger on left than right – logical given hernia repair on my right
  • Left gluteus medius weaker than right - not surprising given ligament damage in left knee and injuries to left foot
  • Right adductor weaker than left

Taken as a whole, the assessment showed good cardiovascular health and a good ratio of lean muscle mass to body weight. I displayed good core strength and a good sense of my asymmetries – none of which felt surprising. It felt satisfying and hopeful to have this strong foundation in place.  

That being said, I believe that any unaddressed muscle asymmetries can leave us less functional and more susceptible to injury, particularly in a high-intensity, demanding, full-body, and multi-movement adventure like the Spartan. Therefore, addressing mine was a key priority for my training plan.

Increasing my lower body strength became top priority. I also wanted to improve my symmetry. With the test results top of mind, I started to notice I did have a tendency to externally rotate my left hip during deadlifts and squats. I knew having some visual feedback from the mirror would go a long way into helping there.

Kettlebells became my workout tool of choice, bringing my leg strength up to meet my upper body strength. I also used the Redcord suspension system to help overcome any asymmetries in the gluteus medius, hip adductors, and core.

I applied Pilates apparatus as a great tool for integrating core strength with movement and spinal mobility. It also gave me some opportunities to strengthen my visibly smaller and weaker right calf. More “lat” stretches and extension work were on the menu, too. 

With a better understanding of how my body functions, I started digging deeper into this pre-training race phase with more vigor, more specificity, and more confidence in my training choices.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this post are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

Blake Dalton

Performance Specialist
Blake Dalton is an experienced performance specialist, Pilates Instructor, and personal trainer who delights in the study of movement and how he can use his practice to improve the lives of others. He works at Activcore in Atlanta, Georgia, located just 2 miles from Emory University. His love of movement brought him to the study of martial arts and modern dance. It was here Blake discovered his second love the love of teaching and sharing.
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