Top masters athlete Chris Hollinshead talks to Matt Long about the optimisation of training for Masters athletes and the impact of training load.

In a recent online seminar for England Athletics (Coaching Masters Athletes- Considerations & Training Adaptations), Michelle Maxwell rightly spoke about how adjustments in training load, musculoskeletal factors, recovery times, nutritional intake and the menopause, needed to occur for both optimisation of performance and injury risk minimisation.

Maxwell spoke about how ‘training load’ can be managed through the appropriate use of technology, better communication between athlete and coach, great acknowledgement of life stressors on said athlete and the use of cross training to cope with the stresses that the mechanical loading of being on one’s feet will inevitably incur.

Monitoring load

In a recent paper in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, West et al. (2021) acknowledge that, “Currently, athlete monitoring stands between art and science, with practitioners working to contextualise load related data within the decision-making process”.

In making the distinction between external and internal (psychophysiological) training load they speak about the following five concepts as being a framework on which to hang the pursuit of optimal performance and the mitigation of injury risk:

– Long term athlete planning.
– Seasonal planning.
– Day to day planning.
– In session adjustments.
– Use of feedback.

The piece focuses on long term athlete planning and how a hugely successful masters athlete has managed his training load over the years in transitioning from senior to masters status.

Long term athlete planning

55 year old Chris Hollinshead a won silver medal over 5000m in the European Masters Games in 2019 as well as having bagged two World Masters half marathon team silvers.

The West Midlands based coach and well established England Athletics coach educator says unequivocally, “The way in which I train has undoubtedly changed. In simple terms I can’t do as much as I used to”.

Chris has been training since 1985 as a 19 year old junior and competing since 1987, so he has a training age of some 36 years.

He is keen to point out the benefits of having such a high training age pointing out that, “Over the years my body has built up a huge training adaptation so it doesn’t take me as long to come back to a certain level of fitness after a lay off”.

The law of diminishing returns

Chris continues that, “I am very conscious about losing both strength and muscle mass so twice weekly strength training sessions are vital although I don’t lift the kind of weights that I used to as a senior”.

As well as strength, he cites that the way in which he has to train both the lactate and alactic energy systems as having to evolve over the years. “I have to work much harder for less returns on speed”, he confesses before adding that, “I can’t run as fast on shorts strides which are 10s or less and challenge the alactic system.

For example I cant do something like 3 x 60 metres fast like I used to when I was a senior because I feel like I am dragging my legs behind me for the first few seconds. So these days I tend to operate on strides over 75-80 metres instead so I can get myself moving and then up to close to maximal speed”.

On a note of optimism he says that, “My aerobic capacity hasn’t disappeared but my ability to quickly pick up the pace has most certainly diminished”.

With a word of caution he stresses that, “I have definitely needed to lengthen the amount of time which I spend warming up now I am in my 50s so that I increase my mobility and range of motion. If I feel things aren’t quite right at this stage I will pull the session to avoid risking injury”.

Covid complications

Chris warns that, “I have noticed real changes over the last two years or so since the pandemic. Whilst my cruising aerobic speed increased, overall my speed dropped. I have felt that I simply have no pace at times.

I think this is less to do with internal biological changes and more to do with the fact that the pandemic restrictions have meant its been much more difficult to train in a group and much harder to regularly gain access to the kind of surfaces like the track, which engender speed”.

The above leaves us with a number of questions for self-reflection

1. How have I changed my training load since becoming a masters athlete compared to when I was running as a senior?
2. What tools have I got at hand to monitor both my internal and external training loads?
3. Why do I need a long-term plan for my continued athlete development in the sport as a masters athlete?
4. How has the way in which I train my energy systems been adapted?
5. In what ways might the pandemic have affected my athletic performance and how can I respond to what’s in my control?

Chris Hollinshead and Matt Long served as Team Staff together for the England Masters Road Running Team which competed in London last year. Chris can be contacted via and Matt welcomes contact for coaching support through


Stephen W. West, Jo Clubb, Lorena Torres-Ronda, Daniel Howells, Edward Leng, Jason D. Vescovi, Sean Carmody, Michael Posthumus, Torstein Dalen-Lorentsen and Johann Windt (2021) ‘More than a Metric: How Training Load is Used in Elite Sport for Athlete Management’. Int J Sports Med 2021; 42(04): 300-306