Age Is No Barrier to Cycling Training

Age Is No Barrier to Cycling Training

Getting older… it happens to us all.

Most people are content to pick up their pipe and slippers, and enjoy a more relaxing, sedentary lifestyle in their twilight years.

Pottering about in the garden might be the sum total of their exercise regime.

But if you are passionate about sport, keeping fit and challenging yourself to greater heights then hitting the age of 50 is probably the perfect time to set yourself a new goal.

Cycling is a fantastic activity for the over 50s age group and reaching 50 is a fabulous opportunity to challenge yourself and your body. There is absolutely no need to think that just because you have hit the half century, you suddenly have to consign all sport and training to the history books.

Of course, your body might not feel as fit or as supple as when you were in your 20s or 30s, but if you are realistic and sensible in your approach you will be surprised at the heights you can reach.

There is nothing wrong in simply saddling up and cycling for pleasure. But, equally, there is absolutely nothing to stop you being more ambitious with your goals, aiming to boost your performance and competing with yourself by taking part in higher intensity training sessions…

Fight the Fear Factor

Half the battle for older cyclists is feeling scared or over-awed by the thought of pushing their bodies to the limit. They might be frightened of failure or the possible disappointment of not being to cycle as quick or as hard as they could when they were younger. But if they can conquer these fears then older people can enjoy intensive cycling training sessions just as much as younger riders – maybe even more so.

You can achieve great results whatever your age.

You just need the self-belief and confidence to get over any fears or misconceptions. Imagine the thrill of knowing that you can improve your times and performance – even at the age of 55 or 60? The confidence boost and kudos you will gain from this will be great for your mind and body.

Health Checks: They’re Vital for Your Age Group

Here’s the sensible bit… Yes, you are older, and more susceptible to illness and disease.

So if you ARE seriously thinking of stepping up your training sessions and want to challenge yourself to ride harder and faster, then you must seek medical advice beforehand.

Go and see your doctor and talk to him about your intention to train hard. He will probably agree that it is an excellent idea as long as you are sensible and have a common sense approach. But it is advisable to at least get your blood pressure checked out.

Once you have seen your doctor and he has given you the thumbs-up, it will also provide the final confirmation and confidence boost that you need to take the plunge and saddle up.

High Intensity: The Human Body Loves a Challenge

You don’t have to have a rippling torso or a six-pack to train hard. You also don’t have to be in your teens, 20s, 30s or 40s to improve your cycling performance.

The great news for older cyclists is that strong training principles work for ALL ages. The cardiovascular system is extremely flexible and can adapt to changes and challenges when you get older. You will receive both peripheral and central adaptations that will help you perform better.

The heart can adapt specifically to the physical demands met during a training session. Like any other muscle, the heart needs regular training to maintain its fitness. The ventricle becomes more compliant, meaning less resistance during filling. This enables stroke volume to increase and less work for the heart. Crucially, it also allows the heart to maintain an increased stroke volume during tough exercise.

Never underestimate what the human body can achieve. Biologically and physiologically, the improvements you make to your body if you train hard will almost be the equivalent of when you’re younger.

When you train, your heart will develop a higher stroke volume due to an increase in the cardiac chamber size and an expanded total blood volume. This will enable your heart to deliver more oxygen to your muscles with fewer beats.

In turn, this will help you to ride faster. But this improved cardiovascular fitness will also bring benefits in other parts of your life. You will feel physically stronger, have more energy to do other vigorous activities and will also feel sharper.

Most older people develop a slightly higher fat percentage and it becomes more difficult to maintain muscle mass. But you can slow down the onset of a “thicker” body and fat production with a structured training plan.

Both endurance and strength training can have a wonderful knock-on effect on your lifestyle and generally boost your quality of life.

Strength Training

Strength training is a thorny topic among the cycling fraternity and there is an ongoing debate as to whether it improves performance. But cyclists can definitely gain a better quality of life by using strength training to maintain muscle mass. This may not necessarily make you perform better on the bike but it will contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

However if you are intent on boosting your performance, you should consider doing strength training in the off-season only, when the weather is colder. Completing just two strength training sessions a week as part of your training schedule should be enough to enhance your fitness and general quality of life.

It is also probably worth bearing in mind that strength training should never have a negative impact on your overall training regime, so sessions on the bike should always come first.

Plan Your Training So It Has a Purpose

You will achieve more if you have a structured training plan and if each session has a real purpose to it. If you are on a rest day, work on some technical skills that do not require physical power. Make sure every session has a real focus. You could enter a local race and tailor your training plan accordingly so you peak on race day. That will focus your mind and give you added motivation to get out of bed and saddle up when it might be cold or wet outside.

In essence: use your time effectively and make the most of every minute’s training.

Recovery Time and Rest is Vital for Your Age Group

OK, maybe you once thought you were Superman and you could conquer the world!

Well, the harsh reality is that whereas once you may have needed little or no recovery time after a training session, now you certainly need to recharge the batteries after a session and allow the body to recover properly. If you give yourself more recovery time between sessions, it will improve the quality of the next session.

Not recovering properly will only enhance the risk of injury.

In addition, make sure you get enough sleep as this is a vital part of the recovery process. A lack of sleep can cause fatigue and affect performance. Diet and nutrition are also important. And for post-exercise nutrition, always have a recovery drink immediately before consuming 1g of carbohydrate per kg and 1/3g protein per kg of body weight within 30 minutes of finishing moderate to high intensity training sessions.

Conclusion

If you are consistent and serious about your training, then you will certainly become faster and stronger, despite your age.

Imagine the satisfaction of comparing your performance and times with your friends, both older and younger: if you train hard and effectively you will become so much stronger than your peers in no time.

So if you are among the over-50s, don’t write off high intensity training. It can give you a new lease of life – both on and off the bike.

The performance improvements will be tangible and real and offer great satisfaction. And your general quality of life will improve as a result. Age is no barrier to the very best training practices. And high intensity workouts will help you to achieve better results in less time.

So to sum up, before you embark on high intensity cycling training, make sure you:

  • Seek the thumbs-up from your doctor.
  • Stick to a training plan which contains solid training principles.
  • Ensure enough recovery time, rest and good nutrition
  • Include some high intensity sessions
  • Be consistent. Work out all year round
  • Do strength training.

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32 comments… add one

  • Richard Hengst

    I certainly agree with training for older cyclists. I am 67 and use interval training twice a week or ifI am short of cycling time. It really pays off on hills, and lets me ride reasonably well with younger (40 yr old) cyclists as long as they are not racing.

  • @Richard – You have the right spirit. Keep on rolling!

  • tony Beasley

    Thanks for this article, I am 56 yo cyclist and runner and there is not much available training information specific to older athletes.

    I am I have been running and cycling on and off for the last 25 years, more recently I have mostly competed in cross country/mountain running but due to the old joints complaining a bit, about 18 months ago I decided to do some vets road bike racing, after doing some hard training and then some races, I was put in my place as all of these old cyclist where kicking my butt, they told me that as they where retired they had more time to train.

    This is the same for running, a few years ago I did a vets half marathon in what I considered a good time of 1 hour 44 minutes something (4m 58s per kilometer), when I got the results a lot of 60+ yo’s beat me, some did a very fast time around 70 minutes and even a few 70 + yo’s beat me, in turn I was faster than many younger runners. One of the runners/cyclists that I regularly compete against is 83 and still going strong, he is my hero.

    On the subject of old men’s health, 12 months ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent a Radical Prostatectomy, my recovery has been a bit slower than I had hoped but I have been back on the bike for 6 months and hope to start road racing very soon. Three years ago I also underwent a 5 hour heart operation to fix my Atrial fibrillation. I have refused to let these health problems slow me down.

    Tony

  • @Tony Beasley – Thanks for sharing your story. Age in it self should never be the reason to stop exercising. Though, medical reasons might to some degree limit your performance when you get older.

  • I love this article I just turned 40 and finding the time to get on the bike is challenge and to be honest I felt a little uncomfortable riding on the trails last weekend. What really amazed me was that most of the people I ran into (not literally) were closer to my age then teens. It was amazing I meet some other people from my are and we are going to start planning trips. Thanks for the great article.

  • Norbert

    Strength training during hill climbs using big gear and low cadence. What’s the right cadence? What cadence is too low?
    Thanks

  • @Norbert – 60 to 70 rpms.

  • Thomas

    You say recovery time is important but don’t give specifics. I’m 68, ride 3,000+ miles a year, average 16-17 mph on most rides. I do lots of hills. Do I take a day off after every ride? Can I ride 6 days a week if three are at a moderate (14 mph) pace? Slow (12 mph) recovery rides? Please provide some specific guidance as I have been unable to find any. Thank you.

  • Mike McClure

    Hi Jesper – I am a 66 year old cyclist but as I am in the Middle East and roads are unsafe so I go spinning twice a week to keep healthy and fit. Ready for the big day when I can ride my bike again. I’m a little over weight at 85k (raced at 67k), 1.7m tall.
    My question is heart rate.
    I use a pules meter and when spinning for 2 hours x 2 sessions a week my average is 142BPM but I top out at 178BPM. This worries my instructor as she says its too high. It gives me no trouble and I am up there at a peak and can manage easily for some 6/7 minutes each time and could go on.
    Please advise on this as I am sure that others see the same. By the way I have a cholestrol lever of 253 which again is high but this is from my mother who is 93 years old and going strong. As yet I do not take any tablets. Maybe if I did this would lower the heart rate?
    Should this be a concern and please advise.
    Mike

  • Rob Turner

    Hi Jesper,Have enjoyed many of your tips and cycling experience. I am 62 have been cycling for 4years now entered time trials last year best to date is 24 min dead for 10 miles and one hour 5 min for 25 iles TT. Recently after 23,000 miles on the road in the last 3 years had my first crash and broke a couple of ribs . At the moment I am using a Wattbike to keep fit I do push my heart rate to threshold about 10% below max for 30 min sessions as a older athlete is that ok as their is contradicting views over this subject your views would be helpfull thanks Rob

  • Greg Kingston

    I am a 55 year old cyclist who has been riding from age 30 pretty much continuously. I plan to ride well into an advanced age. I ride with a group of guys, who range in age from 45 to 60. We ride year round in Pennsylvania, rollers and hills describe our riding conditions. I ride road bikes, a single speed and occasionally a mountain bike. This spring I am finding myself weakening on rides above 40 miles. For the first time I am getting dropped regularly. Specifically my quads feel like I’ve been doing squats….It’s late April, riding season so I do think that I should do strength training….any suggestions to help resolve this problem and to restore my riding performance?

  • Werner

    I am a 59 yr old mountain bike rider and I am trying to understand the theory of monitoring heart rate for training purposes. Could someone please suggest some reading material that will explain this to me in simplistic terms.
    Thanks in advance

  • Paul Wolf

    I have been following your blog and benefited yesterday on a charity ride. I rode faster, stronger, for longer than I hoped. It was nothing earth shattering, but for me , I was surprised. I need to loose weight and add muscle mass. Currently 237Lbs. at 6’2″. I just finished graduate school and now in a position to focus on becoming fit again.

    Thank you for the advice!

    PW

  • Dan Sammartano

    I’ll be 53 this month and have enjoyed training and riding on my road bike for many years now. There are a few changes I have noticed in the normal annual routine as I age: 1) Balance on the bike. I have good bike handling skills, but I notice myself taking downhills just a bit slower and cornering more carefully. 2) Injuries take longer to heal. Spilled last July on a 60 miler and just last week my shoulder had finally healed after months of PT after surgery. 3) Body fat is harder to control. Luckily I am still pretty trim for 6′, but cycling doesn’t suck away the fat like it used to when I was a skeleton in my 30’s. 4) Performance– the young riders who are just getting into the sport catch up to my level of fitness and power more quickly than I’d like. I reach threshold quicker and my endurance has tailed off a bit. This is all with the knowledge that I have the perspective and experience of riding for over 30 years now. I can remember road and mountain biking in the early 80’s, and how invincible and strong I was. I also weighed 155 pounds and was all leg. I have introduced a co-worker in his 20’s to cycling by selling him one of my bikes. We are both improving this season and I’m happy to report I still drop him on the long hills and can out power him for long distances in the flats. It’s only a matter of time though that he’ll catch up, and just last night he and I both claimed a KOM on Strava, but he beat me on one climb. As cyclists in our 50’s, we also learn the art of humility which at its core is the acceptance of reality. Good luck fellow old folks!

  • Kenny C

    Great article I am 56 years old and Cat – 4 USCF cyclist. I have been riding and racing for about 15 years. Prior to that I was an avid runner and I loved running. I unfortunately ruptured a achilles tendon. I took up cycling. I read and take in all the advise on training, nutrition, and rest. I can say this, I keep getting faster and I stay fit year round. I get great comments on my looking younger than my age.
    Thanks again

  • Jim

    I’m impressed with these performance figures. I ride 100 mile days on clubruns but am exhausted and cannot sleep that night. I also work out 3 days at the gym and do 25 mile training rides in the week. I’m 63. No health problems that I know of and not overweight. I recently googled over exercising and found many articles warning against this in later years as there was evidence of heart scarring leading to stroke/heart attack and or early death. So now I’m pretty confused.

  • I will turn 49 next month and found your article and website quite valuable.
    About 17 years ago I was an avid rider despite having little help from outside sources. From riding I got down to 175 pounds on a 5’11” frame.
    Then with changes in my life and work I over time balooned up to 392 pounds. Since September I have lost 119 pounds and in the last month or so have once again started riding. For now I ride on dirt and crushed stone paths through the forest. But my goal is to, by the end of the summer. do a century. My last one was probably in 1996. Since I ahve started biking again, the water retention in my legs has been greatly reduced and I can really feel the tone and strength coming back into my lower legs.

    I am presently 273 lbs. and have a target of hitting 175 once again. It will be slow going but I know that cycling will carry me there in a healthy manner.

    thanks for the great website.

  • Nuke

    Just turned 55 and pulled my junior racing bike from 1976 (1974 Masi Criterium) out of storage. Bought a pair of cycling shorts and clipon shoes/peddles then hit the bike path. Forgot how hard 120psi and old unicantor is on the but, also how much you have to lean over the handlebars, but I did it.

    On the ride back last night saw an open road, went down to the drops and started a time trial sprint. Wow the bike is fast, then heard gears behind me as a kid caught up with me and we rode briefly together until he spun ahead and let me enjoy my first ride back in over more than a decade.

    Will go for a club ride on the week end. Want to keep this up and get into shape.

  • David Hutchins

    I am 76 tomorrow. Last August I did a ride called the Classic Cols which is 6 peaks in the French Alps in 3 days, 2 Cols a day including Col de Telegraph, Col de la Madelaine, Col de Galibier and Alpe de Huez and I can still do around 30 minutes for a 10 mile TT.
    I am not bragging, I am grateful that I never gave up. Feel fit as a flea and also play competition table tennis. Those of you who think you are old in your 50s and 60s are still spring chickens! You have years of cycling pleasure ahead of you yet. I plan to keep going for at least another 20 years and forgot to say I also have a heart pacemaker!

  • dave lee jones

    i will be 53 next week and althrough i have been cycling for 20 years or so this last year i have really upped my program .cycling 20 miles round trip to work monday to friday with a couple of killer hill throw in,and a 50 miler on sundays,i believe that you are right about resting well between rides, as i think i overdone it last week and now have what i call rubber legs… never suffered with it before,i believe that i didnt fuel up correctly before or after the last long ride i did. it would be great if you followed up with diet ,stretching and recovery blog.as it is more important for the older riders…still great blog

  • Tony

    Yesterday at one of my local (Canberra Australia) lunchtime mountain running races we celebrated the 85th birthday of one of our legendary local athletes, Rad, ( BTW Rad competed in the 2.6k, 150m climb race). Rad is a multiple Australian and world Triathlon and Duathlon champion and regularly competes in running, Triathlons, Duathlons and Vets bike racing, only last Sunday Rad ran the local Vets half marathon in a stunning time of around 2 hours.

    Tomorrow Rad leaves for France to compete in the World Duathlon Championships, I wish him all the best and I hope we can celebrate him winning a gold in his age group.

    Rad has been active all of his life and has an interesting history of how he came to Australia, post WW2 he was living in Yugoslavia and things where not going very well for him, he heard about a professional bike race that was passing through Yugoslavia, Rad found a bike, made a team jersey and waited at a place near the border so he could join the race peloton, which he did and was able to cross into the neighboring country where he rode to the nearest police station, he became a refugee and eventually made his way to Australia.

    In my local area Rad is revered as a national treasure and we all wish we could be like him at 85.

  • Salvador Lara

    I will be 58 in November and I got back on my old (1994) road bike since last year do health advice what I have learn is that depend on us how much we want to do, probably I’m now on better shape than in my 30’s I just did Toronto- Montreal this year and I’m planning on crossing the Andes a the beginning of 2013 Santiago to buenos aires I got a 29’er modified with road tires, some days my knees hurt but that is little inconveniences compare with the enjoyment of life that I’m having at this eage

  • Ian Macgregor

    Hi. I am 54yrs. I took up road cycling a year ago and had a pretty good first season. I’d been a mountain biker and touring cyclist, and years ago a competetive runner. Last season I trained hard 5 or 6 days a week and sometimes ached and felt tired but no more so than I remember when I was running in my twenties. I have been advised that I am not giving myself enough time to recover and that my second season will be better if I train less but I am addicted to the sheer unadulterated pleasure of riding my bike. What is the evidence that I require more time to recover at my age. Thanks Ian

  • Bob Burns

    Hi, I’m 73, been riding and racing over 27 years. I stopped racing after experiencing back pain with hard efforts , and that lasted for about five
    years, but I still continued riding . By chance I visited a chiropractor to see if he
    could help, through him I found out that my sleep position ,on my stomach , was causing my back problems. After two months of sleeping right, no back
    pain, that was twelve years ago. At age sixty I started training and racing again.
    I’ve placed 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th at the USCF national crit, and road races, this was after age 60. About two years ago I started reading the Training4cyclists blogs, and in particular the two week Vo Max booster program. It really works even at the ripe old age of 70+. Last month I competed
    In Florida state senior games and set the 70+ 10k time trial record . Even at this ripe old age you still can keep improving. Oh I forgot , on May 17, 2010
    I had a stent put in to open a 99 percent blockage in one of my arteries .
    I’m still looking for that elusive 1st at the USCF nationals.

    Bob

  • Hi Bob …

    Thanks for sharing.

    > Oh I forgot , on May 17, 2010 I had a stent put in to open a 99 percent blockage in one of my arteries .

    I’m interested in how you recovered – what plan did you use to get back on the bike and back to competitive riding?

  • Bob Burns

    Concerning my heart episode and stent. I felt fine before and after the stent procedure . While working out on a morning ride , maybe 60% effort, I noticed
    a throbbing right in the center of my chest, nothing painful it stopped after a few minutes. After a couple of episodes the next day, I made a trip to the ER.
    My cardiologist said because of my years of exercising , I problably developed
    collateral pathways to compensate for the blockage .
    I told the doctor I road and competed in bike races. Now the only restriction was to take it easy for a week or so because of the plug they used in the catherisation procedure. I probably took a chance but I started working out in earnest ten days after the procedure . I competed in a series of races at the end of May about 12 days after the stent. Nock on wood, I’ve been working hard and racing ever since with no problems . I’ve been taking stress tests annually to make sure everything is okay. I also been trying a Vegan diet for over a year now, and it droped my colestral
    readings dramatically, with no reduction in strength and feeling good.
    So basically, I really didn’t have a sofisticated plan . Just by feel.
    Hope this helps.

  • Alan Taylor

    I am 74 this year and until I had my Hip replaced last July2012 I was a regular cyclist. I gave up Time Trialling at 68 having failed by 1 second to get the Veterans 25m record at my local club. I am gradually getting back on the bike and hope to a few steady miles in the next month. I had 5 bikes 4 Colnagos but as I couldnt ride even prior to my hip operation I sold 4 and kept my Art decor (I also have a vilage bike) and cant wait to get back on. I have been cycling since I was 13 and raced quite a bit during my late teens early 20s. So once your hit with the cycling bug it never goes away. Mind you I do take it easy now and have to sometimes get off on hills but it cant be helped though it can be embarrasing but the body tells you what you cant do.

  • hi jesper , i would like some advice from you please im 51 years old and have recently bought a mountain bike , this is probably the third and last , i seem to have a inner mental block and feel quite reluctant to go out on my bike for the fear of people laughing or slandering me ,,i know it sounds stupid but i would really appreciate a confidence boost ,,im relativly fit and stayed the same weight for 31 years ive never had any serious illness ,, i used to train as an amature boxer and footballer ,,my new ambition is to do downhill trails on my bike ,,please help with some sound advice ,,many thanks ajr

  • Funny how I seem to come to this site the day before my birthday! Last year I said that in the previous year I had ridden the Classic Cols which is 6 of the big peaks including Telegraph, Galibier, Alpe de Huez and Col de la Madelaine. Tomorrow I will be 77 and on Sunday plan to ride the Jurassic Classic 100km sportive for Prostate Cancer Research with some 4200ft climbing. Of course I do not have the speed I had when I was young, a lot of the riders will pass me you have to get used to that but generally the longher the ride the more I retake! I am a slowish climber but that is inevitable. I train three or four days a week with a huge variety of routes in order to keep it interesting. I have a short 3.8 mile loop that has some 300ft climbing and I do several laps of this with split times and just today set myself a new lap record.
    At the other extreme I cycled up to my daughter’s three weeks ago a distance of 115 miles with 4700ft of climbing. I have a heart pacemaker and my cardiologist encourages me. For events he will sign a Doctors agreement by return of post. I have no plans ever to stop and will only do so when the bits start falling off! Listen to Jesper and ignore the neighbours and totally blankj anyone who says that you are too old for it. What do they know? Who are they anyway and most likely they envy you, my friends do and they contribute to the charities I ride for.

  • John Horton

    I am 64, been riding and racing for 30+ years. Cracked my pelvis a few years ago, taken down by a young punk. Now limiting racing to hill climbs, not so many about me. My max HR lowers each year, seems low 160’s now. Seems to take much longer in the Spring to get comfortable fitness. Recovery is more problematic and I limit my time on the road to a couple hours, +/-40 miles. The roads and temperatures aren’t friendly here in the winter. I’m in the cave more often. I can train better in the Cave, cadence and HR. My top end is more difficult to maintain.

    Heart surgery 10 years back, replaced aortic valve has not limited my performance, only my age.

    Jespers winter program is built for MUCH younger riders. I try to follow Jesper’s program but can’t last more tha 75 minutes on the trainer. Any one have a decent indoor program for thos 60+?

  • krishnamurthy

    feels good to read about older people cycling
    recently i bought a bicycle and want to start leisure cycling
    i wish all great health to all the great people out there cycling (sheepishly i want add that i am 61)

  • Richard Best

    I have loved reading all the comments on here and feel a sense of pride for all you guys – a great source of inspiration in every story. It also fully vindicates my decision to keep some level of fitness and find new ways to achieve this. I have been running for 20+ years and have completed all kinds of runs up to marathon distance. Due to back pain I had to stop running some years ago but at age 53 discovered the joys of road cycling. I am 54 now so still a newcomer to cycling but I absolutely love it. What I have found is that it is vital to hydrate properly before and after and nutrition is key – before during and after. I have also suffered from sleep problems after hard training but I tend to agree with some other people who have posted that to some extent it is the sheer thrill and excitement of recovering a level of fitness I thought was in the past and never to return. I have improved my technique a lot this year and have improved average speed and distances. Loving it !! It is important to have a decent recovery period between long rides but we are all different and what is right for one person might not be right for the next. Some great advice on here which I will take on board. No offence intended but hats off to you guys over 70 – I certainly hope I can continue riding beyond 70 and achieve what some of you chaps have done. You are brilliant!

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