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 VO2 max 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 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.
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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