masters cyclists

Best Advice for Masters Cyclists: 6 CTS Coaches Give Their Tips

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By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

Optimizing performance for masters cyclists can be trickier than getting the best out of a 20-something professional athlete. The complexity comes from fighting the slow and natural decline in performance potential after about 40 years old, coupled with busy lifestyles that incorporate relationships, children, and aging parents, and topped off by careers that are at their peak in terms of productivity and stress.

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Although these are grand generalizations, younger athletes have the bandwidth–physically and mentally–to take on massive amounts of training, and senior athletes are often retired or semi-retired empty nesters who can reclaim their time and focus for training. It’s the masters in the middle who struggle to strike the right balance.

Because CTS Coaches work with so many masters cyclists, I decided to bring some of the coaches together to give their best guidance. I have had a long career in cycling, coaching, and business; and developing professional coaches is one of the aspects I find most fulfilling. Many CTS Coaches have been working with the company since they were relatively fresh out college, and each year we add a handful of new coaches to the mix. Having a coaching staff with a wide range of personal, athletic, and academic experiences helps everyone stay engaged and learning. The newer coaches learn from the senior coaches’ experience, and those of us with decades of experience benefit from the enthusiasm, curiosity, and technical skill of the younger generation.

So, here’s some of the best advice from CTS Coaches for masters cyclists:

Coach Clayton Feldman

When I start working with a masters cyclist, the first thing we do is get into a productive mindset. I sometimes build this conversation on three maxims:

  • Every athlete is unique, no matter your age.
  • You are as old as you’ve ever been, but as young as you’ll ever be.
  • You didn’t get “old” overnight

There is an absolute reality to aging, but there are also misconceptions around performance for masters athletes. If you commit, you are going to see progress. But just as you didn’t get old–or overweight, unfit, or stressed–overnight, it’s going to take time to make substantial changes. You have to commit to the process of being an athlete again, which can be difficult for people who continually view themselves as “too old”.

Making room for the vision of what you want to be and what you want to accomplish is the first step, and it has to be a step you review often because you are going to have bad days, you are going to hurt, and you are going to want to quit. That happened when you were a young athlete as well, you have just forgotten about those days because that is how humans are wired. So, keep your eyes on the bigger picture and make steady progress. – Learn about Clayton Feldman

Coach Josh Whitmore

I’m fortunate to work with a variety of masters athletes, from lifelong competitors to new enthusiasts. As a result, I have separate advice for different groups:

  • More advanced/experienced athlete: You can be just as fast as you were before you were 40, if you focus on one distinct goal at a time. You probably won’t be able to be simultaneously good at a variety of events, like ultra-distance gravel AND 1.5hr mountain bike cross country races, but if you pick one of those and really focus on it, you can be great!
  • For the more beginner to intermediate level athlete: There is absolutely room to improve, even as you get older. Yes, your maximum genetic potential is declining through your 40’s and 50’s, but you can likely keep increasing the percentage of your genetic potential that you actually achieve if you are diligent about it. – Learn about Josh Whitmore

Coach Jason Siegle

The best training advice I have for masters age cyclists is to not miss training sessions. Stay as consistent as possible with your workouts. Missed training is hard to overcome when you have limited training availability. The athletes I work with who are the most successful are the ones who miss the lowest number of workouts. That doesn’t mean ignore what your body is telling you and train through illness or injury or fatigue. It means not missing workouts you could and should otherwise be doing. – Learn about Jason Siegle

Coach Tristan Cowie

Don’t shy away from VO2max when you are a masters cyclist, but also don’t push yourself so hard–in sport and out of sport–that you neglect recovery. Forty-55 years old is a crucial time of career development. Many masters athletes are busier now, when their careers are peaking, than when they were getting started and growing in their professional path in their 20s and 30s. The majority of masters cyclists I work with believed they would have more time to train at this point in their lives than they really do. Push hard but rest harder. – Learn about Tristan Cowie

Coach Tracey Drews

I tend to coach cyclists who are at the upper end of the “masters cyclist” age range, so for me the best advice is to the honor, respect and trust the rest days in your training program. This is where you make your fitness/performance gains. Cross-train throughout the year to add variety to your training plan and to maintain strength, flexibility, and balance. And, even if it’s a bit of a cliche… remember to have fun so you keep the “life in your years” while adding years to your life. – Learn about Tracey Drews

Coach John Croom

During a training session is not the time to cut calories. It is important to avoid under-fueling during rides. It not only helps ensure the quality of the training session, but also reduces the effort required to replenish energy stores after the ride, and at the same time make it easier to be ready for the next training session. – Learn about John Croom

My Advice

As the most senior of the coaches represented in this article, my best advice is more about perspective than the technical nature of training, nutrition, or recovery. The masters age range, from 35-55, is a great period in your journey as a cyclist. You’re experienced enough to have some wisdom and hopefully the financial means to organize your life in a way that feeds your passions, and young enough that normal and natural age-related declines in performance haven’t caught up to you yet. Enjoy this time. Use it to make incredible memories and build relationships that will last the rest of your life.


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Comments 21

  1. i agree with most of the posters above and seem that over 55 and your finished . We are sportspersons and wish to carry on just doing that until we can,t pedal anymore, i personally ride a couple of times at our local velodrome with like minded 60 plus year olds with a group dubbed Super Vets, brilliant but finding the right sort of advice for training without costing a fortune is like pulling hens teeth

  2. So I guess us 60+ fall in the category as “Mature Masters”? Physiologically things change from the 4e0’s to the 60’s and the challenges are real along with the mental acceptance of change. Super Seniors have their struggles in a sport of passion and it doesn’t get easier as the years tic away… Cheers!!

  3. OK, another 70 year old here. Currently recovering from a bad back that had me reduce my riding for the last few months. Back at it with the goal of doing some gravel races and (back permitting) getting back to cyclocross come the end of the year.
    It appears most of your coaches view masters as up to 55. But from the replies I’m seeing you have plenty of 55+++ “older” folks following you.

    1. I’m with you, Ric. This article and most of the coaches’ mind sets are pointed at the <56 age group. Jason in particular doesn't get it. "Don't miss a workout"? Read the basic premises. Working full time with family and lots of other time constraints, Jason.

      What about those of us who are 65 – 70 and still working full time? Josh, Tracie and Chris have some solid advice, although limited.

  4. I too was surprised to see at the end of this article that the advice was aimed at the 35-55 year old range. It sounded like advice for a higher age range now being 56. There were no comments for the women in this age range or beyond. Menopause threw me the biggest curve ball to my training. Not being able to sleep and recover really limited my training ability and motivation. It was really hard to do and want to do harder training when you are exhausted every day. I’m glad there are other platforms that are starting to address these issues but getting sound advice on adapting training during these times would also be helpful. The feel good stories are nice, but I really appreciate the sound training advice to help us adapt our training as we age and face the new challenges that come our way.

  5. Loving all the posts from fellow 65+ cyclists. I personally cycled just under 5000 miles last year, including many miles in the Colorado mountains, mostly on my gravel bike, and hope to surpass 5000 this year. That said, I’m pretty clueless when it comes to training other than understanding the need for rest days and lots of stretching.

  6. I recently turned eighty and continue to ride 3 times a week for a total of 90-100 miles on the bike trails around Tucson, AZ. Since my birthday I established personal best time on both my road bike and tandem (with my wife as stoker) which I attribute to the benefits from an exercise fitness class conducted by our local community health center that I enrolled in a year ago. The class meets 3 times a week and focuses on improving strength of upper and lower extremities and the body core through a variety of exercises. Six days of workout sometimes leaves me tired at the end of the week but a couple of days of rest usually restores my strength and endurance. For this reason I recommend incorporating resistance training into riding routine for maximum results.

  7. At 73 years old, I’m as interested in training as I ever was, not for racing but for year around mtb and road riding. At this stage of the game I’m way more interested in endurance and general physical durability than speed. The masters training plans I have purchased feature too much volume, and not enough recovery time overall, for me. Also, for people my age, resistance training is a critical component to maintaining health, more than ever.

  8. Thanks for addressing training needs of older athletes. I’ll add to the plea for training tips that apply to 70+ cyclists. I’d also like to hear suggestions for those of us in that age range who are recovering from a forced interruption in training, in my case 6-8 weeks off to recover of replacement of one knee.

  9. Looks like we are the experiment! This would be a good place to record our observations. I find that I don’t seem to lose fitness as fast as the Model would suggest (which was probably built around super fit 20 yos.) If I miss a day of training, the extra rest results in better than average performance on the remaining wos. Just one observation…

  10. This year I turned 60. I no longer race, but I still love riding and training intently. As a lifelong athlete and cyclist, the advice here is spot-on. Especially seeing rest as part of the program. As much as my 20-year old mentally wants to do several hard days in a row, my 60-year old body responds better to having rest days.

    One thing that should also be noted is overall nutrition. My body seems more sensitive now to what I eat and drink. For example, I consume much less red meat now, getting my protein from legumes and other sources. This year I finally cut out too much alcohol, too. I still have a beer once in a while but have replaced it with non-alcoholic beer. The results have been eye-opening.

    Bottom line – at 60 I may lack some of what I had as a 25yr old racing cyclist. But consistency and adaptability has my core fitness still high. While I don’t race I’m still having fun, especially chasing PRs and the occasional KOM on Strava.

  11. I started with CTS at 55 and was racing with 60 and over within 5 years after increasing my FTP by over 60 watts. What I noticed the most was even a 2 week training pause would set me back for 4 weeks to catch up. As opposed to my 40 year old friends who could catch up in a week. When I stopped regular training I was down 30-40 watts within 3 months. I still ride regularly at age 70, with intervals about once a week, and am able to maintain my FTP about where I started at 55.

  12. I agree with those posters above who are 65+. It would be great to see articles focused on cyclists in that age range because I suspect training/recovery should be somewhat different as compared with those younger.

    1. I agree with Ed. There are too many articles advising older althletes who are only in their 40-50’s. I never see any for those of us in our late 60’s or 70’s.

  13. How about us super masters? At 76 how much should I stress my body and what’s the best way to recover? 24 hours doesn’t seem like enough after a particularly hard (for me) indoor session.

  14. I read this at 5 am while fueling for this mornings 4 hour ride with a bunch of 40 -55 year olds . At 64 I’m often told I’m too old ,.. and asked why do you do it ?? I can’t imagine not doing it !! As the old saying goes you don’t quit cycling when you get old you get old when you quit cycling !!! Ride on !!!

  15. All good advice. But what about us 75 year olds? You stopped at 55. No really, the advice is good to the end. I really like the quote by Clayton Feldman, “You are as old as you ever were and as young as you’ll ever be.” I keep thinking, man, I wish I had the conditioning I had when I was 55. But actually, I need to totally enjoy and maximize the conditioning I currently enjoy. Thanks. Neil King

    1. I am agreeing with you and Steve(above) about that I would appreciate something explicitly about older riders. I will turn 81 in June and still very much enjoy my riding. It literally saved my life (heart attack survivor) at about age 60 and continuing to do it is a given.

      I have been trying to climb back from a really crappy year last year, between Covid and fire smoke in CA air all summer, but did get 85 miles in a week ago.

      I do not have any wish to compete, but do want to have the best health that I can muster for the remainder of my life.

      Dick Whittington

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