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.
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
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.