How to Boost Your Old Man or Woman Speed

When it comes to pure speed and power, younger athletes usually beat out us older athletes, but that doesn’t mean they always come out on top. Many young cyclists don’t have the experience to put all that power to good use.  I’m going to share with you a few of the lessons I’ve learned over my many years of riding that can give us older athletes the upper hand, even if our power output isn’t quite as high as the younger guys.

Old-Guy Lesson #1: Diversity Trumps Specialization

When you start talking with cyclists who have been riding for 20+ years, one common link that appears is they have athletic interests beyond the bike, or at least varied interests on two wheels. One of the beauties of cycling is that it can be a lifelong passion, and your longevity as a cyclist is enhanced by your participation in other sports. Even athletes who primarily ride benefit from riding a wide variety of bikes (road, MTB, ‘cross, etc.).

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Old-Guy Lesson #2: Sleep Is the Best Ergogenic Aid

If my coaches and I could get young athletes to act like older ones, their performances on the bike would likely improve. Because their lives tend to be more settled (stable careers and families) old athletes often go to bed earlier than riders in their 20s, and those additional hours of sleep make a tremendous difference in the quality and rate of post-workout recovery. Coaches and athletes have long believed older athletes need more recovery time between hard efforts. From my work with middle-aged career-oriented cyclists, I disagree. In my experience, older athletes don’t necessarily need longer recovery periods between strenuous workouts, because their improved sleep habits (compared to younger athletes) provide any additional recovery they might need.

Old-Guy Lesson #3: Go Hard and Go Home

Younger athletes can get away with wasting energy, but older athletes can’t. And it’s not so much a difference in physiology as a difference in lifestyle. Experience, both athletic and career, has taught us older folk to be more efficient with our time. That means 60-minute rides with a short warmup, some hard intervals, a cool-down and you’re done (at least on weekdays). High-intensity, low-volume training, as described in detail in my book “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” is making its way into all disciplines of cycling right now because it’s really the only way to achieve high-performance fitness without losing your job, family, and house.

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Old-Guy Lesson #4: Better Recovery is Free Training Progress

Youngsters can get away with wasting energy and neglecting recovery, but older athletes can’t. Partly due to the calming effect of maturity, they tend to be more open to focusing on recovery techniques, including sleep, nutrition, compression technology, and even footwear. All athletes would benefit by following their lead, even though it may cramp your style and late-night activities.

I’ve already talked about sleep, and the nutrition component of recovery has been written about extensively.  But there are two new recovery tools that I’m seeing great results from in endurance athletes of all ages. The first is compression technology.

The idea is that compression around the legs improves recovery by assisting in the process of circulating blood and lymph fluids through fatigued muscles. Medical professionals have used compression for years, mainly to combat deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in veins deep within the lower leg) and varicose veins (veins with faulty valves that allow blood to pool in the veins). Their use in healthy populations – especially athletes – is relatively new, and there’s still a lot of research to be done to truly determine the impact on performance and recovery. I think it’s promising technology, and anecdotally the athletes I’ve tried it with say their legs feel fresher the next day when they use compression technology following hard efforts.

Old-Guy Lesson #5: Don’t Be an Idiot

If you find yourself in a particularly dicey spot in a criterium, road race, or mountain bike race, find a veteran rider’s wheel and stay there. Take advantage of a veteran’s 20 years of crashes and near-misses; our survival instincts have been honed the hard way. Many times you’ll have a choice between following the lead of a young and strong rider, or an older but slower one. Whether it’s avoiding crashes, getting into the right position to stay out of the wind, or deciding it’s time to put on a rain jacket, there’s a reason old guys make it to the finish line despite having lower power outputs and lower VO2max values than men and women half their ages.

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Old-Guy Lesson #6: Training Is, in Fact, Cumulative

Compared to novices, it takes experienced riders less time to return to optimal fitness. Following 6 months off the bike, it will take a cyclist who has been riding for two years about 1.5 times as long to return to top fitness compared to a cyclist who had been riding consistently for 5 years or longer. And the longer you’re a cyclist, the greater this advantage becomes. That doesn’t mean experienced riders should strive to take 6 months off the bike, but it does mean that there’s benefit to continuing to ride consistently at some level – even if you’re performance has to decrease a notch for a season or two – compared to stopping completely.

Comments 17

  1. Greetings, I’m 65, been riding strong for the past 30 years. And as we know it technology just keeps getting more interesting. I remember, and I’m sure you do too, we only need a t-shirt (or without), shoes, and shorts or jeans. I still do about an average of 5,000 miles a year. More if I still weren’t working a 9.5 hour day and 2 hour commute each day. Days I take off work just so I can go cycling. Now with the Zwift program and smart trainers, I’m keeping my legs working inside in the winter time. Power on for those in their 60’s. We don’t need to be fast, just steady….

  2. Great suggestions……..

    My account of cycling……

    I have ridden bikes since I was 7 and when I started working I rode 5 miles to & from work for years. In 1998 I bought a decent “road bike” and got into semi serious riding with a group of serious guys. I was 52. It took me an entire season to consistantly stay with the group, sometimes getting dropped. By the end of that season I was getting into the best shape of my life. We road 4 days a week on streets, 1 day trails. Good sleep does help and also good nutrition. Not just calories.

    I’ve been athletic all my life, skiing, baseball, hiking, weight training, etc…..but mountain biking on local trails along with road riding solo or with a group at my age (I turned 70 in June) has done remarkable things for me.

    Here’s my point. I’m on ZERO prescription drugs. I can work construction work all day long, go home and take my bike out for a push for 10-15 miles. I can ride 20 miles of local roads with some hills and average 18+ mph. For most reading this, I know it’s not fast, but for me….I’m a happy guy.

    Thanks for putting this together and considering “US” older riders. I appreciate the suggestions here, some of which I already do, and will check out the rest.

    PS I use a couple of interval training DVDs off season here in Western NY – CTS Videos of course. Thanks Guys.

  3. In October I moved into the Strava 65+ age bracket so, according to Strava, I can get no older! In each of the last 3 years I’ve had injuries which were not bike related, but stopped me from cycling for long periods. Probably due to old injuries (I’ve played many different sports all my life). The last one being tendonosis of the achilles tendon. This just won’t heal. I’ve had it for 6 months now and it’s not much better than when it first flared up. I’m trying specific exercises now and at least I’m able to ride again although I’m probably at about 50% of my pre-injury fitness. When fit I was in the top third of all cyclists in my area of Spain (Murcia). Now I’m posting segment times way below my PR’s and not even trying to tackle the many climbs I have to choose from. It’s just getting the miles in that’s important now and, hopefully, building up to a reasonable level again. I don’t expect to challenge any of my PR’s of 3 years ago. This is down to age, I believe, making it harder to get fit again after injury. This is the frustrating thing about getting older. As cyclists we all know about suffering and pushing yourself beyond normal limits. But as a ‘mature’ cyclist, just add another 10-20% on top of that and you’ll know the real meaning of suffering!! In the mean time, I’ll keep up the short easy circuits until I feel strong enough to up the pace and distance a bit.

  4. Excellent points. I raced up until my 30’s, then took 13 years off the bike living in the Caribbean.

    When I returned stateside I immediately started racing again. My first race was a cyclocross event and I came in dead last. It took me a few years but now I consistently place or sometimes win on both mountain and cyclocross. At 49 I swear I’m faster than I was in my 20’s for all of the reasons mentioned but also because I train smarter and because I allow for recovery time.

  5. I’m always trying too find articles about the older cyclist. I will be 70 in May and, for the most part, can stay up with people half my age no problem. I have been coached by an excellent lady who I started out with in a senior spin class over five years ago. She and her husband, and their two boys, started GS Andiamo Club. This bike club was the 2016t cycling club of the year.

  6. I agree, after 20+ years of riding Mnt bikes and single speed CX bikes. Since I have turned 40 easily young. I’m 43 now and still easily young I have taken up jogging. Yes, a nice 1 or 3 mile jog to mix it up. My knees feel stronger and my flexibility has gotten more flexible. Especially those calfs and hamstrings! I agree I use the gym for conditioning that alone helps with blood flow there for makes me stronger and wiser.

  7. #8 Being old. In every race / climb ect. there is a point when training is meaningless and mental toughness kicks in. Having possibly gone through loss of parents, divorce, raising children ect. puts the elder athlete at an advantage because lots of times a race is much easier than life!

  8. Great article. As an over 50 ultramarathon runner, I can see that the same principles should all apply to a long successful career of trailrunning. Though I know that a lot of the CTS clients are cyclists, I would like to see more articles for runners from some of the great running coaches that you have like Jason Koop. Or maybe just put a few helpful tips for runners into your own more-cyclist focused articles Chris. Maybe like “if you are a cyclist… however if you are a runner… .” Just an idea. Thanks for all of these articles!

  9. Hi Chris, as a former competitive runner in my late 50’s, I have found cycling a great way to train hard and recover so much better especially on a time limited schedule . I now find a lot of my former running pals on the roads cycling too. For the aging athlete cycling seems to be the best way to stay fit and feel competitive (trying to keeping up with the younger guys). Great article – I’ll be reading your book too. Merry Christmas!

  10. I started to seriously ride after I retired in 1989. I am 84 years young and still riding but not as much as I rode 4 years ago. (8650 miles) I’ve averaged 6000 miles each year since 2004 when I bought my Specialized Secquoia Pro and I had 71,300 miles on it when I bought I bought a Trek SLR 8 this August.
    my 2016 Trek SLR 8. I love riding especially very early in the morning.

    1. That is fantastic Abe, at 64 I am only a youngster. At 60 I was at the top of the scale in obesity and decided to get healthy, it was that or die, so I lost weight and started riding, running and swimming and now compete often in triathlons. With your inspiration I plan to be doing the same for at least another 20 years.

  11. Just chiming in as an older rider 74 and still going strong. Riding has kept me healthy and strong. I also do weight training a couple of times a week which has had the effect of making me less sore after riding.

    1. I’m 53 and find the same benefit with weight training. I actually have gone to the gym right after long endurance rides, hydration and a protein smoothie, to found that a heavy weight training session will snap the fatigue out of my body and accelerate recovery.

  12. Thanks for the great advice Chris! As I was reading you article I was thinking how my riding has change through the years and now that I’m over 60 find all that you stated so true. Wish I had had the sense to do all those thing 40 years ago!! Have a Merry Christmas and a safe healthy new year.

  13. Thanks, Chris, for a great reminder of the value we seasoned riders bring to the sport. I would really like to hear more about exactly how you’re using compression technology yourself and with your athletes.
    P.S. I smiled when you mentioned 20 years of riding experience. If I’m counting correctly, you’ve been on the bike a few more years than that, right? And I’ve been riding 52+ years and love it more than ever!

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