fall training cyclists over 50

Fall Training Plan for Masters Cyclists Over 40

Despite the fact athletes didn’t have a lot of events to participate in during the 2020 summer season, the rapid approach of cooler weather and shorter days means there’s a change coming to training for most of us. Staying closer to home and not interupting training with races and events has ironically led many masters cyclists and athletes over 40 to reach new heights in fitness. With an eye toward a great spring and summer in 2021, here’s what to do this fall.

Step up the Strength Training

Masters cyclists, and any athletes over 40, benefit from year-round strength training. Maintaining muscle mass is an important part of keeping metabolism from dropping. Strength training exercises can be an important part of maintaining bone mineral density, which is particularly important for older cyclists who have spent years participating in a non weight-bearing sport.

On the bike, strength training can help you go harder longer (fatigue resistance), and reduce the chances for injury by applying novel stresses to tendons and ligaments so they develop strength outside the limited movement patterns of cycling.

I have incorporated a small amount of resistance training in my weekly training schedule for the past several years, and in the fall and winter I increase the frequency and number or exercises I use. During the summer I prefer to spend more hours on the bike, so I reduce the time I devote to strength training. This time of year is a good opportunity to shift the time balance to include more strength training. I recommend spending 20-30 minutes 3-4 times a week on strength training.

Increase protein and reduce concentrated carbohydrates

For many cyclists during this period of the year, training becomes more generalized and workout durations drop. Your nutritional support of your training should chance as well. You still need to consume carbohydrate for energy and recovery, but this is a good time to focus more on fruit and vegetable sources of carbohydrate and reduce intake of concentrated carbohydrate from pasta, grains, and bread. Note, I said reduce, not eliminate. This shift in carbohydrate sources tends to reduce caloric intake and increase intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

This is also a good time to maintain or potentially increase protein intake. You don’t need to consume massive amounts of protein to support the development of lean muscle, but it’s absolutely essential to consume enough total calories and sufficient protein. Older adults benefit from consuming more protein, and if you are participating in a combination of strength and endurance training I recommend 1.7-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Current dietary research also recommends eating protein throughout the day rather than concentrating it all in one meal or directly after a workout.

Figure out your indoor cycling setup

Whether you plan to use a smart trainer with an interactive app, or set up a fluid resistance trainer that’s not connected to anything, or join an indoor cycling class, make your commitment and get going. This is an easy thing to procrastinate on, but don’t.

I’m a fan of interactive apps and apps that stream content, whether that’s Zwift, Rouvy, RGT, BeCool, etc. Anecdotally, our coaches find our athletes spend 20-30% more time per workout on the trainer when they are connected, compared to riding the trainer while just watching their training data or old Tour de France recordings. When they do interval workouts, they tend to warm up longer, get their workout done, and then continue riding or cooling down longer than they do when they’re not connected. Over time those additional minutes add up, leading to increased workload for the month and measurable improvements in performance.

While the graphics and courses are great, connecting with other riders is a big part of what makes interactive apps effective. There are real benefits to riding with other people, as evidenced by this study that found having a pacer improved cycling performance even without the benefit of drafting (drafting is an additional benefit, but not the only one). For more on the study and its implications, read this from Alex Hutchinson. Even riding indoors with others tends to motivate athletes to dig deeper and/or hang on longer than they do on their own.

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For best results, find a power-based indoor cycling class that focuses on improving performance, not just crushing people or seeing how much people can sweat.

Reset your habits

The changing of seasons is a good reminder to check your habits and see if you’re living the life as you want to. That doesn’t mean you’ll find something you need to change, but rather that it’s a good opportunity to pause and make sure you’re still on track.

My seasonal resets often reveal I need to focus on getting more and better quality sleep. Similar to many executives, business owners, and entrepreneurs who work with CTS, I am driven to work long hours and also need of enough sleep to support my activity level. That balance often tips toward not getting enough sleep, and changing the clocks back gives me the cue to reset my sleep schedule and get more rest so I’m more productive when I’m awake.

If you drink alcohol, this is also a good time to reset or check in on how much you’re consuming. The Holiday Season is coming, and many athletes increase their alcohol consumption in the last three months of the year. If you reduce your baseline consumption now, you might have a better chance of limiting the Holiday increase, too. Over the past few years I have dramatically reduced my intake of beer and wine. As we get older there are enough barriers to maintaining health, fitness, and weight already, and alcohol doesn’t make those barriers any lower.

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 21

  1. Another geezer here, 75. The over 40 suggestions still work! My gym is also closed, so I bought a couple pair of cast iron plate dumbbells, cheap ones, but they give me enough weight to do sets of 30, 3′ between sets of all same weight, enough that I can’t do 30 on the last set. Dumbbell deadlifts and front squats sub for the missing squat rack. Concurring with Koop’s article on training density, I do 60-90 minute weight sessions twice a week, which will get shorter, then once a week as outdoor cycling takes over next spring.

    During our rainy season I’m riding my 20+ y.o. resistance rollers, trying to work up to 2 hours at 75% FTP, no HR drift. In 2 weeks of that, I’m up to 90′. If I can do 2 hours of that 3-4 times a week, should be feeling good by January. This is the total opposite of my usual CTS style of training but it seems to be working. I’ll start intervals on the rollers in January.

  2. I’m disappointed that there is not a recommendation to mix it up a bit on the bike. I look forward to getting on my mt bike and fat bike this time of year to have fun, improve my bike handling skills, and stay fit. There is nothing like the burn you get on a fat bike heading into a north wind while riding on the beach. It benefits every part of your cycling. I do get into the gym when its dark and weather is bad, but a good set of lights and proper attire go a long way.

  3. Chris, thanks for your valuable information, I am 69, retired, a year ago my wife and I were diagnosed pre-diabetic, and started taking medication, we took control of our diet, increased our road bike training, joined a gym to build strength, and were doing good, due to the pandemic, gym closed down, however my wife and I increased our distance and frequency, 160 miles a week. In our recent physical, we lost about 15 /20 Lb. our diabetic condition and medication are both gone, we are back on gym strength training. We are doing great.

  4. I’m 77 years old and got back on the bicycle when I turned 70. Running and hiking the mountains of northern Nevada put a good amount of stress on my knees and feet, the bike greatly reduced the effects of aging on my legs. Several years ago, I invested in a Wahoo Kickr and later the Kickr Climb. For structured workouts I’m using PerfPRO. For virtual rides I’m using Rouvy.
    PerfPRO can be programed for CTS structured workouts, i.e. Climbing Intervals, VO2, FTP. The program also facilitates mixed mode workouts. A typical routine could include warm-up, fixed power intervals (based on % of FTP) w/recovery, and cool down. Another routine would be climbing intervals, with varied % of climb and varied duration of intervals and recovery. If I blow up on the trainer, I don’t have to worry about getting back home.
    Rouvy provides video enhancements of real rides. This past week I rode in Italy, Czech Republic, and Oregon. Very often, there are other cyclist performing the same ride. I’m not the fastest guy riding, but often become the rabbit for faster riders. The rides are posted to Strava so that I can compare my results to other riders in the 75+ category. Rouvy also has scheduled ‘Race’ events. These includes men and women of varied ages and abilities. I’m never the fastest rider, and often not the slowest.
    A key ingredient in this setup is the Kickr Climb. If I’m doing an 18% climb in Italy, the bike and my body are in an 18% climbing profile. When I stand, my upper body is over the bars, not vertical over the seat. My quads and hams engage accordingly. When I climb the Los Olivos side of the Fig, it is like being there.

    1. Awesome info! 74 here and love these posts. Truer words have never been spoken “If I blow up on the trainer, I don’t have to worry about getting back home”.

  5. In rainy England I don’t stop cycling outdoor in low season. Cycling wardrobe extending into low temperatures, good lights and knobby tires – all is needed to keep mushing ex-gravel mud.
    Absolutely agree that after 40 strength workout is absolute must. Rubber bands are extremely effective and gentle on joints. Other than that there is always space in shed for kettlebells, TRX/Rings or a battle rope.
    On odd days, focus on mobility with “Stick Mobility” and roll those sore trigger points.

  6. I would like to get back into a gym but money it costs so what can you do at home I do a spin class at the bike shop once a week and try to ride on weekend if weather is ok

    1. I know exactly what you mean. Try to get e TRX setup or rubber band. Start with body weight exercises, do them correctly and you will see benefits. No real need for those super heavy weights…

  7. Thanks Chris, meanly by the meals habits to change. I’m from Costa Rica and our food intake is based on rice, beans, potato, meat, platains but low salad and fruits but the worst id quantity so each meals must be “dampered” by a lot of cycling km. In my case my job is 48h/week and have little time for long workouts so need to focus on a healthy food consume.

  8. Great post Chris. Always track your advice about the aging cyclist as I’m 59 myself. Wondering if you have plans to create a set of off-season intervals on Zwift?

    Thanks, Jan

  9. I live in Colorado and can still ride in the winter just not as much. I Also hike and ski. It’s a great time to mix it up without becoming a gym rat.

  10. No setting back the clocks here. However, the move for those of us who work, from outdoor to indoor is real. Time to sort out what you are going to us and then use it.

  11. I m 71, retired (although I am heavily involved in a few volunteer activities). I ride ~6000 miles/year and not a lot of that in the winter in Maine. Nearly a third of that mileage is in two, 10-12 day self-supported tours I do each year. I don’t race any more, but I ride pretty hard. Maybe too hard. I do weight training on most days that I don’t bike, but only do legs after a ride when I am not riding the next day. I have read that aerobic and weight training work against getting the most benefit out of either. Even with all the weight training, I am losing muscle and weight over the years, ~10# over the last decade, and am getting slower as a result.
    I am looking for the right balance. Any suggestions?
    Thanks for your blogs. Even though I don’t race, they are interesting and helpful.

    1. Hello Dean, this is Tom in Mill Valley California, 69 years old 70 in November…I was searching for someone to help plan some sort of routine to start riding a road bike I just purchased…I have been repairing with weights a bad injury for the last four years with great success thanks to an excellent trainer and some discipline on my part, but I really want to add biking to my routine, especially since I could rouse all year long here and the road opportunities are amazing…I am at the gym daily 5-6 days a week but now that we are ‘sheltering in place’ I have started working out at home, it’s a perfect time for me to start a bike routine, today I rode 14 miles, is that good? Should I ride daily, for how long, I really don’t have a clue what my goals should be…

      1. Hi, Tom. I’m envious of where you live for all the great riding opportunities there are. When I visit my mom in MV I particularly like doing the Tiburon loop.
        If you are looking for some instruction on training I suggest getting a copy of “The Cyclist’s Training Bible” by Joel Friel. It’s chock full of information from riding to nutrition to off-the-bike training.
        All the best,
        Rob Tesar

  12. I saw the title and thought “…this is going to be another piece about people who live where four feet of snow and temperatures of -13°F are not an issue….” – but it’s not. Good and timely advice. The pain cave is already set up and I’m using BigRingVR – not being a fan of the graphics on Zwift. I start my indoor season riding the Red Rock Loop in Colorado, then move on to Norway and Spain.

  13. Great reading for this time of the year when we have to go back to the pain caves and dungeons. I also spend more time on my core training routines to recover and strengthen the body after all those kms on the bike.
    Thanks, Chris!

    1. Juan Pablo: I glad you enjoy the blog. As we age there is so much to consider in regards to training/eating/recovery than when younger.

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