fall training cyclists over 50

Fall Training Plan for Cyclists Over 50

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One of my least favorite weekends of the year is when clocks tumble backwards. Daylight Savings Time ends in the United States this weekend (it happened last weekend in Europe), and it means earlier sunsets and fewer late afternoon outdoor rides. Over the years it has grown to signal the beginning of fall training for me, a sign I can no longer deny summer is over and winter is coming. As a 58-year-old cyclist, here’s how I change my training at this time of year, and what I recommend you should do.

Step up the Strength Training

Athletes over 50 (over 40, really) 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 Zwift, set up fluid resistance trainer or rollers in your garage, 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 Zwift and anecdotally find the athletes I work with spend 20-30% more time per workout on the trainer when they are connected. 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 Zwift 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.

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 between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. 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.

Don’t forget to set your clocks back an hour on Saturday night, but remember to get out and train on Sunday!

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 12

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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…

  7. 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.

  8. 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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