Unfortunately, as we get older our training demands evolve. I work with a lot of folks that are in their 40s or older and over the years I’ve seen very specific differences in how they need to train versus the younger athletes I work with for cycling. Not so much in the way we train, rather often in counteracting years of poor training habits or the issues involve with starting up again.
The good news is that cycling is a sport that favors older riders in many ways. If you show up to a group ride in Boulder and dismiss the 50 year old guy in the 9 speed Dura Ace, you might find yourself dropped by the same guy an hour later. Research has shown that endurance athletes can maintain and even improve much later in their life than many other sports. The bad news is that there a lot of new considerations to be achieving that level of fitness at this stage of life. Additionally, there are more elements that need to be addressed in terms of whole body fitness and health.
Flexibility – A key element so often missed in cycling. If you are fighting your own body in terms of bike position then you are wasting energy. Also, as the threat of injury increases due to stiffening tendons, etc. then continuing to work those joints and muscle systems in a minimal impact way can be a good counteraction to aging.
Core – Nearly 100% of the folks I have worked with had weak core strength. Cycling does almost nothing to strengthen the center of the body, yet so much of our activities and the edge in riding comes from our center. Gaining a strong core will improve most all of your cycling and especially sprinting, climbing and any off road discipline.
Strength – Much like the core, whole body strength is very minimal with a cycling background. Sure your legs will be strong in a very specific way, however the rest of your system will likely be pretty weak. Even a cyclists legs will lack lateral and impact strength, leading to more susceptibility to injury. Cyclists are often surprised how many small annoyances are happening to a rider from lack of strength. This is also a big injury preventer if addressed correctly.
Vo2 Max – I hate to say it, but this is one area that seems to drop off with age. Although, the potential to keep it high or improve it is still there. What is the culprit? Maybe biological a bit, but also a lack of motivation. The hardest workouts to keep my athletes doing at their full potential are intense intervals, which are critical in keeping that fitness level high and reducing the affects of aging. If you have stopped doing these in your training, make sure to slowly bring those back into your weekly efforts to minimize exposure to adverse affects.
The good news is that in most studies the older athlete has a ton of potential still. The bad news is that it takes the same or maybe a bit more focus than it did when you were 25.