Toolbox: I have said it before and I will say it again: I am in my fifties, and I still wanna go fast! Staying strong and riding the way you want to ride once you hit the half-century point requires some changes to the way you plan and train compared to when you were younger.
Sean Kelly (65) crosses the line in the Roubaix velodrome
The key areas of change are transition, strength, intensity, and chronic training load. This doesn’t mean we train less; it means we train differently. Let take a look at each of these areas and compare advice for the older you and the younger you.
The Transition Period
One of the benefits of the younger you was that you could rest longer and then train harder and withstand a much higher level of acute training load. This means that you could rest from 4-8 weeks and let your body totally recover, then jump back into training, pushing your progression hard and gaining fitness fast. Your body could handle a rapid ramp rate of training load and still have enough energy to adapt and improve.
Now, at 50+, you can’t follow that same rhythm. Why? The rest would be great, of course, but the reality is that as we age, we cannot handle the higher acute training loads of our younger years and still adapt. We simply aren’t that resilient.
It might sound counterintuitive, but less time off is the answer, as the cost of rebuilding the fitness is too high. I typically recommend that 50+ riders take 1-2 weeks of post-season rest, then engage in a transition/cross training plan for 4-8 weeks focusing on building functional strength and maintaining (or minimizing) the loss of fitness.
Johan Museeuw revisits the Kwaremont
Younger, you could get away without strength training, but 50+ you need it. There is very little true research connecting strength training (both functional and strength resistance) and improved cycling, but it is my experience that doing both as we age allows us to train harder when we really need to, which leads to improved peaks.
Here’s another area where the answer is counterintuitive: as you age, you need more intensity in the base/foundation period than you did when you were younger. The key reasons? You lose both strength and VO2max as you age, and maintaining a balance of some high intensity training in the base/foundation period will help fight the loss of both. The trick is knowing how much.
In my opinion, there are two ways to employ higher-intensity work: some riders go all in and engage in High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which focuses on frequent higher-intensity days with less overall training hours, and some use polarized (or 80/20) training, which research suggests has some benefits. For myself, I keep it simple by adding one high-intensity training day every 7-10 workouts throughout the base/foundation period. This work is true high intensity, featuring all max efforts ranging from 30-90 seconds based on the athlete.
Johan Museeuw (56) and Erik Zabel (51) still have their sprint
Chronic Training Load
Younger, you could withstand long periods of higher chronic (or cumulative fatigue) training, but older you need to be more careful. One of the mistakes I often see with master riders is training with too much training load (a combination of duration, frequency, and intensity) for too long. If you’ve been training for years, you probably need 8-12 weeks to peak for an event, assuming you maintain and build your base/foundation.
This is easier to understand if you think about training in weeks ahead of your big event or desired peak. I see many masters riding and training hard for their event as many as 24-28 weeks out. Sure, that’s a good time to transition or build your base/foundation, but you can easily overdo it.
Focus on subtle gains in the base/foundation period, and then get serious about 8-12 weeks out from your event. This will reduce the chronic training load, which is also cumulative fatigue. Use the extended base time to improve aerobic fitness, strength, and skills.
The answer is simple: rest more now that you are over 50. This should be done in two ways. First, take an extra rest or very easy day once every 7-10 workouts, and second, reduce your training microcycles from 3 weeks to 2 or 2.5, depending on the time of year.
At the end of the day, there is no easy answer for the 50+ rider. We can still train hard, go fast, and enjoy success on the bike; we just need to change the way we approach training.
Make it strong!
Francesco Moser (70) and Roger de Vlaeminck (74) still going strong