If you’re at or near 50 and reading this, you’ll remember that when we were adolescents, 50 year olds then seemed absolutely ancient, so far from us that they seemed to exist in a different solar system. As though they should have been in ‘Cocoon’…

Maybe kids now see us in the same way, they probably do, the little fekkers, but there’s no doubt that our generation look after themselves a lot better and that exercise plays a much bigger role in our lives than for previous generations.

With a decent exercise schedule, a cutting back of alcohol and rich food and a more rational approach to work, stress, and all the other attendant hassles of modern life, we can stay healthier, look better and feel better for longer.

With my mate Urs, in his mid 50s, and me at 49, and that is not beer, no… ahem.

Cycling is a very popular ‘new hobby’ for many older people, and I am often contacted by riders over 50 looking to improve but certain that it’s near impossible to do so!

“I’m too old, can’t sprint anymore, my arse looks big in this bloody lycra” etc etc.

Let’s take a look at some of this, and see if we can debunk some of these myths.

  1. Older People Shouldn’t Dream

Now, as a cyclist who turned professional at the ripe old age of 37 and went on to ride with the best in the 2012 Tour of Qatar and Oman, race in Belgium last year and notch a decent result or two here and there, I always advocate that it is never too late.

Your mental attitude has a huge effect on mood, your immune system, your ability to focus and to push on when the going gets tough. Great qualities to have in life, and on the bike in particular.

If you say ‘I can’t do it’, well, you’re beaten already…

Read my article on the importance of ‘going mental’ sometimes here.

2. Becoming Weaker, Slower and Less Sharp Is Inevitable

Most people assume that growing old leads to an inevitable decline from vitality and activity to frailty and a sedentary lifestyle. And guess what, for most people, this proves to be right, because that is exactly what happens to them. But who ever wanted to be ‘most people’?

Not me, and not you, I hope.

Studies on Masters’ level athletes show that muscle mass, power and strength decline far slower in them than in the general population. Between the ages of 40 and 50 years, we can lose more than 8% of our muscle mass; this loss accelerates to more than 15% per decade after age 75 years.

Loss of muscle mass is often accompanied by loss of strength and functional decline, which can be alleviated by, you guessed it, exercise.

A study in 2014 of hundreds of cyclists aged 55-74 tested the cyclists’ physical and cognitive abilities and compared them to those of sedentary older people, and also much younger men and women. Their test group proved to have reflexes, memories, balance and metabolic profiles that more closely resembled those of 30-year-olds than of the sedentary older group.

Another repor in peer-reviewed journal Ageing Cell concluded that we older cyclists are not like our sedentary peers. We are healthier. We are, biologically, younger. Our muscles generally retained their size, fibre composition and other markers of good health across the decades.

So, go cycling.

And it makes you smile a lot too…

3. Over-50s Can’t Handle Heavy Training Loads

You can ask the guys I coach who are over 50 and ask them if this is true!

All cyclists should build up their general fitness before going and smashing at their limit up Alpe du Zwift or things are going to get quite messy. That’s where this [particular myth has its kernel of truth. In fact, anyone with a good solid base can deal with heavy workloads.

It’s all about having the patience to put in the work to get there, to be consistent, and to choose your moments.

You can handle hard work, and quite a lot of it. Again we come back the mentality. It’s important to believe in yourself.

4. My Numbers Won’t Improve

Wrong! I had a 53 year old client who had a ‘multi-sport’ coach who was helping him with strength work. My client asked him what we were focusing on at that moment and he told him we were doing VO2 work.

‘What? Old people can’t improve VO2,’ he said.

But older athletes can often improve VO2 max because they still have room to improve in that area.

However the biggest are that we can find improvements is with power at lactate threshold, as a percentage of your VO2 max. Even if your VO2 max declines 1-2% each year, you may be able to improve your maximum sustainable power by 5-8%. Most of us are not at the absolute limit of our potential, which is why wit smart, focused and consistent training, we can see still some great improvements!

Yet how does an average, over-50 year old cyclist go about improving?  There are three basic factors to be considered, and they are:

  • Training
  • Nutrition
  • Motivation

Which we will discuss in Part 2!

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

Leave a Reply