Staying Fit By Cycling
Staying Fit By CyclingJan 30
Via BikeRadar: It’s true that most long-time athletes will decline from their endurance peak from about the age of 35, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to improve your performance well into middle age.
“There is a de?nite decline with age in certain physiological parameters, like VO2 max [aerobic capacity – your ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise],” says Caroline Robertson, sports scientist at Loughborough University.
“But at the same time we maintain things like capillary density and certain oxidative enzyme pathways that become a substitute for what we’ve lost. That enables us to offset the decline to a much greater extent than if we were just sedentary.
“The better training history you have, the better chance you have of maintaining your VO2 max. It comes down to the individual, what sport they’re doing and what sport they’ve done in the past.”
The bottom line is that if you stay on top of your training, the drop in your ?tness is likely to be modest in your 40s and 50s. It’s only beyond there that your performances are likely to tail off more steeply.
Improving with age
Canada’s Ed Whitlock became the oldest person to run a sub-three-hour marathon at the age of… wait for it… 73. That’s an extreme example but there’s a pretty good chance that you might actually improve your athletic performance as you get into middle age.
There’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that you don’t lose the ability to improve your ?tness with age – even into old age. A study from Missouri in 1991 showed that healthy people aged 61-70 were able to improve their VO2 max through endurance exercise to the same extent as younger people, and it was the same for women as it was for men.
Of course, you’re not going to be ?tter at 70 than you were when you were 20, but proportionately you can still make the same gains. And there’s always the possibility of setting a new personal best by upgrading your skills too.
So, we can sometimes continue improving as we get older, but does that mean we can ignore the ageing process altogether? Nope. For a start, recovery – the body’s repair processes after exercise – takes longer. And if you want to get the maximum bene?t from your training, you can’t rush your recovery.
“As you get older you need a little bit more time between training sessions,” says triathlon coach Barry Jameson. “You’ve got to make sure you don’t do too much all together.
“How do you judge that? If you start to feel tired all the time and your muscles are quite sore and tender, you’re overtraining or not getting enough rest. That’s when you need to back off.”
Fellow coach Steve Trew agrees that extra recovery time is vital as the years go on, so you need to train that little bit more cleverly. “As you get older you’ve got to start analysing what you are doing and cut out the junk mileage – the training that’s not really making you any faster,” he says.
“You’ve got to look at your hard sessions and make them very speci?c and very hard, but then be aware that you’re going to need a little bit more recovery time afterwards.”
In other words, you need to carry on getting the quality, high-intensity training in, like hill reps. But you need to be more careful that you don’t overdo it.
“It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s all about listening to your body,” says Trew. “You might be out on your bike and think, ‘You know what? I’m shattered’. Don’t be afraid to stop and rest for the day. That’s being a smart trainer.”
Flexibility and strength
Speaking of injury, the stats say that you’re much more likely to pick up a niggle as you get older, partly because your body’s connective tissues become less elastic and you lose ?exibility.
You need to take preventative action if you want to avoid time spent on the sidelines, which means making sure to stretch after exercise. Concentrate on your key weaknesses in terms of flexibility, and hold each stretch for 30 to 40 seconds.
Unchecked, we tend to lose muscle mass as we get older, and with it strength, and this makes injury more likely too. Regular resistance exercise sessions will prevent this.
“It’s important that you do a lot of core strength work,” says Barry Jameson. “It’s a valuable part of your training. I’d say one or two core strength exercise sessions every week, lasting about 20 minutes or half-an-hour each. You’d be doing fairly light weights and maybe three or four sets of 15 reps on all your major muscle groups.”
On the plus side…
So, although ageing brings with it challenges, there’s plenty you can do to stay on the right track. And on top of that, there are even some bene?ts to being that bit older.
“Older athletes often have more time,” says coach Ralph Hydes. “Your family is likely to be more grown up so you don’t have the pressure to run off and take the kids to football, and you can take time off work and spend it doing long rides if you need to.
“You’re also likely to be more in control ?nancially, so you can afford to invest in getting some coaching. Plus, if you’ve kept ?t over your life, your endurance will probably be very good.”
It takes several years of regular training for you to fully develop the capillaries that carry blood to your working muscles, for example. Steve Trew reckons that differences in attitude are helpful too: “Generally, you get more relaxed and see the bigger picture.”
That calmer approach can pay off on race day too, according to Barry Jameson. “You become wiser,” he says, “and you become better at measuring your effort. A lot of younger people in their 20s blast off very fast but over a two-hour race I’ll catch up and pass them. That wise old head comes in useful!”