I ran across this excellent discussion of senior cycling on RoadBikeRider.com. They have graciously permitted me to reprint it. See permission at end.
RBR Editor’s Note: Coach John Hughes copied me on a recent email exchange he had with Marty Hoganson, an RBR reader with whom he had ridden on tours in years gone by. Marty wondered what, if any, differences there are in terms of recovery, motivation, etc., between 50-somethings and 70-somethings. Both agreed to let me share the exchange with RBR readers. It provides a wealth of solid, useful information.
These days I live and ride in Yuma, Arizona. I am involved in our local bike club called Foothills Bicycle Club, which is primarily made up of retired folks – late-50s to mid-80s. Many strong riders in their 60s and 70s, for their ages — or any age, for that matter.
Now that I am older also I have taken some interest in your articles on cycling and aging. I was wondering how cycling over 70 relates to your articles on cycling over 50? I’m pretty sure they don’t necessarily relate well. I am arriving in that 70+ age group this year, and have been feeling the difference in recovery time and healing from injuries for quite a few years.
What used to take three days to recover from, while riding a tour, may now take longer than the tour lasts. Maybe months longer. I ride year-round and still ride pretty strong, but I’m also experiencing a loss of interest in doing long days. I still like to do long tours, but with shorter days. I’m wondering if the lack of desire or drive might be a major contributing factor in the loss of performance, or if the loss of performance leads to the lack of desire to train harder? Also, if the shorter days might lead to the longer recovery times?
Sometimes I get the urge to do longer miles in an effort to overcome nagging sore spots. It used to work when I was younger, but now I doubt that it would be very effective. I usually just say to myself, Nah, just enjoy the ride. Is that part of aging too, or is just that I’ve been there, and don’t need to prove anything?
And Coach John Hughes Answered:
You ask a good question: Is cycling past 70 different than cycling past 50? Yes and no.
At 70, or 60, or 50, a rider is experiencing the same physiological changes (unless there’s an underlying disease) — loss of aerobic fitness, muscle strength, flexibility, etc. At 70 you may be farther along the continuum than someone at 50, but your body isn’t fundamentally different than a 50-year-old’s.
Thus, the same principles apply for healthy aging at 70 as at 50, and the basic recommendations are the same regarding (almost) daily aerobic exercise and intensity, strength and flexibility training several times a week.
As we age the quantities and difficulties of the different types of exercises change: a century might be a good regular endurance ride for a 50-year-old, while a half-century might be more appropriate for a 70-year-old. A 50-year-old might be doing lunges with 10-lb. (4.5 kg) dumbbells, while a 70-year-old might be doing split squats.
We each age somewhat differently, both in terms of the normal aging processes and how well we’ve taken care of our bodies. Since you have years of athletic maturity, what’s appropriate for you might be too challenging for a 60-year-old who has just started cycling!
And as you note, a 70-year-old needs more recovery than a 50-year-old. However, you should be able to do a lot of injury-free riding for years and years with a proper balance between exercise and recovery, and by doing supplemental strength and flexibility exercises to prevent injury.
Motivation often shifts as we get older. Don McGrath has written a fascinating book, 50 Athletes Over 50, based on interviews. A key finding is that motivation often shifts from performance and competition to health, fitness and enjoyment. I don’t ride for performance anymore – to set personal bests – rather, I ride, hike, ski, snowshoe, lift weights, etc., to stay healthy and have fun with my wife and friends.
I’ve written the “Past 50” articles to provide a framework within which riders can design appropriate individual programs based on their years of experience, current physical condition and motivation, as well as chronological age.
I hope this helps. Enjoy the warm sunshine!
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