One of my least favorite weekends of the year is when clocks tumble backwards. The beginning of fall training for me is a sign I can no longer deny summer is over and winter is coming. As a 58-year-old cyclist, here’s how I change my training for the fall and what I recommend you should do.
Step up the Strength Training
Athletes over 50 (over 40, really) benefit from year-round strength training. Maintaining muscle mass is an important part of keeping metabolism from dropping. Strength training exercises can be an important part of maintaining bone mineral density, which is particularly important for older cyclists who have spent years participating in a non weight-bearing sport.
On the bike, strength training can help you go harder longer (fatigue resistance), and reduce the chances for injury by applying novel stresses to tendons and ligaments so they develop strength outside the limited movement patterns of cycling.
I have incorporated a small amount of resistance training in my weekly training schedule for the past several years, and in the fall and winter I increase the frequency and number or exercises I use. During the summer I prefer to spend more hours on the bike, so I reduce the time I devote to strength training. This time of year is a good opportunity to shift the time balance to include more strength training. I recommend spending 20-30 minutes 3-4 times a week on strength training.
Increase protein and reduce concentrated carbohydrates
For many cyclists during this period of the year, training becomes more generalized and workout durations drop. Your nutritional support of your training should change as well. You still need to consume carbohydrate for energy and recovery, but this is a good time to focus more on fruit and vegetable sources of carbohydrate and reduce intake of concentrated carbohydrate from pasta, grains, and bread. Note, I said reduce, not eliminate. This shift in carbohydrate sources tends to reduce caloric intake and increase intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
This is also a good time to maintain or potentially increase protein intake. You don’t need to consume massive amounts of protein to support the development of lean muscle, but it’s absolutely essential to consume enough total calories and sufficient protein. Older adults benefit from consuming more protein, and if you are participating in a combination of strength and endurance training I recommend 1.7-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Current dietary research also recommends eating protein throughout the day rather than concentrating it all in one meal or directly after a workout.
Figure out your indoor cycling setup
Whether you plan to use a smart trainer with Zwift, set up fluid resistance trainer or rollers in your garage, or join an indoor cycling class, make your commitment and get going. This is an easy thing to procrastinate on, but don’t.
I’m a fan of Zwift and anecdotally find the athletes I work with spend 20-30% more time per workout on the trainer when they are connected. When they do interval workouts, they tend to warm up longer, get their workout done, and then continue riding or cooling down longer than they do when they’re not connected. Over time those additional minutes add up, leading to increased workload for the month and measurable improvements in performance.
While the graphics and courses are great, connecting with other riders is a big part of what makes Zwift effective. There are real benefits to riding with other people, as evidenced by a study that found having a pacer improved cycling performance even without the benefit of drafting (drafting is an additional benefit, but not the only one). Even riding indoors with others tends to motivate athletes to dig deeper and/or hang on longer than they do on their own.
For best results, find a power-based indoor cyclingclass that focuses on improving performance, not just crushing people or seeing how much people can sweat.
Reset your habits
The changing of seasons is a good reminder to check your habits and see if you’re living the life as you want to. That doesn’t mean you’ll find something you need to change, but rather that it’s a good opportunity to pause and make sure you’re still on track.
My seasonal resets often reveal I need to focus on getting more and better quality sleep. Similar to many executives, business owners, and entrepreneurs who work with CTS, I am driven to work long hours and also need of enough sleep to support my activity level. That balance often tips toward not getting enough sleep, and changing the clocks back gives me the cue to reset my sleep schedule and get more rest so I’m more productive when I’m awake.
If you drink alcohol, this is also a good time to reset or check in on how much you’re consuming. The Holiday Season is coming, and many athletes increase their alcohol consumption between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. If you reduce your baseline consumption now, you might have a better chance of limiting the Holiday increase, too. Over the past few years I have dramatically reduced my intake of beer and wine. As we get older there are enough barriers to maintaining health, fitness, and weight already, and alcohol doesn’t make those barriers any lower.
Adapted from Chris Carmichael’s* article in Fall Training Plan for Cyclists Over 50
*Chris Carmichael is CEO/Head Coach of CTS – Carmichael Training Systems.