ASK COACH FRED

Can I Get Back to the Power I Had When I Was Younger?

Question:

I'm a 67-year-old rider who resumed road cycling in 2005 after a 15-year hiatus. Since 2006, I've ridden several centuries a year including the Triple Bypass, and the Double Triple in 2011 and 2012. I posted PRs in 2012 for time and power and have never made it back to that level after starting 2013 injured and off the bike. What I'm finding in my trainer workouts is that I can reach my threshold and VO2 Max power goals in an interval but I can't hold them as long as I could a couple of years ago. I'd like to think this is because I just haven't built as good an endurance base as I had a couple of years back but wonder if it's realistic to think I'll ever get back to that level, or beyond, at my age. (My FTP is 210 right now; it was 228 on December 2, 2013.) -- John H.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: 

It sounds like you were riding at a high level before your forced layoff, John. At age 67 it's possible to return to the level you were at several years ago -- but it's more difficult than when you were younger! I am 68 and although I wish I still had the FTP I had even 10 years ago, I don't think it's going to happen.

So the first step is to make realistic goals. Your numbers are only slightly lower than before, so the lower figure could be due to the way you rested prior to the test, your motivation or other factors like riding a lab ergometer rather than your own bike on a trainer for the test.

All the experts say the best way to raise functional threshold power is with intense intervals of various lengths. But of course a good aerobic base is important because it works in concert with higher intensity training. So the answer to your question -- intense intervals or endurance base? -- is: both.

But once you have returned your endurance to close to your pre-injury levels, intensity works best. The usual workouts are great, like the Sufferfest series. On the road, 30 seconds on/30 seconds off is a good method to stimulate threshold development.

On the longer end, 20 minute repeats at just below your time trial effort also work well. And I'm a fan of 5 minutes on/3 minutes easy. Do the hard 5 minutes slightly above threshold and spin easily to recover.

Intensity doesn't have to be structured. Hard climbs on your favorite training routes work well, as do fast group rides. The key is not to get too involved in precise "on" and "off" segments but simply make sure that you're getting some good intensity several times a week.

The other key is to make your hard efforts really hard and then go extremely easily when you go easy. And at our age, rest is probably the most important part of training!

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