Face it. You’re getting older and you can’t stop this. But how older are you really? I wrote this column about What is Aging?
Aging is not caused by any single factor but by an aggregate of causes, which is why marginal gains can help.
In Anti-Aging: Riding Smarter as You Age, pt. 1 I introduced you to the concept of marginal gains. Sir David Brailsford, the general manager of the UCI World Team Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky, came up with the concept in 2020. The idea is very simple. Think about everything that goes into cycling success – not just training. Make small improvements in as many areas as possible and the cumulative result is significant improvement. Using this concept his team won the Tour de France five times in six years: Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Wiggins also won five Olympic golds and set the hour record. Froome also won the Giro d’Italia once and the Vuelta a España twice.
How does this apply to you? If you can slow the effects of aging just a bit in many different ways the result will be a significant slowing and perhaps reversal of the loss of performance on the bike.
Your brain helps with this. It changes around age 50 in ways that allow you to synthesize information better and make complex decisions. The brain’s frontal cortex, which is used for problem solving and some aspects of word processing, shrinks with age, but it also shows more activity as you get older. The result is an ability to think about cycling in a more complex way, i.e., marginal gains. I’ve written a column about Aging Up and Wising Up.
The most improvement in any sport results working on from five different factors: training, mental, nutrition, equipment and technique. I covered training in part one. Here are suggestions for improvement in the other four areas. As you read this I encourage you to think about the ways you could make marginal gains, both gains from what I suggest and other ways to improve.
In my almost 50 years of riding I’ve found mental skills are at least as important as physical fitness. Mental skills are just like cycling skills; they take practice. I work with each of my clients to learn the skills that he or she needs for success.
As we get older despite our best efforts our physical capacity inevitably declines. By working out diligently doing all the different types of exercise we can slow this decline and if we’ve lost a lot of fitness reverse the decline. Fortunately, as we age we can improve our mental skills to help to compensate for the loss of physical prowess.
Goal setting Goal setting is one of the most important mental activities. The baseball great Yogi Berra, said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Goals are essential to improvement. You could have a performance goal like riding your local 100K. Or your goal could be health related, for example, to continue aerobic exercise at least five days a week year-round. I’ve written two columns on:
Mental skills The mental aspect is composed of a set of skills. Here are columns with two examples:
- Mental Side of Cycling I use a client Joel as an example of how to apply four mental skills. He was preparing for a 20-minute time trial so I could set his training zones. We worked together on these skills:
- Focus – the ability to concentrate 100% for 20 minutes
- Confidence – the belief he could produce 220 watts for 20 minutes.
- Pacing – for the first part of the TT ride a little below what he could do and then pushing hard the last part, which is called a negative split.
- Pain management – the ability to suffer for 20 minutes.
- Hank Aaron and the Mental Side of Sports Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs and held that record for 30 years. Two mental skills were key to his success:
- Mental rehearsal – the night before a game he thought about the pitcher he’d face the next day and imagined every pitch.
- Concentration – at the plate and in the dugout he concentrated 100% on the pitcher.
Mental toughness Mental toughness is what you call upon when the ride gets hard. Your mental toughness helps you to persevere no matter what the problem, for example, cramps, unanticipated rain, broken derailleur, etc. I wrote this column on 10 Tips for Mental Toughness.
Use your head. A while back I completed a climbing loop I’d never done before. I used my head to get up the climb. I made a plan. The climb was in three sections and I planned to stop after each section. The night before I rehearsed riding each section. Riding the next day I just focused riding one part of the climb at a time. I wrote this column on 8 Tips to Riding Smarter.
Motivation. To slow the aging process, consistency in doing a variety of types of activities is critical. Riding your bike in the summer is fun; not so fun on the trainer. Slowing muscle atrophy requires resistance training, which you hate. I wrote this column on Anti-Aging: How to Get and Stay Motivated.
I’ve written an eBook Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling. The book is written as a workbook to progressively teach you mental skills including how to: 1) Set goals, 2) Stay motivated, 3) Build confidence, 4) Develop a game plan, 5) Focus during an event, 6) Tactically manage your ride during an event, and 7) Deal with pain. The 17-page Gaining a Mental Edge is $4.99.
Good nutrition makes a big difference in how you age. For example, a study published in the journal Circulation concludes people who eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day have a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer and 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease than people who eat just two servings a day. Proper nutrition also makes a big difference in how well you ride. For example if you eat nine fig newtons with 500 calories you’ll ride better than if you eat a five oz. chicken sandwich with 500 calories.
I’ve written these columns:
- Anti-Aging: 7 Nutrition Myths
- Nutrition for Performance
- What causes dead Legs
- Recovery Nutrition
- Best Recovery Food and Drink
- How to Evaluate Nutrition Product Claims
I’ve written two eBooks:
- Healthy Nutrition Past 50 for riders in your 50s, 60s and beyond. I cover:
- The key role of carbohydrates in providing the energy you need and many of the vitamins and minerals.
- How much protein you really need, and nourishing protein choices.
- The important role of fat in your diet, and healthy choices to get that needed fat.
- The principal vitamins and minerals you need.
The 28-page Healthy Nutrition Past 50 is $4.99.
- Nutrition for 100K and Beyond: What to eat before during and after a ride. Nutrition for 100K will teach you everything you need to know to avoid hitting the wall with dead legs or bonking with a fuzzy depressed brain. The 17-page Nutrition for 100K and Beyond is $4.99.
I’m not a fan of Lance Armstrong, but he was right, “It’s not about the bike.” I coached the Leukemia Society’s Cycling Teams in Training for several years to get ready for centuries. Riders prepared with the bikes they had. Some had high tech machines; some had dusty old mountain bikes. They all finished!
Here are several suggestions:
Comfort, not weight. If you have a light bike with a very stiff frame, low handlebars and very light saddle it probably won’t be very comfortable. If it’s uncomfortable to ride then you won’t train as much. Although you’ve saved a few ounces you won’t be as fit or go as fast!
Reliability. This is a corollary to the above. If you have a state of the art racing bike it may not be as reliable. For example, low spoke count wheels are more prone to breaking spokes. Integrated shift/brake systems put more strain on the cables, which are more likely to break. You want to have fun on your bike, not deal with mechanicals!
Bike fit. A good bike fit will increase both your performance and your comfort. As you age you change: a little less leg strength, not quite as flexible, different goals. As you change you need a different bike fit. Here’s a column on Bike Fit Tips for Older Riders.
Lower gears. My first bike in the 1970s had 52 and 42 tooth chain rings and a five speed 14-24 freewheel! I keep changing bikes and changing gearing as my body and goals changed. I went to a 12-28 cassette, then triple chain rings and then a 12-32 cassette. I just changed from a nine speed 12-32 cassette to an 11-36 on my 1990 titanium Merlin from the 1990s.
eBikes. A bike is composed of different mechanical parts to do different things, i.e., a bike is bunch of tools. When your needs change you get different tools such as a different saddle or different gears. An eBike has another tool, which is effectively the same as even lower gears. It only assists you when necessary, e.g. climbing a steep hill. Effectively it’s the same as even lower gears. eBikes for Fun and Fitness. At some point I’ll get an eBike and eventually a trike.
Avoiding injury. Both a good bike fit and adapting your bike as you change will keep you riding!
Preventing aches and pains.
Aches and pains result from not only from equipment, especially bike fit but also from how you ride, your posture on the bike, your pedaling technique and your whole body fitness.
I’ve written four relevant columns:
- 11 Common Aches and Pains and How to Avoid them
- Preventing Upper Body Fatigue
- 10 tips to Prevent Saddle Discomfort
- How to Avoid Neck Fatigue
I’ve written an eBook Butt, Hands and Feet: How to Avoid Pain in Cycling’s Pressure Points. I explain in detail what can cause pain in your butt, your hands and your feet – the actual causes aren’t always obvious. I review the general factors that contribute to discomfort on the bike including your choice of a bike, anatomical issues, whether the bike fits you correctly, and how your fitness and technique could contribute to a problem. The 12-page eBook Butt, Hands, Feet is $4.99.
Cramps. Older people are more prone to cramping just because of our age. I wrote this column on Muscle Cramps and Aging. Because cramping is such a common problem I’ve written an eBook just about them: Preventing and Treating Cramps. I explain what causes cramps, what to do to prevent them and how to treat them if they occur. The 10-page Preventing and Treating Cramps is $4.99.
Bike handling techniques are important skills that don’t come naturally and are an area where many roadies can improve. I’ve written a column on 10 Essential Bike Handling Skills.
Group riding has several advantages:
- Drafting. You can work together and save some energy.
- Conversation. You have people to talk with and may make new friends.
- Inspiration. During hard or boring sections you can talk with each other to keep your spirits up.
- Support. If you have a mechanical or other problem you can get some help from another rider.
Fred Matheny has written an excellent column on Group Training Rides.
Climbing well is a skill, not just the result of big quads! I wrote this column on Climbing like the Pros.
Pacing. Knowing how to pace yourself, especially on group rides, is a very important skill. If you’re out for a hard intensity workout then hang with the big dogs, but otherwise learn to ride your own pace. A good friend of mine wrote this column Don’t be a Fried Rabbit.
Pedaling technique. When you are pedaling 3 o’clock is the only point at which the foot is pressing directly down on the pedal. You’ll have more power if you pedal efficiently around the full 360 degrees. My column on 10 Essential Bike Handling Skills explains in detail how to improve your technique.
I hope all of these tips help you to improve. We’re each an experiment of one. What works for one rider may not work for another. The above are suggestions — experiment to find out what works for you. Review all five factors — training, mental, nutrition, equipment and technique — as they apply to you and think about other possible marginal gains.
Don’t try to change everything at once. Pick the most important marginal gain you can make and work on it for four to six weeks until it becomes a habit. Then continue to work on marginal gains item by item.
Preventing Cycling Ailments Bundle This four-article bundle goes into much more detail about the above points. It includes:
- Nutrition for 100K and Beyond – 17 pages
- Butt, Hands, Feet – 12 pages
- Preventing and Treating Cramps – 10 pages
- Gaining a Mental Edge –17 pages
The Preventing Cycling Ailments Bundle will teach you how to prevent problems that could make a ride less enjoyable and how to deal with them on a ride to avoid not finishing. The bundle is $15.96.
My eBook Anti-aging 12: Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process has chapters on:
- Physiology of aging
- Assessing your strengths and weakness
- Endurance riding including sample weeks and months for riders of different levels
- Intensity training – not for everyone!
- Strength training including an illustrated program using things you have around the house.
- Stretching including an illustrated program
- Weight bearing and balance exercise
The 106-page eBook Anti-aging 12: Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
“Marginal gains” is an interesting concept that I can understand.
However at age 74, I find that “marginal losses” are just a fact of life.
As long as I can ride to the coffee shop with my buddies, I’m a very happy guy!