My comments apply to all riders although the question comes from a senior.
Chuck writes, “I am 68 years old. I raced in my 30’s and from 50-55. I find I am struggling a bit to adjust my riding to the aging process. I found early spring with the wind and weather in my hometown intervals were a fun thing to do. After 5.5 weeks I was quite tired. My focus is to be fit for an occasional century ride and rides of about 50+ miles. Currently the real struggle for me is determining an appropriate ride/rest ratio.”
One of the biggest signs of aging is needing more recovery so you are asking the right question. The short answer is that you probably need more recovery than you think you do and probably more recovery than you’re allowing yourself.
When you do a challenging workout you are asking your body to do more than it is accustomed to doing. When you allow it to recover it then adapts. Then you are fitter and ready for a more challenging workout. When you allow your body to recover fully then it will get more benefit from the next challenging workout than if you haven’t recovered fully.
By “challenging” I mean a ride that is longer than you have been doing or harder (e.g., more climbing) or more intense.
You build fitness progressively. One reason that you were tired after 5-1/2 weeks of intervals is that you weren’t fit enough to do them. Before doing intervals you need to prepare your muscles for the harder workload. This means building an endurance base in the winter and early spring. Once you’ve built your endurance base then in the late spring (about now) is when you start the intensity to build your speed and power. The weeks you do intervals you do just enough longer rides to maintain your endurance. In between your base training and your intensity training you should take a week off the bike so that you recover fully for the next period of training.
How Much Recovery?
You can recover fully before the next challenging workout in these ways:
1. Quit while you are ahead.
You should finish a challenging workout feeling like you could have done a little more. If you work yourself to exhaustion then it is much harder for your body to recover. When you push yourself to the limit then the last part of the ride you aren’t doing a quality workout, you’re just wearing yourself out. If you are doing intervals and can’t get up to the planned intensity then cool down and go home. If you keep struggling to do the intervals then you aren’t getting the benefit of the intervals — you’re just getting tired and it will take more time to recover.
2. More recovery time between workouts.
As rule of thumb experienced riders like you in their:
- 20s and 30s usually can handle three or four hard training days a week with three or four easier days including recovery days.
- 50s usually can handle two or three hard training days with four or five easier days including two recovery days.
- 60s and beyond usually can handle one or two hard training days a week with five or six easier days including two recovery days.
Riders who’ve only been on the bike a few years need more recovery days.
How To Improve Recovery
According to Cycling Science published last year you can improve your recovery in the following ways:
1. Get more sleep.
“Optimal sleep quality and quantity are considered the single best recovery strategy.” If you are tired going into a workout then it is much harder to do the intended workout, e.g., crank out those intervals or do a long ride. Your body only produces human growth hormone (HGH) when you are asleep. HGH is what your body uses to repair the damage to your muscles. How do you know if you’re getting enough sleep? If you need an alarm clock to get up you aren’t getting enough sleep.
2. Active recovery.
An active recovery ride enhances blood flow and the removal of waste products from your muscles. An active recovery ride isn’t just easier than a normal training ride. An active recovery ride should be a lot easier. You should be riding so slowly that you are almost embarrassed to be seen on the bike. Active recovery rides work well for an experienced rider like you. Passive recovery works better for relatively new riders.
Racers often get a massage after a race to improve recovery. Research shows that massage isn’t as effective as active recovery, e.g., cooling down after a ride or an easy ride the next day. Massage is more effective than passive recovery.
Stretching is one of the most widely used techniques; however, “little evidence exists to support its ability to assist performance recovery or decrease injury risk, particularly in cycling.” Stretching has other benefits including increasing flexibility, which can improve position on the bike, and increasing range of motion.
Are You Getting Enough Recovery?
The surest signs of insufficient recovery are change in mood and decline in performance. If your plan is a hard ride today and you get up not wanting to the ride or dreading the challenge then you probably aren’t recovered. Get on your bike, ride for about half an hour and see if your mood improves. If it doesn’t, go home. If you get on the bike but can’t ride at your normal speed or can’t do the hard efforts, then you aren’t recovered. Cool down and go home. If you continue to ride when you aren’t fully recovered you won’t be doing a quality workout, you’ll just wear yourself out.
When in doubt about how much or how hard to exercise, listen to your body and do less.
My eArticle Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance has detailed information on 10 different recovery techniques including active recovery, post-ride nutrition, how to give yourself a massage, icing and compression garments. The 16-page eArticle illustrated with 14 photos for is available for $4.99.
My new eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process contains information specifically for older cyclists on how to balance different types of training throughout the cycling year, how best to recover and how to avoid overtraining. The 106-page eBook is available for $14.99.
Update Gerry Eddlemon record attempts
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 nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.