The first column in this series was Squaring the Geriatric Curve. As you get into your 50s your physical capabilities naturally and inevitably start to decline. You can’t stop this; however, you can control the rates of decline of your different physiological systems.
Squaring the geriatric curve means slowing the rates of decline as much as you can. Note that I’m talking about plural “rates” and “physiological systems.” Squaring the geriatric curve applies to your whole body, not just to your speed and endurance.
The second column asked, How Athletically Mature Are You? I presented my concept of athletic maturity, i.e., how well someone has maintained the different systems: endurance, strength, flexibility, balance and weight. I gave you a quiz to determine your athletic maturity — the scale measured from 9 to 27.
The third column, Improving your Athletic Maturity, gave you the athletic maturity results of several RBR contributors. Our scores ranged from 24 to 27. The column then described some things you could do to improve your own athletic maturity.
Did you score yourself fairly high on the athletic maturity quiz? Or was your score relatively low? Whether you are high or low now, what should you do for the next 10, 20 and hopefully 30 years to maintain or raise your athletic maturity?
The Four Pillars
Staying as fit as possible — slowing your personal geriatric curve — rests on four pillars:
I’ll explain each of these in this and the three succeeding columns. Today’s focus is on the No. 1 Pillar: Consistency. (Each of the numbers above is a link to that specific article in the series.)
The older you are, the faster you lose fitness if you don’t exercise.
Robert Marchand, the 105-year-old cyclist, set a world record earlier this month by riding 22.547 km (14 miles) in one hour – and he rides every day! “You must always train your muscles, because if you don’t they will become lazy,” he said after this, his most recent world record. He also goes to the gym and stretches daily. He does this year-round, enjoying road rides when the weather is good and riding the trainer all the other days – such discipline!
The fourth column in my Fit for Life Series was the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Recommendations for healthy aging, which are summarized below. The full report emphasizes the need for year-round activities.
Year-round doesn’t mean that you must exercise every week. Taking a week off every two or three months allows you to recover fully, both physically and mentally. You will lose very little fitness if you take a week off. If you take two weeks off you will lose fitness, but you’ll regain it fairly quickly when you start exercising again.
More than two weeks off becomes a problem. John Marsh broke his collarbone last April 16 and had surgery April 27. It was 23 days after the crash before he could even ride the trainer and another 4 weeks beyond that before he could ride on the road. John definitely lost fitness. And the time required to regain fitness was longer than the time he wasn’t on the road.
Nor does year-round mean that you need to do the same level of activity every week. For example, it doesn’t mean that you must ride 100 miles every week.
Coaches use the concept of “periodization,” which simply means varying the volumes, intensities and type of exercises in different periods of the year. Here’s how you could apply it:
- Winter – lowest volume and easiest rides
- Spring – moderate volume and harder rides
- Summer – most volume and hardest rides
- Fall – lower volume and easier rides
The ACSM recommendations below are the baseline that you should do in the winter. How much more you should do in the summer depends on how much your body can handle, what your goals are and how much time you have.
Do you need to log the same number of miles, same number of hours in the gym, etc., every year? It depends on your goals. For example, if your goal is good health and you rode 3,000 miles in 2016 and did strength training three days per week, then in 2017 you don’t need to log 3,000 miles and do three days per week of strength training as long as you (at least) meet all of the ACSM recommendations below.
If you rode 3,000 miles in 2016, including your club’s weekend fast rides and several 100Ks or centuries, then reducing your volume significantly in 2017 will make it much harder for you to do the same kinds of rides in 2017. However, with dedicated training you could build up your volume in 2018 and do the fast club rides and the longer rides again.
All of the ACSM recommendations are expressed in terms of how much of each type of activity you should do per week.
For example, “You should do a minimum of 150 minutes per week of endurance exercise.”
You have a busy life, but it’s easy to do this by riding for 2:30 on Saturday. But that doesn’t suffice. The ACSM recommends that you do endurance exercise most days of the week. Why? As I said above, you lose fitness faster the older you get. The improvement in your endurance from that one Saturday ride will disappear over the six days until your next ride. In fact, your endurance will decline such that you are even less fit the next weekend!
Further, if you only ride once a week and it’s a challenging ride, you risk overtraining – and injury.
My eArticle Healthy Cycling Past 50 describes both cycling and supplementary exercises to meet all five of the ACSM’s recommendations. The eArticle includes three sample exercise programs.
My four-part CYCLING PAST 50 BUNDLE includes:
Healthy Cycling Past 50 – what happens as we age and how to incorporate cycling and other exercise activities into our daily lives to stay healthy and active for many years.
Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 – how to best work on your off-season conditioning given the physiological changes of aging.
Healthy Nutrition Past 50 – what to eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance.
Performance Cycling Past 50 – how to train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging.
As you plan your week, follow these principles of weekly consistency:
- Exercise most days of the week, 5 or 6 days are best.
- Mix up the types of exercise; for example, ride 4 days a week and do strength training the other 2 days.
- Take 1 day a week off except for flexibility activities.
- Listen to your body — it will tell you if you’re doing too much and need more recovery.
How to Achieve Consistency
Set weekly benchmarks, which could simply be the ACSM recommendations, below. For example, “You should do strength training two to three days per week, which should include exercises for all major muscle groups.” At the end of the week ask yourself, “Did I strength train at least twice a week?”
Exercise with a buddy. For six years John E. and I have been getting together every week to ride. We miss a few weeks because of snow or one of us is out of town, but we are very consistent. Even during XC ski season I drive back to Boulder each week to ride with John E.
Have fun. John E. and I have two rules. The first is “no passing anyone,” so we’re always riding at a conversational pace. The second is “every ride must include lunch.” These two rules ensure that we have plenty of time to talk, which ranges from humorous personal anecdotes to solving the problems of the world.
Have a goal. For example, many riders have a goal of riding X thousand miles in a year. John E’s goal is to ride a century this winter. The last two summers my goals have involved climbing Colorado passes. John Marsh’s post-crash goal last year was to recover enough to do his long-planned tour in Wyoming.
Have a plan. No, you don’t need to create a detailed spreadsheet (unless you like numbers). If your goal is to ride 3,000 miles in 2017, your plan could be as simple as a mileage goal for each of the 12 months. If you like more detail, sit down at the beginning of the week, write down when you plan to do each activity that week, and discuss it with your significant other. You’re more likely to follow a written plan.
Keep a training log or journal. Each day, write down what you did, both the activity or activities and the miles or other amount(s), and at the end of the week add them up. My weekly benchmark is pretty simple: accumulate (at least) 10 hours of physical activities such as riding, hiking, XC skiing, strength training, stretching, etc. My 10 hours also includes building a new deck, chopping and carrying wood and shoveling snow (a frequent activity now in Colorado!). Writing down what you plan to do and then logging what you actually did is a great system of personal accountability.
Next week, I’ll talk about the importance of Pillar No. 2: Intensity, which doesn’t mean pushing yourself until your legs scream and you’re about to puke. Exercising with intensity simply means doing an activity harder than you are used to doing it.
The ACSM says, “A program of regular exercise that includes cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercise training beyond activities of daily living to improve and maintain physical fitness and health is essential for most adults.” Specifically:
1. Endurance exercises: You should do moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise for 30 minutes or more a day on five or more days a week for a total of at least 150 minutes per week, increasing over time to 300 minutes per week. Or you could do vigorous-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise for at least 20 minutes per day at least three days a week, totaling at least 75 minutes per week. Or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise.
2. Strength training: You should do strength training two to three days per week, which should include exercises for all major muscle groups (shoulders, arms, chest, core, hips, and legs). 30 minutes per session is plenty.
3. Stretching/flexibility exercises: You should stretch all parts of your body at least twice a week — it only takes 5 – 10 minutes per session.
4. Weight-bearing exercises: A minimum of 90 minutes a week of weight-bearing activity for strong bones. Riding — even sprinting — doesn’t load your skeleton as much as plain walking! This goal of weight-bearing activities can be met with some types of endurance exercise as well as full-body strength training
5. Balance exercises: You should do balance and agility exercises two to three times a week, which can easily be incorporated into your strength training.
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.