Cycling legend Ned Overend on training: “I do exactly what I’ve always done; it just takes me longer.” Overend, now 62, won the first UCI World Mountain Bike championship in 1990. Last year “Deadly Nedly” took second overall in the Iron Horse Classic Omnium in Durango. He was third in the Durango to Silverton road race, which goes over two passes, each over 10,000 feet. He also took third in the crit and second in the time trial. Again, he’s 62!
Obviously the statement that his training takes him longer doesn’t mean that he’s slower! “I embrace a higher-intensity / lower-volume training regimen partly because I like to suffer but also because of the race results I’ve achieved with this philosophy.” (Joe Friel, Fast After 50)
“… it just takes me longer.” What that really means is that at age 62 Overend needs more recovery between his hard training rides than he did when he was younger.
Recovery is the third pillar of four pillars we need to follow to slow the rate of our inevitable physiological decline:
In the first two columns in this series, I showed why consistency in working out and continuing intensity is critical for staying as fit as possible. Paired with those two is the need for more recovery; needing more recovery is one of the biggest changes as you age. (Each of the numbers above is a link to that specific article in the series.)
How do you continue the intensity while getting more recovery? Three ways:
- Reduce your total training volume.
- Reduce other life stressors that affect the need for recovery.
- Improve the quality of your recovery.
Let’s look at each of these.
The American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) recommendation for cardiorespiratory fitness is that you should do moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more / day on five or more days a week for a total of at least 150 minutes per week increasing over time to 300 minutes / week.
Or you could do vigorous-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise for at least 20 minutes / day at least three days a week totaling at least 75 minutes per week. Or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise.
For example, you’ve been riding for five hours at an endurance pace. You decide to incorporate 1:00 of hard riding. To avoid too much overload, you should do just two hours of endurance riding and the hour of hard riding.
This isn’t an exact rule, that for every 30 minutes of hard riding you incorporate you should cut your endurance riding by an hour. Rather, the point is that you should cut back the volume of your endurance exercise significantly more as you increase the volume of hard exercise.
The trade-off between endurance riding and intensity workouts varies by individual, depending on your athletic maturity. In general, the longer you’ve been riding and the greater your aerobic base, the less volume you need to cut back as you add intensity.
The tradeoff also depends on how hard your intensity workouts are. For example, you do intensity rides twice a week, mixing hard and recovery efforts.
- Scenario A: Hard means pushing the intensity to the point of perceived exertion where your legs are definitely talking to you but you can still say a word or two, i.e., up to about your lactate threshold or functional threshold power.
- Scenario B: Hard means pushing the intensity to the point of perceived exertion where your legs are screaming and you are almost gasping for air, i.e., close to your VO2 max.
In scenario A, you’d need one to two recovery days between the hard rides and might also be able to handle an endurance ride of a couple of hours each week. In scenario B you’d need two or three days between the intensity rides and wouldn’t recover sufficiently to also do an endurance ride that week.
Other Life Stressors
In the book The Stress of Life, Hans Selye, M.D., demonstrates that the physiological and emotional response to stress is the same whether the stress comes from hard training, worry about a sick family member, changing jobs, moving to a new house, not enough sleep or a poor diet.
Your body perceives each of these stressors as a threat, and you respond to any of these stressors in three stages: 1) the alarm reaction stage, which occurs shortly after the stressful event; 2) the resistance stage, during which the body resists the impact of the stressful stimulus; and 3) if the stress continues, the exhaustion stage, when the body fails to cope with the distressing stimulus.
However, Selye also discovered the General Adaptation Syndrome, which is the basis of all training. If a period of recovery follows the exhaustion stage, then the body adapts and becomes stronger. This is why sufficient recovery is critical!
How do you manage the impact of other life stressors? Some are unavoidable, like a sick or aging family member who needs extra care or a sudden, demanding work assignment. When faced with one of these, cut back on your training, because you can’t handle the total overload.
Some stresses result from choices: the new job, new house or a poor diet. If you choose to change jobs or move, then cut back on training. However, you control how much sleep you get and what you eat.
Quality of Your Recovery
You also control the quality of your recovery, the two most important components of which are rest and nutrition.
Not getting enough sleep is a bad practice for two reasons: First, you aren’t mentally and physically at your best to do a quality workout. Second, when you train hard, your muscle fibers break down and your body produces human growth hormone (HGH) to rebuild and improve the muscle fibers. Your body only produces HGH when you sleep.
Healthy nutrition means eating the right proportions of macronutrients. You need plenty of carbs to provide the energy for working out and you need enough protein to rebuild muscles. To avoid gaining weight, this means eating fats in moderation. You also need the micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals that are necessary for metabolism, the different chemical reactions in your body.
Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance: 10 different recovery techniques, including what to eat, the best ways to stretch, how to give yourself a massage, how to ice for the best results and whether compression garments and hot tubs really help.
Healthy Nutrition Past 50: The principles in the 28 pages also apply to younger roadies. The eArticle discusses: 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.
Nutrition for 100K and Beyond: Also applies to roadies who do shorter endurance rides. Includes: how to estimate your hourly energy needs when you’re riding, discusses which kinds of fuel power your slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers, and why this is important. Provides guidelines on how much to eat, the sources of the carbs, protein and fat that your body needs, and even provides a chart breaking down many common cycling foods into their component parts and percentages. Also discusses the latest research on hydration.
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.