My 70-year-old client Elliot who lives in Seattle sent me his monthly report. Elliot rode all winter and spring in Seattle’s rain and has a great endurance base. His priority now is increasing his power and speed. He’s been doing one or two intensity workouts a week gradually building up both the amount and level of intensity.
My achy legs drive me nuts.
In his report he wrote, “I was feeling so up and strong a few weeks ago, and then seemed to slow down, which I thought would be good. But I’ve been feeling more tired and achy body, sore quads. Just last Tuesday, May 19th, I did just over 20 mph on my Route 25 segment again without seemingly working as hard as other times. I don’t get it.
“I start out struggling up hills with my legs and quads hurting and sort of knocking the breath out of me. On long stretches, I move way back on my saddle and exaggerate pointing my toes down and really pulling through the pedal stroke (ankling) even in a higher, gear and that seems to help. Sometimes spinning up in a faster cadence makes my quads hurt more. Aaaaerrgh. It’s a puzzle.
“Over the years all I talk about are sore legs. So, it’s just my body I guess and I just need to live it.”
Coach Hughes’ diagnosis
You’re riding too much and recovering too little! Here’s what I programmed for the last four weeks and what you actually did:
- Week ending 5/3 I programmed 4:00 hours of riding and walking. You did 9:45 hours.
- Week ending 5/10 I programmed 6:45 riding and walking. You did 13:15.
- Week ending 5/17 I programmed 3:45 riding and walking. You did 12:40.
- Week ending 5/24 I programmed 9:00 riding and walking. You did 15:00.
Because you’re working on power and speed I’m including one or two high intensity workouts a week. The total weekly volume is relatively low so that you have plenty of recovery in order to do quality intensity workouts and get the maximum benefit out of the workouts.
In addition to riding too much and recovering too little overall, you’re doing the intensity workouts as part of longer rides. E.g.,
- April 28 was supposed to be a day off. You rode 2:30.
- April 29 the plan was to ride for about 45 – 60 minutes including 15 minutes warm-up, a main set of two to four repeats [6 minutes Sweet Spot and 3 minutes recovery] and a 10- minute cool-down. You incorporated them into a 2:30 ride.
- April 30 was 30 – 60 minute active recovery, which you skipped (good!)
- May 1 was a day off. You rode for two hours.
- May 2 the plan was to ride for 1:00 – 1:15 including 30 – 45 minutes climbing hard and recovering on the descents. You included the climbing in a 2:20 ride.
You are also pushing yourself to do the assigned intensity workouts even when you aren’t recovered. About the May 2 hard hills ride you reported, “Legs were tired, but did some steep hills that I hadn’t done in a while.” If you’re legs are tired you aren’t fully recovered. If you aren’t fully recovered you can’t go hard enough to get the benefit of the workout. By trying to do the workout you just wore yourself down so it took longer to recover. My column Why Intensity is Good for All Road Cyclists explains in detail how to train by intensity for maximum benefit.
You should start any intensity workout feeling physically strong and mentally ready. Your mood is one of the best indicators of whether you are on the verge of over-training. If you’re in a poor mood and not interested in riding — don’t! I’ve written a column Anti-Aging — Avoiding Overtraining.
When you’re doing the intensity main set you should always stop feeling like you could have done a little more. Don’t grind yourself down.
If your legs feel tired at the start of a ride give it 15 or 20 minutes to see whether they stop complaining after you warm up. If they’re still tired, go home!
Intensity or volume?
As we get older we can’t handle as much challenging riding without developing chronically sore legs or other problems. Challenging means more total volume, longer rides or harder ones than we’re accustomed to riding. Continuing to ride hard as we age is important as explained in my column Anti-Aging — Benefits of Training with Intensity. However, because we can handle less challenging riding when intensity is added to the mix then both the total weekly volume and length of the rides need to decrease.
Coach Hughes’ prescription
I told Elliot this week is a full recovery week. He’s only to do three recovery rides each less than an hour and a single two hour ride on the weekend. He’s not happy — he loves riding his bike and gets bored when he doesn’t. But he’s following the program.
Then his weeks will include one long endurance ride — he eats those up and several moderate but not challenging endurance rides. He’ll also do only one short intensity workout, just enough to maintain his high end without trying to improve. He’ll ride more per week than I programmed in May but less than he actually rode in May.
How much recovery do you need?
Needing more recovery is one of the inevitable consequences of aging. Ned Overend is a great example. At age 35 won the first UCI World MTB Championship in 1990 in Durango, CO and won again in 1991. In 2015 at the age of 60 he won the first US Fatbike overall championship! On training he said, “I do exactly what I have always done; it just takes me longer.” (Joe Friel, Fast After 50) A four-week training block now takes him six to eight weeks because he needs more recovery. Because he takes more recovery days he can train harder on his intensity days. Because he can train harder he still wins.
The key takeaway is that Overend needs more days of recovery!
How many challenging workouts you can handle in a week depends on both your chronological age and your athletic maturity. The chronologically older you are the more recovery you need. The more athletic mature you are the less recovery need. Athletic maturity relates to how long and how much you have been riding. Overend is a very mature athlete; however, he still needs sufficient recovery each week. This column explains how to gauge your athletic maturity and this column explains how to improve your athletic maturity.
Experienced riders in their:
- 20s and 30s usually can handle three or four hard training days a week with two or three easier days including two very easy recovery days.
- 50s usually can handle two or three hard training days a week with three or four easier days including two very easy recovery days.
- 60s and beyond usually can handle one or two hard training days a week with four or five easier days including two very easy recovery days.
“Hard” means more challenging, e.g., more miles or faster rides or intensity workouts. Hard also means changing the type of exercise, e.g., incorporating resistance training or cross-training.
Every rider should take at least one day off the bike.
Experiment of one
We’re each an experiment of one. These are general recommendations, which may not apply to you. They are recommendations for a roadie who is training with a specific purpose. Many roadies aren’t “training for a specific purpose.” I’m not, although I still ride tactically. Sunday I had a good ride. Monday I had tired legs but it was so nice out that I rode anyhow. I took Tuesday off because Wednesday was a hard climbing ride with a friend.
My eBook Anti-Aging 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes a section on how to combine endurance riding and intensity workouts at different times of the year. I wrote it to help you slow and even reverse your physical decline by increasing your aerobic capacity, doing intensity training, building and maintain muscle strength and power, increasing your flexibility, working on your balance and reducing bone loss. Anti-Aging incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook 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 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.