You’re convinced about the importance of strength training for both your cycling and your general health and are excited to hit the gym. But if you’re over 50, what are some considerations and modifications you need to consider?
Strength training has become widely accepted in the cycling world, and with this newfound acceptance has come a wave of newfound research into the area. However, if you’re over the age of 50, there a number of contextual considerations that one needs to take, as well as changes to how it’s implemented. Here are the top 3 that you need to be aware of.
We need to be smarter, and more patient
“Lift heavy stuff!” This rallying cry of the cyclists hitting the weight room comes from a well-meaning place, but puts those of us over the age of 40, let alone 50, into a very high risk environment. I spoke about this a little more in depth back in October 2020, yet it seems many brush it off as being “alarmist” or “trying to stir up controversy”.
I assure you it is neither.
And based on the increasing number of emails and requests for lower back pain consults I am receiving from cyclists who are 40+ who’ve hurt their backs jumping into heavy weights, this message needs to be repeated.
“Think of it this way – if you just started riding your bicycle 2 months ago, would you sign up for a 200 km brevet thinking you can just “tough it out”? While some may answer “why not?!”, I’d retort “at what price to your body and long-term health?”.
Strength training, much more so than cycling, requires small, regular “doses” over a long period of time. Not only does this allow for the tissues and structures of the body time to adapt, but it also allows for the body to get what it really, truly needs from Strength Training, which is next up on our list.
It’s not how much you move, but HOW you move it that matters
Everyone and their uncle seems to be bragging on facebook or on their group rides about how much more weight they’re squatting or deadlift now, but this is not only a recipe for injury, but also missing the entire point of strength training.
Strength training for cycling (and triathlon) is not about how much weight you can move, but how you’re getting the movement done.
It’s this economy and efficiency of movement that matters the most. This is often difficult for us to wrap our heads around, especially in a sport that has become so defined by one’s FTP and W/Kg numbers.
We want our bodies to learn how to move better as a whole, as well as how to properly adjust for the thousands of pedal strokes we put in year after year. This is why when we’re in the gym we are not looking to mimic the movements in our sport, but rather to build strength and resilience in the body as a whole, to help counteract the repetitive movements.
Strength training only in base/winter is a fool’s errand
The vast majority of cyclists (and triathletes) hit the weights in the winter/base part of the year, only to have it be the first thing to be cut as soon as the weather turns. This is a fool’s errand.
You can spout off as many research articles as you want, but the bottom line remains. If you remove the training stimulus, you lose all the benefits.
Once you hit 50, or if you prefer to be more conservative, 45, strength training during the season takes the #1 spot alongside riding, as the anchors of your weekly exercise regimen. The frequent, regular “doses” of strength training throughout the year will help you actually gain the bone density, muscle mass, and anti-aging properties that strength training has shown. When your ride time goes up, the importance of getting in your strength training sessions doubles, or even triples.
But you need to be mindful of how you do this, which leads us to our 4th and final point today.
Less volume, more frequently
Back in September we had spoken about “The 3 Day Strength Training Program for Cyclists Over 50″. The program outlined a relatively simple and easy to implement 3 day a week strength program, including 2 strength training days, and a movement day.
However, I received a few messages asking if “such a low amount of strength work would have any benefit at all”. The short and long answer to this is yes, absolutely.
And this is where many of us misunderstand strength training, as we think that much like cycling, our sessions need to be stressful, fatiguing, and leaving us “feeling we’ve done work”. This could not be further from the truth.
While we do need to accumulate training stress, the stress from strength training can (and for the most part should) be sub-maximal. This translates into workouts where we move slightly more weight in total than the week before, OR we move an equal amount of weight with better sensation and feeling as our technique and coordination improve. But above all else, it’s the regular, consistent doses that must occur throughout the entire year.
So how do you put what we’ve spoken about into practice?
First, plan out your next 3 months of training, to include 2-3 days a week of strength training. These sessions can be as short as 30 minutes, or as long as 75 minutes.
Second, for the first 3-5 weeks, begin practicing the fundamental 5+1 human movements of
Use no or very light weights for these first few weeks as you get started.
After these initial few weeks you can begin loading the movement patterns, aiming for a perceived exertion of 6-7 (medium to medium-hard) for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. This is in the muscular hypertrophy range, and is necessary to help build up your body’s abilities to properly deal with the stresses which strength training places on it.
Third, change your mental-model of how strength training ties into your biking, and instead of seeing it as a “supplementary” endeavor, reframe it as a “foundational” endeavor which needs to be implemented year-round.
If you’d like to learn more about how strength training over the age of 50 is different, and how to build yourself or your client’s programs to help them continue to get faster and stronger in their 5th decade and beyond, sign up for the waitlist for my new course Stronger After 50, which will be released in early 2022.