Best Advice For Training Masters Cyclists
TOOLBOX: Training masters cyclists is different from riders of other ages, but can be no less effective. It does require some different strategies and approaches, which Tim Cusick – as coach to women’s masters elite racer & former World Champion Amber Neben (and others) – is perfectly positioned to answer. Here’s his best advice for masters cyclists.
“Look at the start list; she is the only one born in the 70s.” It was that quote that really hammered home the fact that Amber Neben was the oldest woman in the Elite Women ITT World Championship.
Don’t get me wrong; we face this fact at every race, but there was something about the way it was stated that carried more weight. When she finished strong in seventh place at the age of 43, I received a lot of questions about how we train to keep her at the top of her game. While I can’t give a specific answer to that question, I can share some of my general rules for working with mature athletes that might help you tweak your own training.
First off, you have to consider three things: your age, the number of years you’ve been training seriously, and your goals. These three variables interact to drive strategy for mature athletes as they build training plans. A 43-year-old rider who’s been training for 20+ years and wants to win a world championship will obviously have a different program from a 51-year-old athlete with three years of serious training who wants to crush the local group ride. That being said, however, there are some similar ideals that both of them share.
Have a Training Strategy, Not a Training Plan
Don’t misunderstand me; not having a training plan is planning to fail. But as we age, we need to develop a better approach to plan flexibility. This means having a training strategy that helps guide the implementation of the training plan. I’ll give you two situational examples.
First, take the classic training cycle of three weeks on and one week off. This is a pretty good starting format, and it’s built into my training plan for Amber, but we progress through the cycle measuring fatigue both objectively and subjectively, and we stop the cycle when we feel we’re at the right point of functional overreaching based on her fatigue. When we hit that point, we rest some, then pick back up either in that cycle or the next (depending on a lot of different factors). This takes the classic idea of a periodized plan and makes it more agile.
Second, there are some strategy rules we try not to break. These rules focus on the management of fatigue as we apply the training plan and strategy. For example, we have a cap on how many hard days we do in a week, in a cycle, and in a row. This helps us stay disciplined as we adjust the plan in situations like my first example in the previous paragraph. I obviously can’t share specifics, but I think you get the idea.
The plan is still the core, but the strategy is what drives the direction and training decisions.
Introduce More Variation
I think this is one of the key challenge areas. We can easily convince ourselves we know what works, and we often slowly but surely reduce the variation within our training plan by repeating the same workouts. This can become an issue for the maturing athlete, because to maintain a high level of performance, we need more variation, not less. This doesn’t mean do something different every day (we still need training specificity based on our goals), but it does mean we should consider the pattern of our training to allow for more variation.
Start with the way you approach your annual periodization. Most riders fall into the habit of some form of linear periodization based on intensity. This means a base season of lower-intensity work that progresses to sweet spot and threshold training followed by some form of build or peak. Try different formats of this (such as undulating periodization) to change the typical order of your microcycles. As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to be a little less structured and introduce new workouts that interest you.
Make the Whole Body Stronger
I have preached this frequently and will do it again. The mature athlete needs to focus on a whole-body approach. I often see 50+ masters riders training 15 hours a week who struggle and don’t get faster while focusing on the bike only. I personally want to periodize the whole-body approach as part of my training strategy. In general terms, this means functional strength work in the transition phase, functional and strength resistance in the classic base phase with a real focus on strength and power building, then settling into a blended strength resistance and functional strength maintenance program throughout most of the season. I consistently see better results from mature athletes training 80% if their training hours on the bike and 20% of their training hours building strength than committing 100% of their training hours on the bike only.
My final advice for the aging athlete is to balance the mental side in the most simple way imaginable: keep it fun. We can still race hard and really enjoy it, but let’s not become a slave to our training to the point where riding becomes a job. So what is fun? It depends on your motivation. Some athletes love the fun of the Wednesday night worlds and throwing it down with friends, while others like the solitude of training alone and still others enjoy trying new things.
We run a lot of training camps, which gives me the luxury of meeting and riding with a lot of people, and I always ask them why they came to camp. The number one answer is that it looked like fun. Sure, they’ll go on to mention the learning and riding, but the main thing that brought them there is typically the desire to do something different, go somewhere different. “It looked like fun.” So my advice is: life is too short, do fun shit.
These are just some general tips to help aging athletes stay on top their game. You are free to interpret and apply them as you like. My only other advice would be the importance of nutrition and getting it right as we age, but that topic would require a whole article for itself.
World champion in 2016 – Amber Neben
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is also Head Coach at Velocious Cycling Adventures. You can reach Tim for comments at [email protected] . To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.