8 Things About Cycling That Get Better With Age

Many of your best days are still ahead of you, no matter how old you are—here's why

An older cyclist.
Cycling is indeed different as you get older: it gets a lot better. Shutterstock

Sports often reward the young. So much so that when pros start pushing the upper edges of their 30s (and certainly when still competing into their 40s), it’s not just noteworthy, but downright newsworthy. Well, not only are the Kristin Armstrongs (third time consecutive Olympic gold medalist at age 43) of the world proving that if you work hard you’ve got decades worth of ass-kicking capability, but also experience shows us that there are so many other, less-heralded (but just as rewarding) advantages to being an older athlete that make every ride richer, no matter how many years you’ve been rolling along. Here are our favorites.

Cyclists in the fall.
1/8 Rachel Samanyi via Flickr
You really appreciate the ride

As time passes, you become more aware of the passing of time and thus time, especially on a bike, becomes more precious. You begin to really appreciate the sound of your tires on the road, the view of blue skies and puffy clouds, and being one with your ride and your surroundings.     

A cyclist changing a tire tube.
2/8 Brampton Cyclist via Flickr

Minor mishaps are no big deal

Flat tires, broken chains, sliced sidewalls, oh my! Meh. At this point, you’ve seen nearly every type of mechanical; got caught out in the pouring rain (and probably hail), ran out of food and bonked your brains out, drained your bottles with no refills in sight for at least another hour, and so forth. You know how to assess the situation, regroup, and roll with it. (Looking to get the most out of your rides?

Cyclists in a group.
3/8 Parker Knight via Flickr

You've built a really big community

The longer you ride, the more riders you meet. Annual charity rides, centuries, and races start to resemble family reunions as your cycling circle expands. By the time you hit your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond, you’ve amassed a community of riding friends and acquaintances that may span multiple states, if not countries.   

An older and younger cyclist.
4/8 Gustavo Devito via Flickr

Not every ride needs to be a race

Though a little decline in power and speed is inevitable over time, you can still go plenty hard no matter your age. The difference now is you know you don’t always need to go hard, and you appreciate the importance of rest and recovery for staying strong.

A muddy cyclist.
5/8 Shutterstock
You've got some serious mileage in your legs

Muscle memory is a marvelous thing. As a seasoned cyclist, you can pretty much saddle up and ride for a few hours without much ado because at this point in your riding, you’re extremely efficient and experienced.

Two cyclists in colder weather.
6/8 Jaan via Flickr

Layering is a breeze

Fifty-two degrees and slightly overcast? You know the exact arm warmer/base layer/jersey/glove combo to keep you cozy in those conditions—and pretty much all others.


A steel frame bike.
7/8 Phil Gradwell via Flickr

You know what you like

You’ve tried every bar width, wheel size, frame material, saddle width, pedal-cleat combination, and set-up to know what works for you. That’s not to say you’re closed-minded to new innovation; you just know what you like. You’re also not going to hop on the “next big thing” without a critical eye.

Older cyclists.
8/8 Shutterstock

You defy expectations

Cycling keeps you young, right down to your DNA—that’s a scientifically proven fact. Endurance-trained folks like cyclists have longer telomeres—the protective end caps on your DNA strands, the length of which are directly related to longevity—than their sedentary peers. In fact, they have telomeres that aren’t all that much shorter than their younger endurance-trained peers. That’s why people do a double take when you tell them your age…and that never gets old.


The Ideal Resting Period for Cyclists

To come back stronger than ever next season, you need to make sure you're resting right

October 19, 2016
A cyclist resting on a bench.
If you don't rest properly in the off season, you might be setting yourself up for an energy crash. Shutterstock

All athletes need an off-season to recover from the physical and mental stress that training and racing imparts on the body. Even if you aren't training hard, a lack of any form of break will almost always lead to staleness and reduced performance.

There's much debate about what constitutes an optimal rest period, and what one should and shouldn't do in the off-season. In the past, many top pros would stop training altogether, for up to a few months. This resulted in some of them gaining a lot of weight and then struggling to lose that weight in the first half of the European season.

Weight gain is only one side effect of adopting a totally sedentary lifestyle in the off-season; an additional aspect is the loss of many of the training adaptations gained during the previous year. Still, a short period of inactivity—two to three weeks of rest—won't reverse the chronic adaptive changes you worked so hard for.

However, two to three months of inactivity can result in an almost complete reversal of training gains. With an excessively long period of inactivity, riders will be unlikely to deliver better performances, as they'll effectively be starting training again from scratch. In contrast, building on the previous season's gains can result in a progressive improvement over a period of five to eight years, and an eventual peak of performance that would not otherwise have been possible. (We term this a "chronic training adaptation.")

What constitutes an optimal off-season?
The general consensus at this time is that a few weeks of active rest are sufficient to allow psychological and physical recovery from the stresses of the previous season. By "active rest," we mean lower-intensity activities that differ to those that you'd do during the season. These could include hiking, swimming, surfing, rock climbing and other fun activities. If you participate primarily in road racing, then some relaxed mountain bike riding can also be included, or vice versa.

The exact duration of the rest period should be determined by how long and strenuous your previous season was. However, a few weeks should suffice; and in general, when you feel energized and enthusiastic once more about the coming season, then you're probably ready to start training again.

This will then take you into the pre-season conditioning period. In the past, this has largely meant low-intensity training, combined with strength and stability work in the gym. A new approach now gaining acceptance is the incorporation of intermittent high-intensity training in the pre-season. Recent research has demonstrated that this is effective in maintaining many performance adaptations that would otherwise be lost if you waited until later in the season before doing high-intensity interval training again.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Bicycling South Africa.


5 Max Heartrate Training Myths, Busted

Think you know everything about max heart rate and why it’s important? Think again.

August 12, 2016
max heart rate
Cyclists show off their heart rate straps during the 2016 Tour de France. Tim de Waele via Getty

For decades, athletes have used maximum heart rate as a way to figure out which zones they should be training in. The most common wisdom was to subtract your age from 220, and—voilà!—you had your max HR, a figure representing the greatest number of beats per minute your heart can achieve. Then, from that number, you could allegedly calculate your recovery, fat-burning, lactate threshold, and anaerobic heart-rate training zones.

However, it’s a rudimentary system—like, 'might as well use an abacus as a bike computer' rudimentary.

“It’s been the standard for years but there are a lot of variables” that can throw off your max HR, says Cherie Miner, MD, a sports medicine physician and age-group Ironman athlete at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center. She adds that how fit you are, how hot it is, and how much stress you’re under can all affect your max HR at any given time. 

Like the 220-minus-age rule, there are a lot of other myths surrounding max HR. Here, we debunk the worst of them. 

chest pains
1/6 maridav via shutterstock
If You Go Over Your Max HR, Your Heart Explodes

You’ve gotta admit, this would be equally horrifying and badass if true. Rest easy, though—it won’t happen.

“Your heart gets to the point where it can’t eject blood effectively enough; where it’s not productive anymore,” says Dean Golich, head performance physiologist for Carmichael Training Systems. When this happens, self-preservation kicks in and you slow down. If you're in a race, that means you'll either just get dropped or toss your cookies. 

“Most people have 1 to 2 minutes max at their max HR; highly trained athletes may have more,” says Miner. Expect to see your performance suffer very quickly if you try and maintain your max HR for more than just a short burst. 

heart rate age
2/6 adam gregor via shutterstock

Your Max HR Is the Same For Everyone Your Age

That’s what the old-school formulas assume, but Golich says it’s much more nuanced than that. Max HR is largely untrainable, and determined by genetics—some of us have hearts tuned like humming birds' while others have the slow ‘n steady type.

“But it’s not an indication of performance," Golich says. "If your max is 200 and someone else’s is 190, it doesn’t mean one of you is the better athlete." In fact, he’s worked with numerous talented athletes at both ends of the spectrum. 

It's good to remember that everyone’s max HR does drop as they age—but again, that doesn’t mean you’re losing fitness. Regular training and good nutrition will affect performance more than the fact that your max HR is now slightly lower than it was three years ago. In reality, it’s not your max HR that determines your fitness level: Being able to hold your max HR for longer and longer sessions is what’s key.

bike race
3/6 paul higley via shutterstock
Heart Rate Is A Measurement Of How Hard You’re Working

Heart rate is a reaction to work being done, not a measurement of actual work. For example, Golich says that if you ratchet yourself up to 200 watts for three minutes, for the first minute, your heart may tick along at 170bpm; by minute two it may be at 180; and by minute three you could be pushing 189. But you’re doing the same amount of work the whole time—200 watts.

If you were to ride for three minutes with the intention of maintaining the same heart rate, things would look different. Say you ramped up to 180bpm to start— you might ride at 200 watts for the first minute, but you’d likely have to drop your watts to sustain that heart rate for minutes two and three.

Golich himself prefers to have his clients train with power meters or using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)—simply, a personal appraisal of how hard you feel you’re working—rather than HR.

“There are a lot of grey areas,” with heart rate, he says, adding that being overheated, under-fueled, or even just hopped up on caffeine will throw your heart rate numbers off for the day. 

Furthermore, the number displayed by your heart rate monitor or the screen on a gym treadmill may not be accurate. Sure, using a computer is certainly more accurate than the 220-age formula, but Golich adds says that since these devices take measurements every few seconds, they're probably not dead-on. If you really want to know your true max heart rate, an EKG is the best way to go, though Golich believes it’s not an expense worth taking on.

heart rate monitor
4/6 sensay via shutterstock
If I’m Not Working at My Max Heart Rate, I’m Not Working Hard Enough

Here’s your license to chill. Max heart-rate workouts should be done sparingly, says Miner, since the ultra-high intensity can lead to injuries, extreme fatigue, and other symptoms of overtraining. Plus, there’s merit to working in many different heart-rate zones—from increasing your base fitness with low-intensity sessions to pushing the boundaries at your lactate threshold, and even tipping into some anaerobic work.

If you only have two speeds—hard and OMG hard—you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Bike ride
5/6 simone mescolini via shutterstock
As Long as You’re Working Under Your Max, You Don’t Have to Worry About a Cardiac Incident

Not true. Heart attacks, while rare, happen to athletes at all different workloads. Even so, cardiologist James Beckerman, MD, says you’re slightly more at risk when working at very high intensities. 

“This is likely related to a combination of high heart rate; higher blood pressure with exercise, which is normal; and higher levels of catecholamine [a hormone produced by the adrenal gland]," he says. "For people without heart disease, exercising at higher intensity is generally safe."

If your'e someone with heart disease or who's exhibited risk factors, however, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about safe heart-rate ranges for exercise and even get a stress test, he says.     

6/6 nejron photo via shutterstock

Your max heart rate is the same for all sports.

You're not paranoid: Your max for cycling really may be different than your max for swimming. Again, this is indicative of how variable heart rate is, says Golich. Things that are load bearing—like running—will generally push your heart rate higher, since you have to do more work to overcome gravity. Cycling, because it has the mechanical assist of bike wheels, will generally produce a lower max heart rate. And swimming, which happens in a pool with zero-impact, may be lower still: Since the water is keeping you cool, Golich says, heat will be less of a factor in raising your HR. 



Kick Your DOMS for Good

Delayed onset muscle soreness messes up our workout schedules and hurts like hell—but proper nutrition, training, and recovery can help you fend off this post-ride annoyance and have more fun

By Lauren Steele and Molly Hurford October 13, 2016



It’s the day after a you sprinted a few extra hill repeats, survived a long-overdue squat session, or finally got back into your cycling routine, and your muscles feel like they are made of rocks lodged between your bones. You can thank a condition called DOMS for that. 

Developing muscle soreness after a hard ride is normal—even if it shows up a day or two after you’ve stopped pedaling.  The simplified explanation for your shuffling steps and groan-filled movement is that DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is a symptom of exercise-induced muscle damage, and a sign that your body is experiencing inflammation—a necessary part of recovery involving cellular repair, which lessens as we adapt to exercise. Inflammation has a downside, though, as noted in Runner's World Performance Nutrition for Runners: Immune cells release free radicals and toxins while repairing muscle damage, exacerbating soreness and contributing to secondary muscle damage—another term for DOMS.

But the degree of your DOMS discomfort doesn’t need to be so extreme that you avoid training because of it. “DOMS is a natural occurrence, but you can control it so it doesn't effect your workout the next day,” says physical therapist Gary Guerriero, co-owner of the U.S. Athletic Training Center. Adopting smart strategies that fit your lifestyle can make huge differences in your pain levels. “Consistency is key—whatever you're doing, if you're consistent, it will help you,” Guerriero adds.

We tapped Guerriero and a panel of experts to help you prevent DOMS with nutrition and lifestyle changes; ride in a DOMS-proofing way; and minimize muscle soreness post-ride


Understanding DOMS

Anticipating When DOMS Will Happen
DOMS usually accompanies exercise where the muscle is lengthening (known as eccentric movement)—like the part of the pedal stroke where you’re releasing your foot toward the ground. DOMS is common in cyclists because of that movement, especially after harder workouts, says Dr. Oliver Witard, senior lecturer in Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism at the University of Stirling and part of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute’s extended network of experts. 

Stop Celebrating Soreness
 “Feeling sore after a workout can feel like validation that you worked hard, [but] you shouldn’t seek that after every workout,” says Dr. Blair Callaghan, DPT, of Washington Wellness Physical Therapy & SportsCare. “DOMS is a sign of damage and fatigue.

“You sprain your ankle then you’re going to walk differently; if you have DOMS then you’re going to exercise differently,” she adds. “You sit in the saddle differently, you pedal differently, and you exert energy differently—and that’s how you end up injured. There’s no long-term or short-term benefit to being sore, so let your muscles catch up to the workload. Just because you’re not sore doesn’t mean you aren’t getting stronger.” 


Pre-Ride Preventative Care

Cross-Training Is Good Medicine
For many of us, saddle time is sacred, but we can become stronger riders by supplementing cycling—even exchanging it—with other activities. 

“It’s really difficult to say, ‘I’ll skip my ride and go to the pool and swim’ when that ride is what you look forward to doing… but if you commit a day or two a week to lifting weights and supporting stabilizing muscles you’ll be a healthy, well-rounded athlete and I guarantee you’ll see improvement on the bike,” Callaghan says. She recommends riders take one or two days a week to weight-train, do yoga, swim, or jog to vary muscle utilization and decrease stress on cycling-specific muscles

Eat More Antioxidants
There’s been some scrutiny of the claim that antioxidants decrease inflammation, but significant research suggests antioxidants blunt cell damage by strengthening the immune system and interrupting the domino-like damaging effects of free radicals that contribute to initial soreness and DOMS. However, foods containing antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E—blueberries, pomegranates, and cherries, Witard says—offer benefits outside of antioxidants, so you might as well dig in.

Up Your Intake of Healthy Fat
Fat helps keep our cells intact. "Omega-3s like those in fish oil incorporate themselves into the cell membrane of the muscle and form a barrier, and they may preserve the cell membrane’s integrity,” Witard says. The alternative is leaky cells that spill an enzyme called creatine kinase into your system, which contributes to muscle aches and cramps. Fatty fish (not fish oil supplements) pack the most significant amount of omega-3s, though the fish-uninclined can resort to foods like flax seeds and spinach. 

Consider Supplementing With Vitamin D
Witard also recommends adding Vitamin D to your diet, which recent studies have identified as a key agent in expediting muscle repair. Other studies have seen vitamin D improve muscle function and protect against injuries. Choose foods like fatty fish and dairy products for a Vitamin D boost.

Graze on Protein
You will best limit DOMS if you eat protein throughout the day, says Nate Dunn, CSSD, a USAC Level 1 certified coach. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein every three hours. When you are “dosing” with protein all day, you are providing your muscles with a steady stream of amino acids—the building blocks of healthy muscle. It doesn’t have to be a complicated protein shake—snack on Greek yogurt, nuts, or whatever you like best.

On the Bike

Start Slow
The most basic rule of preventing muscle damage is using progression. “You get DOMS when you bite off more than you can chew while training,” says Dunn. “Figure out where you’re coming from and work from there. Are you lean? Overweight? Active? Coming back from an injury? Honestly assess where you’re at.” If you’re coming off the couch, he says, ride three times a week at most, with each ride lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. Utilizing a steady, progressive loading strategy is ideal for getting stronger without overwhelming your body.

Spin, Don’t Push
Maintaining a higher cadence will “minimize the amount of torque transferred to your joints and overall stress on your muscles,” Dunn says. “You want to stay in the 90rpm range and get comfortable there before you start doing sprint intervals.”

Know Your Limits—Then Push Them
“There’s no problem with overreaching and giving yourself a big workout or a hard week or training, but after you overreach, accept that you wont feel as good,” says Dr. Stuart Phillips, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American College of Nutrition. “You have to scale back after pushing the limit so you don’t go over the edge and end up with a muscle injury. If you can do that, a week or two down the road you’ll have improved fitness since your muscles have been pushed and had the opportunity to rebuild. Successive big weeks are overdoing it. And overdoing it is overtraining.” 

ASAP Post-Ride

Refuel the Right Way
Our bodies use amino acids from protein to repair exercise-induced muscle damage. Supplement that process with a protein-packed snack between 30 and 60 minutes after working out, and then keep “dosing” to minimize DOMS. Nanci Guest, ead dietician for the Pan Am Games Nanci Guest recommends eating around 20 grams of protein after your workout for optimal recovery. Choose snacks with whey protein for best results; whey contains the amino acid leucine, which helps initiate muscle protein synthesis.


Foam-Roll the Pain Away
Muscles knot up after exercise, but we can help them function more smoothly by breaking up these adhesions and scar tissue with self-massage using a foam roller

“I’m a huge fan of the foam roller,” Callaghan says. “It mimics a soft tissue massage and increases blood flow and nutrition to injured muscles and heals them faster.” 

Foam rollers usually cost less than $50, and come in various sizes; that initial investment definitely pays off when you can soothe and prevent aches anywhere, any time. Roll out on the go or in front of your nightly TV show for significantly less dough than a regular professional massage. “There’s no excuse not to do it,” Callaghan says.

If Pain Sets In

Don’t Rely on Pain Relievers
Witard’s last word of advice is to avoid depending on anti-inflammatory drugs or other pain relievers to get through a workout in the midst of DOMS recovery. It’s tempting to reach for the bottle of Advil after tough rides, but anti-inflammatories can do a lot more harm than good; rather than solving your problem, these drugs simply mask it, allowing you to do more damage and feel worse later. Delaying soreness doesn’t alleviate it.  

Seek Help
If you're plagued with DOMS after every workout, consider looking for a physical therapist who is experienced in helping cyclists. There are tons of (less accessible) alternative therapies, Guerriero says, from cryotherapy to acupuncture to electric-stim massage to hyperbaric chambers.  

"The hard thing is finding someone good who does these things," he adds, so before signing up with the nearest PT, assess your options and don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they deal with DOMS.



7 Surprising Sources of Cycling Pain

The root cause of what's hurting might not be what you expect

By selene yeager August 31, 2016