It’s the law of the jungle: Aging impacts fitness. Over time, our bodies respond differently to exercise. Our capabilities change. Despite these simple facts, you can still make significant performance gains into your 40s (and even later!), provided you approach your training correctly.
Our Sports Science division, with coaches who have trained athletes to multiple Masters' World Championships, know what you need. The first step is probably the hardest. You have to acknowledge that you don’t have the same body as you did twenty years ago. Once you get over this hurdle, the key is knowing how to adapt your training so you get the best return on the time you spend training.
Five key ways to become a faster Master’s athlete:
1. Focus more on high-intensity efforts
We developed Four-Dimensional Power (4DP™) in response to overwhelming evidence that cyclists with the same sustained power (FTP) can have very different abilities when it comes to sprinting, attacking, or and breakaways. This is true not only at the individual level, but when you look at wider trends across age and gender. Analysis of thousands of Full Frontal Fitness Test results by the SUF Science Division revealed that older riders tend to put out lower power numbers for short, high-intensity efforts, relative to their FTP. What this means in practice is that athletes of a certain age need to focus on workouts and structured training plans that address this issue.
In general, time-crunched athletes, especially those over 40, will get more performance gains from sessions that emphasize higher intensity and lower volume than longer, less-intense sessions.
2. Don't give up on your VO2 max
Even if you only have a limited knowledge of sports science you know how important VO2 max is to performance. But many athletes have misconceptions about how aging affects their power at the upper limits of oxygen consumption. There is a widespread notion that VO2 max is genetically determined and that it inevitably goes down with age. This belief leads some older athletes to ignore VO2 max sessions entirely under the assumption that they’re not a good use of scarce training time. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
For those who may have hit their genetic peak VO2 at age 25, there will be a slow decline. But athletes hit their peak VO2 at different ages. That means you can still see improvements later in life with focused training.
Don't give up on your VO2 max. Take it from centenarian cyclist Robert Marchand, who remained committed to his training and made gains in his VO2 max after he turned 100 years old.
3. Work strength training into your program
If you’re an older athlete, strength training is one of the most important things you can do for your fitness.
While it’s true that cyclists of any age will see big benefits from incorporating strength training into their approach, these benefits become even more apparent as athletes age. That's why we developed SUF Strength.
As our muscles age, they start to selectively lose more and more fast-twitch fiber. This phenomenon is even more apparent if you focus solely on endurance training and neglect strength work. Use it, or lose it.
Incorporating strength training into your training plan can also help improve your power at higher intensities, not to mention maintaining bone density so you’re less likely to be injured in the event you hit the deck.
4. Make more time for recovery in your training schedule
As you get older, the time required to recover fully from a hard workout gets longer. The sooner you accept this simple fact of physiology and give your body the necessary time to recover, the more you’ll get out of your workouts.
Generally, younger athletes are able to tolerate several back-to-back days on the bike better than a masters athlete. If you notice that you’re more fatigued following repeated training days, think about a schedule that incorporates the same volume but with fewer days “on”. One of the SUF Coaching customised plans might be a good option.
Spacing out your higher-intensity days can also help. That is especially true if you are working strength training into your schedule. Training stress is training stress, whether it’s on the bike or in the gym. That means you might not be able to work in quite as much high-demand training of another type the next day.
5. Get more sleep
Recovery isn’t just about planning for recovery days. Older athletes can find that their bodies might not let them get away with things that seemed doable in their 20s. That’s particularly true when it comes to sleep.
Masters athletes with busy schedules often end up prioritizing training over sleep. Getting up to do a trainer session at 4 a.m. might have been easier at age 18, but it becomes more difficult—and comes with more negative consequences—as we age.
If your schedule leaves you deciding between sleep and working out a couple of times a week, for example, you should either only work out one of those times, or sleep both times. You want to maximize the benefits, both physical and mental, that you can glean from sleep. It is your best recovery tool.
Whether it's shifting power profiles or increased recovery time, the many physiological changes that athletes start to notice over time can bring challenges. Adapting accordingly is the key to staying successful. Even small tweaks to your approach can keep you on track to achieve your fitness goals into your 40s – and beyond.