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Coach's Column - Training Changes for the 40-Year-Old MTBer

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |November 22, 2013 4:01 AM

Coach's Column with Andy Applegate: Training Changes for the 40-Year-Old Mountain Biker

Question: "How should my training change now that I am an older athlete and in my early 40s. Should I concentrate on doing less base miles and more intensity in my workouts? Do I need more time for recovery?"


Answer: Excellent question, and while you need to keep in mind that there is not a particular age where you "fall off a cliffĒ with your fitness, after the age of somewhere between 35 and 40 years most athletes start to notice a difference in their response to training and an increased need for recovery. The exact training an older rider should undertake is primarily dependent on goals, but letís talk about some general guidelines.

A few things to keep in mind: First, after about the age of 40 we start to see a decline in VO2max. You might also notice that the maximum HR you see during very intense efforts is lower, and over the years you might notice that it is more difficult to hold onto strength gains and muscle mass. These are all inevitable symptoms of aging, and while these things happen very gradually over years, it can be frustrating. The good news is that you can combat these declines with smart training. To help counteract the decline in VO2max, add more short, intense training sessions to your program. Efforts of 1 to 3 minutes with a 1:1 work to recovery ratio work wonders to hone anaerobic fitness. Also, doing work that will help elevate your lactate threshold will make you stronger at any age. Longer efforts of 5 to 20 minutes at or just below lactate threshold will do the trick here.

Depending on the amount of time you have available, you may want to add some off bike strength work to your program. In general I donít believe strength training should necessarily take the place of bike work, but if you have the time to add some in it can really help stave off  loss of strength and muscle mass. Keep in mind that you donít need any fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership to get an excellent strength workout. Functional, body weight exercises can be very effective and even 30 minutes two to three times per week might be enough to make a big difference.

Slower recovery is one of the first things I noticed for myself after about the age of 40. I found that one easy day after a hard race weekend was no longer enough recovery before getting back to hard workouts. Give your body what it needs and build in a little extra recovery between hard sessions or races. Instead of 3 or 4 hard or long sessions per week, cut back by one and add an extra easy day. This will not only allow for that needed recovery, but most likely will allow the hard workouts to be higher quality sessions. Donít be afraid to experiment a little with back to back hard workouts followed by 2 easy days. Some older riders also benefit from more frequent recovery weeks. For example if you normally do 3 hard weeks followed by a recovery week, consider doing 2 hard weeks followed by a 5 day recovery block instead. There is no magic schedule trick for everyone, try some different things and see what works best for you.

I certainly donít want to tell you to ride "lessĒ, rather, I think my advice would be to really focus on quality intensity during some of your ride sessions while monitoring and allowing more recovery if needed. These days we are seeing older athletes produce some amazing performances. Listen to what your body is asking for and incorporate some of the ideas above and you could be one of those athletes.

Andy Applegate is a Pro level coach with Carmichael Training Systems. He has over 20 years of racing experience and has been coaching cyclists full time since 2001. His passion is endurance mountain bike racing. We would like to welcome Andy to our amazing group of elite coaches. You can find out more about Andy and his training programs at

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