One of the biggest influences on how you should personalise your own training is age. I like to break down age into three categories. These categories have flexible boundaries whereby an athlete can actual show some signs of being in the ‘wrong’ age group or even signs of being in two. It’s important to look at yourself objectively and make a judgement on how you should tailor your training based on facts. Understanding the rough rules that I follow, will help you know what to look for and what to expect.
Let’s start with U23, although much of this information is applicable the younger you get, particularly if U18 or still in full-time education.
I have a couple of hard rules that I like to stick to, all of these are to protect the athlete, usually from themselves or their over enthusiastic parents! First of all, the younger you are the least specialised your training should be to cycling. Mix up your sports and add in a variety. Developing hand eye co-ordination is important, sports such as tennis, cricket or baseball are great for this. Having a good mix of sports will also keep a young person’s mind active. Too many youngsters commit to cycling too early and suffer burnout, really starting to resent cycling, right when they’d be coming into their peak lifetime form.
I also like to ensure that a youngster doesn’t do more hours than their age, for example no more than 16 hours for a 16-year-old. Injury risk increases dramatically at this point and, at an age where they are also studying, a large amount of training will be counter-productive to that. Let’s face it, a very small majority of cyclists, even professionals, will earn enough money to live off for their lifetime, a solid education opens more doors at this age, than lesser training closes.
Finally, the younger you are the less training should feel like actual training. While a training diary is a great habit to build, it might be the last thing the young athlete wants to do. The more fun you can make the training, including a mix of disciplines and perhaps involving platforms such as Zwift when training indoors, will help keep motivation and focus.
You’ll be happy to know that if you sit in the 23-49 range, you might not need to do much different with your training, based on your age at least! Like I mentioned in the beginning, there are times when you will experience some crossover of the problems associated with a nearby age group, you may even relate to some of the points I’ve already raised.
The closer you get to 50, the more you’ll notice your body changing. Depending on how well you have looked after your body, this may be actually quite a lot earlier. Smoking, drugs and alcohol, among many other factors, prematurely age the body. This includes athletic performance, recovery time and general health.
Possibly the biggest factor that you’ll experience as you get older is that you enter the ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ range. Essentially this just means that if you aren’t using the component of fitness, you are going to lose it quicker than that of someone younger. The worse part about this is that you actually will find it harder to get it back. The two main areas are muscle strength and anaerobic endurance. This therefore gives reason for you to keep that intensity up year around, winter for anaerobic training and summer for off-the-bike strength training, both a contradiction to what you may have done at a younger age. Of course, you don’t need to be actively building anaerobic fitness in the winter, nor muscular strength in the summer, but, maintain these with moderate sessions at the intensity. All you are looking to do is stop any reversibility.
The next factor might be a decrease in your recovery. As you age, you really need to be focusing on quality nor quantity and then optimising every factor of your recovery. A large part of this will be nutrition, ensuring that you eat a healthy and varied diet that promotes recovery.
You might also consider a rethink of your target events. While age groups in certain disciplines provide a welcome opportunity, and a carrot for some. If you are in a discipline that doesn’t cater to your age group, perhaps a change is in order. Consider that your top end power may be what you struggle to maintain and start to lose, yet your mid-range power should remain. You could look to increase the distance of your events. If you time trial, this could look like longer distances, if you race, perhaps long distance Gran Fondo’s provide a great platform to prove yourself.
This should have given you some food for thought here! If you’re still confused, I strongly recommend you engage with a coach. Whether you need the watchful eye of a professional to ensure you don’t go too hard as a youngster, or the accountability and wisdom of a coach as you get older. Age really does become a strong reason to speak to someone in the know and don’t worry, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t come into the form of your life at any age, we have many stories about cyclists who have hit PB’s in the 50’s, 60’s and older!
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