Getting better as you get older

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Alejandro Valverde is again in this Tour de France riding like a young racehorse in his forties.  Although there are increasingly younger stars on the cycling firmament, such as Remco Evenepoel and Quinn Simmons, there are quite a few cyclists who are still doing well at a relatively old age. Think for example of Chris Horner, who won the Tour of Spain in 2012 at the age of forty-one. But why shouldn’t you be able to compete in the top of the cycling peloton at an older age and maybe there are advantages to an older age. Let’s start with the bad news.

The loss of muscle mass while you get older

As you get older, you lose muscle mass (both the volume and the number of fibres decrease significantly). The muscles also lose their ability to extract oxygen from the blood. This is mainly due to a decrease in mitochondria and their function. In addition, the immune system also has to deal with the aging process, which on average amounts to a decrease of 2-3% per year from the age of 20.ste Year of life. This is mainly due to a decrease in the production of white blood cells and T-cells, as a result of which disease and infection will occur more often and faster. Genetics, nutrition, lifestyle and the degree of physical activity all determine how the ageing process goes. Research shows that physical activity at a later age can slow down these processes, and even postpone them completely! However, it is of course a process that will occur anyway.

You need more strength training the older you get

The most important thing as the age increases is therefore to add strength and HIT training to the training regime. From an untrained status you have to start with just easy rides, because you will get enough training effect from this. In addition, endurance rides always remain the basis of an aerobic sport such as cycling. But if you really have passed the untrained stage, then it is smart to add high intensity training (so called HIT; high intensity training) and strength training in addition to easy rides. These HIT trainings increase the mitochondrial capacity of 49% in young people, in older people there was even an increase of 69%.

The advantages of getting older

But there are also advantages when the age increases, so that Valverde, for example, still manages to cling on. Experience is as simple as it is difficult to grasp. There are very different forms of experience. It’s the tactical experience of following the right demarrage in a race or not completely blowing yourself up on the first climb of cyclo. Also the experience which training regime or feeding schedule works best for you. But perhaps most important is the experience on the mental level. It’s not uncommon in cycling to find out who is best able to deal with exploding legs and lactate up to your ears.

Does your pain tolerance goes up with the years

Of course, it is difficult to measure who is suffering the most pain, but there are studies that have measured the relationship between how heavy someone indicates finding it in combination with what percentage of his or her Vo2max is cycling at the same time. These studies show that pros give a lower ‘pain number’ on a high percentage of their Vo2max than amateurs or younger cyclists. On the borg scale of 6 to 20, for example, pros report a 16 at an average of 89% of their Vo2max, while amateurs and young cyclists at 16 then cycle around 81% and 83% of their Vo2max respectively.

Experience is key

Pros and more experienced riders probably have better coping strategies with high intensity cycling, making it feel like less heavy. You could argue that pros are pros because they have a higher pain tolerance. Anyway, studies show that mental strategies work in coping with pain, so you can keep going a little longer. Mental techniques such as dissociation, disconnecting feeling and situation, and distraction, looking for distraction in other things than the pain in our legs, can be developed by consciously applying it regularly and thus gaining experience. Also a technique like positive self-talk can help. For example, converting the experience into positive self-talk, that the pain is only temporary and of short duration. This can make the difference, so that the older cyclist beats the young one.

If you want o train smarter and responsibly, check out what we can do for you. We offer individual training plans and working with a coach to make the next step. We also have an application that makes you a dynamic training plan called JOIN Cycling. If you have any questions feel free to contact us anytime!