Anti-Aging: Riding Smarter As You Age Part 1



By Coach John Hughes

Although you may be able hold off slowing down for years, at some point aging will catch up with you. Here are tips on ways both on and off the bike you can compensate for the physical loss.


Marginal gains. Sir David Brailsford is the general manager if the UCI World Team Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky.  The team was launched in 2010 with the goal of winning the Tour de France with a British rider within five years, a goal which was reached in just two years when Sir Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France, becoming the first British winner in its history. His teammate Briton Chris Froome won the 2013 Tour de France, achieving the team’s primary goal twice within the five-year time period. Froome went on to win seven grand tours: four editions of the Tour de France, one Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España twice.


Brailsford recognized all the riders in the peloton were superbly fit and just training wouldn’t suffice to reach their goal. Brailsford came up with the concept of marginal gains. If they broke down everything they could think of that goes into racing success, and then improved each by 1%, they would get a significant increase in performance when they put them all together. In addition to training with power, scientific recovery, improved nutrition, and team tactics, Brailsford included teaching the riders how to wash their hands so there was less illness and even training with the riders’ personal pillows so they’d sleep better.


Marginal gains and you. I specialize in coaching older riders for several reasons. First, you are more interesting than riders in their 30s. In order to improve older riders need to do many different things, not just ride more. I apply the concept of marginal gains tailored to each client. By applying the concept of marginal gains to your riding you can improve your performance on the bike. Part 1 of this column has tips on training. Part 2 will have tips on all the other things that go into improving.


GoalsBrailsford set goals to define the program. If you have specific ways you want to improve or specific events you want to do, then setting goals is important. I wrote this column on Setting goals as you get older. If you want to stay healthy, slow aging and enjoy life then you don’t need specific goals.



I’ll start with the aging process generally.

 Cycling good for 50-year-olds. Responding to a reader’s question I wrote this column. Is cycling good for 50 year olds?


Retirement. Many RBR readers are still working.  Here’s a column on what to do before retirement to begin slowing the aging process.  What to do before retirement

Growing older in your 50s. This column Growing older in your 50s explains that physiological aging occurs in two ways:

  • True aging – age-related changes that will happen to all of us inevitably.
  • Pathological aging – a result of changes in the environment, genetic mutations, accidents or how we choose to live.

True physiological aging is not caused by any single factor but by an aggregate of causes. Fortunately, fitness helps to maintain peak performance and prevent premature aging.


What is aging? Chronological age? Do you really feel as old as your birthdays imply?  Prospective age and life expectancy? These are about your future; chronological age is about your past. Your physical and mental capacities are also quite relevant. This column explains more about How old are you really?


You’re only as old as you think83-year old Joe Shami, of Lafayette, CA climbed Mount Diablo in 2018 for the 500th consecutive week. The base of Diablo (3,849 ft.) is at sea level about 40 miles east of San Francisco, CA. Most of the 11-mile climb averages 8 percent. “The wall” the final stretch to the top is 17-19 percent. I wrote this column on 14 lessons we can learn from Shami. You’re only as old as you think


Loss of fitness. Responding to two readers’ questions I wrote these columns:

  • Janet asked, “Is there a well-known relationship between how long it takes to build a level of cycling fitness vs. how long it takes to lose it?” I wrote this column How fast do you lose fitness in your 60s.
  • Keith asked, “About five years ago I climbed back on a bike and, using Strava, I steadily improved but for the last couple of years I’ve pretty much plateaued – my Strava segment times reflect that. Where do I go from here? I feel if I don’t try and improve properly I will steadily decline.” I responded with this column A 73 year old asks is it all downhill from here?.


Myths. Perceptions, preconceptions and myths about aging and exercise abound. Good news! Most of them aren’t true! This column debunks 7 training myths.


Exercise mistakes. I wrote these columns on 8 exercise mistakes older riders make and More on exercise mistakes older riders make


Training rules. Okay, there are myths and mistakes.  What should you do? Here are 14 Training rules for older cyclists.


How much training is too much? One training myth is exercising too much is unhealthy. Another myth is that more exercise is the key to improvement. Almost every new client rides too many miles when we start working together. I reduce the volume and mix in appropriate intensity rides and true recovery rides. Here are three columns:

Base training. Base endurance training is the essential foundation of cycling. Unfortunately, many riders don’t get enough miles in their legs before trying more challenging rides. The results often are frustration, not finishing rides and even injuries. I’ve written two related columns:

Train effectively. By training effectively you can slow (and even reverse in some cases) the effects of aging. You can train effectively if you follow nine training principles. Here are two columns on how to apply the training principles using 53-year-old and a 69-year-old as examples:

Training weeks. This column explains different training weeks based on how many years you’ve been riding, your annual volume and your longest rides. Optimal training weeks.


Resistance training. Resistance training will improve your performance on the bike and slow and even reverse the atrophy of your muscles.  Here are two columns:


  • Bruce asks about resistance training in the off-season. This column explains why it’s important and gives you a dozen different leg exercises. Resistance training for older roadies.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends some year-round resistance training. I wrote this column on 4 essential resistance exercises, which you can do at home with minimal equipment.


Full body training. As we age endurance, power and strength start to decline; however, you can control the rate of decline as explained in the above columns. You also start to lose balance, flexibility and bone strength. This column explains what to do about those Full body workout for older riders.


Inadequate recovery is one of the biggest mistakes riders make. As we grow older recovery becomes more important.

Ride less recover more. You don’t improve while you are training; you only improve if you give your body time to recover.  Here are three columns:

Stress. Your body doesn’t differentiate between training stress and other kinds of stress: a challenging assignment at work, family issues, moving, illness, etc. Too much total stress isn’t healthy and it considerably reduces the effectiveness of training.  I wrote this column on Managing stress.


I hope all of these tips help you to improve.  Don’t try to change everything at once. Pick the most important factor you can change and work on it for four to six weeks until it becomes a habit. Then continue factor by factor working on marginal gains with each factor. In part 2 I’ll write about non-training factors including equipment, nutrition, riding techniques, aches and pains on the bike, motivation and mental toughness.


Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio