Whether it’s weight loss, reducing your chances for illnesses, heart disease or diabetes or simply staying active, cycling is a great low-impact activity to adopt in your later years.
However, beginning the sport at an older age requires a slightly different approach. To get the most out of the sport, stay healthy and improve your performance the right way, use these basic tips for what not to do as you begin riding your bike for fitness after the age of 40.
UP RIDING VOLUME TOO QUICKLY
Whether you haven’t ridden since your 20s or you’re just getting into the sport for the first time, when you start a cycling routine later in life you’ll need to start slow. Ramping up mileage and intensity before your body has had time to adapt to the activity is a recipe for injury, and if you don’t give yourself enough time off between rides, the risk only increases.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to take at least one day off between your rides in the beginning. Shoot for three rides per week as a starting point, with one of those being a moderate-to-long slow ride (depending on your current level of fitness) and one that’s shorter at a higher intensity. Once your soreness subsides the day after you ride, you can begin adding recovery rides and other workouts to boost your fitness.
ONLY RIDING YOUR BIKE TO GET IN SHAPE
Starting something new is usually accompanied by enthusiasm. While this can be a good thing and help to motivate you to get in shape, as you age it’s important to focus on the areas where you’re weak and mix up your routine to prevent burnout.
The bent-over position on a road bike can place additional stress on your back, neck and shoulders, which are problematic areas as we age. Seeing a bike-fit specialist can help negate some of this, but so too can cross-training and a dedicated strengthening routine. At least two days per week, focus on strengthening your core with yoga, free weights and other cross-training exercises like swimming and hiking. This helps prevent developing overuse cycling injuries in your weak spots and keeps you mentally fresh when it is time to get back on the bike.
NOT HAVING A DEDICATED ROUTINE
Unfortunately, you’re not going to recover from physical activity as quickly as you did in your 20s. When you’re young, you might be able to get away with not taking your nutrition quite so seriously or skipping a post-ride stretch. But in your 40s, taking care of your body becomes even more important if you want to stay active and consistent with your routine without being forced to take time off the bike.
Some of this will be trial and error, as every person is different. However, making sure you’re getting eight hours of sleep at night, eating nutritious food post-ride to speed recovery and focusing on stretching and massage tools to decrease muscle soreness and tightness are good principles to start with for most people.
LOOKING TO THE PROS FOR ADVICE
Watching pro cycling can be great entertainment, and like anything else, you can learn a lot about the sport by watching those who do it for a living. However, trying to mimic certain things the pros do isn’t recommended for most older cyclists. Taking unnecessary risks when descending, riding through dangerous weather conditions and taking your daily cycling workouts too seriously as opposed to just having fun are all ways you can wind up being forced to take time off the bike.
Choosing a bike or gear that focuses on speed instead of comfort and opting for a bike setup that looks cool and professional as opposed to one that fits your body’s geometry are two other important aspects of pro cycling you shouldn’t mimic. Instead, focus more on what feels good, fits your body type and allows you to have the most fun and be pain free when you ride. If you’re unsure where to start or what to buy, see a local bike shop and get a professional bike fit to determine what’s right for you.
IGNORING ACHES AND PAINS
A twinge in the lower back or dull pain in your hamstring that you’ve noticed on training rides might not have been as concerning in your 20s. Working through slight pains can be easier to deal with in your early years, but once you get to a later stage in life it’s important to listen to your body and deal with little injuries early on before they turn into something bigger and more problematic.
Seeking help from a physical therapist or sports-medicine physician when something comes up can help you identify the issue and develop a plan to fix the problem. Most of the time muscle imbalances and weakness are the cause and can be corrected easily by developing a personalized strengthening routine. Time off the bike will occasionally be needed as well, as are conservative treatments like cold therapy, stretching and rest depending on the injury.