Part 1: Is Cyclocross for me as an older rider?
Cyclocross is more than riding or racing a bike and Cyclocross training is more than one pair of shoes therefore training for an event needs to be specific, and relevant to the demands, and importantly it needs to be specific to the riders. We constantly hear of the need for training to be adapted to the maturation of developing young rider, however we also need to consider the adaptability of riders that have matured but are now having to adjust training to the demands of their individual lifecycle. Cyclocross is a good fit for the older rider looking to maintain the components of physical fitness. The five components of physical fitness are cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition.
Something I have been thinking upon for some time are these words, ‘don’t ask what your body can do for you but what can you do for your body?’ By this I mean, as we get older there are specifics we need to be considering to maintain what we have in terms of our physical fitness, positively there is room for improvement too. There is that eternal exclamation everyone at some point in their lives has said, ‘if only I had known that then!’
In terms of exercise, and working the components of physical fitness, unfortunately time is not on the side of a rider when they reach a specific age, or decade. For men, and women, planning ahead is essential, and if having succumbed to overuse injuries then training will require adaptation. Knowing what you really need to work on during your 30’s and 40’s to then have something to work with and maintain in your 50’s and 60’s is essential, especially if you want to remain competitive for longer. For women the hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone, pre and post menopause have a significant effect for the type of exercise undertaken and when.
For both female and male riders time can still be on their side to gear-up their training, and for those that may have lost-out to the ageing process the good news is they are not yet out the race! Adjusting workouts for those metabolic changes that are occurring, and working the integrated musculature structures required for performance need to be considered, not forgetting gut performance as this changes over time too. Knowing your body is something I instil in my junior riders and this is equally specific to the older rider too as internal and external influences are tangible and will affect performances either positively or negatively, and an example of both an internal and external influence is the quality of sleep.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, an American retired track and field heptathlete, once said, “Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.” This brings me back to a sentence in my first paragraph, ‘Cyclocross is a good fit for the older rider looking to maintain the components of physical fitness.’ For women that are in the lifecycle of menopause, or are post menopausal, training specifics are required to stimulate bone strength as research has demonstrated bone density will diminish as onset can be quite rapid. Research confirms after the age of 35 bone density in women diminishes therefore planning for this is something everyone woman should be doing. There also needs to be an awareness of the loss of lean muscle mass, and an increase of fat deposits. Neuromuscular fibre development is essential in the training plan as the loss at the start of menopause is apparent, and should have been maintained in the previous decade but if it has been neglected there is still hope. Having a training plan adapting to the needs of the rider does not have to be boring but it does need to be varied and working specific areas - an example of an activity that provides high intensity, multi-directional type of work stimulating lean mass development is a gym activity called Cross-Fit. As a rider being aware of the ageing process is so important as it affects women sooner than men but it affects both and that’s a guarantee.
In terms of our physical fitness we must keep in mind we cannot hold back time but we do have the power to live our lives making the most of what we have. The late George Burns, an American comedian, actor, and writer said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
One of my many mantras is, ‘make the most of what you have while you have it,’ just ensure your training comes from a researched and informed source. And the resource to research is Dr Stacy Sims, Ph. D., an applied researcher, innovator, and entrepreneur in human performance, specifically sex differences in training, nutrition, and environmental conditions and has undertaken extensive research in female physiology, nutrition and the menstrual cycle. For further information please research the many papers she has written as well as listening to her podcasts. Her website is, drstacysims.com
You should always consult your physician or other healthcare provider before changing your diet or starting an exercise program.