How the 40+ year old rider can keep kicking butt on the trail.

As much as we like to pretend that we’re all just a bunch of kids riding mountain bikes, the truth is, many of us aren’t as young as we used to be. A lot of you reading this are fast approaching, or are past 40 years old, and the rest of you will be there soon enough.

And while age is just a number, if you ignore the fact that you have different considerations than a 20-something who can bounce back from every stupid thing they do to their body, it will soon catch up with you. This means training smarter and not harder, focusing on the quality of what we are doing more than how much we are doing.

You also have to acknowledge that time and gravity wear us all down. Over time we have to counteract that of we want to feel young, as we keep age as “just a number”. When you see an old person and it triggers the “I hope I don’t end up like that” feeling in your gut…  you are usually looking at someone who has ignored this fact and has just let time and gravity grind them down.

What I’ve learned over the years is that there are two things that separate young people from “old” people – flexibility and muscle mass.

As you age these are the two things that time and gravity rob from you. They are also very hard to get back once you get to a certain age and this makes maintaining them a top priority.

What this means for the 40+ mountain biker is 3 things…

1 – Stretch and foam roll a lot. Flexibility is extremely important and it forms the basis for our mobility and our movement. Our muscles are under a lot of tension on a daily basis and we need to do something to help us reduce this tension. In addition, over the years some muscles become chronically tight and short, which begin to affect posture and performance.

Static stretching and foam rolling should be your primary method of keeping this from happening. While you want to focus on the muscles on the front side of the body like the chest, quads, hips flexors and shoulders, you really need to stretch everything at least once a week. Spend 10-15 minutes a day stretching and doing some foam rolling and be proactive with using more of it when you are training hard or riding a lot.

2 – Use strength training to get and stay strong. Getting stronger using both body weight and weighted exercises is the only way to offset the muscle loss triggered by all of the riding we do. And when done right it is also one of the best ways to improve your performance on the trail.

This approach will improve your performance while also helping you keep the muscle mass you’ll need one day to keep you moving. Plus muscle mass is the best armor you can have both on and off the trail, and it will also help you “bounce” back better if you crash. This makes strength training one of the most important things you can do to stay riding strong well past your 40th birthday.

3 – Stand up more to pedal. Standing up engages more muscles than seated pedaling, especially in the upper body, core, and hips. It also requires more muscle tension than seated pedaling. Both of these are signals to the body that the muscle mass you have is not only good, but required for you to ride. This will make it easier for you to off-set the muscle loss usually seen in a lot of mountain bikers who sit and spin all the time.

Standing up will also take a lot of stress off of your lower back and your knees. Two areas that time really seems to attack with a vengeance. Sure, it is harder but only until you get stronger with it. And remember, you don’t get into shape and then start standing up more… you stand up more and that will get you into shape for it.

4 – Don’t focus on losing “weight” to improve your power to weight ratio. When you focus on losing weight you end up losing fat and muscle mass. The problem is that as we age it becomes much easier to add the fat mass back on and much harder to add the muscle mass.

Muscle mass is our primary source of strength and power and shouldn’t be squandered unless absolutely necessary. Plus you may find that adding some muscle mass might actually help your performance on the trail. I’ve heard from many riders who found that adding 5-10 pounds of quality muscle – plus the strength gains that came with it – helped them ride faster and longer.

While I’m not there yet (I’m a few months from being 39 at the time of writing this) I can already see how these strategies will serve me well for decades to come. I see a lot of riders who ignored these things and relied on the advantages of youth for too long. They don’t look very healthy off of the bike and I can see their performance on the bike suffering as well.

I also have worked with and heard from riders 40, 50 and 60+ years of age who haven’t ignored these facts and have found that they could rewind the clock. They are out riding riders who are 20+ years younger than them, all thanks to the fact that they stay mobile, strong, and avoid grinding up every hill in the adult fetal position.

You don’t have to “get old” like everyone else you see around you. It is possible to stay young at heart and have a body that can (mostly) keep up as well. Just don’t get stiff, weak and give into what feels “easier” all the time.

At the end of the day kicking ass on the trail is a mindset no matter how old you are. And part of that mindset is doing the things you need to do off the bike, so you can kick ass on the bike. Hopefully I’ve inspired some of you to take action and do something instead of waiting to be ground down by time and gravity.

I’ve got a lot of great stuff on my blog and a lot of great training programs you can invest in that can help you get started. If you have any questions on what you can do keep kicking ass on the trail at 40 and beyond just post them below this article, I’d be happy to help get you on the right track.

And if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word to fellow riders who could benefit from the info.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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The Ultimate MTB Workout ProgramThis workout program is designed with one simple purpose – to be the best mountain bike training program on the planet. When you are ready to take your training program to the highest level possible then you can’t do better than this workout program. Based on my years of working with some of the best riders on the planet, this truly is the Ultimate MTB Workout Program.
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  1. Chapstik says:

    Could not agree more with this. I just turned 44, do james’ kettle bell workouts three days a week along with regular foam rolling and stretching, and in seven years of mountain biking have never felt stronger or more capable on the trails. Riding just keeps getting better – I can stand and enjoy the challenge of steep climbs and smash the downs. Mountain biking for life!

    Reply • September 29 at 5:42 am
  2. Mick says:

    I am 54, but I don’t even think about that. I expect to keep up with anybody, but I don know that rest and kettle bell work and some body weight exersize keeps me from feeling stiff and weak. Since I’ve incorporated more foundation training, I’m back on my hard tail without issue. I feel like I’m improving rather than regressing. Thanks for the encouragement and advise.

    Reply • September 29 at 6:07 am
  3. Ryan says:

    Good post. I am surprised you didn’t state running flat pedals as one of the ways 😉

    Reply • September 29 at 7:01 am
  4. simon spragg says:

    54 and still nailing it. The article is dead right. In fact other than the author’s infatuation with flat pedals I have taken ALL his advise on out of saddle riding which really has benefitted.

    good article well played Steve.

    Reply • September 29 at 8:04 am
  5. Susan McClenon says:

    Hi .. Susan McClenon 59 I started mt biking in ’84. I belong to the Redding Mountain Bike Club now I’m amazed at times when I discover fellow riders ages it’s shocking to realize i could be mother or grandmother?, and keeping good pase with the best of them! It’s the passion that keeps it alive through injury and illness. Thank you for your tips!

    Reply • September 29 at 9:03 am
  6. Joseph Neuwirth, Ph.D. says:

    I was amused at your reference to “old people” and the difference between you young people and us older, and more wise?, people being less flexible and having less muscle mass. At 73 yrs I am probably stronger than I was as a young man. I have to work at it however. I also am winning age-graded road races and TT’s. Yoga and gym work keep me in shape to ride road and, of late, mountain bike trails.
    Recently, I performed an unscheduled dismount over my handlebars on a downhill turn in loose rock and dry dirt and ended up landing on my feet but also turning an ankle. The result was a fractured tibial malleolus. I am now off the bike for at least 4-5 months. James, the biggest diff between young riders and someone like myself is the longer required period of recovery after an incident.

    Reply • September 29 at 9:27 am
  7. Brad says:

    I turned 48 this month and a newbie at MTB. I fear I have created some nerve damage (ulnar neuropathy?). The last two trips noticed numbness in hands and forearms. The more alarming symptom is the loss of dexterity in fingers. Inability to turn key; tie shoe laces; use utensils and write legibly.
    The first experience with these symptoms happened last weekend and cleared up in four to five days. However, I rode again this past Sunday and now have the same symptoms. It is difficult to type this message. I understand I need to check bike fitting and I am wondering if the only correction is positioning? I believe I am riding with straight arms and need only to bend elbows, lean forward and slant wrists out to side. If size/fitting is correct is position the cause?

    Reply • September 29 at 1:10 pm
    • Brete says:

      Curious, Brad, if you ever resolved this?

      Reply • September 2 at 5:06 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You’ll need to see a doctor or medical expert for that, you don’t want to mess around with nerve issues. If nothing is wrong then you may need to check your wrist position and make sure it isn’t flexed too much but first make sure something isn’t wrong.

      Reply • September 7 at 9:30 am
  8. mtv says:

    At 51yrs old, I can say that mobility and strength are more important than cardio. As riders we all have some level of cardio fitness but as the years progress, strength and mobility just slip away. I started body weight training about 3 years ago and added mobility work last year and am in better shape than when I was 40.
    You can dial back the clock – you just gotta push it.
    Thanks James.

    Reply • September 29 at 2:23 pm
    • Maxx says:

      Too true, I’m 61 and literally feel as strong and as mobile as I was in my twenties.

      The only thing to add is that as you age the first 3 rules of training are all ‘don’t get injured’. It takes forever to recover.

      Reply • October 1 at 5:04 pm
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        Great to hear Maxx, and you’re right! Avoiding injury is definitely a top priority. Although, following these tips should improve your resistance to injury as well. Thanks for the reminder!

        Reply • October 2 at 7:26 am
  9. Do you cover bone mineral density (BMD) in your program? If you have enough 55+ mountain bikers this is an issue that affects them. For example, a 55 – year – old mtb’er falls off his/her mtb, and injures their hip. Not good.
    Just thought I’d make this suggestion.

    Reply • April 21 at 6:18 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I agree that bone density can be an issue and I do think there are several ways to address it. First, strength training in and of itself will increase bone density or at least greatly slow the process. Another factor that often gets overlooked is that you need to know how to fall properly, which means practicing your tumbling skills from time to time. Riding flats will also reduce the chance of you having a catastrophic wreck and falling hard on your hip. Lastly, gaining some muscle mass from strength training will provide you with an extra layer of armor and shock absorption which will take some of the stress of the bone when you wreck.

      Taken altogether all of these things can help make sure the older rider can avoid serious bone breaks.

      Reply • April 21 at 9:00 am
      • Russell says:

        Muscle mass does provide a layer of armor for when you fall, but so does knee and elbow pads or a fully armored bike jacket. Let’s do the math:

        Knee pads $50, Armored jacket $150, Helmet $30 = $230.
        ObamaCare Silver = $6000 deductible. (At least I now have insurance.)

        I still have over $5500 left to go on the insurance deductible while the protective gear has paid for itself many times over. “Old” people do break easier than young people. Good post, thanks.

        Reply • September 5 at 7:38 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          I remember back in the day a riding buddy had a pair of shin pads that said “Cheaper Than Stitches” on the front of them. Prevention is almost always cheaper than fixing something so a little investment in your body and some armor can go a long way.

          Reply • September 7 at 9:08 am
  10. t.c. says:

    Yes, i totaly agree. I started “real” MTB 7 years ago, now I am 53 and I am in the shape of my life. Thats because this challenging sport motivated me to train “smart”, following the strategies of bikejames (thank you james). Especially weekly strenght and mobility training, together with focused technique rides and a very good teaching buddy shifted me into a sitiuation where now I can have a lot of fun together with my much younger bike buddys. 2 points I found important which are not mentioned: The need to handle more carefull with your capacaties (train/rest balance) and to have a look on your nutrition. Maybe 2 points one could have a closer look on, james?
    Thanks james

    Reply • September 2 at 7:20 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback and I agree, those are two areas that we need to keep an eye on as we get older. Our margin for error shrinks in a lot of areas, which is really what we need to keep in mind.

      Reply • September 2 at 11:51 am
  11. Fritz says:

    I’m going on 69, have followed James’s programs for a couple of seasons, and find that the combination of kettlebells, foam rolling, stretching, riding and yoga manage to keep me operating. I do have to admit, however, that standing pedaling more than a few times in an hour is a real chore that leaves me gassed.

    I recently modified my program to change my 7 day workout schedules to 10 days in order to allow more recovery time. Planning a ten day schedule is easy: instead of planning a day of the week schedule, plan a “day of the month” schedule, e.g. 1st, 11th, 21st.

    Reply • September 2 at 2:03 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Yeah, standing pedaling takes some practice to get more efficient at but even throwing in a few more standing pedaling efforts than you normally would will help. And more recovery is always good, I like the idea of a 10 day schedule to spread things out.

      Reply • September 7 at 9:05 am
  12. RL says:

    48 here…keeping gravity at bay through yoga, core training, weights and riding. Great info in article and in comments. One thing not mentioned is to beware of repetition. If you are going to ride 3 days in a week, mix up the terrain and type of trail. I find at 48 if I ride the same trail repeatedly, the normal aches compound themselves. And yes…don’t get hurt.

    Reply • March 24 at 7:15 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks, glad you like the site and info. And yes, doing the same thing all the time is a sure way to burn out both physically and mentally so great advice there, thanks for sharing. And yes…don’t get hurt!

      Reply • March 27 at 2:47 pm
  13. Jim Mansi says:

    I’m 54 & been riding/racing for 17 yrs. 16 months ago I had a horrendous crash on a fast trail I’ve prob ridden 200 times, all I did was clip a small tree. One stupid mistake changed my life, I fractured my L1 vert & damaged some ligaments along my spine. I’ve been doing the dumbbell combo program off & on for a few yrs. now. James, if it wasn’t for all the great tips & programs you’ve provided for all of us, things could have been much worse for me. My conditioning & strength prevented further damage and I was back on the bike at 7 months out. I’m still not 100 pct but I’m training hard and riding strong again. james, thanks for all great info!

    Reply • March 26 at 2:18 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry to hear about your wreck but glad you are on the right track with your recovery. And while I provided the direction, it was your work and dedication to your strength and health that helped you out, really glad things were not worse. Hope you have a speedy recovery and let me know if you need some help on your way back.

      Reply • March 27 at 2:46 pm
  14. Norman List says:

    Thanks James you have been very influential in helping me achive my ultimate passion in life Mountain biking
    Stand up pedeling proper posture , core streingth,oh your wonderfull platform pedels etc have allowed me to keep up with the dudes and i do 3 to 4,day tours in the norther part of Costa Rica Mostly single trac i got oldtimers and forget but the purpose was to say im 73 and dont see and end to all this fun in the near future
    Un abrazo

    Reply • May 29 at 5:11 pm
  15. Laura says:

    I was ecstatic yesterday! In 3 months I will be 41 years old. I have always dreamed of mountain biking. I finally hit the trail for the very first time. I had the time of my life! Yes, I fell 4-5 times. Yes, I got hung up on tree roots. Yes, I had to walk my bike up a couple of hills. Yes, I walked across high narrow bridges over creeks. But, I NEVER gave up! If I fell, I got right back up and kept going. I ventured into completely unknown territory. I attempted to ride every feature on the trail. The trail was 5 miles. I finished it and never felt better! It was awesome. Yes, I am sore today with scratches and bruises. It was so worth it! #COMBO #ChestnutRidge

    Reply • September 12 at 3:41 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Great job Laura, thanks for sharing!

      Reply • October 6 at 9:29 am

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