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.
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Until next time…