The importance of strength training as we age

There is no doubt that a stronger athlete is a better athlete. Nobody has ever said, “I’d like to be weaker”. Here at SUF, we emphasize both specific strength training on the bike and general strength training off the bike. It’s all about recruiting more muscle fiber to increase performance and improve health status. Beginning around the age of 30, we start losing muscle mass at the rate of 3-8% per decade. Strength training then becomes paramount in lessening the effects of aging and resulting muscle loss. This article is focused on the “mature” athlete, 50 and over, but can apply to anyone.

There are many health and performance benefits that come with consistent strength training. These include:

  • Stronger bones, increased bone density reducing the risk of fractures
  • Increased muscle mass reversing the trend of age related muscle mass loss
  • Increased joint flexibility and reducing the symptoms of arthritis
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Maintained or increased ratio of lean mass:body fat
  • Increased strength, better body mechanics, balance and posture
  • Better chronic disease management, such as better glucose control in type II diabetes
  • Increased energy levels
  • Released endorphins
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced cardiovascular risk factors
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Improved athletic performance by being able to recruit more muscle fiber

These benefits can be realized at any time but are especially important as we age. In order to maintain, increase or slow any decreases in performance, strength training becomes a “must do” to both improve health and performance.

There are some important things to consider when starting your program including: experience level, equipment available, fitting it into your life and your training schedule, limitations due to injury or medical conditions and whether or not to engage a professional trainer or coach. Given all these considerations, here are some key elements will insure a successful program:

  • Realize there is an adaptation phase at the beginning and ease into your program.

  • There is not a perfect “system” for everyone, do what works for you and don’t be afraid to try proven methods/exercises. You are your own n=1

  • Always, always warm up: mobility exercises, stretching, foam rolling, light cardio, etc

  • Focus on form and go at your own pace.

  • Modify exercises where range of motion is limited by prior injury, arthritis or just the barnacles of life.

  • Get professional instruction/advice

  • Perform 2 sessions/week and periodize to sync with your training plan

  • Pair your strength training sessions with short neuromuscular drill work or a recovery ride if you decide to ride either before or after your strength session

  • Take at least one complete day off in which no strength or cycling workouts

  • Educate yourself on information from studies and articles/podcasts from our excellent SUF Sport Science team

Some of you in the over 50 group (or even over 30) have been getting by without strength training with good genetics or just good luck. Others have had the injuries that come with not having a balanced program. Now is the time to start or get back to strength training to achieve all that is possible with a strong and healthy body. It’s never too late. Don’t be intimidated if you are new to strength training, SUF Strength is a great way to get started. Please share your strength training questions/experiences.

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Being in the over-sixty group, and diagnosed with osteopenia, I started doing some strength-training when I was diagnosed a few years ago. For the past year and a half, I’ve been doing the sufferfest programs off and on. I’m finishing intermediate level 4-6 next week, and wondering what to do next. I’ve been using 5 and 8 lb weights (my water bottles drip when they are lifted up and down!) This program has been great - I’m a lot stronger - but do I switch to a weight-training program, repeat training program I4-6? Randomly do levels 4, 5, and 6 with recovery weeks? TBH, I’m feeling a bit lost,. seeing level 6 for one week and one recovery session, then a blank calendar.

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Hey @BikeGirl,
Congrats on finishing up the SUF Strength Intermediate program. It is certainly not an easy program to master especially when using 5-8 lb weights! You have a lot of choices. A few are:

  1. Use SUF Strength (short sessions) as an activation warm up for more traditional lifts
  2. Continue doing Intermediate 4, 5 , and 6 using slightly heavier weights
  3. Go to a structured weight training program
  4. Continue with SUF Strength and do an activation workout prior to, or post strength. Sessions like GCN Torque Monster or GOAT.
    You definitely want to periodize with your training and use recovery sessions during your recovery weeks. We will also be evolving SUF Strength in an effort to provide more workouts/progressions to members. The bottom line is you want to do what works for you and fires you up. Keep up the great work!
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So what exactly does this mean?
Thx

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Hey @MMCSS,
It means if your training program is a 3on/1 off or a 2on/1off, you’re strength sessions should follow suit.
So when you are on a recovery week in your training , your strength sessions should be in recovery mode as well. If you’re following a SUF strength program you will do recovery sessions. If you are on your own program, you would do a deload week.

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I am 68
I have found good benefits from the strength program, especially leg strength. My core strength has improved. My lack of flexibility makes some moves difficult. I also have poor arm strerngth, especially weak wrists which make espcially moves like high side plank extremely hard to hold. Pigeon pose is tough to do and the shape of my back makes back extensions difficut though perehaps worthwhile

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Hey @Stonechat,
Way to go get after it!! Just do what your body allows. We all accumulate some barnacles of life which inhibit our mobility.
Feel free to do side planks on your forearms.

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I’m 65 and try to balance training (Cycling) with monitoring Weekly TSS.
If I add 2 session strength training weekly, can/shall I then add some TSS to the total Weekly TSS?

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Hi @Fast,
I think adding 2 strength training session/week is a great idea. Don’t worry about adding TSS since it’s only relevant to your cycling. What you want to do is take some time to adapt to the strength training. Initially your legs may get sore, feel heavy, etc. Reduce the intensity of your rides as needed during the adaptation phase. Let us know if you have any more questions

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Thank you! That’s kind of what I thought. I did I6A this afternoon for the first time and enjoyed it (to my surprise, but I used to do modern dance so I love round the clock and planks with knee to elbow). I’m trying to find some 10 lb dumbbells, thinking that I’ll stick with SUF strength for another round of I4-6. Oddly, they’re in short supply here in town. I’ve even checked thrift stores. Must be the pandemic driving people into their homes for exercise!

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@Stonechat - yep - I have the same upper body issues. Trying to find a plan that will help the wrists and shoulders.

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Hi.

I’ve been enjoying the strength training for a while now. I’m 46, and race XC mountain bike (and occasional the Gravity Enduro). I think the core and upper body strength is critical for off road riding as you often need to push against unusual forces or hold steady as the bike comes off a drop or bounces out of a berm.
I am doing level 4 intermediate at the moment (with the Pre-Season XC mountain bike) and struggle with some of the shoulder strength exercises. I think there is one where you do two pretty long push up intervals (I get through 20 first interval, maybe 14 the second), and this is then followed with high plank knee to elbows which utterly flattens me. I can barely hold a plank after those push ups. I have been considering chucking the Upper Body Strength workout in once a week to help boost shoulder strength (on the lighter of the weekend days). Would that be too much (3 strength days/week)? Should I instead just replace the Friday strength workout with the Upper Body one (I find the leg workouts really easy even using heavier weights for the squats)? Or just keep going as it is?

Chris

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Hey @ChrisMTB,
You are spot on with this statement:
> I think the core and upper body strength is critical for off road riding
I believe you can add Upper Body A to your current plan. It’s totally okay if you need additional rest or modify moves initially. Don’t do this workout during your recovery weeks and you should be golden. Generally the Upper Body A session can be paired with an activation ride (like GOAT, an easy endurance, or recovery ride. Hope the helps…Cheers!

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From someone who’s back and upper body are still sore from Monday I can attest to this. Back to MTB and I’m wrecked. Been fine for months relatively
With my back but the offset legs descending thing just kills it

Ok so I guess I have to kick back into strength training again…been slacking and my 6 pack is the wrong kind :joy:

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I’m curious about lower back strength and some targeted exercises beyond those in the Suf strength training (I’m just about to Intermediate 6).

Lower back woes have been a longtime problem, and I’d like to do some targeted exercises to try to strengthen it up. Chalk it up to poor sitting posture, no doubt. I feel like I have great abdominal strength, but I am noticing that I struggle to keep my back straight on the bike, and after a while it’s quite sore. After about a million planks and quadrupeds, looking for something a little bit more. Just had a bike refit a few weeks ago, which didn’t help all that much. Physical therapy sounds like a good idea, but not till covid’s over…

Curious about what you all think.

Thanks!

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In my experience, lower back discomfort = poor hamstring flexibility. When I concentrate on hips and hamstrings from the yoga sessions, these always help alleviate the soreness (until I get lazy and the discomfort reappears after repeated brick sessions).

Not a physio or any sort of medical person so purely anecdotal. YMMV.

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Weak and tight hamstrings and weak/tight glutes are notorious sources of low back pain in cyclists. Also tight hip flexors. When doing the squat and bridges etc in the Suff strength program, really think about your glutes firing/activating. Try some single leg bridges too firing those glutes.

PT sorted me out well after almost literally crawling into their office

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Hi BikeGirl, the gym I go to has been closed since Covid. Like you, I tried to get a set of weights for home but no luck, so I started using resistance bands, and found them to be a great alternative to weights. The concept is a bit different then weights, but they are as effective and there are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube. However, I’d suggest asking one of the SUF coaches for advice on how to modify their plans to make the most of it. Good Luck!

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