Ask a coach: ‘I'm over 50, are there any indoor workouts I should avoid?’

Here’s how you can get the most from indoor training as you get older

Male cycling over 50 riding indoors
(Image credit: Future)

There are so many indoor cycling workouts to choose from - but are there any that you should avoid as you get older? With most questions in the realms of coaching and physiology, ‘it depends’ often ends up being the ultimate answer - and that applies somewhat in this case too. Cycling coach Alex Welburn is on hand to explore exactly what it depends on!

Alex Welburn
Alex Welburn

Performance cycling coach Alex Welburn is one of the experts who will be answering your questions in Cycling Weekly's Ask a Cycling Coach series, online every Wednesday. He's currently completing a PhD on Critical power and W' at Loughborough University whilst also managing the Performance Project, in which he coaches athletes and provides consultation.

What to consider

As a side note, I have had the pleasure of working with a few over 50-year-old ultra-endurance riders who won the 24-hour mountain world championships and there wasn’t anything we specifically avoided. 

Whilst there isn’t a session I wouldn’t recommend, there are some important considerations I would advise you to give some thought to. Make sure a session is within your physical capabilities - you don’t want to think I’m not going to complete this session as you won’t enjoy it. Also, it is more than likely that you will start to avoid that style of session. 

For example, with 30s on, 30s off cycling sessions (which are quite intense) start with a number of intervals which are fully within your capabilities. Then, as you build up confidence, you can increase the number of intervals and then the intensity of them. This is actually a good tip for anyone when it comes to choosing indoor workouts.

Use it or lose it: the benefits of gym work

With muscle, it is very much a case of ‘use it or lose it’. One of the common things we observe with master’s athletes is a decline in type II muscle. This is what we call your ‘fast twitch’ or your ‘sprint’ fibers. This is one of the main confounding reasons you may feel you have lost your kick, or your short-range explosive powers have declined. 

It can be due to the decline in type two muscle fiber types as mentioned, but this decline can also be due to the lack of training that evokes the use of these fibers with a sufficient stimulus to minimize decline and/or promote growth.

Strength training in the gym isn’t just about mimicking what you do on the bike, it's about creating strength development which then links in with the training you are doing.  I would break this into two parts: strength and power, thinking about how much you can lift.

If you are new to the gym, I would always recommend going through a general conditioning phase, whereby you start reasonably light. If it is just the bar that is absolutely fine. If it's just 2.5kg that is also fine! Getting used to the movement and thereby improving technique reduces the risk of injury, hence moving with good form is very important. If you are unsure, there will be strength and conditioning coaches who can show you how to do so correctly - something I would advocate. 

Along with gym work, I would advocate an explosive session, where your muscles will contract at maximal contractile speed. This can be in the form of box jumps, lunge jumps, etc.

Indoor cycling sessions to focus on

Male cycling over 50 riding indoors

(Image credit: Future)

Nevertheless, with that being said, there are some indoor sessions you may want to consider. VO2 max declines with age. It is normal, but we can slow this down via doing VO2 efforts, there are two typical styles sustained where you complete 3-5 minutes of effort at around your 5-8 minutes max power or your intermittent style efforts such as 20 seconds on 10 seconds recovery. 

Considering we want to try and fire those type II muscle fibers, having some sprint sessions will certainly help, which can be from sprints where you are in the optimal gear - or you can go over geared efforts forcing you to get those legs up to speed. Or even the opposite, where you are in a much easier gear and it’s all about leg speed! 

Collectively, if you are in good health, there are no typical sessions which I would suggest you avoid. I would take a holistic view of your training: what your goals are, and what your strengths and weaknesses are and ensure everything is focused on that. 

As I mentioned, there are other elements to consider such as minimising the decline of muscle mass and VO2 MAX, considering gym-based work, which is not just for the bike for the longevity of your health and most importantly enjoying it, all whilst ensuring your nutritional requirements are met as well. Overall, there isn’t anything in particular I would suggest you avoid, but consider the fundamentals that I have mentioned, and enjoy your time on the bike!

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