Over the many years I have been coaching I have seen many different methodologies and philosophies proposed to optimise training. These ideas have continually evolved and with the widespread use of heart rate monitors and more recently power meters we have been able to quantify what is needed in terms of the correct intensities to train certain energy systems, measure improvements in performance as well as track training load and recovery.
These tools have allowed us to better understand what creates the adaptations we are looking to elicit and can be used on all riders from club D grade to World Tour riders and from juniors to masters.
Firstly we need to understand that as we get older there are many physiological changes that occur to affect our performance. For years research backed up the belief that an athletes aerobic capacity (VO2max) declined with age. Initially most research suggested that once we were past 30 years of age that our VO2max declined at a rate of between 5 – 10% every decade. The reasons for the decline in VO2max could be attributed to reduced function both centrally (heart and lungs) and peripherally (what is happening at the muscles). It has been proposed that the initial losses in VO2max were from declining central function and then once past 60 years of age the losses were more peripheral and due to impairments in skeletal muscle function and the extraction and utilisation of oxygen at the muscle.
Understanding that up until we are around 60 years old that most of our loss in VO2max (aerobic function) is central is hugely important to us to understand what type of training we should be doing to keep these central losses to a minimum and for us to continue to ride at our very best.
Right then, what does this mean to us as masters riders regarding what sort of training we should be doing? Basically we should be making sure we target sessions that optimise our central adaptations and these are high intensity interval sessions in the high threshold and VO2 intensity range. These sessions are not easy to complete and therefore take us out of our comfort zone cruising along in that endurance/tempo range that so many of us default to for most of our riding.
Again a common mistake for the older athlete is to reduce the intensity and up the volume and most just roll out for the club coffee shop ride. These are great for the social aspect of our sport and should always be included in the weeks riding schedule, but, we must include harder high intensity sessions to make sure we slow down the decline in VO2max.
Getting the balance of how many of these harder high intensity sessions to include in our schedule weekly or monthly can be a bit of a juggling act especially if you haven’t been used to training at this intensity for some time. If we assume that for most masters riders getting out and getting the kms in has not been a problem we could be confident that general aerobic condition and training load is sufficient to handle some solid intensity. In this case you could initially add one VO2 session into the first four weeks of a schedule and these sessions would be stacked towards the front end of the week after a recovery day. The reason for this is that to get the most from these higher intensity efforts our body systems need to be fresh and recovered enough from the previous block of training to reach the intensity needed to create the adaptations we are looking for. You could also start these sessions with relatively short duration intervals as the longer the interval length the more mentally and physically taxing the efforts are. Look to target 3 to 5 x 2-3 minute efforts gradually building through the first month by adding an interval each week or gradually increasing the duration of the interval. To target these efforts most effectively it is best to use a power meter and these VO2 intervals should be completed at between 105 – 120% of the rider’s current Functional
A good concept to think about when completing these efforts is, if you think you have started the effort too hard then you most definitely have. If you think you have started the effort just right, then you have probably still stated the effort too hard. If you think you have started the effort too easy, then you have probably started just about right. During a three minute VO2 interval the first 90 seconds should feel hard, but, achievable. Once past the 90 seconds you should start to see your heart rate elevate into high threshold and you will be thinking “can I complete another 90 seconds at this pace”? At the end of the three minutes you will be fighting the effort and your breathing should be ragged and not fully controlled. After an equal recovery period to the length of the effort, three minutes for instance, you will start another VO2 interval. During each subsequent interval you should notice that your heart rate will rise into the desired zone (100 – 105% threshold heart rate THR) more easily.
At Today’s Plan we have reduced the THR% slightly over previously documented levels, over the years I have found that this still creates great adaptation from the athletes completing the sessions, but, with a reduced risk of overreaching and overtraining in the long term. In the second month you could add a couple of VO2 interval sessions into a week. You could complete them on a Tuesday in a structured hill repeat session and then on a Saturday bunch ride by dropping off the back of the bunch and chasing on – or attacking off the front and holding them at bay for the desired time duration. Aim to try and get between 10 – 25 mins of time in the VO2 range during these sessions.
Another thing to consider as a masters rider is recovery, when hitting higher intensity efforts it is vitally important to recover from the efforts before launching into more hard training. Focus on the quality and less on the volume and look to hit the hard sessions harder than ever before and the easy sessions easier than ever before. Well then what are you waiting for? Improved performance and continual PB’s are still possible—you just have to get stuck into some quality hard training give it a go and see just what a difference it makes. Challenge what you are able to do and step outside the comfort zone of endurance and tempo riding.