Cyclists: What More Strength Buys You After 50

If you’re like me, the number of hours of cardio on my Peloton and my mountain bike make me feel like I’m doing enough. How are we supposed to fit in gym time?

So it’s winter and you’re cranking at the miles on your trainer getting your cardio you feel good but lately you wonder if that’s enough if you’re really checking all the boxes and so you go looking for [Applause] [Music] answers and you’re going to find answers but this is not one of those videos cuz you know what those videos are not for us once you hit middle age it’s time to change your Search terms.

Once we hit middle age whether the pro strength train or not really doesn’t matter – they’re playing a different game and if you’re thinking “I’ve been doing this for a while I’m good” Hold up! This impacts you too.

Things change after 50.

On the one hand if we want to be on cycling trips in our 80s we have to be strong now, it’s as simple as that. We have to be okay carving out time from cycling for strength that’s non-negotiable at our age. We have to lift heavy weights but on the other hand trying to do the right thing with the wrong form could sideline you in ways that actually shorten your life well that sounds a bit dramatic well stick around the stakes are high I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news but most importantly as I approach my own oneyear strength training anniversary well far from an expert with all the research I’ve done since I realized that I managed to totally Forrest Gump my way into a really really good safe efficacious approach. An approach that combines strength and stability and balance okay should we get the bad news out of the way we’re losing muscle mass we lose anywhere from 3 to 8% of our muscle mass each decade.

Let’s read this from Outlive:

“an 80-year-old man will have about 40% less muscle tissue in his quad than he did at 25”

But if you think loss of muscle mass is bad hang on to your hat here’s Dr Andy Galpin professor of kinesiology at Cal State and pretty much the go-to on strength and performance these days:

“so people will tend to hear numbers like you lose about 1% of muscle size per year after age about 40 and that’s true however what they don’t realize is you lose about 2 to 4% of your strength per year so the loss of strength is almost double that the loss of muscle mass with aging muscle power is more like 8 to 10% per year and so we can very clearly see the problem you’re going to have with aging is not going to be preservation of muscle although that is incredibly important it’s going to be very specifically preservation of muscle power and strength”

And to drive this home here’s Dr Peter Attia:

“how much of a hazard ratio do these bring to you in terms of all cause mortality they’re they’re quite big you know hypertension is about a 20% uh type 2 diabetes is about a 30% increase in mortality smoking is 50% uh increase being weak relative to being strong is about 250%.”

Here’s what my 56-year-old self would tell my 25-year-old self if she could:

Get in the gym and build some damn muscle! … oh and buy Apple stock 😉

Because another bad thing is happening in parallel to muscle loss your bones are getting weaker for women and men but particularly for women postmenopause. Our bone density or bone strength peaks in our 20s which is a bummer to learn when you’re in your 50s or 60s but you can retain and even build bone later in life.

Here’s how that happens:

“the key is how much can you slow the rate of decline and nothing is more important for that than load-bearing activity and in fact it needs to be you know heavy load-bearing activity walking does not count as load-bearing activity uh running certainly better than swimming or cycling where you’re not bearing load but none of those compare to strength training”

Did you catch that? As cyclists we’re not bearing load our bikes are bearing the load and it’s not just muscle bone loss we’re fighting,

Our brain-body connection starts to decay

The term for this is proprioception.

So here’s how I think of it: imagine your jet cruising at 30,000 ft the cockpit is like your brain with all its screens and buttons controlling the autopilot receiving feedback from sensors on the wing and the tail the fuel all these inputs help it keeps it altitude and attitude and keep it from suddenly nose diving and hurling towards the ground but if for some reason that were to happen the inputs would alert you to pull up pull up and keep your eyes on and regain control well our body our joints skin muscles tendon Etc are all sending signals to our brain but as we age that connection decays and we start to fall more and as cyclists we’re so fit we might think well this isn’t going to happen to me, in our new email The Signal this week I’m sharing a personal story on this.

Building muscle mass after 50 is hard

And that kind of sucks for those of us just getting the message now but build muscle and strength we must because here’s what happens after 50:

“but when you think about the physical decline a person experiences from 20 to 30 and then 30 to 40 and then 40 to 50 most people are like yeah I kind of got a handle on that on what they don’t realize is that the rate of decline is going much it’s just it’s it’s accelerating so dramatically and what you do from 50 to 60 to 70 is amazing now again people who have you know been able to watch their parents’ age or have spent enough time around people who are elderly will realize that if you don’t put an astronomical amount of work into it the decline that occurs between 60 and 70 and 80 is from another world.”

I’m building a case here is it working? Let me know in the comments.

I’ve been at this twice a week for about a year and according to my garmin watch my muscle mass is now… down 6 lb. And by the way we’re going to put that metric to a real deal test in an upcoming video so stay tuned on that one.

So is it all for nothing? Hell no but we’ll get to that.

What took me so long? Well you might relate to this – as a mountain biker I convinced myself that it was cardio and strength.

I mean have you seen my trails? 😉

But of course it’s not I just didn’t want to go down to the gym.

The gym that’s in my building.

Head coach Chris Carmichael at CTS calls it The Cyclist’s Paradox.

Cyclists have extremely well-developed aerobic engines yet very underdeveloped musculoskeletal systems for any sport other than cycling.

As time crunched athletes we choose the bike but as he says lifelong cyclists end up with severely underdeveloped upper body stress strength.

“Cyclists are incredible athletes as far as endurance goes but a great deal is when fight like little bitches.” – Mike Tyson

Look – it might serve Jonas Vingegaard to have arms like this, but down the road it becomes a legit hazard. We need strength and mobility from our neck to our toes.

I know lifelong cyclists that still believe that we shouldn’t put any muscle mass on up here but we’re on the ultimate century ride now, and we need all the strength and muscle that we could get.

Okay so we’re about to Summit the Col de Bad News:

Injuries become catastrophic

So we’re losing muscle mass and bone strength along with it… oh and don’t forget your brain isn’t quite as on it as it used to be so we tend to fall more and when we do it’s worse than just being sidelined and having to look at all the great pics of the cafe stop your friends just posted on Strava.

Being sidelined is a big deal; the data really sucks on this.

Here’s Dr Galpin again:

“So in order to pick up your grandkids you need to not be in the hospital right you need to be not living in a assisted living home you know what puts people in a assisted living home falling and breaking hip the connection between morbidity mortality with a hip break is extraordinary after the age of 60 it’s not even 90 it is 60 is um reason large reason people fall is they actually don’t have foot speed what do you mean if you catch yourself your toe on the corner or you slip you have to have the foot speed to be able to put your other foot or that foot back out in front of you in the proper position then you have to have the Ecentric strength to stop that fall and so I need foot speed to get there and I need Ecentric stength to brace the fall so you don’t land and break your hip that’s what’s going to keep you playing with your kids when you’re 60.”

A study of people with an average age of 67 found that after just 10 days of bed rest which is about what a person would experience from a major illness or Orthopedic injury study participants lost an average of 3.3 lbs of lean mass or or muscle.

That’s substantial and it shows just how dangerous inactivity can be especially when you remember that putting muscle on after 50 is hard.

Think of it like a cascade – it takes so little time to lose muscle strength when you’re sidelined. And then maybe the injury haunts you and affects your movement and maybe even your confidence and either you can’t get out on your bike or you don’t want to, you start losing your aerobic fitness and your VO2 Max starts declining. We talked about that all important metric in our last video.

And then you stop seeing your friends at the group ride and your life gets a bit smaller. It seems ridiculous but that one thing can send you on a life-limiting trajectory.

Well this is a bit depressing you want to hit the gym with me or are you ready for the good news because there’s just so much good news if we make time for strength!

Ah time… I get it there’s only so many hours in the week for training and riding outside so maybe if you trade an hour or two of cardio for strength you may be okay with that once you realize:

It will make you a better cyclist

I noticed after just a few months that I had a new gear on my technical mountain bike climbs. Here’s certified personal trainer Derek teal with Trainer Road:

“In a nutshell it makes your muscle stronger, it helps you produce more force. Now it also makes you more efficient with your power transfer so the force that you can produce is actually usable if you are training total body and training your core using equipment to just Hammer your legs like a leg press over and over and over again is great for force production but if you have an unstable body that can’t translate it to the bike then you’re like a cannon on a canoe.

I mean we all know your quads are the dominant driving force of knee extension pedal pedal stroke itself, but they could be working harder than they need to be if your hamstrings are dormant so you want to make sure that your hamstrings are strong that they’re activated and able to keep up with what your quads are doing so that you can use all of the available muscle that you have this is really muscle efficiency for a lot of people with overused quads it could come in the form of patella tendinitis. If you have a low back that’s trying to do the work that your abs should be doing then it could result in low back pain.

Those are the things that come through when you don’t have a well-rounded training program and there’s just so many of those things that you can’t do on the bike.

As much as I wish that you could, you cannot do it because of the position that you’re in.

Strength training makes you less prone to overuse injuries it also makes you less prone to acute injuries and when you train in different planes of motion let’s just say laterally for example you are more durable to withstand an impact that you don’t expect.

Let’s just say you’re cornering and you hit a pothole and it’s very jarring these are things that tweak people on the bike all the time you when you have a well-rounded program and a healthy body these things happen less often.”

So more power, more efficiency, but as Derek mentioned when we strength train we’re less likely to develop repetitive use injuries. According to this meta analysis, strength training reduced sports injuries to less than one third and overuse injuries could be almost halved.

Think about that you are 2/3 less likely to get injured and about half as likely to get an overuse injury.

That reminds me of a comment on a GCM video I read a while back and it really stuck with me he said:

But I think stopping is the greater threat.

According to Dr Attia:

“nothing correlates with health span more than those two things”

And here’s the great news on falling: that brain Body Connection when you strength train those signals to your brain can be repaired and strengthed you can get it back! Yay!

So not only are you less likely to fall if you do trip your strength and improved stability will likely save you and if not you’re going to have what Peter Attia calls a suit of armor – stronger bones and musculature that will protect you.

And on the topic of our brains,

Strength training is associated with a 70% less chance of Alzheimer’s disease

Here’s Dr Attia:

“when we see that the top 10% of people with grip strength compared to the bottom 10% of people with grip strength have a 70% less chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease and a 70% chance of dying from Alzheimer’s disease it’s not because grip strength by itself protects your brain it’s because those people by definition are doing so much more physically and it’s the doing part that is protecting their brain”

And this study by Yael Netz in Frontiers and Medicine found that while both cardio and strength improve neuroplasticity (or how our brains rewire new pathways) it’s the intensity and complexity of strength and stability training that provides specific advantages.

But that’s not all.

I mentioned it’s hard but not impossible to grow more muscle mass after 50 but when we strength train not only can we hang on to the muscle mass we still have, we will get so much stronger.

I may have a complete lack of muscle mass gain after a year but I’m definitely stronger!

You’ve got to check this out: this is the LIFTMOR study from Australia:

As we get older all this strength training will help us to look younger because as my own trainer Roshan taught me, “we live life forward”. We’re hunched at our desks looking at screens on our bikes, in the gym, we balance it out by working our back muscles pulling our scaps back into place making sure our shoulders are strong and stable, and the outcome of all this we look younger.

We can’t do much about this (well technically we can) but I swear I’m not doing it. I’m not doing that.

But when we’re not pitched forward like this (common for men) or this (common for women) we just look good. And on top of that, I feel like a well oiled machine these days; all those ass-to-the grass squats reaching extending while pulling and stability exercises are making me feel fluid. I really notice it on our sunrise walks. I can sprint to make a light and it just feels great. It’s the other part of the one to exercise punch required to age well to claim what I like to call the Bonus Years.

Here’s Peter Attia and Dr Lane Norton:

“And when you show somebody this graph because it’s so pronounced I’ve never seen a person who doesn’t just stop in their tracks because they cannot believe how much morbidity and mortality results from falling. And frailty… once you reach about the age of 70, 75 I mean the data is there to back it up. They’ve done these meta analyses of mortality showing that your lean body mass is inversely proportional to your risk of mortality so the hazard ratio for being strong to not strong is about 3.2 for all-cause mortality. Which is a big hazard ratio, it’s a freaking staggering hazard ratio.

Just the amount of benefit you will get from three times a week 30 to 40 minutes of resistance training will be unbelievable in terms of of your level of fitness and your ability to live a long healthy life.”

I love that.

But before you drop in and give me 20, even if you’ve been lifting for years what you ask yourself this: why does Peter AA have a trainer? He’s been lifting since he was like 14, so why are his new patients asked to stop strength training? Well Peter Attias= doesn’t just have a personal trainer he has a movement and strength coach because before we can build strength we need to move.

We need stability in our joints we need to work on balance, and guess what? Balance can be trained. When Peter met his coach Beth Lewis, she asked him to show her a squat and to his shock she gave him a failing grade. He was listening to one side kicking off a six-month hiatus from lifting any weight while they rebuilt his form.

He had to go backwards to go forwards.

I was lucky enough to have a friend first tried me into strength training at all and then he recommended a firm that he used after he hurt himself in the gym in retrospect I totally lucked out; I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

My coach Roshan is also a movement and strength trainer; they’re out there he has us doing what Beth has Peter doing.

“Okay… that sounds spendy”

Yeah I get it. I was determined not to spend any money on this but you know what costs more? Physio. Even worse, (and this is playing out in my own family) down the road things like stairlifts, home care, assisted living… trust me this pales in comparison.

We need to think of it as an investment in ourselves; one with like enormous payback. But you want to kick this off the right way.

So I mentioned that I managed to totally Forest Gump my way into a really good safe but effective situation so here’s what I think you want to look for as you search for both a movement and strength specialist. First of all they should have a really robust intake form. They want to know all about you – how you live your goals, your fitness injuries, diet etc and your job is to think hard about your goals. Yes on the bike but also what you’re training for later in life in your 80s and 90s. What do you want your life to look like specifically?

Next they should require a movement assessment with you that they film and photograph so that they can study where you’re strong where you’re weak where you may be compensating this is why AAS patients are asked to stop strength training they want to assess their movement patterns first if you’ve been strength training for years it may be time to get a pro to take you through this to see where you stand or maybe how you stand this is how they’ll formulate a strength and stability prescription based on your movement assessment we all have different starting lines yes we must lift heavy weights in time.

Take Glen and me. I fully expected him to be stronger than me but what I did not expect is I wouldn’t even pick up a weight for a couple of months. I had ‘valgus’ knee – when I did my squats my knees caved in my legs were not as strong as I thought they’d be so my squats started with a band as I’ve mentioned before I’ve had a high hamstring injury for years before I could get near a deadlift Roshan helped me to work on range of motion or I’d be off the bike for sure.

And by the way just learning proper deadlift technique is so important, it’s super complex and the last thing you want is to hear a pop in your back.

Listen to Beth and Peter talk about eccentric strength:

“I’ve always kind of equated to like a sports car with no brakes goes super fast but that’s not great if you can’t stop yourself. So like I’ll see it a lot with like big strong dudes they’ll do a body weight split squat and just crash to the ground because they have no eccentric control. And that’s a body control thing too just being able to control that descent”

Next, a good coach will know when it’s time to progress to weight to more weight, to new exercises, more reps it’s so helpful early on and a good coach will also have you work on stability there’s lots of strength trainers out there but we’re looking for someone who integrates stability it’s just so key as we get older keeping our feet and toes moving properly our connection with the ground making sure our spines function fully so that movement happens where it should keeping joints strong and moving well a good coach will introduce you to all kinds of stability and balance exercises.

And here’s a pro tip: if your strength and stability coach isn’t taking notes, or isn’t taking pictures consider finding one that does. Think about it – they’re working with so many clients every day and in the course of a week how on earth are they going to remember how you made out with your deadlift last week? Mine did, Beth does, but I see trainers in my own gym who are just yelling give me one more!

Here’s a great tip from an old guy: the co-author of this book noted that once you’re in the second half your coach will probably be a lot younger than you so only you know how things feel so you’re ultimately in charge of you.

And here’s a tip from me: digging into this stuff continually blows my mind and we’re sharing the best bite-size did not know that research in our new email The Signal. It’s also blowing my mind how many of you have already joined us so happy to have you guys on this ride with us okay that’s it see you next time!