Weights, Attitude & Rate of Perceived Exertion [RPE]
Slow Rollin’ & Strollin’, how can I be fit beyond fifty like this?
That is how I would best describe my summer of riding and running. I’ve been proud of my aging body and my level of fitness at fifty. And in previous years worked hard to increase my strength as the years tried to strip me of it. I’d get out of the saddle and climb my single speed aggressively on the trails in the northern Black Hills. Spin the rolling gravel to the north land, with mailbox sprints for power. And yes, even get on the trainer and worked VO2 max and anerobic via Trainer Road. Or, heaven help me, push dumbells as part of a strength reginem. Runs, however, were still slow times to enjoy the scenery of the trails around Spearfish.
In my first post for the page, Over Fifty & Counting, I introduced myself to you. My first post following that is about my re-engagement to pushing myself. At this age, not to new heights but in an attempt to stay relevant, be fit at fifty continue to take part in the things that bring me happiness.
Riding aggressively and running fast is hard
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was lazy this past summer. But pushing yourself is physically demanding. I wouldn’t say I was taking my fitness beyond fifty for granted. But life was hard lately and at times it felt easier to lie on the couch. Never mind getting up and trying to get out. Getting out was mental fitness, less about my physical fitness.
And yeah, it hurt. Funny thing is, being fifty and fit is not something your body really cares about. Staying strong required effort that only a few years earlier was still enjoyable. So here I was, not really in the greatest mindset, just happy to be outside, so in no mood to push myself. And did I say the stress on your body beyond moderate aerobic hurts? And that weights are just so much work for a guys who’s body seemed to be rebelling at every physical exersion? The longer this persisted, the harder it became to do it…. See the dilemma?
Staying fit at fifty and beyond
In the inaugural post for Over 50 & Counting, I gave a little background into myself. Relative to this post is that I no longer have podium hopes. Fitness to me is about doing more with family and the idea of still pushing further and faster for no other reason than the joy of accomplishment.
So with the goal in mind to change my riding and running habits I did a few things. First I spoke with a sports performance scientist who happens to live in my town and is a sometimes riding partner. I also looked into the web, as you are now. Lastly I thought back to my days of actually being what we’ll call fast. Three things came to the forefront; weights, single speed gearing & podcasts, and RPE [rate of perceived exertion]. This is a brief introduction to what I found and is what I’m implementing. Hopefully it will help you sort through the immense amount of information on the web and give you a starting point for your own path.
I hate lifting weights. It’s boring, it’s inside and it hard. There is no way you are getting me into a gym. But there is no reason I can’t a utilize a small dumbbell set and a bench. The bad thing about being old is you loose muscle mass, and if you limit your physical efforts it can be fast. The good thing, is that even with a limited weight routine you can gain some back and with dedication actually pick up soime mass. The more I read and thought about my own experience. I could say that some of the loss of mass was due to the fact that as I got older I put the weights down. Yes, age matters, but so does choices. We all read about muscle mass decreasing as we age, so it becomes a given in our minds and we accelerate it by putting down the weights.
Fitness at fifty requires weights. I now push dumbbells 2 times a week, for 25 minutes each session. Working with heavier weight with less reps… aaargh. It’s not cardio! Human Kinetics wrote a great piece on the benefits of weight training for people over fifty.
It’s been a couple of this for me and I definitely find myself performing better. And I might admit to actually enjoy the workouts.
Gearing & Podcasts
I ride a single speed mountain bike. A couple years ago I started to push a bigger gear. What that began to do was cause me to accept a grinding cadence on the long climbs of the Black Hills. That in turn continued to lower my heart rate and did nothing but slow me down in the end. Now that is specific to me. But you may be doing it too. A few years ago I began to see the rise in popularity of fat bikes in the summer with my flatland friends. The bikes are slower on dirt and allow for a cushy ride. I think, for those guys of my age, it was their way of giving into the myth of aging and slowing.
When you listen to podcasts, you are not going to focus on the level of effort needed to be fit at fifty if you are engrossed in story. Again, I think this was a subconscious way of accepting the ‘inevitable’. Listen to some inspiring music, only one earbud in while on trail please. Or better yet, leave the earbuds at home and enjoy the sound of your footfalls or the scream of your freehub on descents.
Get out and ride hard and fast. Push yourself on those climbs. Or maybe get in some good old fashioned high intensity workouts. This post, Fast After Fifty, is a great to start. It will take some time but riding & running hard will start to feel good again!
Rate of perceived exertion. Back a couple decades ago I used to live in Phoenix AZ. I focused a lot on trail running in the mountain preserves around the city then and was pretty quick. Thinking back on that time, I had no heart rate monitor and when asked how I set my pace on the varying terrain I replied, ‘it’s all how I feel’. I had no idea what RPE was at the time. Only that my body was giving me signals and I’d feel it acceptable to push harder or back off the pace. We all know the ‘talk test’ as a way of gauging what our heart rate might be. I didn’t use that back then but did go on skin sensations, breath, my head space, etc.
RPE has been my greatest help in staying fit over fifty and even getting back some of my lost speed. I had let myself get comfortable with my heart rate monitor and the idea that I was getting out, still riding and running, so that was good. The watch told me that I was in my aerobic zone so that was good and why should I suffer? I had lost the edge and enjoyment of accomplishment when I pushed myself.
Chris Carmichael’s CTS has a great post on using rate of perceived exertion that I encourage you to read.
Physical fitness at fifty looks alot like fitness at any other age
That’s true, at least the way I look at it. Being healthy takes work, being fit and strong takes hard work. That was true when we were 20 & 30 and it still is as we are living the back half of our lives. The goals have shifted, as have expectations but the work that needs to be put in still exists.
As for the expectations, don’t fall into the trap of loaccepting them based on the current wisdom of aging. As I said previously, I understand the physical realities of aging. But I do think I accelerated them with a mindset that was accepting of it as inevitable.
Getting slower and becoming weaker is inevitable, we should accept that as we age there will be more and more things we can no longer do. But this is not a direct path, this is a narative that can be altered and ammended.
I’m no longer going to hate the physical demands of tempo runs or or the physical soreness of pushing weights. I did it 25yrs ago, enjoyed it and was proud of my results. Why shouldn’t it be the same now?
How are you going to choose to age?