Getting old sucks. Some people really want to make sure that you know that fact when you’re young. So much so, that it can make you wonder, what can be done to prevent aging from sucking so much.
Rowan Minnion, a 44-year-old mountain biker, researcher, exercise physiologist, and the founder of the supplement company Blonyx has a few ideas, after thorough research on the topic and going through the annual motions himself. We caught up with Minnion to hear out his recommendations. Since one of life’s few guarantees is death, we might as well try to make the space and the rides before that mile marker as comfortable as possible.
Where does it hurt?
“The changes I noticed most, it’s along the kind of injury and recovery route. It seems that my body gets beat up a little bit more for the same level of activity I would do ten years ago, 15-20 years ago, kind of thing. I just wouldn’t feel as beat up.” That’s not on every ride, he says. Usually the big weekend rides, or a jaunt down an epic descent are when he starts to notice.
“But, it’s how you feel after, you know. The kind of aches and that kind of thing, and you really just feel like you have lethargy the next day and those aches, and when you go back to bike the next day, you just don’t have it, or have the same strength for those punchy climbs.” It’s a marked difference from his rides twenty years ago.
“When I was younger, and especially in my 20s, I wouldn’t be affected by that. I would get up and go the next day. No problem.” That doesn’t mean the rides on a bike trip are one and done. Minnion says, you just have to be a little more careful. “If you do have two, three days of riding ahead, don’t go all out on the first day.”
Another area Minnion feels has been impacted by age is balance and reaction time.
“And this is interesting and this is where the science has come into this. Reaction speed and balance is something that can start to fall away as you get older. And I definitely find that if I’m fatigued from the day before riding, that on my next day, I’m a little bit slower. My reaction time is a little bit slow and it takes me a little while to get my balance going.”
Minnion believes that reaction time and balance are more closely related to strength and muscle condition, and we’ll dive into that topic soon. Though it seems like cardiovascular performance would also take a considerable hit in later years, that might not always be the case.
“So, I think you can still build your cardiovascular fitness and a lot of people say that as you get older, you do lose cardiovascular fitness and there’s research to show that, but there’s also research to show that you can actually keep it where it is and even improve it. You’ve just got to put the training time in. It’s a whole lot like, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ But if you do use it frequently you actually keep it.”
Elasticity vs. rigidity
Over time, static positions, like the time spent behind a desk can add up, as do injuries, and form imbalances. “And, I think that when you’re older, you pay for that a lot. And biking is one of them. With biking, you’re in this body position that is quite static,” he says, “and what I found as I get older is I get punished for that.”
Unfortunately, riding, like sitting at a desk is not the best position for a good posture. In both seats, the person is hunched over with shoulders bowing in. That calls for extra attention and stretching.
“So, the thing that I focus on, for me are retraction, the shoulders strengthening and stretching, to kind of bring them back, so I’ve got a better kind of upper shoulder posture.
“And the other one is hips, and especially in my hip flexors.” Minnion pays more attention to his hamstrings and posterior chain, because with sitting and riding, the hamstrings and posterior muscles can become less active than the quadriceps and hip flexors. Over the past few years, he’s worked to train for balanced strength and mobility.
“And that has been a real game changer. I’d recommend that any biker get bands that you can hang from your door handle or something like that where you’re just pulling and doing a bunch of pulling work and stretching out as well.”
Taking fewer risks
The adage is as old an excuse as time itself: “I’m too old for this.” As Minnion noted above, the recovery time for crashing typically lengthens when people get older. That might mean that it’s easier for some to dismiss features that they used to ride when they were younger. Risk is relevant to everyone’s perception of danger, however, and their skillset.
“You know, this is a really interesting question. And it kind of depends, like, I go bigger on my mountain bike and go down scarier stuff than I ever have in my life; now. And I’m like, you know, I’m 44 and I’m in the bike park, hitting Dirt Merchant and A-line, and trails like that. But I know, three, four years ago, I looked at them, and thought ‘I’ll never be able to do that.’ And I’m not really sure how they came about.”
That doesn’t mean he’s more of a daredevil as he’s gotten older. Minnion admits he has a greater fear of injury, but can manage it. Mountain biking can promote a culture of dare, and a “If you do it, I’ll do it” mentality. “I think the bottom line is, I have to wrestle with it a lot more to stay and take those risks and push myself biking.”
Minnion sees his friends in the other boat occasionally though, who don’t want to take the risks that they used to and just aren’t interested in pushing the limit anymore. “I put it down as them having other priorities in life, they can’t get out to ride as much and so it’s like preserving that.” Usually, they are just out to ride and have fun.
Training for youth
Minnion has some excellent (in my opinion) advice for keeping your agility, balance, and reaction speed in check as you age. It involves playing, on and off the bike, and seemingly practicing skills for the sake of fun or even to pass time on a rainy day.
“As a mountain biker, spend time on skinnies and stuff like that and actually practice. It’s that fine tuning that you do when you’re on wood work and I think it really helps your general riding,” he says. “That’s one, and the other one interestingly is play video games. It’s something that I never had done – and I still don’t play video games that much – I did as a kid, and I’m gonna start getting back into it now and I’ve read this research about doing it and saying that, like anything, your reaction speed and time slows down if you don’t use it all that much. But, playing video games is a really great way of getting your hand-eye coordination really fine tuned.”
Strength training also helps tremendously, says Minnion. “[By] going in and at least twice a week doing heavy squats, heavy deadlifts, shoulder press, all this kind of stuff that is pure strength, there’s a lot of research that in general if you’re aging and if you want athletic performance, strength training is something you really need to bring in as you get older and because it’s one of the first things to start to decline.”
If he had to recommend one thing on riding more as an older person, it would be this: “I think, prioritize it. Aging and how it impacts your riding, I do think it’s about how much you do it. As you get older, you’ve got so much more going on in your life. I run a company, I’ve got two kids and things like that, that really do take up your time. And if you don’t prioritize mountain biking or whatever sport it is you have, you simply do it less.”
Great article, here’s a bit of my story for encouragement (hopefully):
At 68, I still ride and ride hard. What I notice is that each year I’m a little slower, especially on longer rides – holding just under 6 mph on most trips. I take less risks, but still do what’s appropriate for my skill level.
I ride mostly solo, but also with groups of 30-somethings and I co-coach a middle/high school interscholastic team.
Two years ago (2019) I did the Vermont50 as a 65+ Novice and I took second to a 70 year old! 🙂
I plan to ride as long as God gives me the strength to do so – and that means riding as hard as I can. I have an MTB “short course” (about 1/8 of a mile) to practice skills on my property and I ride three to four times a week (sometimes more) for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half on most of those rides. Longer rides happen only if I can find someone to ride with.
I do feel the aches more, and healing takes longer – especially because I am usually back on the bike too soon. I also deal with chronic fatigue from an accident 18 years ago. I have a compromised left arm so strength training for me is “interesting” and difficult – but any training helps keep my body stronger.
At the age of 70, I’d say that a 44 year old is middle-aged but not old. I’ve noted a few differences in the past few years.
1) I realize that the one way I could really screw my life up, or potentially wind up in assisted care living, is to get a serious injury. I’m more careful.
2) My main goal now is to have fun. For me that means enjoying the scenery and the time outdoors. After a long Montana winter just the feel of sun on my back is great. Fitness is something I need in order to have fun, but it’s not the primary goal anymore.
3) Fitness gains come more slowly for the same amount of work. And injuries take much longer to get better.
There’s one other difference – I usually ride alone now. Many of my friends have just quit for one reason or another, and younger people often have different goals. I keep hearing that you should always ride with others in the backcountry, but for many of us that’s just not an option. The one thing I do to make it just a bit safer is to carry a SPOT device I can trigger if needed.
Again, 44 is NOT old.
I guess age is relative, yeah? For someone who is 70, 44 is not old. To a 15-year-old, 44 is probably old. The point to talk to Rowan wasn’t to host a grand-ol-man of mountain biking, but to talk to someone who has experienced aging (and related symptoms, which are close to what you mentioned), and also has the perspective of an exercise physiologist and someone who is very familiar with the research.
I am 63 and ride multiple times a week. My biggest enemies as I get older are keeping weight off, early fatigue and loss of endurance. Yes, it really does suck to get old. I don’t have a lot of aches and pains but, healing does take longer. Risk taking is relative. I will go for it if I am in the zone and usually succeed. I have not noticed much loss of balance…yet.
Always fun to read about aging and its affect on physical activity. I’m 63, and while years ago I was in triathlon and other competitive endurance sports, I now find the greatest joy in simply rolling along through the woods on my hard tail. The gnarly descents, drops and skinnies give me enough challenge to maintain my reaction times, reflexes and balance. The long climbs make me work my heart and lungs. What I don’t get on the trails I get in the gym with common-sense strength training, including row exercises for posture and lunge variations for hip strength. At my age I have to think about keeping my body in one piece and out of the hospital, but in the meantime I’m having more fun than most guys half my age. Even if I am slower, I’ll keep riding until the day I die.
At 64 my reaction time is still good – can keep up with the best of them. But fatigue and risk of injury goes way up. I had to quit riding motorcycles after over 50 years of it, the risk of injury or death is just too high. MTB’s don’t reach the speeds of motorized cycles, obviously.
THE very best thing to come along for older MTB riders is electric assist. I have two Giant eMTB’S and just LOVE going out on them. It’s got to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on. 🙂
I’m 66 and I would concur with most of the suggestions given. We mountain bike summers and fall around the western states and kiteboard in MX Nov-May. I do strength training year round and consider biking my cardio HIIT workout.
I am willing to draw blood but I draw the line at broken bones, successfully so far. I will push myself hard on intermediate level trails but will not be doing any dicey drops. I didn’t start riding until age 61 so I’m always looking for a balance between progressing my skills and avoiding serious injury. The physical benefits of being able to continue riding are too great to risk losing them with a debilitating injury.
Great article and discussion. I am 68 physically and about 30 mentally. I ride 3-4 times a week and ride with a much younger crowd. Like Ken Harris I coach an interscholastic mtn bike team (NICA). At 63 I finished the Butte 50 race. Downhill I am still a bit stupid but my climbing has really been hit. All those old injuries add up. I figure if I do not get too stupid I am good to 75. Staying with it is the key. Work out through the winter (I bought a NordicTrack stationary bike this winter, a life saver) and no long breaks in exercise. At 40 I could slack off in the winter and get back in shape quickly in the spring. No more. With age you have to stay with it. Let’s hear it from the old farts that like to scold the kids on a ride!
Pfft! 58, post heart surgery, scoliosis and a few other issues… Yus, I keep going just because, because bikes are awesome!
My bikes are my therapy, simple as that!
Disciplines are Trials! Trials, XC, dirt rippin’ and the freeride/DH scene is in the rearview.
Strange that so many commenters are missing the forest for the trees.
If you are scoffing because Mr. Minnion is 44, pretend his age is 84.
It doesn’t change his suggestions.
if you disagree with the suggestions, let’s hear why.
First a person should know their limitations and if improvement is a goal obviously a person should know if improvement is achievable. Either way do try and make it your golden years and not your rusty years and with good habits and consistency one should be able to ride well into older ages. What is old? For me it ten years older than I am at any given age. When ever standing for several minutes practice the one leg balancing act, when near a counter top do a few standing pushups, use time wisely it works. Look for excuses to go for a bike ride -vs- excuses not to.
Yeah… if Rowan thinks 44 is bad… just wait until 60. This is a good article for someone in their 40’s but I can only add (as others have above) – avoid injury.
Aging really lengthens the recovery time. I had a typical geezer injury and took off a month. It took me 3 months to get back into peak shape. 3 months. I feel that is the most frustrating part of being geez’d.
Oh… and avoid the geezer races. The only geezers still out there are the elite geezes, the rest are in the geezer homes or dead.
I’m 56, fractured my neck run (2) places at age 49 while going 1-2 MPH on a roller I should have dropped at speed. Recovery went well and I’ve been going full bore ever since. I ride harder than ever and while I don’t suck 30 foot gaps, I ride MUCH more technical terrain than I previously did…at speed. I moved to a mountain town 6 months ago and now ride 4+ days a week and it’s pure Heaven. Most of my rides are 12-20 miles and that has nothing to do with age but more about how much I want to ride. I’ve never been a fan of being on the bike 4-6 hours. When I travel, we do (2) 10-15 mile rides per day.
Age is definitely just a number for the most part. I’m the youngest in our group that I call Team AARP due to our ages. We’re not out just spinning along. We ride double blacks in Sedona, Hurricane, Moab, etc…I even ran into a guy that was 78 twice last week. Once on Slim Shady in Sedona and then over in Prescott at Spence Basin.
Unfortunately I was already 61 when I started mountain biking. Seven years in and the last thing I want to do is wreck…. it hurts longer now. I do like improving my skills though. I have found that I feel confident attempting features that only require one or two athletic move, but don’t trust my reflexes enough to clear stuff where multiple moves are required. I have found that I make it over certain features if I slow down my approach and concentrate on technique and not just momentum.
44! Is he serious, 40’s and 50’s an now,about to turn 65
I think one thing missed in the article is diet . It’s the fountain of youth for getting older. Diet was my single largest part of my health . I went from terrible blood work to good through diet change. This allowed me to take up MTB at 57 . At 60 I am entering a 21 mile sport division MTB xc race . It maybe above my pay grade but it’s in my wheel house to do . I will be racing with my 33 year old son and his friend . I ride 3 days a week . Couple hours per ride and take the weekend off . Ride alone for the most part . I tried 4 days but that’s to much . I have bonked on occasion . The worse was a couple summers ago which gave me flu like symptoms for a couple months with a complete loss of fitness . I also broke my collar bone on a ride . Things that may end a new older rider participation but I am a gluten for punishment . I have met guys my age who are very fast but most of them have been riding all their life so they have that long core fitness . My lungs are good . My legs get sore and stiff after riding . I have learned if I don’t have it that day it’s time to chill . I don’t try to make nothing into something if I go off course . I just stop and regroup .