First things first—congratulations on your decision to go forward and embrace one of the most rewarding challenges you’ll ever undertake. From personal experience, I can tell you that this adventure will change you for the better, both physically and mentally. And I applaud your decision to prepare yourself for the big event.
Whether you’re embarking on an epic adventure like the Empire Builder, a 700-mile trek from Montana to Seattle, or a more leisurely “Rails to Trails” exploration of the Couer d’Alenes, a little preparation goes a long way toward enjoying your travels.
Of course, physical preparation isn’t just helpful for bike tours. As Todd Starnes, our president and resident fitness expert (he was a sports scientist before joining Bicycle Adventures) often says—”Getting old just plain sucks; our choice is either to grow or decay.” For me? I’ll take growth every time, and your bike adventure is a giant leap forward towards your own personal and physical growth.
I think it’s important to state up front that physical fitness doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. So many of the activities that contribute to a healthy body can be done right in the privacy of your home, like strength and resistance training, stretching, and even cardio.
And the work you do toward preparing your body pays benefits in all sorts of unexpected ways, whether you’re training for a bike tour or just want less stiffness and more stamina when you’re gardening, doing housework, or playing with your grandkids at the park.
Why exercise? Physical exercise can slow the effects of aging and prevent muscle atrophy and bone loss, too—a real concern for 50+ women. I think it gives you more physical confidence to try new things…and I love what it does for my energy level.
So if you’re ready to get started, here are five tips to help 50+ athletes prepare for a bike tour.
It All Starts with Strength Training
Strength training sounds complicated and even a bit intimidating, especially if you’re out of practice. But it really comes down to these five simple motions:
You’ll notice “lifting weights” isn’t mentioned—because it really isn’t necessary! Although if you want to join a gym and work with machines and free weights, that’s always an option. I’m going to give you exercises you can do at home, with no complicated machines, and a far lower risk of injury.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests activities to strengthen each of the six main muscle groups: Chest, shoulders, arms, abdomen, back, and legs. Strength training will come in handy on a bike adventure in so many ways—supporting your back, chest, arms, and posture during the ride itself and giving you the muscles you need to pedal up hills (like the cliffs and canyons in our Southern Utah National Parks tour).
The classic “push” exercise is the push-up, which strengthens your arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, and back—it’s an all-purpose exercise powerhouse. If you aren’t strong enough to do a classic military version, you can try this four-step plan to get you there (or you can just stick with the modified version that works best for you).
A good strength routine balances pushing and pulling. You don’t need a pull-up bar to build your pulling muscles, but a set of lightweight dumbbells is helpful. I like the alternating dumbbell row because you can really feel results with just a few reps.
Planking is great for strengthening your core, which underpins pretty much everything you do. If you’re a beginner at planking, you can learn good technique and modifications with this video, plus variations for more advanced moves.
No, this isn’t a “gotcha,” there really are sitting-type exercises to help you build strength. I’m talking about squats and lunges, which are great for developing your abs, legs, and back. Even if you have knee problems, you can do these exercises at home.
I don’t have to tell you how important it is to strengthen your lower back and core—doing laundry, tying your shoes…we’re bending all day long. Some great home bending exercises are back extensions and bicycles.
Build Your Endurance with Cardio
The CDC recommends that healthy older adults get at least two-and-a-half hours (150 minutes) of moderate aerobic activity (like brisk walking) every week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity (running, jogging, cycling) activity. The heart benefits of aerobic activity are not in dispute.
But the added benefits of increased endurance will help you on your bicycle tour, especially one like the Washington Cascades adventure where 100-mile days aren’t uncommon.
Simple things to do now to improve your cardio endurance:
- Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
- Pursue an active hobby like tennis, swimming, or riding your bike (especially riding your bike).
- Take a brisk walk on your lunch break instead of snacking at your desk.
- Go kayaking or paddleboarding.
- Get a jump rope and skip rope to music.
Add Some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Although it sounds complicated, HIIT really isn’t. It’s simply combining brief intervals of intense exercise with longer periods of less strenuous work. You can incorporate HIIT just by running for a few seconds every few minutes when you take your daily walk—or pedaling extra hard for 10 to 30 seconds periodically on your training bike rides.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends HIIT because it:
- Improves aerobic (and anaerobic) fitness.
- Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.
- Reduces belly fat and body weight while preserving your muscle mass.
Sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. And the best thing is that HIIT can be modified to suit any fitness level and you don’t have to do it every day to see results. You can find a great HIIT workout for beginners here.
Our fitness guru Todd Starnes recommends observing these rules:
- Aim for “comfortably challenging,” there’s no need to make yourself miserable.
- Think quality over quantity—if you are working hard but struggling to keep the pace you had after your first couple of intervals, you’ve done enough for that workout.
- Four to six intervals no more than twice per week is more than enough to experience the benefits of HIIT.
Don’t Neglect the “4 Rs” of Recovery
Recovery is even more important for the beginning or older athlete, so pay extra attention to the four “Rs” of recovery—
If your exercise period is 60 minutes or shorter, rehydrating with water is probably enough. For longer sessions, use a sports beverage with carbs and electrolytes.
You need to eat to replenish the fuel your body spent and provide nutrients to help your body recover. For adults over 50, that means protein—at least 15 to 25 grams in the hour after exercise. Protein bars and shakes are a convenient option if you don’t feel like preparing a snack.
I’m not just talking about a short break after exercise (although that’s always important), I’m talking about a healthy amount of deep, restorative sleep at night to give your body time to recover and repair.
The recovery process looks different in everyone, but for older adults, alternating heat and cold therapy, soft tissue massage, or even therapeutic soaks are helpful for encouraging the muscle repair that occurs after exercise.
The tour guides at Bicycle Adventures take recovery seriously with an appropriate schedule of hydration, nourishing snacks and drinks, healthy breakfasts, and even special accommodations for your own diet and nutrition routine.
What You Eat Matters More than You Think
Your changing nutritional needs become even more noticeable once you hit 50. For one thing, your body may not absorb essential nutrients as well as it did when you were younger—and strenuous exercise impacts digestion, a potential “perfect storm” of nutritional deficits.
Here are some foods to eat if you want your body to be ready to go when you are:
- Probiotics set the stage for a healthy gut, the gatekeeper to a healthy body. Some people use a probiotics supplement, but you can naturally introduce these healthy bacteria into your gut by eating yogurt with live active cultures (look for the LAC stamp), fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, and aged cheeses.
- Fiber feeds the healthy gut bacteria and aids digestion. Get what you need with easy-to-eat foods like barely ripe bananas, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and asparagus.
- Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, help you burn fat, and are good for your heart. Incorporate more servings of fatty fish like salmon to boost this important nutrient.
- Protein helps repair and grow muscles and maintain bone and joint strength. Try to get some protein at every meal with foods like dairy, fish, poultry, meat, or plant-based sources (lentils, nuts, seeds).
- Vitamin D is essential to muscle recovery and maintaining healthy bones. Unfortunately, aging skin isn’t as effective at synthesizing vitamin D from the sun, so it’s important to add it to your diet with either supplements or fortified dairy products.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some practical tips and pointers to help you get started on a physical program of preparation for your tour. You’ll notice that none of the exercises I suggest require pricey equipment, a gym membership, or hours of your time—you can do it them at home and on your own schedule.
If you have any questions about fitness, preparation, and recovery, I’m always here to talk to you. And if you’re still looking for the perfect bicycle adventure for you—I can help you with that, too! Just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s have a chat.
Stress is unavoidable. In the United States, seven out of every ten adults experiences some form of anxiety or stress on a daily basis, according to a survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Stress can be caused by a number of things: challenges at work, relationship issues or unexpected life events. Stress itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it can be a sign that you’re pushing yourself to a more intense level, which is often what’s required to achieve important goals. But when stress isn’t managed correctly over a long period of time, it can lead to physical ailments such as high blood pressure, headaches, heart issues, diabetes and more. Managing stress is crucial – and one of the best means of stress management is consistent exercise.
Exercising consistently has a number of physical and mental benefits. Exercise can help boost muscle strength and burn fat. It can help your body fight off disease, reduce fatigue, improve alertness and concentration, and even jumpstart or sharpen cognitive function. Working out help to ease tension, improve sleep and keep you focused. Exercise helps manage and/or reduce symptoms caused by stress—such as fatigue or increased tension—and working out in moderation will help to keep you energized and healthy.
So, if you’re feeling stressed, give yourself permission to take care of you. Check with your doctor to see if there are any activities you should be avoiding. If not, it’s time to pick up a new activity like yoga, swimming or cycling and start exercising regularly. Cycling is actually a perfect, cardio exercise for overall stress reduction too—it’s low impact, will get you outdoors so you’ll get plenty of fresh air while helping you burn calories and build muscle strength. Cycling is also a fantastic social activity, and meeting up with friends or joining a meet-up for a fun group ride will help to ease any stress-related symptoms. If you’d like to learn more about group cycling, click here.
Planning a family vacation can be daunting in itself. Planning a successful family cycling vacation seems possibly even more daunting. But it’s not impossible—you’ll just want to do your homework. Here are some quick pointers:
Research: Pick a unique destination that offers something for everyone. For instance, a cycling tour of South Dakota’s Mt. Rushmore area offers a little bit of everything, from Flintstones Village to Wind Cave to bison, a mammoth dig and of course Mt. Rushmore itself. Or, if your family has a particular destination in mind—say, somewhere that has a fun mountain vibe—you can pick a spot that fits the family’s needs (like Bend, Oregon, where you’ll find great roads and trails for cycling plus terrific rock climbing, hiking and other outdoor fun). Once you pick the destination, work with a cycling company, tour group or bike shop at your destination to plan your adventure. Convey all the important information—age of your children, riding ability, planned dates, etc. If you don’t have (or don’t want to haul) bikes, a tour company may be a great way to go.
Plan a full day, or keep it low key: It’s important to keep your family’s travel preferences in mind. Some people love to keep busy during a trip. Others like to take it easy during vacation. If your family has a mix of both, choose an itinerary that offers variety and flexibility. You can plan a relaxing tour of somewhere low-key like Portland, Oregon, or you could go with a more active and adventurous trip, like a five-day cycling, hiking and kayaking trip in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
Have a Plan B: When you’re traveling, things don’t always go as planned.
Flat tires, bad weather, sore muscles – all possibilities on a bicycling tour. Whatever happens, keep your sense of humor, try to roll with the punches and take things in stride. Also, try to have a backup plan or two: a potential indoor activity if the weather is unfriendly; plenty of tubes (or a guide who carries them!) Maybe even plan to get a massage along the way.
Have fun! When trips turn serious, things get stressful quickly. So keep things light: take plenty of pictures, try different foods, enjoy fun side-trips or new activities and work on communicating with all of your family members. Planning ahead is your best bet for a great family vacation.
Jessica Lah is a California native who loves to cook, paint, and explore new places on her bike. A few years back, she bicycled across the US, spending three and a half months—and over 4,000 miles—biking from Washington state to New York.
Where are you from?
From Southern California (Orange County, but I’ve lived all over California) – then China, and now Seattle.
How did you get into guiding?
I had just finished riding my bike across the country on a self-supported, solo trip when I moved to Seattle. In the first weeks of moving, I met someone who was a tour guide for Bicycle Adventures. Until then, the only kind of bike touring I knew of was carrying my own tent and peanut butter, I had no idea that luxury bicycle tour even existed. The concept that a company would take care everything—the riders, their luggage, hotels, and meals—took me by surprise. I was instantly intrigued.
What was your first “serious” bike?
My first bike was a Novara Carema Pro that I bought off a friend for $250 two days after I moved home from China. I had an unrealistic goal of riding my bike from Santa Barbara to San Francisco—the wrong direction to ride—but was I was determined. I reached the start at Santa Barbara and realized that I didn’t know how to change a tire, that my bike was all wrong for touring, and that carrying only a backpack was probably not a good idea. I decided to take time to learn about bike mechanics and touring. One year later, I had myself and a touring bike together and cycled the correct direction, San Francisco to Santa Barbara, successfully.
Where is your favorite place to cycle in the whole world and why?
Before my cross-country tour, I had dreams of an open road, a broad horizon and an endless sky. I met my dream in Wyoming. Wyoming is one of the last remaining states in the US where the urban sprawl hasn’t settled in, cattle ranchers ride on horses and are humbled by nature, and sitting on the back porch to watch the stars is a common pastime.
In addition to guiding, what else do you do for work or with your time?
I cook, paint, and sew. I just moved into a new home, so gardening has just be added to my hobbies. Mostly veggies, herbs and some hops for home-brewed beer I make with my partner.
Why do you like to bicycle? Why did you get into bicycling as a guide?
Because there’s always ice cream at the end of the ride? At least after all my rides.
So many of life’s nuances like eating, showers, and sleep are heightened after a good ride. The pace is perfect to see everything from the seat of a bicycle and the views are never taken for granted. Every moment to feel the road, the sun, and wind in your face feels so much better. I’m not a racer, I’m a joy rider. When I crest a hill on San Juan Island, sharing a perfect view with a guest is the greatest way to share that joy.
Where’s the one place in the world that you’d like to explore on bike but haven’t yet?
Slovenia. Part of my unknown ancestry is from there and I hear the country is stunning.
After a hard ride, what do you like to do to unwind?
Usually a good beer and some salty fries.
What’s your favorite cycling memory? OR Is there a cycling experience of yours that’s very vivid and stands out?
A memorable moment was at the end of cycling tour across the US. I finished my tour New York City the same weekend of Hurricane Sandy. The day the city mandated business, and road closures, I road the length of Manhattan to George Washington bridge with no cars on the street. Winds picked up and blew crisp fall leaves in my path unobstructed.
Do you have any tips or tricks on how to host a great cycling tour?
Something that I really like to do? Well, for me it’s in the touches. The little touches. I make my own cycling jerseys out of Hawaiian shirts, and I really like to do everything that I can to bring something special or unique to the tour. On one tour, I made my own pickles out of cucumbers from my garden as a snack – and once I brought fresh tomatoes from my garden. I made Hawaiian leis for the guests on a Big Sur tour. On almost every tour, though, I do watercolor paintings each day and by the end of the trip I am able to share our memories of the trip through paintings.
When it comes to making biking safer as a whole, it’s all about getting more cyclists on the road and enacting key infrastructural and social changes, according to Streetsblog USA.
Generally speaking, nations with a large cycling population—such as Denmark—typically have both fewer cycling incidents and fewer traffic accidents in general. Countries where cycling is still fairly new or with recent spikes in cycling popularity (such as Korea) still experience higher rates of cycling accidents, according to the International Transport Forum. Researchers speculate that these accidents probably occur because neither cyclists nor other transportation participants have had time to assimilate to each other’s presence. New York has experienced something similar to Korea as cycling has become more popular there in recent years. But as Streetsblog NYC highlighted, as the number of cyclists increase, cycling accident rates are beginning to drop. The more cyclists and walkers there are, the safer cycling and walking become.
By comparison, in Denmark, cycling rates are high but have remained relatively stable over the last ten years. Interestingly, during that last decade, cycling fatality rates have declined by 40 percent. So what does this all mean? While encouraging more cyclists to get out on the road is important, in order to make cycling safer as a whole, key infrastructure and road culture changes – both of which take time – must occur.
Along with more people riding bikes, infrastructure changes (like new bike lanes and helmet laws) and culture changes (like encouraging drivers to share the road with cyclists) must all happen. But you can’t have any of these without the others. Without an influx of cyclists, there’s little need for infrastructure change. And without infrastructure change, a strong cycling population can’t be sustained. To make cycling safer, cyclists need to grow their riding communities while at the same time working to make cycling a greater part of their home cities’ awareness when it comes to infrastructure and road culture.