Training a Masters Female Cyclist

BY IN Exercise Institute News, Women's Cycling News On October 20, 2016

Dana is an incredible athlete.

Since coming off her bike and suffering incredible injuries we have been on a process of discovery about Dana’s physiology and ‘makeup’. This has involved Dexa Scans, GYM strength training programs, Vo2 max testing, multiple indoor training sessions of Vo2max intensities, heat training sessions, Altitude training cycles….. All of this is aimed at one thing, getting Dana, a 55 year old female masters cyclist ready for the 2016 Amashova Cycling Classic. The oldest classic cycling race in South Africa features a 10km climb toward low altitude, heavily undulating profile where the athletes end up descending down into Durban by the ocean. A very hard days riding alongside Africa’s best cyclists.

The Route Profile

The Route Profile

Since Dana’s accident, where Dana was not allowed to ride on the road until just 2 weeks prior the Amashova event, we have discovered a good many things about Dana:

  1. After a Dexa Scan review we have been able to implement a GYM training program understanding that Dana’s Bone mineral density requires progressive loading to safeguard herself against future fracture risks if she falls. We are also bale to use the dexa scan as a baseline to see how her body composition changes over time, rather than being focused on ‘weight’.
  2. The GYM training program was such that we trained and exercised Dana’s entire body to increase muscle mass in a manner that was specific to the repetitive nature of cycling. We have seen large improvements in Dana’s anaerobic profile here (10% power increase) as well as a similar gain in Mechanical efficiency (oxygen requirement for a given power output). Dana uses the Verve Cycling Infocrank as a means of accurately measuring and recording data
  3. Vo2 max testing enabled us to outline at what point did Dana reach the ceiling of her aerobic uptake. This means we can prescribe an exercise intensity that is not too hard nor too easy, but one that will elicit the maximal consumption of oxygen for Dana. A potent stimulus for driving adaptation. Once identified Dana completed multiple days of indoor ‘ergo’ training at intensities that would yield maximum oxygen consumption. Quality over quantity. A video outlining these concepts can be found here.
  4. Heat training sessions became the norm for Dana every Saturday, held indoors in a controlled environment of 33c and high humidity, we sort to increase Dana’s blood profile to produce an additional increase in performance adaptation. This also prepared Dana for the onset of a hot race day where she would be better acclimatized to the heat and intensity. Heat training has also been shown to improve performance in temperate environments.¬†
  5. Altitude training also feature across Dana’s progressive training program. Specifically 2 x 2 week blocks of sleeping at altitudes of 2000m-3500m where included in the cycles of Dana’s program. This was owing to the fact the race went to low altitude, 1000m elevation, and that Dana would need to be able to function at this height and indeed be able to sleep/recover from exercise. Having had many clients compete at different ranges of altitude we know that the response can be non-existent to severe when exercising here, so we thought it necessary to be best prepared.

The above was a huge load for Dana to take in. This meant for Dana we had to collapse her macro-cycles of training to 2 weeks of hard training to one week of recovery training. By analyzing heart rate variables and power based variables, as well as subjective feedback, we were best able to monitor Dana’s training status such that over training was not entered. This paid off beautifully for Dana.

Across the first 30mins of exercise Dana managed to ride at an intensity usually seen on 10min climbs for a 30min period, at elevation. A three fold increase in time spent at this intensity for race day. Dana was then able to hang into this fast group of cyclists across grueling terrain for the remaining 100kms. In order to do this Dana had to spend an additional 36 minutes at Vo2 max intensities after the climb! Quite possibly there is no better way to describe the feat than by using Dana’s words exactly;
” Brad, thank god that is over. Very happy. Finished 3rd in my age group and 62 out of 696 women in all age groups including pro-women .Spent a few bickies early just to try and stay with my starting group and paid for it.On reflection I spent too much time on my own but on the back end I got into a peloton and stayed in till the finish . Cramping at 50kms in the glutes’ I didnt think I would finish… but, ticked that box: Woohoo !”

For anyone that knows Dana, they know her to be very bright, bubbly and personable in nature. Underneath her pleasant exterior lies an absolute exercise monster, that when pointed in a particular direction will stop at nothing to do her best. At 55 yrs of age Dana has managed to ride alongside some of the best cyclists in Africa and through the process of preparation learned a great deal about herself, proving that age, and certainly gender, is in no way barrier to success.


Dana is the little one on the right of screen… alongside her ‘super domestique’ husband Mark Hedges, and good friends


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