I'm 45, 5'10 (178cm) and 77kg, live in the French alps and I'm into skiing and mountain biking, and I'm trying to raise my overall fitness, though not for any competitive purpose.

I don't have a huge amount of time, so I have a usual circuit which is a 12-15k loop with around 500-700m of climbs varying from a 7% cruise to a 40% grind (there's no such thing as a small hill around here!). This usually takes me 45mins to an hour. I track all my rides on Strava and I've started using an HRM to see what that's doing. I usually find my heart rate sits at around 165 during the climbs and I can sustain that without it being a problem. Since April I've done about 38 such rides, plus a couple of longer ones. I did a 50k event with 2500m of climbs last weekend and essentially came last. I'm not feeling that my efforts are producing any results at all - my personal best ride this year was my second ride of the season while I had a cold and a hangover! Since then my results have essentially all been average - I don't appear to be making any improvement at all, even though I'm riding almost twice as much as I did in the previous two years. I can see I've built a fair amount of muscle, but it's not having any impression on my performance or how I feel about it. On Strava my position on leaderboards (admittedly, just about everyone else is on road bikes, not 15kg of full-sus rig!) is forever dropping - it looks like everyone else is getting better!

I eat pretty well - lots of fresh fruit and veg - and I limit myself to 1 caffeinated drink a day, and generally don't eat any desserts or sweet drinks. I tried moving to a slightly more protein-heavy diet (eggs instead of cereal for breakfast) for a month, but I generally felt worse on that and it didn't seem to make any difference.

I really, really hate running and have no interest in taking that up! I could do more road cycling, but I don't have a road bike, and I'm not really interested in a having a faster bike just to make my averages look better without actually being any fitter.

What do you think would be my best approach to improving overall fitness? Persevere with more of the same, or would you recommend I do something else?

  • I'm taking a stab in the dark here, but how much kcal are you eating daily? Do you gain/lose weight or do you stall?
    – user8119
    Jul 14, 2014 at 13:23
  • I don't know how much kcal I'm eating, and I don't really want to get into counting everything. I've gained about 2kg very slowly over the last 10 years, so I'm pretty stable.
    – Synchro
    Jul 14, 2014 at 13:56
  • Yeah, tracking is not for everybody, I get that. Just saying, if your weight is stable you're eating just enough, which might be too little to make any progress once you've reached a certain point. But I'm heavily biased through strength training, where that effect is probably much more pronounced than with more endurance-based sports.
    – user8119
    Jul 14, 2014 at 15:40

3 Answers 3


To some extent it depends what you mean by "fitness". To ride your circuit faster for example, you could try some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). You can make up HIIT session for yourself on the bike. THis kind of training can, apparently, help to improve your VO2max.


A HIIT session often consists of a warm up period of exercise, followed by three to ten repetitions of high intensity exercise, separated by medium intensity exercise for recovery, and ending with a period of cool down exercise. The high intensity exercise should be done at near maximum intensity. The medium exercise should be about 50% intensity. The number of repetitions and length of each depends on the exercise, but may be as little as three repetitions with just 20 seconds of intense exercise.

There is no specific formula to HIIT. Depending on one's level of cardiovascular development, the moderate-level intensity can be as slow as walking.[4] A common formula involves a 2:1 ratio of work to recovery periods, for example, 30–40 seconds of hard sprinting alternated with 15–20 seconds of jogging or walking.

The entire HIIT session may last between four and thirty minutes, meaning that it is considered to be an excellent way to maximize a workout that is limited on time.

BTW, I'm 51 and am starting to find it harder to keep my fitness at a level I think of as very good.

  • Thanks, that's a great pointer. I'd heard about HIIT before but not thought of it for myself!
    – Synchro
    Jul 14, 2014 at 13:01

I would recommend that you explore weight training. It does improve body fitness and composition more than any cardio activity. Though you may want to get in touch with a trainer for this if you are a beginner.


Your fitness improves when you put training stress on your body and then give your body time to recover. You are doing the same workout over and over, and your body has gotten used to it, so it no longer produces any training stress, and you don't get better.

So, what you need to do is provide focused times where you can work harder, thereby providing training stress and leading to improved results.

This generally involves intervals. There are a lot of structured ways to do training on a bicycle involving heart rate monitors and power meters. If you want to try those, I recommend the programs by Friel or Carmichael. In particular, Carmichael has one that is design for those who don't have a lot of time to spend.

If you want to be more casual about it, that's okay; you can still see results with more of a do-it-yourself approach.

Basically, you need to split your workout into sections where you ride easy, and sections where you ride hard. You may also need to have some workouts where you ride easy the whole time; the high-intensity workouts only work if you are rested enough to work our really hard.

I would suggest starting with something like 2 minute intervals. Find a consistent section, and then alternate between riding at a pace you can only maintain for 2 minutes, and then riding at a pace where your heart rate recovers (I aim to get down below 120) for 3 minutes. Repeat this 4 times, take 10 minutes off, and then repeat for another set of 4 intervals. This will definitely help.

There are lots of other structured training approaches; you can do lactic threshold intervals, peak intervals, over/unders, etc. The key is to make sure you are rested enough to do them.

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