Competitive Aging Cyclists: Variables Associated with Successful Performance

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Alana Hall, SPT, Cayla Hirsch, SPT, Kelsey Knecht, SPT, & Miranda Ristau, SPT

25 Comments on “Competitive Aging Cyclists: Variables Associated with Successful Performance

  1. What do you think might account for the differences you found between males and females (balance/strength vs. cardiovascular fitness)?

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  2. Balance was important for both male and female cyclists which we believe may be attributed to less energy expenditure with improved balance when cycling. We can only speculate why males may benefit more from strength training and females from cardiovascular fitness training. In prior literature, strength and cardiovascular health and training are actually closely related. Grip strength has been positively associated with cardiovascular health. Likewise, cardiovascular training has been positively associated with strength. Therefore, in my opinion, there may actually be little differences between these two factors for predicting cycling success. Instead, both the males and females with improved cardiovascular health and strength may perform better than their peers.

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  3. I find this study interesting because my Grandma loved to bike, and when she was 70, she rode from California to Florida with a group of women. Now, she cycles less because it is more difficult for her. She rode distances further than 40k, but based on the trends of this research, if she wanted to get back into biking, what would you suggest she focuses on?

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    • Great question, Anna! It’s great to hear your grandma has such a passion for cycling. There are actually several things she could incorporate into her training to help her compete with other senior athlete cyclists. For female cyclists, our results showed correlations between improved race times and more time spent on cardiovascular training, better balance, greater upper and lower extremity strength, and faster gait speed. Based on those trends and the literature review we performed, your grandma could benefit from a diverse training regimen, including muscular strength and endurance training, cardiovascular training, and balance training, as all of these factors played a role in better cycling times. More specific recommendations could be made if your grandma had a specific race she wanted to train for as well (i.e. short vs. long distance trials), as some trends were more apparent based on the race.

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  4. It seems that balance has high correlation with most of the cycling events at the Senior Games, especially the reduced distance events. Was there a significant difference in average age of subjects that were involved in those events versus the 20k and 40k Race that could contribute to this statistic as well?

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    • Great question! Yes, balance was a contributing factor for male cyclists in the shorter distance events. Age was also a contributing factor for both longer and shorter distance events. It is important to note that each race separates the participants by age, so the participant will compete with those in their similar age category. For our study, we controlled for age because past literature shows that age does seem to influence performance outcomes due to possible changes in muscle fibers, pulmonary changes, and decreased sensory receptors. These changes may all account for decreased cycling performance over time. If you take a look at Figure 3 and Figure 4, you can see the contribution of age in red which ranged from 8-31% for male cyclists and 14-45% for female cyclists. This shows that the age of the participants does contribute to their performance to all races, not just the shorter distance events. Considering male cyclists, you can see that the age does not contribute as great a percentage to the longer distance races versus the shorter distance races, however, the female cyclists do not follow this same trend.

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  5. Nice job with the poster presentation! With the results section, why do you think exercise frequency and strength training volume weren’t meaningful correlations to race times? I would think that these would play a significant role in determining a faster race time.

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  6. Great question Christian! Our whole group was a little surprised with the correlations we found, and those we didn’t, as well! We too thought about some of these same questions and came up with a few explanations that would need some further research to justify. First, when thinking about why frequency was not correlated, we reminded ourselves what all is included in a proper dosage of exercises. This would include not only frequency but duration and intensity of the training. Many of these older adults reported working out daily if not multiple times a day but we lack information on the rest of the prescription. As far as strength training goes, the only thing we could think of was perhaps that cycling was more of an endurance sport. Certainly we know strength and power play a large role but perhaps endurance would be more important for these athletes. It may be appropriate to add an endurance bases assessment into the SAFE to further determine if this would demonstrate different correlations. It is also important to remember that the SAFE is created as a screen to gather information on as many variables as we can without taking up too much time from our participants.

    I like your thought process, as I too thought strength would play a much larger role than what was determined. Certainly something that would be interesting to complete rather research on!

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  7. Great presentation everyone! This topic is incredibly interesting, and I am so happy that competitive cycling is becoming a more prominent activity for this population. I admire the comparisons and connections your group has made throughout the research process. With that being said, my question for you is why was flexibility absent from the results? Do you think your outcomes would differ if this variable was? Again, great job!

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    • Yes, great question Drew! So we did include shoulder flexion and ankle dorsiflexion range of motion within our screen. These values also demonstrated some correlations with increased race time for females in the 10k and 20k trials which can be seen in the Pearson Correlation graph in our poster. However, as you noticed in the presentation, these correlations were not the strongest associations. Within our hypothesis, we did presume that ankle dorsiflexion would present as a significant factor in all races due to the ROM required for the full cycle of the bike pedal. Beings this wasn’t as strongly correlated, we thought it could potentially be due to this motion being more of a passive movement throughout the motion. The measurement we evaluated in our screen is a AROM measurement. I certainly think that PROM restrictions in ankle ROM could further play a role in the cyclists ability to have max power output. This could certainly be something that future research looks into. We also wondered if there was any correlations with hip and knee ROM values as well.

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  8. Really interesting presentation! I have so much respect for these athletes and hope that as I age I have the opportunity to continue to be active and pursue opportunities to contribute to research such as this! My question to you is based on these findings, what trends/results surprised you the most and what might you suggest as a next research question to be studied?

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    • Thanks for your question Justine! They are truly amazing people and athletes! The result which surprised me the most was actually how lower extremity joint range of motion was rarely correlated with cycling performance in older adult athletes. When reviewing prior research on competitive cyclists, sagittal plane joint range of motion tended to alter cycling mechanics. Regarding a future research topic, I think it would be interesting to study how various geographical locations influenced cycling performance. For example, the 2019 Senior Games took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico where the cyclists competed in a desert climate. In contrast, the 2015 games took place in Minneapolis, MN which has a more mild climate. I would like to know how the environment influences the cycling performance of aging athletes.

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  9. Nice work! One thing that I noticed when I was reading your poster presentation is age played a role in some races more than others. I noticed that your Stepwise Regression tables highlighted that age played a larger role in the men’s 5k and 10k while women’s was much higher in the 5k, 10k and especially 20k. Any thoughts as to why age plays a bigger factor into cyclist performance of females than males? Additionally, why do you think the age statistics were different for each type of race?

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    • Good question Emma! It definitely was interesting to see how much age played a factor in each race. Age is an important factor in how we compete because of the changes that occur to our bodies as we age. The literature makes a point of how important age is because of the changes seen in muscle fibers, pulmonary changes, and sensory receptors as we age. It is important to note that we forced age into our model as we wanted to control for it because of the many different age groups that were competing. As far as relating this to performance in males versus females, we hypothesized that this had to deal with the life expectancy of females. Women live approximately 5 years longer than men, which may result in increased participation for women competing in cycling events in the senior games. Relating to why age statistics were different for each type of race, we hypothesized this was due to the number of cyclists competing in each race. We thought there may be more variety in age groups competing in the shorter races versus the longer races having a smaller, possibly younger age group. This could effect how big of a role age played in the model for each race.

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  10. Great on the presentation everyone I thought it was very informative! Following the presentation, I went back and viewed your discussion section and noticed that you had a important finding with long distance female cyclers shoulder ROM. My question is why was that an important finding and how does it correlate to their race performance? When I think of the shoulder during cycling I would concentrate more on isometric/endurance strength and less on ROM due to the placement of the handle bars.

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    • Great question, JP! We were actually pretty surprised by this finding as well. According to the literature, lower extremity joint ROM has been linked to cycling performance (i.e. hip extension and ankle DF), specifically related to power and efficiency. From what we could find, no one has published research regarding shoulder ROM and cycling performance. This could be an interesting area of research moving forward! What was even more interesting is shoulder ROM was one of the only trends seen in the female 20K and 40K races. We attributed this more to the fact that there were less competitors in these events. A greater degree of shoulder flexion ROM could contribute to more comfortability with UE posturing on the bike handle bars over a longer distance, which could in turn lead to better performance. We can only speculate at this point though, since there is no current research to back up the result. I wish I had more to add about the importance of this trend, but it was certainly an anomaly! Again, great job picking up on that finding!

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  11. Great presentation everyone! I think you did a great job laying out all of the variables. I was also surprised that exercise frequency did not present a meaningful correlation. My question is kind of going off of that. Did you have data on if there were any participants who had competed in prior Senior Games? It would be interesting to see if their variables or performance had changed due to this experience. Again, great job!

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  12. Thanks for your comment Tyler! Although we did have access to data concerning who had participated in prior Senior Games, we did not use this information for our research topic. This variable could certainly influence an individuals performance in the senior games and would be an interesting topic to study!

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  13. Hello… you’re presentation was quite interesting. I am curious about the correlation between the five times sit to stand and its importance in all levels of races. You had stated that five times sit to stand incorporated balance, power, and strength. What about coordination? How might coordination play a role in superior performance?

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    • Thanks Amy for your comment! Five times sit to stand is strongly correlated with increased lower extremity strength, balance, and power. All of these factors play a major role in the cyclists ability to maintain maximum efficiency. Coordination may also play an important role in how the cyclists perform, however we were not able to study this variable. It would definitely be another variable to look at in the future with senior cyclists! I would hypothesize that cyclists would take more coordination of the lower extremity to produce more power through pedaling and those with more coordination may demonstrate better performance times.

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  14. As someone from a family of cyclists, I found this presentation to be very relevant. I have ridden both mountain and road bikes and there is a substantial difference in speed capabilities between the two, and even large differences among a standard touring road bike and an all carbon fiber time trial road bike for example. I would imagine there is no standardization among competitors in the senior games for bicycle type. Is bicycle type a possible variable for the differences in speed outside of those looked at in this study?

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  15. Thanks for your question Kyle! We did not account for bike types as a variable in the senior games as this information wasn’t readily available to us. However, cycling events at the senior games take place on paved roads and individuals must qualify for the national games from their performance in the state games. Many senior athletes are highly competitive and therefore, it is likely many of the athletes had road bikes to maximize their speed. However, this is an presumption and it would be interesting to consider this variable in future literature.

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  16. Awesome job everyone! I find it very interesting that balance was correlated with increased performance in all races for all genders. I did notice that SLS eyes open was less frequently correlated compared to SLS eyes closed and SLS foam eyes open. Do you think this was because the SLS eyes open was not challenging enough or do you have another hypothesis? I would be curious to see if SLS eyes open would have correlations with performance in other sports. If there was no correlation with performance in other sports, could it maybe be something that was eliminated from the SAFE?

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    • Thanks Ember for your question! I would hypothesize that SLS eyes open is a variable that may be too easy for senior athletes competing at this level. It has already been discussed to remove this variable from the SAFE as it often is not too revealing of much information that is not already collected with the balance measures of SLS eyes closed and SLS foam eyes open. In addition, I believe that SLS eyes open would probably not have other correlations with performance in other sports and could be eliminated from the SAFE. I would hypothesize that a majority of the senior athletes competing at this level would not be as challenged by SLS eyes open, leading to more correlations being seen with the balance measures of SLS eyes closed and SLS foam eyes open with increased performance

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  17. Excellent job on your presentation everyone! I found it interesting that gait speed reserve and exercise frequency did not demonstrate statistically significant correlations with race times. I would think that there would be a stronger correlation between these variables and race times, especially with exercise frequency. Any thoughts on why there was not a stronger correlation between those variables?

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