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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding.

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart ( is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier ( is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT ( is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer ( has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel ( is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Richard Stern ( is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer ( is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Kim Morrow ( has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Fitness questions and answers for March 8, 2004

Returning after a break
'Climbing' on a trainer
Lactate Threshold and Reverse Periodisation
Crank length
Turning the numbers into performance
Training/logging software

Returning after a break

I am 60 years old and am getting back into riding after a break of about 4 years. I would like to get some guidance on how best to build up my strength and endurance. The problem I have is I seem to over-stress myself and then get aches and feel energy-depleted when I get back to exercise. When I went riding for the first time in over a year on a recent weekend, I rode (Sat) about 2 hours and did about 26 miles, then Sunday rode about the same. Three days later, I did an early AM 10-mile ride pre-work, and then got hit the next day with a bug that's kept me from riding. This is a recurring cycle -- start-up, over stress, and then since I don't seem to know how to judge for myself what I can handle or how to best plan an exercise strategy for myself.

I have years of experience riding -- riding 100-plus miles a week, but that was in my 30s-through early mid 50s. I want to get back to riding on a regular basis without going through the cycle of on-again, off-again because of the over-stress to my body. Someone recently asked if I take minerals, post rides, which I don't, (but I do supplement) and eat mostly well (but I have a sweet tooth and I occasionally binge).

John Raymond

Scott Saifer replies:

When returning to cycling after a long layoff, you have to first admit that you've had the long layoff. Imagine that you are an absolute beginner. While you have the skills from your previous life as a cyclist, you no longer have the physiological adaptations. To successfully return to riding you will need to adapt to cycling again. You'll need to build up more gradually, and to strictly control intensity.

When you haven't been riding or doing other aerobic training for a long time, anything you do will be a new stress as far as your body is concerned, and will cause an adaptation. This is true even if the ride seems wimpy by comparison to what you used to do. I'd suggest one ride of one hour on the weekend and two or three rides of 1/2 hour for three weeks and then begin to add 1/2 hour per week to the total time by adding 10 minutes to three different rides.

When you are just starting training your body's ability to recover is extremely poor compared to when you've been training a lot, so take the first month of rides really easy as well. Higher intensity riding will exhaust you quickly and interfere with consistent training. (As a new father returning to training after 7 months off, I have experienced this personally). If you know your maximum heart rate and are using a monitor, stay below 75 percent of max, which will probably mean staying entirely on level ground. If you are not using a monitor, just be sure to ride well below the intensity where breathing increases and legs begin to burn. After a month of riding you can increase the heart rate limit to 80 percent of max.

If you are able to restrain your enthusiasm for a few months, you'll be back to long distance and harder rides within three months. (In one of my previous gigs I helped sedentary people prepare for 100 mile rides as part of a charity fundraiser. Even the most sedentary were able to finish the 100-milers with 14-18 weeks of training.)

'Climbing' on a trainer

Is there any benefit in performing intervals on a trainer with the front wheel elevated (say 4 inches) to simulate a climbing position ?

I've come across varying advice such as:

(1) it's entirely useless (i.e. power is power, and it doesn't matter whether the front wheel is elevated or not).

contrast with:

(2) the elevated front wheel simulates the climbing position and will stress muscles in a different manner and provide an additional neuromuscular adaptation.

Rik O'Shea
Dublin, Ireland

Scott Saifer replies:

I think that riding with the front wheel high can't hurt and might help, so you might as well do it. I'm not aware of any muscle activation studies on this topic. Maybe one of the other experts will jump in.

The idea that "power is power" doesn't agree with my experience that folks who ride a lot of miles still develop sore muscles when they change positions, doing their first TTs or hilly races of the year for instance. There may be other explanations, but it seems to me that this soreness probably relates to the activation of different muscles, or the same muscles in different ranges of motion when the position changes. Are the muscles activated differently when the front wheel is high? It certainly feels different to me.

Georg Ladig replies:

Of course, this is a good idea. You will be surprised how different it feels to ride with the front wheel elevated. Four inches represents a 10 percent grade. Some interval training in this position will help you to adapt and to identify weak spots. The climbing position puts more stress on your arms and the upper body. You will also explore more load from the saddle nose. The effects on the leg work are relatively small.

Lactate Threshold and Reverse Periodisation

I have two questions.

(1) Instead of a VO2 max test, my coach measured my blood lactate levels. It went like this: 15 minutes warm up at 100 watts, and then step up 50 watts every three minutes to exhaustion. The goal was to get my lactate threshold and max HR. My finger was pricked towards the end of the 3 minute interval, and blood lactate measured. The results were then plotted. Now, after reading a number of books, LT seems to be the same as AT, though LT by my coach's approach is where my lactate is 1.6 mmol/L (131 bpm or 70 percent of my HR max) and AT is 4.8 mmol/L (163 bpm or 87 percent of HR max). So, what does the LT measurement really mean? I see no reference to it in any of my cycling training books. From my coach's perspective, 131 bpm is the average HR I must maintain in recovery rides.

(2) Reverse periodisation: I was riding with someone and they told me that there is some new training theory out there called 'reverse periodisation' where the whole notion of an initial period of long mileage, lower HR riding is somewhat inverted and that intervals and recovery etc. are worked on initially and amount of mileage increases in race conditions. Does that make any sense?

Peter Benda

Ric Stern replies:

Eddie Monnier recently covered some of the issues with LT, however, additionally, I'll add some more. Lactate threshold, *is* different to anaerobic threshold (AT, which is generally an outdated term no longer used). Generally, within the scientific literature, LT is the workload that elicits a 1 mmol/L increase in lactate over exercise baseline levels (this would give you a lactate of ~ 2.xx mmol/L). The other main definition is a workload that elicits a lactate of 2.5 mmol/L. In both cases, this level of intensity is quite low, and is around 10 to 20 percent less power than that, that can be maintained for ~1-hr TT. In other words, this intensity (LT) can be sustained for up to 3+ hrs.

It's also important to understand that the workload that elicits the change in lactate is measured *only* in power output (watts) in cycling, or speed (km/hr, m/s) in running. Whilst, some people will include HR with these data, it isn't strictly correct, as it's well known that HR can vary at a given workload for many reasons (e.g., altitude, temperature, anxiousness, whether you've recently consumed food, cadence, etc).

I question the validity of using steps of 50 W. The magnitude of these increases is *much* too large to note where any increases in lactate occur. To note changes and find any increase in lactate in a usable manner, you'd need much smaller increments, such as 10 W.

I've never seen a definition of LT to be used for recovery rides ever.

As you were taken to volitional fatigue (max) you have in essence done a VO2 max test (without presumably measuring your expired respiratory gases), this would be also similar to the MAP test I recommend, but again the protocol is different.

Reverse periodisation: living in the northern hemisphere, during the off-season (winter months), the nights draw in quickly and many people (i.e., those who are unable to cycle during the day, because of work, school, etc) find that it's too dark/dangerous to ride on the road in the evenings. This often limits people to just the indoor trainer during the week, and many people can only do say up to 90 minutes. Thus, with a reduced work time available it makes sense to train more intensely during the winter and to increase the longer rides as the evenings draw out. Additionally, I question the need to do just lots of long, low intensity work at all, as this will just lead to detraining in many instances.

Eddie Monnier replies:

Part of the source of your confusion is because some people mean different things when they use the term LT. Ric and I have been discussing my response to last week's question about the definition of LT, which he mentions in his reply. In the hopes of avoiding any further confusion, I wanted to point out that while Ric and I differ in our opinions as to whether or not there are two (or even three) "widely accepted" definitions for Lactate Threshold among the scientific literature, we both agree that the term as usually used by exercise scientists refers to an intensity which can be sustained several hours. However, many athletes, coaches, and some scientists do use LT to refer to a higher intensity which can only be sustained for up to an hour or so ("second break point", OBLA, MLSS, CP60, 40K-TT power, etc.). "Anaerobic threshold" is also associated with these higher intensities, but as Ric points out, there is a movement away from using this term (in fact, it makes the hair on the back of the neck of some exercise physiologists stand on end!)

It's sort of a moot point because performance across the different definitions of LT is highly correlated. That is, if you increase your power at LT as defined by 1 mmol/L increase over baseline (one of the widely used lower intensity definitions), you will certainly see a corresponding increase in power at OBLA (one of the higher intensity usages).

The reason I felt it important to highlight that there are differences in definitions is so that you and other readers are aware that there are two basic intensities which may be intended by the term LT. Chances are, if you're reading a scientific paper it is using one of the lower intensities (but check the definition!) and chances are if you're reading a description of a workout (e.g, do 4 x 10-mins at lactate threshold power with 2-min recoveries), then it means the higher intensity (but ask!).

I agree with Ric that a 50W increment for a ramp test is too large. I would typically use 10-20W increments. In any case, if you owned a power meter, you coach could use the power information from the test to prescribe workouts to help you increase your LT power, which could be verified through subsequent tests. If you don't have a power meter, you can use the HR and perceived exertion associated with the power level from the test. But be aware the HR is subject to many variables (e.g., weather, diet, stress, etc.), which is why a reliable power meter is vastly superior for this type of training.

Lastly, regarding reverse periodization, this isn't new at all. It has been used regularly in strength training. Additionally, among endurance athletes, Luc Van Lierde and Mark Allen both used the approach successfully in their Ironman triathlon (IM) training. Given the importance of specificity, it makes sense to me that this could work for IM training, where events are raced at a steady (though admittedly amazing) tempo. Though I have not experimented with it, I have serious doubts that if applied to extremes it would work with any degree of success for competitive cycling because, while our sport is also primarily aerobic, the anaerobic energy systems are important to surviving key moves. Like Ric mentioned, though, for athletes who live in extremely cold weather climates, there may be a conscious decision to delay endurance building until later cycles when weather permits long rides outside. I wouldn't call this reverse periodization, though, because these athletes still work on specific endurance (i.e., training the anaerobic energy systems) whereas in a true reverse periodization model, specific endurance would precede aerobic endurance.

Crank length

I recently changed from 172.5 to 175mm cranks. What difference will this make to the amount of power transferred to the road-I know that the increased length should add extra leverage out of the saddle, but does it affect the power when in the saddle? I generally peddle at a high cadence (between 85 and 105 on flat, and slightly lower when climbing). If I maintain the same cadence as with the shorter cranks will my power go up for 'free' or will it have an effect on heart rate, oxygen uptake, etc?

Alan Wood

Robert Kühnen replies:

Unfortunately the 2.5 mm increase will not change your power output at all, but it will effect the movement of your legs. It's true, that the leverage increases, but simultaneously the path the foot travels increases too, you spin a bigger circle. Physical work (energy expended) is per definition force multiplied by travel. Power is work divided by time.

That means, that you can experience two effects with a longer crank without effecting the power:

1. At constant cadence: you produce the same power with less force through the longer path >foot speed increases.

2. At lower cadence: you produce the same power at the same force >foot speed remains constant (bigger circle, slower motion)

What's better? Nobody really knows. Experiments have shown no real correlation between crank length and power output. Even the very logical approach that taller persons need longer cranks isn't waterproof. If you feel more comfortable at low RPMs longer cranks are good. If you prefer higher RPMs shorter cranks are better - that's one reason why shorter cranks are raced on the track where you have no gears beside your legs.

In any case: a 1,4 percent change of the leverage from 172.5 to 175.0 is a very tiny difference.. once you get used (very quickly) it it feels normal. But you could also adapt to 160 or 180 mm.

If you want to explore your power output try:

Turning the numbers into performance

I'm 16 years old, 172cm tall, 59kg, and VO2 max of 68ml/kg/min, ride up to 400km per week, riding for about 2 years and with an average race distance of about 100km. I like to consider myself an out-and-out climber, and a so-so time triallist. However, I've never really had any good results, got the odd third place here and there, but never been able to have that extra kick when it comes to the business end of a race. I've been told that my numbers are really good for my age, but I've got no idea how to train for turning a third place into a winner. Should I push myself harder in training? I appreciate your help.


Eddie Monnier replies:

Your VO2max is good and suggests you have been gifted with an aerobic engine with good potential. However, as I pointed out in a response in last week's column, VO2max suggests potential more so than performance. Lactate threshold power (LTP, whichever definition of LT is used since they are highly correlated) is a better physiological marker in terms of predicting performance, but it's still far from perfect. If it were perfect, we would just compare test results at the starting line and then go home. Thankfully, it doesn't work that way.

With your build and aerobic capacity, I would expect you to climb reasonably well. Similarly, it's not uncommon for someone of your slight build to climb well but not time-trial well. Why? Success in the former depends on power to weight ratio while in the latter it's power to effective frontal area. The good and bad news about time-trialing is it's something of a specialty and it takes dedicated work to excel at it, both in terms of conditioning and in terms of optimizing your time-trial position.

It's impossible to say why you're not getting results more consistently as it could be any number of factors. You're training approach may not be effective in making the most out of your physiological potential, you may be employing poor tactics (team or individual), you may have not developed the right psychological state of mind to win, or any combination thereof.

Nobody could justifiably say to you, "Yes, you must train harder" without knowing a lot more about you, your races, your competition, and your training history. A lot of people make the mistake that elite amateurs and pros are so strong because they train so hard. They're strong because they *can* train that hard. Training harder is not always the answer. Training smarter is. There is always room to train smarter.

Your job is to make the most of your genetic potential through intelligent training, smart racing (individual and team tactics), and an unquenchable desire to win. There's no short cut. It takes all three legs of the stool. And it's not easy, either. You might consider getting a coach to help you sort it all out.

Training/logging software

The following responses are in answer to a request from me for suggestions for software for logging rides. I'd started using a piece of logging software and was enjoying messing about with graphs and generally adding a geeky aspect to my riding, so I asked the panel what such software they used and recommended, with the aim of putting together a feature on these applications.

I didn't get quite the responses I was expecting, as the way in which our coaches use technology with their athletes turns out to be very varied, so their responses are simply collected here for your information. - John Stevenson, Cyclingnews

Eddie Monnier:

I have all my athletes use, which allows me to program their schedules anywhere I have internet access. Additionally, Polar, SRM, PowerTap, Ergomo, etc. are all uploadable. So the athlete uploads the file and it auto completes many of the daily log fields. Plus, I have access to the raw data. It's $119/year. For a self-coached athlete, you can use the Virtual Coach to help you with your periodization and in workout scheduling. Plus, there's a message board where you can ask questions of the coaches and other users.

In addition to training bible, I use Cyclingpeaks ($99) and SRM (free) software. The former has some nice graphing capabilities, but it's not really for planning workouts, more for just recording them.

Steve Owens:

Well it took me about a year and a half (and on-going) but I've set up a program and database that enables me the same functionality as only through my own website I've been using it for about 2 years now and it's working great. The only difference between and (as of today) is that you cannot upload files. They must be emailed to me or any of the coaches that work for me. If any of you would like, feel free to use the login name "testuser" and the password "demo" to log in and view the training log and such.

Ric Stern:

I have all my athletes use Crosstrak for logging data and sending it back to me. All the power meters (except currently Ergomo) are uploadable as well as lots of HR monitors and other kit. Data is easily sent along with athlete notes via the web to me.

I also use SRM/PT software for looking at specifics within a file, as well as some number crunching in Excel. Crosstrak ( is US$40 and I find it excellent for reporting data. The company are great at including new features as when i think of them!

Unlike it doesn't offer any functionality as regards self coaching, but then I don't need that in a training log!

Dave Palese:

I still use the phone. Call me old fashioned I guess.

Athletes keep their own training log (following a format I suggest, or one that works for them). Then we discuss their training either weekly or bi-weekly. We are always free to email or set-up a call if they/I feel it to be needed.

I tried for a while to use email and web-based solutions, but just found that too much was lost in translation and the coaching process became less fun for me. One-to-one interaction is very important to me.

Knowing that they will actually be talking to me puts more on the athlete to keep track of the details in his or her training, since they know the questions I will be asking, and always ask. A live talk also let's me ask questions right then and there about the data they are giving and removes 100 percent of the guess work for me.

I can also listen to the tone of their voice. Most people's tone and choice of words can give you an indication into how they are feeling. Being able to hear their voice can often let me know when a rider is feeling more stressed than they let on in their written notes. It has helped some of my athletes avoid overreaching on a few occasions.

My athletes using power send me files as they complete training sessions (daily) so I can review them, give immediate feedback, and make notes for our next talk. These athletes also must, when at all possible, communicate with me via phone on a weekly basis.

Steve Owens:

Good point Dave. I should also clarify since I'm one that uses a web-based program to track athletes' training logs, that I too have a minimum of one phone call per week. It's a very important piece of the puzzle that should not be overlooked.

Eddie Monnier:

Wow, you ARE old fashioned, Dave! ;-) I'm pretty sure that most of us who coach at our levels talk to their clients regularly. I talk and email with my Premium service clients at least once per week and often several times. An online log, however, let's me look at their logs as frequently as I want (usually every other day and certainly after any key workout) so that I can, if appropriate, fine tune workouts on their schedule. Plus, having access to the actual raw data gives me a lot of analytical power.

I agree, absolutely, that truly talking with an athlete regularly is of paramount importance. I can often "hear" tiredness in their voice before it shows up in the log. And that's worth gold. But I still like to leverage new technology to its fullest extent.

Beppo Hilfiker:

Training/logging software is the essence of 2PEAK.

We see our contribution more in offering a productivity and communication tool for both athletes and coaches then to preach a (training) philosophy.

An athlete can share his training log, which is free, or his training plan with other people or his coach wherever these are on the planet or time zones. 2PEAK's browser based approach allows a coach to look into an athlete's log daily and make corrections that the athlete will again see in real time, without having to wait to reach the athlete or vice versa by phone or fax.

2PEAK is the only training software, I'm aware of, that is capable of calculating future training. Of course all the parameters that determine the optimal path to peak performance are in a constant state of flux. such unpredictability scuttle even the most carefully contrived plan. That is why 2PEAK works DYNAMICALLY and recalculates a training plan as its needed or as often as the user wishes. This is of course where it also becomes a very productive tool for a coach since 2PEAK will always produce a meaningful structure, therefore the coach can spend more time on the real creative process and the one on one communication.

There is a second level behind what is apparent where coaches can adjust the training of their athletes. They have tools to influence the whole plan, just a period or a single work out in both volume and intensity. Here all the training related parameters such length of intervals, the different recovery abilities, special trainings, etc. As can be adjusted independently. So even if a coach believes in a different 'philosophy', he would just have to adapt the algorithm to his liking with the help of simple controllers.

As stated above the use of the training log is free as well as the several tools (gear calculator, speed calculator, riding position charts, training zone calculator etc.) that come with it.

A dynamic training plan starts at 7 US$ a month and goes up depending on what kind and how much personal coaching and/or nutrition advice the customer wishes.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to present and discuss what moves us during the day and keeps us awake until late at night. We feel privileged to be able to turn our passion into our profession!

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