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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 15, 2004

Upgrading Categories & weight training
Breakfast before or after
Base building vs hard group rides?
Leg length discrepancy

Upgrading Categories & weight training

I'm a 26 year old, self-coached, Cat IV with a strong chance of moving up to Cat III by the end of the season. I'm starting to take a more annual view of my training and am wondering what I can start to do now in hopes of making Cat II by the end of next season.

With strength helping me get quicker, tactics are going to be equally important for me to learn as I progress up the ranks. Should I be looking at acquiring a coach now or wait until my season is over? Adding to my winter training through weights? And what are the best ways to acquire the tactical knowledge to move me up through the ranks?

Nathan Smith
Niskayuna, NY USA

Ric Stern replies:

It's good to hear that you're improving your fitness, with a view to moving up the categories. A coach can further help you with both specific training and practical coaching advice. Often a coach will be able to make the most efficient use of your time, and myself or one of the other coaches in the fitness Q&A at would be delighted to help you. Whenever you take on a coach, will help you to improve, and the sooner you start coaching the sooner the likelihood you'll start improving.

It's unlikely that strength training will increase your fitness in relation to your cycling goals, which I assume are geared towards endurance cycling performance. In fact weight/strength training may even be detrimental to endurance performance, as the increase in body mass, will mean more weight has to be carried uphill. Additionally, an increase in muscle cross sectional area will mean a relative decrease in mitochondrial and capillary density, which is likely detrimental.

Dario Fredrick replies:

Regarding when you might want to begin working with a coach, there are advantages to starting now as well as at the end of the season. Working with a coach right away will help you to address your goals of improving your tactical knowledge and expenditure of energy during races. On the other hand, unless you feel you need to change your training structure, it may be an easier transition if it happens in the off season, after you give yourself a significant recovery break and are mentally ready to make such a change.

Regarding strength/weight training in the winter, it depends on what your strengths are. Do you have a tendency to easily put on muscle mass when you apply resistance training (weights or similar)? Do you have a tendency to push big gears, but have difficulty with endurance or speed? If so, strength may already be your natural "strength," suggesting that a focus on other areas of training, such as muscular endurance and speed may be more appropriate. However, if you want to improve climbing strength or explosive speed, a weight training program can help.

It appears that power-oriented (explosive) resistance training may improve short duration efforts without compromising the gains from endurance training. One well designed study with trained cyclists demonstrated that explosive-style strength training improved average power for a 30 second maximum effort (Bastiaans, et al., 2001).

Since climbing usually requires more strength (force) than riding the equivalent power on flat terrain (power = force x cadence), strength training in combination with endurance training may also help improve your climbing. While there is not extensive research on these effects, many cyclists have experienced gains in climbing performance from the addition of strength training to their endurance program. Most studies examined the combined effects of strength and endurance training vs. endurance training alone, but only a few have directly compared them with trained cyclists. Researchers typically measure endurance performance either by cycling time to exhaustion at a set percentage of one's VO2max, or by average power for a 1 hour time trial.

For trained cyclists the combination of strength and endurance training seems to have no added effect on improving either VO2max or 1 hr time trial performance over the effects of endurance training alone (Bishop, et al., 1999). These results may suggest that strength training does not raise VO2max or improve power over a long time trial, but do they apply to climbing performance or shorter, more intense efforts in races? Furthermore, you can improve your maximum sustainable power without changing your VO2max.

Simply speaking, the benefits of strength training are variable and depend on the individual and how you apply it to your training. Just keep in mind the old adage: "Train your weaknesses, race your strengths."


Bastiaans, J. J., A. B. van Diemen, T. Veneberg, and A. E. Jeukendrup. The effects of replacing a portion of endurance training by explosive strength training on performance in trained cyclists. Eur J Appl Physiol. 86:79-84, 2001.

Bishop, D., D. G. Jenkins, L. T. Mackinnon, M. McEniery, and M. F. Carey. The effects of strength training on endurance performance and muscle characteristics. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 31:886-891, 1999.

Ric Stern adds:

I must disagree with Dario on the issue of weight training. The cited study reports that explosive style strength training prevents a decrease in 30-sec sprint power at 60-revs/min when compared to a training group only practising endurance workouts (p. 83)

I'm currently authoring a review paper on the effects of strength/weight training and endurance cycling performance!

Dario went on to say, "Since climbing usually requires more strength (force) than riding the equivalent power on flat terrain (power = force x cadence), strength training in combination with endurance training may also help improve your climbing."

As I've pointed out time and time again, strength is simply defined as the maximal force or tension developed by a muscle or group of muscles (see McArdle Katch and Katch). Climbing may require more force, but to use force and strength synonymously is incorrect.

Strength training has the potential to increase muscle cross sectional area (hypertrophy) or to increase neuromuscular function. in the former hypertrophy will increase the maximal amount of force you can apply, whereas the latter has little or no effect of crossover, as adaptations occur at the specific joint angle and velocity at which they're trained.

Hypertrophy, will almost certainly increase peak power output (i.e., 5-sec sprint power) and of course is used extensively by track sprinters and kilo/500-m riders who are limited by such issues. However, the hypertrophy will mean an increase in mass, which has to be lugged uphill (which of course isn't a problem/issue for track sprinters). On the other hand it's a distinct disadvantage for the endurance rider who races under different topographical conditions. Furthermore, an increase in hypertrophy will mean a (relative) decrease in mitochondrial and capillary density.

Additionally, peak forces occur from a stationary start, and are much reduced when pedaling at anywhere vaguely near a normal cadence. assuming that the hill in question isn't e.g. <5-secs in duration it's limited by the power that you can produce at VO2max/MAP and power at LT.

The forces encountered during climbing (assuming a standing start isn't involved) are actually quite low, even by elite senior male riders. These forces can be met by untrained (healthy) individuals who are age, gender, and mass matched. It's the ability to keep the power coming that's the problem, and that's a cardio-respiratory and metabolic issue.

Dario Fredrick replies:

I see the confusion of terminology. The literal meaning of "strength" was not used appropriately. In layman's terms, force, resistance and strength training are often used synonomously, and that was an error on my part. I will substitute "resistance" for "strength" with regard to weight training for cycling and high force/low cadence training on the bike.

In the Bastiaans, et al. (2001) study, they did show an increasing tendency in 30sec power in the experimental group after 4 weeks of explosive strength training (although it was not statistically significant), with mean power increasing from 665.8W (±50.5) to 695.1W (±85.3) (p.82). Thereafter, from 4 to 9 weeks, 30sec power did not change. There was a significant group-by-training interaction, which does not necessarily mean an improvement in the experimental group, but looking at the numbers suggests a tendency toward improvement in that group. Furthermore, the control group (no explosive strength training) showed a significant decrease in 30sec power at 9wks [760.2W (±99.1) to 715.2W (±66.3).

I agree that most areas of performance in cycling (climbing, sprinting, time trialing) are best improved by training on the bike. While the scientific literature does not show an improvement in the endurance performance of trained cyclists with weight training, I have seen improvements in cyclists' climbing power with a progression of weight training and resistance training on the bike. This has been the case with both beginning-level cyclists and well-trained cyclists who are early in their training cycle. Using power meters, I have found that the force (torque) component of power increases since higher power is produced at the same cadence. This is the point I was trying to establish in my previous response but obviously misused the term "strength" training instead of high force or resistance training on the bike.

Breakfast before or after

I have been reading up on some of your fitness Q&A and read back in November 27 that drinking milk can have a bad affect in muscle recovery due to the lactose levels and Lactic acid build up in the legs, learning this has prompted my to ask my question. I train most mornings on the bike 4-5 days a week and an average of 60km's I never eat my breakfast before I train, instead I have it after my ride, about an hour after to be precise. Could this be having a negative affect on my recovery?

I stopped eating breakfast before rides as I would feel full and sometime ill while riding, also time of day, I leave home most mornings at 5am.

Ashley Leggott

Scott Saifer replies:

I was not involved in the panel last November, so I hope someone will bring me up to speed on this question. Lactose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and galactose. The metabolism of galactose starts with it's conversion to glucose 1-phosphate, after which it follows the same metabolic pathway the glucose 1-phosphate which is released during glycogenolysis. What does 12-carbon lactose have to do with 3-carbon lactic acid?

Meanwhile, yes, training 60km without eating beforehand will have a substantial negative effect on recovery in that such a ride will deplete glycogen stores more than the same ride after breakfast when sugars and fats from breakfast will be utilized, sparing glycogen. Since performance is impaired while glycogen is depleted and it takes several days to restore deeply depleted glycogen stores, such a pattern of not eating and riding will most likely impair performance.

Ric Stern replies:

I was a panelist then, but don't recall such a response, and in fact checking the question and answer for that day reveals that Jim responded in with a similar response to Scott. Jim, did however, report that a lot of people are lactose intolerant and that mixing recovery drinks with water as opposed to milk might mean faster absorption rates. As Scott and Jim report none of this is to do with lactate produced when training.

Additionally, as Scott suggests, training on an empty stomach after an overnight fast is likely detrimental to performance and recovery. If you are timed limited prior to training a light then you should endeavour to consume something light and high in carbohydrates which can be digested rapidly such as fluids and energy gel or a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink. These will help to restore and top up liver glycogen from the overnight fast, thus allowing you to better maintain training intensity.

Base building vs hard group rides?

I am a 39 year old enthusiastic recreational cyclist. I usually do a few races each year in both MTN biking and Triathlons (sprints). I love MTN biking but it is a three hour round trip before I can even hit the trails. So last summer I bought a road bike just to keep the miles up, around 100 a week. My average heart rate is about 158 on our 21 mile group ride every Saturday. I did Chris Carmichael's three mile fit test in just under nine minutes last fall, but I have yet to do one this season.

I am very confused at this time on how to improve my fitness. I started (road) riding with a local shop last summer later realizing I was losing fitness. This, to say the least, was very frustrating. I have read about building a solid base/foundation level but am curious how strict I have to be during this time. (I am trying to follow Mark Allen's recommendation of 180-39 = 141-5 = for a max foundation building heart rate of 136) Can I still do my hard Saturday ride with the local shop during this phase of my training or should I stay away for a certain length of time? If so, how long? My first race is not until May 19th. At what point should I start putting in harder workouts? My main goal is a race on June 13th. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Scott Jones
Floundering wannabe from Virginia Beach, VA

Dave Palese replies:

In the context of following a training plan pointed towards a target event, the real issue is establishing a good balance of low, middle and high intensity during your "base" cycles. There isn't anything wrong or detrimental with doing performing some high intensity efforts during these early periods.

What can make your training less effective is spending too much time training at these higher intensities at the expense of training time in the lower ranges.

Training at lower intensities causes positive adaptations that will serve you well later when you start doing focused training at higher intensities in preparation for you target events. Also, spending 8-12 weeks putting in a good base will help prevent injuries. Many riders rush into higher intensity training without putting in a solid foundation, and suffer avoidable injuries.

So, if Saturday is one of your days of the week that accounts for a large chunk of your training time, I would suggest avoiding the group ride for 4-6 weeks (maybe more) until you have had a chance to do some focused base training.

As far as when you should start doing your harder workouts, or shifting to more event specific workouts, I would say 6-8 weeks out from your target is good. Also leave enough time to taper down your hard training so you show up on race day fit and well rested.

Leg length discrepancy

First I just want to thank you for all of your expert advice. I have a couple quick questions. I am relatively new to the sport of cycling and am in the base endurance building phase of my training program. On receiving my yearly physical my Doctor happened to mention, out of the blue, that my left leg is 2 cm shorter than my right. I do not notice anything when I am on the bike, but I am wondering, since it is early in my training regiment, should I try and fix this?

Second, I have been experiencing some tenderness in my Achilles tendons and it seems to happen as a result of dropping my heels when climbing. Should I simple try and climb without trying to harness that extra power one gets when dropping ones heels on climbs? I am 26 yrs. old, 5t 11in, and about 170lb.

Steve Navratil
Charlotte NC

Scott Saifer replies:

Yes, you should try to do something about the leg length discrepancy. The question is what. There are two types of leg length discrepancy: anatomical and functional. If you have an anatomical discrepancy, the lengths of the bones are actually different. Depending on which bones are different, shims under the cleat or cleat position might need to be adjusted.

If you have a functional leg length difference, you have your pelvis tilted so that one side is higher than the other even though the leg bones are the same length. This type of discrepancy can sometimes be corrected by chiropractic or physical therapy, and is sometimes so stuck that bike and or cleat adjustments are required. I'd hesitate to prescribe a particular fix without actually seeing you, so I'd suggest that you visit a competent bike-aware physical therapist or chiropractor in your neighborhood.

When you say that you are dropping your heels, do you mean at the top or the bottom of the pedal stroke, or both?

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