Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for March 29, 2004
The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel
Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com)
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 (www.davepalese.com)
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 (www.trainright.com)
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 (www.velo-fit.com)
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
David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com)
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 (www.cyclefitcentre.com)
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
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 (www.wholeathlete.com)
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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
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 (www.cyclecoach.com)
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 (www.cyclecoach.com)
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 (www.elitefitcoach.com)
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
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.
Limitations on sprinting
Time to be done?
Running as part of training
Knee injury fluid
Limitations on sprinting
[After the discussion a couple of weeks ago on strength and weight training,
Cyclingnews editor Jeff Jones threw this question about sprinting into the mix,
and got some lively discussion going among our coaches -Ed]
This may seem like a naive question, but what are the limiting factors in sprinting,
which is arguably the most important discipline when it comes to actually winning
the majority of mass start races? Why do people who are born with all those
fast twitch muscles sprint much faster than aerobic diesel engines, like Lance
Armstrong? Lance must obviously have one of the best aerobic engines in the
game, but when it comes to a four man sprint on the flat, he'll nearly always
I know you have to be fit enough to finish a race in order to win it, but there
are plenty of sprinters who can benefit from the advantages of drafting to survive
in a bunch. Then at the end, they're the ones who get the flowers.
Dave Palese replies:
Sprinting is as much about training as it is about muscle fiber types.
It is true that some will have a natural ability for sprinting due to genetics,
but every rider can improve their sprint.
Like every abilty in cycling, improving your sprint has three aspects that
need to be developed in training and practice: the physical (strength or
force application and leg speed); the technical (using good sprint form
to achieve optimal aerodynamics, power transfer, and control over the bike);
and mental (develop good sprint strategies and tactics).
The physical side of sprinting can be addressed in training and can be addressed
all year-round. Sprinting combines two physical abilities: strength and speed
(leg speed). These two combine to procuce high power outputs.
When a sprint begins a rider needs to be able to apply a substantial amount
of force the pedals (strength) and get that gear going very quickly (efficient
muscle recruitment). This is the jump, and can be the deciding factor in a
sprints outcome. Once the rider reaches top speed, the amount of force that
needs to be applied to the pedals is greatly reduced, but he or she now needs
to keep that gear going until they cross the line (leg speed).
During early winter training athletes can improve leg speed and pedaling
efficiency by including high cadence, light resistance training.
To start, try doing High Cadence Intervals. Start by pedaling at a brisk
cadence (100-105 rpm) in an easy gear (39/42x21-17). Over a 30 second period,
increase your cadence to the point where you start to bounce in the saddle.
Then back off the cadence just enough so that you settle into the saddle.
Maintain that cadence for 90-150 seconds. Spin easy for 3 minutes and repeat
3 times. When you are pedaling more efficiently it will feel like you are
pulling yourself down into your saddle. Focus on engaging your hip flexors
to get your leg over the top of your pedal stroke.
To train quick muscle recruitment, try High Cadence Sprints. From a slow
roll, and in a light gear (39x42 x 21-17), accelerate quickly to your maximum
sustainable cadence while remaining seated. Maintain your cadence for 8-10
seconds and then spin easy. Rest for 3 mintues between sprints and repeat
8-10 times in a workout.
Maintaing a higher cadence during endurance riding also helps promote good
leg speed and muscle suppleness. Try focusing on riding at a brisk cadence
of 95-105 rpm during your long endurance rides.
To develop strength, athletes can train in the gym initially (but not lifting
as bodybuilders or powerlifters do), or (even better) this strength can be
developed on the bike doing low cadence, high resistence work. Ride for 3-30
minutes in a large gear that produces a low cadence (50-60 rpm) and a controlable
heart rate (AT -10 bpm). Focus on pedaling from the hips and relaxing the
upperbody. Maintain smooth circles, applying force to the pedals all the way
around the pedal stroke. Rest for 5-10 minutes between intervals, with easy
spinning in your easiest gear.
As the competition phase nears and training becomes more specific, sprint
specific training can begin. I usually start riders doing Standing Starts.
These are done from a near standstill in a big gear and the athlete accelerated
as quickly as possible trying to get up to maximum cadence as quick as possible.
Standing Starts last about 10 seconds, and most can start by including 6-8
Starts in a workout. Rest for 5 minutes between Starts.
Later, Hill Sprints continue the path towards more specific training. Find
a hill that you can come into with good speed (usually a hill that is opposed
by another that you can roll down and into your sprint hill). The hill should
be of a significant grade, but not such that you will get bogged down.
Come into the hill at good speed and in a gear that will allow you to get
on top of it in 2-4 seconds. Sprint hard from the bottom and continue for
8-10 seconds. As you go up the hill, the resistence will increase and you
have to work hard to keep the cadence high. Again, start with 6-8 sprints
in a workout, with 5 minutes easy spinning between sprints.
When the athlete enters the Specialization period, group sprint sessions
can be a great training mode to polish things off. These session can take
many forms, short sprints (3-5 riders sprinting for 300-200 meters from a
rolling start, every rider leads out), or longer sprints (3-8 riders, winding
up the pace over a 2k run-up and then sprinting for 200-500 meters). Whatever
form these sessions take, be sure the venue is safe and that the activity
between sprints is easy spinning for 5 minutes or so, allowing for good recovery
so each riders gets the most out of each sprint.
During all of the above workouts, attention should be paid to good sprint
form, even at the expense of speed at first. Concentrate on keeping your weight
back and centered over the bike. The bike should move under you, while your
upper body maintains a straight line towards the finish. Always sprint with
your hands in the drops of the handlebars. In this position you are the most
aerodynamic, have the best power transfer and have the most control overy
your bike in the event of contact with another rider. Keep your head up and
eyes looking ahead of you. Don't ignore working on good form when sprinting.
Nothing kills your chances of winning more than a crash because of erratic
Sprint tactics is a book in itself so I won't really talk too much to that
point here. Just remember, the closer you get to the line, more of a disadvantage
you have to those in front of you. So always be asking yourself, "Do I have
enough time between here and the line to come around these 2... 3... 4...
riders in front of me (considering my and their abilities in a sprint)?
Oh, and by the way, if Lance really wanted to win sprints, he would be able
to beat just about anybody. The guy is gifted, plain and simple. He just needs
to set a goal, and he's there.
Ric Stern replies:
I'm not sure that sprinting is the most important discipline for winning
the majority of RRs, be those pro or amateur. If this was the case i think
we'd see more sprinters win more races. That said, the ability to sprint at
the end of a race is or can be quite important.
Certainly, the importance of drafting can't be overlooked, and there's data
to show that finishing one of the TdF stages in the lead group required a
power output of 98 W. You'd be hard pushed to find anyone who regularly rides
a bike unable to maintain that power output. However, the ability to tightly
hold a wheel and avoid the front, may not be quite as easy. Of course, if
all that you can do is average 98 W, then when the race heads uphill, into
a TT, an echelon forms or similar then you're going to be in trouble and as
you'll require way more power than that.
The ability to sprint, is governed in part by the peak force that you can
generate, inasmuch as peak force at zero or low velocity is proportional to
muscle cross sectional area. However, many people that race can generate power
outputs that are similar to, or even exceed the pros (when matched for mass,
age, and gender), and of course sprinting (on the road) rarely starts from
zero (i can think of two possible episodes in vaguely recent history where
it did -- i think Liege from '87 with Roche and Criquelion who may have tried
match sprinting in the last couple hundred metres, until Argentin flew past,
and the womens' British National Champs in maybe the early 90's where the
leading two competitors crash about 100m from the line). Top class (male)
road sprinters (not track riders) are likely to be able to sprint at ~ 1200
to ~ 1600 W.
Dave's suggestions in general (with the exception of the low cadence work,
as it doesn't improve strength, and isn't related to sprint - this is aerobic
training) will help improve sprinting ability. Sprints from stationary or
near stationary (seated in a low gear), sprints from a good speed (~ 40 km/hr)
in a big gear out of the saddle and other similar ideas are all good. There's
no reason why anyone can't improve at sprinting. i also generally recommend
a much longer recovery period between sprints (10 to 20-mins) as you want
to completely recharge your muscles energy stores, and the idea of sprint
training is to increase your peak power (highest that you can hit).
Additionally, tactics, and skill are extremely important for sprinting and
can be practised with training partners, making sure that the road conditions
(e.g. traffic) is safe to do so.
I don't believe that Lance and many other GC riders would be good any good
at sprinting, no matter how much they trained. They might be good at going
from a long way out and doing a protracted 'sprint', but that's not quite
the same thing. In a proper sprint head to head Zabel, Cipo, Pettachi, etc
are going to beat the GC riders by a long way. If you put the GC riders against
*proper* sprinters (Hoy, Maclean, Eadie, etc) they'd be even further behind.
Jeff Jones adds:
Thanks for the responses. I asked the question out of pure interest and relevance
to the recent debate on cyclingnews, as well as the fact that I am also a "non-sprinter"
who has had many second and third places.
Ric expressed doubt that sprinting was important. I was generalising of course,
but if you look at the top of the victory list last year you'll see sprinters:
Petacchi with 28 wins, Zabel with 14, Kirsipuu and McEwen with 12, Cooke with
10, Valverde with 9 (although he can climb too). Of the non-sprinters, the best
is Vinokourov with 11 wins, then Simoni with 10, Mayo and Rich with 8 etc. Lance
Armstrong is a fair way down the list with 5 wins, although one of them was
a big one ;-) . This is just grouping riders into "pure sprinters" and "everyone
else". I dare say if you looked closely at the "everyone else" list you would
find a lot of riders who had a very handy sprint too.
In my experience in all sorts of racing, solo wins are very rare, while small
to large groups contesting the finish are not. Obviously the better sprinters
in the group are going to end up as gaining most of the placings. Also during
a race such as a crit, the ability to sprint is crucial if it's a technical
circuit and/or there are a lot of attacks. I you can't sprint out of a corner
as quick as the person in front of you, then gaps will invariably open up, causing
many problems! It's tough closing them down at 50-55 km/h. Same thing applies
to following an attack - if you can get the attacker's wheel straight away,
you're a lot better off.
Ric also pointed out the important of drafting. Of course, this is why people
of widely varying abilities can hang onto a fast, but flat bunch ride. The hills
sort things out fast, as the front riders will probably be putting out more
power (e.g. 250W on the flat up to 350W on the climb) but the people sitting
on will have to nearly double theirs relative to what they were putting out
before (e.g. 170W on the flat to 330W on the climb). Depending on steepness,
effectiveness of the draft etc.
The issue of peak wattage is what I was getting at in my question. I think
my peak power was around 1100W on a good day. I have lost an unbelieveable number
of sprints in the jump (as Dave noted it's one of *the* crucial aspects of sprinting),
even though once I wind up, I end up at the same speed as the others. And the
slower the starting velocity, the worse for me [yes, I've tried starting in
a lower gear, which helps slightly]. I've won sprints whenever I've been able
to get a good lead out i.e. not being gapped off the wheel when the sprint starts,
and drafting until 150m to go, waiting for everyone else to hit their peak speed,
before coming round. So I'm not a completely hopeless case ;-)
My current sprint training consists of trying to win the bunch sprint along
the Schelde whenever I go out with the boys in the morning. This is never a
tactical sprint - it's more of a classic leadout, where the speed starts to
lift in the final two km and if I pick a good wheel I can time it right to "win".
I find it good practice, but it doesn't address the weakness of the jump. The
Schelde sprints are perfect for tactical practice, apart from the occasional
rider coming the other way - I'll pull up if this is the case.
I'm sure Lance could improve his sprint a bit if he wanted, but he's really
a pure GC rider now and that's one of the reasons why he'll have a hard time
winning another classic. There are slightly different characteristics required
to win either. And I'd say winning the Tour ranks a lot higher than winning
any number of other races for him.
Thanks for the response/discussion though. I was definitely interested in the
physical limiting factors in sprinting, rather than the mental (which are important
of course). It's interesting to note that nearly all the top road sprinters
don't have huge legs, but I guess this is because they have to be aerobically
fit enough to get to the end - always a compromise. Track is another story :-)
Brett Aitken replies:
In addition to Ric and Dave's comments I think the term 'sprinters' is often
overused. If we looked at the sprinters in the pro peloton their percentage
muscle fibre makeup is probably around 60% slow twitch to 40% fast twitch
compared to true track sprinters who are likely to be above 80% fast twitch.
Also the power output of an elite track sprinter often peaks over 2000 Watts
compared to the pro peloton sprinter of 1200-1600W as mentioned before.
Therefore it's only in relative terms to the average pro cyclist that we
call certain riders in the peloton a sprinter but if they were up against
the true track sprinters they wouldn't even come close.
In regards to the limiting factors of a sprinter in endurance cycling races
though since that seems to be the key question, my opinion is that the real
limiting factor is an ability for a rider to position themselves in the right
spot. Position is everything in endurance cycling race finishes. Even if you
have limited sprinting power if you can fight off everyone and place yourself
behind a key sprinter and draft off them you should be able to run a place
in the consideration that they do as well.
Of course this is in the case that you are already at high speed and there
is no need for a great acceleration such as jumping out of a corner. Another
attribute of the "endurance sprinters" is a good anaerobic capacity where
they can hold a high power (500W +) for around 1 to 2 minutes. This enables
them to get the position they need in the first place in those final kilometres
before the actual sprint. Finally a great aerobic system is needed as well
to just be there for the finish after all the hard kilometres which precedes
it. Essentially the road sprinters we see in the pro peloton are the true
Ric Stern replies:
I think there's probably plenty of races where there's small groups coming
together, and the riders that win aren't road sprinters, they're just more
practiced at the skill and technique of sprinting (see Brett's reply). However,
that said, there's also going to be a difference in actual sprint ability
as well (i.e., peak power). This can be trained on the bike with the correct
training. Additionally, there's always going to be certain people limited
in certain abilities because they chose their parents badly. however, that
doesn't mean they can't improve it my just mean that they can't excel at a
During a crit, kermesse, RR, etc., the repeated accelerations that occur
coming out of a corner are in part to do with positioning (further down the
bunch, the harder life is). however, the ability to recover from these accelerations
is *entirely* dependent upon aerobic metabolism and is therefore a function
of LT and VO2max.
As for specific training techniques, try *seated* starts in a low gear from
(almost) stationary, staying seated for 10-secs, recover, ride easy for 10+
mins and repeat. also, practice sprints from speed for say 40 km/hr. try to
practice these away from everyone else. This will force you to concentrate
on the actual effort and fitness for them, whereas doing them in a group situation
*may* mean that you become more interested in beating your training partners,
but not putting in 100% training effort (e.g., you sit on until the last seconds).
Additionally, to get the skill aspect you should also try the group/skill
work as that shouldn't be underestimated.
Eddie Monnier replies:
I echo Brett's emphasis on the importance of positioning and usually tell
my athletes that there are two races. The first is to a certain point (e.g.,
the last corner in a criterium) and the second is to the finish line. Without
"placing" well in the first finish, you cannot really compete for the actual
finish. Placing in the first finish has a lot to do with mental attitude (the
'tude in what I call The TMT of Sprinting, which can be read at www.velo-fit.com/articles.htm),
which explains why some formerly successful bunch sprinters eventually lose
their bunch sprint prowess after experiencing a nasty crash.
Additionally, I would add that many people focus on peak power in a sprint
when it's actually the average over the distance that matters. Given two riders
of the same size, if rider A peaks at 1300 watts but averages 1000W over the
sprint distance while rider B peaks at 1200 watts and averages 1050W, rider
B gets to take home the victory flowers. The peak power is only for a small
fraction of the total sprint.
Finally, if you have a power meter, you can learn a lot about your sprint
characteristics and the resulting best tactics. For example, you may find
that you can generate a big burst of power that falls off very quickly. If
so, you'd generally be best to stay on somebody's wheel until inside the last
100 meters before going for it. Conversely, you may not have a high peak,
but may be able to sustain a high average over a relatively long sprint. This
type of sprinter does best leading it out and hopes the bursty sprinter isn't
on his or her wheel (use a teammate as a sweeper to help mitigate this).
Jeff Jones sums up:
Thanks for your response. As I said to Ric, I could probably define a sprinter
as "anyone who sprints faster than me" ;-) . But seriously, your point is well
taken that it's a big sliding scale from track sprinters down to club C grade
sprinters, This is why I initially stated (and still believe) that "sprinting"
is is arguably the most important discipline when it comes to actually winning
the majority of mass start races. But that wasn't the real point of the question
anyway and I don't want to digress.
I agree with you that positioning is crucial in a sprint, and can often be
the most important limiting factor. I guess that's why I phrased my question
"limiting forces" to refer to just the physical aspects of sprinting. i.e. what
is it in your own body that prevents you from going faster? All those extra
fast twitch fibres that "sprinters" seem to have must be a big factor in giving
them that ability to produce a large peak power and high average power over
the course of a sprint. Then there's the aerobic conditioning required to get
yourself in the right place at the end and be able to hold it - this is probably
why I've never seen a pure track sprinter like Sean Eadie finish a crit [I'm
sure it happens].
To summarise then, I guess we can pick out the following key *physical* points
1 Ability to generate a large peak power + efficient muscle recruitment
2 High average power over the distance of the sprint
3 Good leg speed
4 Knowing your own sprinting style (good jump, good sustaining ability etc.]
5 Having good form = aerodynamics, control, power transfer
Thanks everyone for their input!
I'm 19 yrs old, cat 3 racer, but have a major problem. My left leg is shorter
than my right. I know this because I have taken measurements by professional
bike fitters. Throughout my whole cycling career I've always had a problem with
my left leg because I couldn't deliver the same power to the pedal as my right
leg could. Is there anything I could do to compensate? So far I've been wearing
three socks on my left leg just so that it feels normal when I pedal. Please
help and thanks in advance for your help.
Eddie Monnier replies:
It's not uncommon to have a functional leg length discrepancy (LLD). I write
"functional" LLD because the only way to know for certain if you truly have
a bone leg length discrepancy is to have x-rays done. Nevertheless, clues
that you may have an LLD (functional or bone) include persistent lower back
discomfort when you ride and/or recurring or chronic saddle sores on the same
What you want to know is where your shorter leg is functionally shorter.
It can be in the femur (hip to knee), tibia (knee to ankle), or both. Because
we pedal in circles, you correct less than 100% of the discrepancy. If the
femur is shorter, I follow Paul Swift's (co-developer of the LeMond Fit bike
fitting system)) recommendation of correcting 1/4 to 1/3 of the difference,
whereas we correct 1/2 of the difference for the shortage attributable to
The correction can be made by using a simple platform under the cleat. I
use LeWedge by LeMond Fitness which also enable putting the athletes foot
in a neutral position relative to the pedal platform vs. a forefoot varus
(the vast majority of the population exhibits a forefoot that is angled outward
such that the little toe is a few degrees lower than the big toe when the
rear foot is in a neutral position) or forefoot valgus (forefoot is angled
Hopefully, you have an expert fitter in your area who can help you correct
this difference. If you don't know of one, check with your local cycling clubs
Time to be done?
I'm a 30 year old rider who was pretty good for a little while. Good enough
even to be offered spots on Div 3 teams. I raced and trained pretty well for
a number of years, but probably never made enough sacrifices to reach my potential
(I've never really been able to keep my weight down low enough to where I'm
truly fast in all situations and for no other reason that I love to eat). I
don't think so much about going pro on the road anymore though I still have
it in the back of my mind I'd like to earn my mtb pro license (I'm semi-pro
and again do pretty well) - its just for me to have the satisfaction of earning
it, not for any other reason. On one hand, I've worked on it for a long time
and know that I can do it - I basically had it the last time I raced a full
But, I can't seem to stay focused on training any more. I make excuses that
I don't have time, but I probably do if I manage it correctly. A big problem
is that I don't really have any goals any more. I feel a bit silly about the
whole wanting to reach pro mtb thing, but I can't wrap myself around local stuff,
especially short lame crits and road races and get much of any motivation out
of it. I've tried to refocus on things like masters championships and what not,
but its not really working - I can't seem to want that badly enough.
I didn't ride much at all last year and though I intended to get back into
it this season it hasn't really happened. First I injured myself and had to
take 6 weeks off and though I still enjoy riding my bike and I still enjoy participating
in races when I go, I don't seem to have the motivation to do the training I
know I need to do to perform well. I'm not even riding my bike because I'm not
really training. I don't think I'm burnt out, but I'm having difficulty in finding
reasons to keep riding and racing. Am I being ridiculous? I'm just not making
the adjustment to being okay with being a local rider.
Now, on top of that, I feel I should really start over with base training for
at least a month before doing tempo and then harder work. Should I just hang
it up, sell my stuff, and find something else or do I buck up and quit being
a big baby and train like I know I can?
Scott Saifer replies:
I'd suggest getting a bunch of cycling magazines, and books about Lemond,
Armstrong, Indurain, Taylor etc and reading them for a few weeks. If after
that you don't feel like training, you're done. Sell your stuff except for
a couple of bikes for having fun. If you do get inspired, get some training
books for new ideas or hook up with a coach.
The space you are in now is not doing you or anyone else any good. You have
to have goals that you value or you won't work for them. Set your sights a
lot higher or give it up. If you can believe that you might make it to a level
high enough to get excited, do it. If not, this might be a good time to start
thinking about "giving back" as a way to stay involved in cycling. Mentor
a junior, share your knowledge with some beginners, make positive use of all
you've learned in your years of cycling. If that doesn't inspire you, it's
time to leave the sport.
For the 99% of cyclists who never go to the Tour, cycling is all about learning
about oneself and the limits of one's ability to realize one's desire. Cycling
is about self-creation. When you are no longer excited about making yourself
a better cyclist, it's time to hang up the wheels.
[One thing I have watched quite a few former top-class mountain bikers do
when they decide life gets in the way of training is take up racing single-speeds.
The shorter races and technical challenge of the bike means you can still
be competitive without slogging out vast training miles. Tattoos and copious
beer consumption are apparently optional - Ed]
I recently got a bike fit to fix a nagging pain in my shoulder. The shorter
stem cured the problem, but the raised seatpost is causing discomfort in my
right knee, right hip and both my Achilles tendon. The seat was raised by at
least half an inch (can't really tell exactly... the fitter just eyeballed it).
After talking to a few people, a sports doctor told me that such a drastic change
in riding position, even though it might be the right position, can cause problems.
He stated that the body needs to adjust to the position bit by bit, and that
I should have raised my seat about an eight of an inch every week until I reach
the right height. On the other hand, a respectable trainer told me that it doesn't
matter how drastic the change... if the position is right, there's no need for
the body to adjust. I'm quite confused as to who to believe. Can you shed some
San Diego, CA
Scott Saifer replies:
I believe that both of your sources are correct, but that there are at least
two types of bike fit. One type of bike fit can be done looking only at your
skeleton: the lengths of your bones and the angles they make at various points
in the pedal stroke. This type of fit could be achieved by say, getting a
knee angle between 25 and 35 degrees at the bottom of the pedal stroke and
the knee 2cm behind the pedal spindle. With this type of fit, you look right
on the bike, at least while holding still, and it can be a great fit for both
comfort and power. If you have normal flexibility and muscle elasticity, this
fit works well and it is safe to move immediately to the "good" position.
If for any reason the ideal fit based on your skeletal structure is not the
ideal fit based on your ligaments, tendons or other soft tissues, the "good"
position could cause you terrible pain and injury.
The second type of bike fit takes account of flexibility and other issues,
must include watching you pedal, may include measurements or eye-balling and
could put you in a somewhat non-standard position if you have a somewhat non-standard
body. In general if the fit takes account of soft-tissue as well as bony constraints,
it should be safe to make large changes.
Since you are currently experiencing pain that seems to be related to your
changed riding position, I'd suggest keeping the changed stem but putting
the other aspects of the bike back how they were, or at least closer to how
they were. Once the injuries heal and you are pain free for a few weeks, consider
getting a new fit.
One additional point and an anecdote to stimulate more thinking: The point:
If you are currently experiencing pain, it is certainly okay to make large
adjustments to the particular aspect of the bike that seems to be causing
the pain (stem length in your case).
Anecdote: A friend and I did a tour consisting of several 150 mile days.
He rode an unfamiliar bike and had terrible Achilles tendon pain after the
first day. We first suspected bike fit, but after some sleuthing, it turned
out that he was in a position very, similar to that on his usual bike, but
that a change of shoes had caused the problem. The mountain-bike shoes he
was using for the tour had a high back, which pressed into his Achilles tendon
when he pedaled with his toes somewhat down at the bottom of the stroke. The
identical bike position and amount of toes down caused no trouble when he
wore his road shoes. Cutting some of the padding from the back of the shoe
fixed the problem.
Dave Fleckenstein replies:
The real issue here is how body tissues successfully adapt to stress - in
a rapid or slow manner. Research indicates that the tissues of the body take
time to respond to stress, be it muscle, bone, or other connective tissue.
It is an issue of stimulus and response. If a small stimulus is placed on
the body, it will adapt while generally maintaining health, provided that
the stimulus is healthy. But the body has limits to the point at which it
can adapt and repair, and instead breaks down. Training provides an excellent
analogy. If we perform intervals and give adequate recovery, we become stronger.
If however we perform excessive workouts without allowing accommodation, we
will break down. Soft tissue responds much the same, With a gentle change,
the tissues of the body will respond elastically - like a rubber band - lengthening
in response. With drastic changes the body will respond plastically - like
a rope - and will probably lead to break down. Making drastic changes (and
a 1/2" change to your saddle height counts as drastic in my book), particularly
to something that is repetitive and to which your body has developed very
specific neuromuscular patterns, is a recipe for disaster. We have an "expert"
bike fitter here in town who thinks nothing of adding 2 cm (!) to somebody's
stem length while adding 1 inch(!) of height to their saddle all at one time,
and these people inevitably make it into the clinic. Even when the ultimate
position is a good position, the body will never adapt to that large of a
change that quickly. I would highly encourage anybody interested in this topic
to examine research by Dr. Savio Woo.
The second consideration is how to alter a repetitive, engrained neuromuscular
pattern and still maintain healthy motion. One millimeter changes allow the
body to adapt and essentially maintain the normal motion. One centimeter does
not. If you take any cyclist that has been logging miles consistently and
alter their saddle height by two millimeters, they will notice it, the system
is that sensitive.
There are two exceptions to the rule. The first depends on how much the rider
has been riding. I will make some fairly large changes to someone's alignment
if they have not been riding for an extended period (i.e. over winter) provided
that they show normal flexibility. The body has not adapted to any position
and thus the "change" is not really a change to the body - simply getting
back on the bike is the change!
The second exception is when someone has a gross error in their bike fit
that is creating pathology. A rider with extremely tight hamstrings, back
pain and Jan Ullrich's TT position as their normal bike alignment (and trust
me, they are out there!), will be quickly brought back to a more neutral position
to prevent additional injury.
I will make large changes to a riders position, but I will do it in millimeters,
over time. Thus, I would say that your doctor is right, and I would challenge
your trainer for the science that he bases his assumption on.
I'm 26 year old male cyclist in Melbourne Australia. I weigh about 60kg, have
9% body fat, and am about 172cm tall. I'm what you might call a serious recreational
rider but I haven't started racing yet. I took up cycling regularly a bit over
a year ago and I love it. I commute to work and cycle on the weekends. About
8 months ago I switched from just cycling for fun to also trying to improve
my fitness. I was regularly cycling 8-9 hours/150-200km per week. I try to spread
the training out and have rest days. Also, I try to eat reasonably well. I eat
plenty of carbohydrates, protein, and fats (the good ones where possible). I
could probably eat more fresh fruit and vegetables (couldn't we all though)
but I never eat junk food. Plus, daily I take a multi-vitamin supplement. The
problem is I keep getting sick. I did let myself get worn out in December and
for that I suffered a chest infection requiring antibiotics. Since then whenever
I get close to full fitness and start training fully again I get a cold or something.
It is very discouraging and hampering my progress as a cyclist. I was wondering
what recommendations you could make to help me keep my immune system strong.
Dario Fredrick replies:
What you're experiencing is not uncommon and there are certainly ways to
address the problem. Given that our autonomic (automatic) nervous system has
two main parts, sympathetic (stress response) and parasympathetic (resting
and recovery), if we over-stimulate sympathetic drive, immune system function
can become compromised. Moderate to intense exercise stimulates this stress
response in the body, as can mental stress in our daily lives.
So even moderate intensity exercise can challenge immune function, while
high-intensity certainly does. You mentioned that you spread your training
out and take rest days, but of your weekly hours, what percentage of your
riding is high intensity? If it is more than 40% or on multiple consecutive
days, that could be challenging your immune function. It sounds like your
nutrition is good, but how about hydration? Are you consuming sufficient fluids
both on and off the bike? Proper hydration can play a role in immune function
We gain improvements from training during recovery from exercise, not during
the workouts (which literally break us down). The quality of your recovery
should be on par with the quality of your training. Mental calmness is also
part of optimal recovery, since the stress response can be stimulated by mentally
stressful experiences at work, school, home or otherwise. This area of recovery
is often neglected. Other ways to stimulate the counterpart to the stress
response (parasympathetic system), promoting healing and recovery are through
restorative yoga and meditation. A very simple example of a restorative yoga
pose would be to lie on your back with your legs up a wall for a period of
2-5 minutes at a time. An example of meditation would be to set aside a short
amount of time each day (5-10min), and sit quietly in a comfotable position
with your eyes closed focusing on smooth breathing. If you would like more
information about yoga for strong immunity, feel free to contact me.
Finally, be sure that your are 100% healthy before doing any high-intensity
training. Otherwise, if the body is still working to heal itself, then adding
high stress exercise will compromise immune funtion further.
I was just reading the March 15 letters and had a question and a comment. I
am a physician, not specifically trained in sports physiology, but I do have
an interest in it as an amateur athlete. As regards breakfast, clearly one will
have more strength (oops, I am using "strength" in a generic colloquial sense)
for most training if one has prepared nutritionally for the training in a similar
fashion to which one would prepare a pre-race meal. I was wondering, though,
I believe that Andy Hampsten (and I am sure many others) used to advocate doing
long distance zone 2 type aerobic endurance rides BEFORE eating breakfast, because
they believed that such lower intensity riding without the recent consumption
of carbohydrate promoted fat burning and the development of those particular
energy systems for endurance riding as opposed to using primarily muscle glycogen.
Any more recent literature from scientific studies on such a concept?
Keep up the great work. Useful advice and fascinating reading. I appreciate
the fact that Cycling News has this set up so as to present a variety of opinions
from multiple expert in regards to each question!
Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA
Ric Stern replies:
I don't think there's *any* research supporting such an idea, and indeed,
I can't see why such an idea would be useful. In all but very low intensity
exercise (e.g., recovery work) a good proportion of the energy is from oxidised
carbohydrates. as the intensity of exercise increases so does the relative
and actual contribution of carbohydrates.
As an athlete gets fitter (increase in LT, VO2max), more of the energy is
derived from fat oxidation at a given workload. however, even endurance training
requires a substantial amount of carbohydrate oxidation, and without carbs
the intensity of the ride will decrease, making the ride less beneficial (i.e.,
at low intensity, there's little or no training adaptations).
During more intense work (compared to low intensity recovery, riding around)
even though the relative contribution of fat oxidation may decrease, the absolute
amount of fat oxidised is likely to be much higher than at lower intensity
(and relatively higher contributions).
Running as part of training
I'm training for this year's l'etape du Tour. Obviously, I'm trying to ride
as much as possible, but work/family/weather sometimes gets in the way. Until
now, I've spent part of my gym time running, occasionally on steep inclines,
thiinking that this might be a useful addition to my programme. However, I have
now heard some people say that it's wrong to combine running and riding, arguing
that the muscular benefits of each are incompatible. Do you have any opinions
Ric Stern replies:
Because in part adaptations occur at the specific joint angle and velocity
at which they're trained and because running uses muscles differently to cycling
there maybe little or no crossover, depending on your fitness.
Additionally, any other exercise modality is unlikely to improve cycling
as well as cycling improves cycling in trained riders. However, if the option
is to do gym exercise or no exercise, then gym (or any exercise modality)
wins hands down.
If you have time to train, then no matter how short that time is, your best
benefits would come from riding a bike. If say mid-week, you are time limited
due to other constraints and the bad weather then an indoor trainer (generally
termed a "turbo trainer" in the UK) would be the way to go. You can do some
amazingly good sessions on one of these in quite a short space of time (e.g.,
up to an hour). These sessions would be very beneficial to your goals.
Please feel free to contact me further with any queries or one of the other
coaches on the list
Georg Ladig replies:
It is possible to combine running and cycling - look at triathletes or crossers.
The main focus of endurance training is aerobic training. Running trains the
aerobic system as well as cycling. It is true, that you won't develop any
big cycling punch through running, but running can help you to save time and
to develop aerobic capacities faster. Another downside of running is, that
running needs more recovery time due to the passive muscle stress when you
hit the road with every step.
Conclusion: You need to time running and cycling right and to keep the running
volume and intensities low enough to have the power left to do the right workouts
on the bike, which are necessary to develop the cycling specific muscular
capacities. Gym time: it might also be useful to continue some weight training
throughout the season.
At 2PEAK we help you with our Multisport approach: we do calculate the stress
of running and cycling workouts and the associated recovery times. Then we
mix intensities in a way, which supports people like you, who have to be very
efficient with their time. Towards the competition the training should become
of course more and more specific. But with prolonged daylight time this is
a quite natural schedule.
Good luck with l'etape!
Knee injury fluid
I'm 49 years old, weight 73kg, and height 1.8m. I'm a very active cyclist,
involved in daily commuting and fast weekend club rides averaging 100km. I was
recently involved in a car/bike accident, fortunately leaving me with no broken
bones, but my right leg and knee were severely bruised and swollen. The knee
is now filled with fluid and very stiff. My question is two-fold: how long should
I expect the fluid to remain, and are there any therapy modalities that might
encourage the fluid dissipation? It's killing me to be sitting around when the
spring time weather is calling me! Thank you.
Dave Fleckenstein replies:
If you have unresolved on continued fluid production in your knee, that is
a sign that there is active inflammation (and thus injury) present. Depending
on the nature of your injury and the time span through which you have had
unresolved swelling, I would question if you haven't had a more serious injury
to the joint (meniscus, ligament, etc...). While there are certainly modalities
effective at reducing inflammation, if you have active pathology at the joint,
it will continue until the offending culprit has healed.
I would highly suggest having a qualified orthopedic specialist examine your
knee and refer you accordingly.
I am 38, male and I race on the road and track. I am officially a 3; I race
the masters 30+ and pro123 categories. I have also gone to Belgium the last
3 years and plan to race there again this year.
I read your q&a on the acl tear with great interest. I tore my acl (50%) in
Nov and had a fair amount of pain then instability but I was able to ride my
bike. I took it easy at first as I did not know what was the matter. Fortunately
the racing season began before I found out that it was indeed torn, so that
I knew I could race on it.
MY doc said, no surgery. He is a pro football coach and I trust his judgement,
but I was a bit freaked out. However, he has been 100% right so far. He helped
me with a broken femur, a separated collarbone, bursitis and last year he repaired
my long-ago-sprained ankle. So far it has not been a problem but yesterday I
tweaked it big time. I did the masters 30+race and it was fine and in the pro
123 race it started hurting like the dickens. However, by pedalling differently
I was able to finish the race pain free(although everything else was hurting!!)
(I have also raced on the track once this year and again it was no problem)
I am definitely willing to go thru with the surgery--it is getting to be old
hat--but again I trust my doc. He set my mind at ease about a meniscal tear,
too. Still, it has always been my goal to run a fast marathon. I was running
quite a bit when this injury occurred with the intention of running a quick
one this year but this injury rules that out.
Dave Fleckenstein replies:
You certainly could have maintained some stability in your knee with the
tear that you sustained. If your main sport is cycling, I do not have any
major concerns long term. If you are considering a lot of running and are
having pain, you might consider having a second opinion to explore options.
It is quite possible that your pain is not due to the ACL, but something else
occurring at your knee. With regards to your altered pedal stroke - was it
different due to your ankle repair or your knee? If it was because of your
knee, you should have it looked at. If it was because of your ankle, and you
had a tendon transfer repair, I would consider being examined for orthotics,
as your foot and ankle now have different structure and function.
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