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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 April 19, 2004

To float or not to float
Too much high intensity?
Fast starts & lactate tolerance
Strength training
Nutrition advice

To float or not to float

I am a 34 year old cyclist living in Boise, ID. I have had this on again, off again knee problem now for almost four years. Patellar tendonitis was the first case and I am not sure what the latest issue is.

I have logged over 3000 mile since mid-January in preparation for some ultra distance competitions this year. I gradually increased my miles and had no problems at all while doing so. Recently, just after moving to a new bike, I have begun to feel pain immediately above my left patella. There is no pain when straight legged but when at 90 degrees or more the pain is there.

I am assuming that what I am dealing with now is a mild case of either quadriceps tendon irritation or chondromalacia. So I have taken the last three days off the bike and used ice, light stretching, walking, and lots and lots of ibuprofen. I have even raised by saddle 1 cm to assist in the recovery process. What I am wondering is this, should I move to a pedal system that has no float?

I have read many articles about the pros and cons of both types of set up but I am honestly torn. I have used Speedplay forever, but is this over-rotation at the knee the source of my problems?

In the meantime I plan on beginning to ride again cautiously. I will continue with the treatment forms mentioned above to combat the symptoms but I would love to get at the real issue.

Jonathan Denison,
Idaho USA

Dario Fredrick replies:

I understand how frustrating knee problems can be especially if they interfere with our cycling. I experienced a similar injury while competing which required a period of healing and active recovery. I will share what worked for me, but first let's examine what appears to be the problem. It does sound like a case of mild quadriceps tendonitis if the inflammation is at the top of the patella and painful when the knee (and hip) is flexed. More specifically, it seems to be the tendon that attaches the rectus femoris at the knee. This muscle is both a hip and knee flexor, so you may notice a difference in the discomfort between flexing the knee with your hip flexed and extended.

The anti-inflammatory practices (ice, ibuprofen, etc.) that you've applied can certainly help when the tendon is inflamed, but to overcome the injury and prevent its continued aggravation requires eliminating excessive strain on that particular attachment during pedaling. Chronic tightness of the muscle can add to the tendon strain. Deep tissue massage to release the rectus femoris, particularly in the belly of the muscle, can help reduce tension expressed at the attachment. I found excellent results with this approach myself.

Of course, your main question about pedal float is important with regard to your cleat and saddle positions. Obviously, I can't see your pedaling action, so I don't know if you over-rotate at the knee. Nonetheless, pedal float may not be the problem assuming that the rectus femoris attachment is the injury in question. If your cleats are too far forward and/or your saddle is too far behind the bottom bracket, or too low, any of these positions could be the cause or at least aggravate the problem.

Look closely at your cleats. Position the center of the cleat (front to back) slightly behind the ball of your foot (3-5mm). Keep in mind that the "ball" of the foot slants from the inner to outer foot. You mentioned that you raised your saddle 1cm. Look at the angle of your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. It should not be more than 35 degrees, and you can go as high as to have a 25 degree bend. Also, the saddle set-back (distance from the bottom bracket to a plumb line hung from the nose of the saddle) should be measured. Depending on your body size (leg length, etc.), this distance should not be too great (<6cm). Of course this depends on the make of the saddle and its length, so this is a very general rule of thumb. The point is to not sit too far behind the bottom bracket.

Lastly, be sure to sit squarely on the saddle without rotating either side of the pelvis forward. When you pedal, reduce maximum downward force slightly and focus more on a circular application of force, which usually means pulling up and over the top. Unfortunately, tendon injuries take much longer to heal than you might think, so time is the other important element to solving the problem. If you feel pain while pedaling (especially sharp pain), it needs more healing time. Once you're ready to get back in the saddle, if you optimize your position and keep the quadriceps muscles supple, your chances of re-injuring the area will hopefully be reduced.

Too much high intensity?

I am 26 yrs old, 6ft 3in and 175 lbs (more or less). I enjoy fast rides with friends and I've just started racing Cat. 5 this year. My teammates and I participated in a strength training program this winter and I concentrated on getting a good base - as much as is possible living in Utah (lots of time on the trainer)! I already feel stronger than last year, but I'm concerned about my training regimen.

I used the Training Bible to plan out my season and I intended to stick with the workouts out of the book. The problem is that now the fast, weekly training rides have started and the weekly time-trial series will start soon. I want to participate, but I want to make sure I'm not leaving out something important in my training. By doing both rides each week and racing on the weekend, I've used up all of my hard riding days and I don't have time or energy to do specific intervals or force work (hills).

Should I not worry too much about being specific and just go hard on these rides, as one of my teammates suggests, or should I focus on being specific and doing intervals by myself and forget about these rides? The Tuesday night training ride is usually VERY fast with more experienced elite riders giving us all a workout. Thanks for any help!

Justin Griffeth
Logan, UT

Scott Saifer replies:

This is very simplistic advice, but I think it is a good place to start. If you are aware of a special weakness in your riding, devote some training time to correcting it. For instance, if you always get to the end of the ride, but lose the sprint, take some time to work on sprinting, (in a competitive group situation if possible). If you are out of breath while other riders are chatting, put in some more base miles before you go hard. On the other hand, if you could stand to improve in many areas or aren't sure if you have a particular weakness, enjoy the group rides.

One warning however. If you want to be still riding well late this summer to take advantage of what you are currently learning, limit yourself to no more than two days per week of riding near or above threshold for long enough to get tired. The other days are for recovery, maintenance of base, and specific skills at low intensity.

Fast starts & lactate tolerance

I'm a 29-year old male (6' 2", 158 lbs) mountain biker that's been unsuccessful at trying to make the upgrade from Expert to Semi-Pro for a few years now. The biggest obstacle that repeatedly keeps me off of the podium is the start. As you know, in mountain bike racing, getting position during the start is crucial if you want to be with the lead group. The problem is, if I go hard at the start to be with the lead group I'm totally fatigued after about 20 minutes, but, if I take it easier during the start the gap from the lead group is so large that I can't close it by the end of the race.

I train with many of the racers that usually make up the lead group and know I can ride with them if I could just hang in there through the start - in fact, my lap times during the 2nd half of the race are faster than those of the leaders. My muscular endurance is good and my wattage at LT (360 W) is also good. I think my problem is lactate tolerance. What workouts (heart rate and power zones) do you recommend for improving mountain bike race starts and lactate tolerance?

Mike Cunningham

Dario Fredrick replies:

It sounds like the bulk of your training and natural talents are endurance-based which is excellent. There are also a couple of specific workouts you can do to improve your starts in mountain bike races. Starts are typically extended sprints, which taper off into "supra-threshold," non-sustainable but sub-maximal efforts, then require quick recovery before you settle into your threshold (maximum sustainable) power or close to it.

I would recommend two possible workouts.

1) Sprints: From a slow speed (low intensity) on flat terrain, do 8-10 second maximum efforts out of the saddle. Shift up as necessary. Recover completely between each sprint to maintain the highest quality of each consecutive effort. Start with two or three sets of three, distributing the sets through a 2-3 hour low to moderate intensity training ride.

2) Supra-threshold: 1-2 minute all out efforts. You can start out of the saddle to get up to speed, then settle into the max effort you can sustain for the length of the interval. Vary the terrain as available. Start with one set of 5 or 6. Do these within a similar intensity training ride and with similar recovery between as in the sprint workout.

These are fairly intense workouts, so it is most effective to be well-recovered going into them. The supra-threshold workout may require more time to recover from than the sprints as you plan your training weeks. I would integrate at least one of these workouts each week in a training cycle of three weeks, then skip a week and continue if you see improvement.

Just for clarification on the physiology behind the effort, it is not lactate tolerance that is being challenged. Despite common belief, lactate does not cause fatigue. Lactate is an important fuel that we don't "tolerate," but muscles use it quite effectively as aerobic fuel. The mechanisms of fatigue are a bit more complex, but to simplify, it has more to do with the creatine phosphate-ATP system (which you train with sprints) and the loss of potassium from inside the muscle cell during repeated high power efforts (which you can train with the supra-threshold efforts). Although the terminology of "lactate tolerance" was incorrect, your inclination about what you could do to improve was right on.

Strength training

To Ric Stern: Thanks for your efforts as a great contributor to

I have one comment, however, to your rather firm views on strength training. In my humble opinion several studies have showed significant benefits from strength training on aerobic performance, and I think it fair to at least mention that there are a reasonable number of well documented dissenting opinions on this matter.

Here is a link to just one article on this subject, other related studies exist.

Peter Christian Skak Olufsen

Scott Saifer replies:

Thank you Peter for keeping up with the literature and sharing this wonderful bit.

Since Mr Olufson did not share the gist of the very valuable article he refers to, I will. Strength training with very high resistance and short sets is expected to and does increase maximum strength in the poling movement of cross country skiers. During eight weeks of the study which used trained skiers as subjects, the strength training group improved endurance at a very high power output from 6 to 10 minutes, 20% more than a control group that did not strength train. Work economy also improved as did time to peak force. Imagine in a bike race if you could go 10 minutes flat out while your competitors could only go six minutes!

In this study the subjects used a pully-rowing machine to simulate the movement of poling in cross country skiing. I submit that it is possible to do strength training in the gym which bears a similar level of similarity to the most powerful portions of the bicycle pedaling stroke. (and yes you could do this on the bike too, but why not do it in a warm, lighted gym in the middle of winter.

The authors of this study did not address the questions of VO2-max or lactate threshold in their abstract. As I commented in an earlier post, if athletes in a certain sport are using a particular training modality, it is the job of the exercise physiologist to figure out what it does, not to discount it when it doesn't do the first few things you can think of to test. I am thankful that Hoff, Gran and Helgerud (2002) did not conclude after reading the literature on strength training that it can't possibly be useful to endurance athletes and then fail to do this study. Instead they chose to push the limits of understanding by examining a different relevant variable.

[Editor's note: Ric Stern tells us he is writing a long response to Mr Olufsen, but he's missed this week's deadline; we hope to run his reponse in next week's fitness page.]

Nutrition advice

I write regarding a piece that appeared in the April 5 "Form and Fitness Q & A". A reader (Vincent) wanted an explanation for the mucus in his lungs that causes him to have to repetitively clear his throat after a hard training ride or race. Unfortunately, he also mentioned that he was lactose intolerant, which seemed to prompt the respondent to come up with another dietary intolerance as an explanation for the excessive mucus production. The answer given was that Vincent might "have a slight gluten intolerance" (but only when his lungs are working) and that the mucus production in his lungs is a way to excrete "it" (presumably "it" is the gluten) from his intestine.

There are multiple problems with this explanation. First of all, gluten-sensitivity is a real disease that results in loss of the absorptive cells that line the wall of the intestine. As these cells decrease in number, the person will lose their ability to absorb nutrients and weight loss will result. Second, if individuals who have gluten sensitivity consume foods that contain gluten, they will experience diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting (not congested lungs and a cough). Third, and the likely explanation for the cough, is that the cells of the lung produce mucus in response to a variety of irritants. It is part of the body's defense against potential infectious agents or other harmful substances. And, unfortunately, no matter what time of year it is, there's always something to irritate the lungs--pollen, mold, dust, or cold air. Blowing snot is just part of being a cyclist.

While the explanation given for the mucus production was troubling, the proposed solution is even worse. It was suggested that Vincent refrain from consuming cereals and grains that contain gluten. This "remedy" has the potential to do more harm than good because wheat, oats, barley and rye are the primary sources of complex carbohydrate, B-vitamins and fiber in our diets. I can only wonder how many competitive cyclists will unnecessarily put themselves on a gluten-free diet, thinking that they will avoid the inevitable post-race hack. My bet is that after the race they will still suffer the normal consequences of a hard effort-sore legs, maybe a tight back or a stiff neck, and the cough. Oh yeah, one more thing. No more post race pizza and beer, either. They both contain gluten.

I write because I am becoming increasingly distressed over the pervasive misconceptions related to diet and nutritional supplements among competitive cyclists. In my interactions with these athletes on an individual basis, I have discovered that most of them hold to their beliefs in particular dietary practices or supplements with a fervor that borders on the fanatical, regardless of the any scientific evidence to support their ideas. So much so, that I have decided to let the placebo effect work its magic unless an individual is doing something that might cause harm. If someone asks for my opinion I will give it honestly, but it is their business if they want to spend their money on expensive "sugar pills" or powders or bars or drinks.

However, when a leading dispenser of news and fitness-related information to the world of competitive cycling propagates these myths and even spawns new ones, I cannot refrain from waving a red flag. A couple of weeks ago at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, I was exposed to the latest of the myths. I could not believe how many women wanted to know if consuming carbonated beverages was detrimental to performance because the carbon dioxide interfered with oxygen uptake. I am not blaming for spreading this particular misconception (it is totally ridiculous, by the way), but when a belief is so widely held, you have to suspect sources whose function is to distribute information to the world of cycling.

I am a Cat 2 road racer who is new to the sport of cycling. In my youth, I was an All American in track at the University of Wisconsin. On the weekends, I pretend to be a professional cyclist, but what pays my bills is my job at the University of Missouri as an Assistant Professor of Nutritional Sciences. I have a PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Wisconsin and did postdoctoral training at Cornell University. I am currently researching the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of disruptions in normal menstrual function on bone health in highly-active women. I write a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Pamela S. Hinton, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Nutritional Sciences/Dietetics
University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

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