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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.

Cyclingnews is delighted this week to welcome Pamela Hinton to our fitness panel.

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 May 10, 2004

Gearing up for the Tour
Other sports
Post-ride headaches
Year off
Beginner reality check


Is there some way I can monitor caloric output without the use of a power monitor? (eg. Average heart rate and duration?)

I'm looking to reduce my body fat percentage to help a bit on the climbs. I'm 6ft 4in and 75 kilos, 18 years old. I'm extremely lean already but I think I could drop about a kilo. I eat copious amounts and I'm very careful about limiting my food to much because I train hard and tend to feel the effects of under eating immediately and severely, so I want to avoid that at all costs. If this can be monitored with just the heart rate monitor or some other method could you suggest how far above my caloric input my output should be so as to lose weight and not to bonk.

Marcus Tudehope

Pam Hinton replies:

Don’t even think about cutting your energy intake. You don’t need to lose a kilo off your “extremely lean” frame. At 6’4” and 75 kg, your body mass index (BMI) is 20 kg/m2. Reducing your weight by one kilo, to 74 kg, would put your BMI below 20 kg/m2 and classify you as “underweight”. Think about this, not even Lance Armstrong (BMI=23 kg/m2), Erik Zabel (22 kg/m2), Roberto Heras (20 kg/m2) or Chris Horner (21 kg/m2) is as lightweight as you want to be.

The risks associated with not consuming enough energy far outweigh any benefit you might get from decreasing your weight. The fact that you “feel the effects of under-eating immediately and severely” tells me that are you are close to the danger zone of delayed recovery, constant fatigue, and frequent injury and illness that results from under-nutrition. Your body is doing a much better job of telling you how many calories you need than any equation based on heart rate could. My best advice is that you continue to “eat copious amounts” — just make sure you are eating quality foods. Choose unrefined carbohydrates like whole grains, brown rice, and legumes and unprocessed meat, legumes, and nuts for protein. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. And drink your milk, too.


I'm a 35 year old first year Cat 5 cyclist. I put in between 1-2 hours four days a week and 3-4 hours two days a week, mostly in the 70 percent maximum heart rate range. I'm 6'0 and weigh 188 lbs. I can keep up with almost anyone on the flats but when I get to the hills I my heart rate jumps and my legs fill up with lactic. I just seem to blow up. How do I get better on hills? I'm not scared of hard work but I just can't seem to get any better on the hills.


Scott Saifer replies:

Plain and simple: Lose weight. The average 6'0" pro cyclist is about 160 pounds. The climbers are about 150 pounds. The sprinters are around 170, but they don't keep up on the climbs. You can probably add about 10 pounds to these numbers to be successful in the fives. That still means you need to get down almost 20 pounds to lead on the hills, and probably 10 pounds to get dropped on the climbs but catch on the descents. Climbing is all about your power-to-weight ratio. If you are doing well on the flats, your power is okay.

A mentor of mine says that there is only one effective exercise program for weight loss: While at the dinner table combine isometric contraction of the jaw muscles with dynamic contraction of the pectorals and triceps.

Dario Fredrick replies:

While losing weight (without compromising power), will increase your climbing speed at a given effort, there are other components to improving your climbing ability as well. It sounds like your training intensity is a bit low overall, so I would recommend a couple of adjustments to your training. The first step is to base your training intensities on your maximal steady state (MSS), rather than max heart rate (HR), since your MSS is not a fixed percentage of your HRmax.

To determine your max steady state (MSS) on a climb, select a 20-30min climb (gradual to moderate gradient) and, after warming up well (30min to 1hr), ride the climb at your fastest sustainable pace. Choose a time of day when the temperature is not too hot or cold. Be sure not to go out too hard at the beginning of the climb, but only as hard as you can sustain for ~30min. Record your average heart rate. This should give you your approximate MSS or "threshold" HR.

Here are some specific training suggestions:

1) Increase MSS power. Increasing your maximal sustainable power on climbs can be done with specific work at that level, such as 5x5min at or slightly below your MSS HR. Recover fully from this type of workout before doing moderate to hard training on another day of the week.

2) Improving aerobic/muscular efficiency. This means that you train your body to use a greater percentage of aerobic metabolism to fuel work at all levels, potentially improving your MSS power and reducing rates of fatigue. This can be accomplished by training at 85-90% of your MSS heart rate (not HRmax) for intervals of 6-12min each (i.e. 6x6min). Start with 30 to 45min of this type of work within a given training ride and increase the volume of this output each time over a period of weeks. Continue to ride a couple of days at a lower intensity as well (70-80% MSS HR). Significant fat burning occurs at ~75% MSS after >2 hours at this intensity, while staying fed with carbohydrates.

3) Training on hills is also important, since the specificity of muscular adaptation responds to your position and cadence on the bike. Training well on the flats can improve your fitness and power on the flats, but not all the benefits of flat terrain training will transfer to climbing.

4) Climb at an efficient cadence. The most efficient cadence for climbing ranges between 70-90rpm, depending on your power output, muscle fiber type predominance and leg length. Given your size, I would try for ~80rpm. Overgearing (riding too low a cadence) is the quickest way to premature fatigue. Put a low enough gear on your bike to enable this option at your desired intensities (i.e. 39x27).

5) Stay in the saddle for extended periods of climbing. While there are times when standing is required to accelerate or maintain pace up steeper pitches, climbing out of the saddle requires significantly more power than when seated to produce the same speed.

If you follow each of these suggestions, and eat a sensible diet, you will probably lose weight without really trying and improve your climbing power at moderate to maximal sustainable levels.

Gearing up for the Tour

The tour is a mere nine weeks away. There are many types of people training. The actual professionals, the everyday folks who will watch it on TV, and who mentally turn their own rides around home into a “mental stage”, and a few rare folks who will actually get to taste the asphalt of the real stages. I, fortunately for me, and thanks to my wife, am one of the lucky ones who will be flying to France on one of the organized ride packages available. Now, the tough question: How does a mortal spud such as myself ride up the Alpe d’Huez? Or more importantly, what gearing does one take for these heavenly assaults?

I am a 46 year old recreational rider, who does make riding an important part of my life, and YES, I am pushing and training, training and pushing for this once-in-a-lifetime chance. I guess a third question would be, what gearing do the pros ride up these mountains? I just had my local shop put a 13-27 cassette on my ride, and I try to find as much 10+ grade as I can find and stomach, but will it be enough? I can not even think of adding a 3rd crank, as it would seen to be the ultimate insult to these mystical mountains, and my suffering is a fit reward for just getting to be there. Any wisdom from my fellow riders?

Richard Lewis
Lansdale, PA

Eddie Monnier replies:

Let's deal with the three questions you've asked one at a time.

(1) How should a non-elite cyclist ride up L'Alpe d'Huez?

Well, you should certainly train for your trip but you've indicated you're already doing that. Assuming you're training appropriately, the next most important step for you is to make sure you have proper gearing. I'd say the third important factor to keep in mind is pacing. Don't try to be the first one up in your group. Go at a pace with which you're comfortable. And finally, make sure you hydrate and refuel appropriately.

(2) What gearing should I use?

I'd say the only insult you need worry about with respect to the "mythical mountains" in your Tour de France trip is being too proud to put on proper gearing and then not being able to ride up them! ;-) There's no shame in a using a triple. As another alternative, you could check out the FSA Compact Crank (ISIS Compatible), just like Tyler used in the Tour last year. It comes with two chainrings of 50t and 34t (though Tyler used a 52/36). This would give you gearing as low as 34-inches (34 x 27) which would be the equivalent of a 39 x 31.

(3) What gearing do the pro's use?

Standard pro gearing for a hilly race is 53/39 x 11/23, though sometimes a slightly larger cog may be used. And even some of the best climbers in the world have used triples on particularly notorious climbs like the Zoncolan (Giro) and the Angrilu (Vuelta).

I'd say don't be shy about taking appropriately low gearing. And then stand proud on top of the climb as you celebrate having conquered it (and try not to snicker at those poor souls who were too proud to put on suitable gearing).

Other sports

In addition to my somewhat structured cycling workouts, I play in fairly competitive pickup basketball games once or twice a week. I know that this is probably helping my overall cardiovascular fitness, but probably hindering my recovery and ability to do quality efforts on the bike. Am I better to cut basketball during the season and leave as an outlet for the off season only?

Andrew Martin, Cat 2 racer
Seattle, WA

Kim Morrow replies:

Since you are a category 2 racer I would assume that you want to be as competitive as possible in the races you enter. In my opinion, it would be best if you saved your legs for the quality bike workouts instead of continuing to play competitive basketball during this time of year. I have found quite a difference in the way I feel on the bike during this time of year when I back off my other cross training activities, which include running. The "snap" in my legs begins to come back and I find a significant improvement in my ability to complete key cycling workouts. Try it and I'll bet your experience will be the same!

Post-ride headaches

I'm a 38 yo male riding recreationally approx 120 - 150km per week on road (on a mountain bike). I mainly ride for distances less than 50km in a session but periodically also take part in charity rides of up to 100km distance. I consider myself moderately fit and pay particular attention to hydration during my rides usually consuming approximately 700ml per hour during the ride.

On longer (or tougher) rides I quite commonly get post exercise fatigue headaches and was wondering if you have any tips for avoidance or minimisation as they can be quite debilitating for some hours following a ride. Any tips appreciated.

Dave Cheyne
Sydney NSW

Pam Hinton replies:

I can certainly sympathize with you. I also get headaches after a race or hard training ride. I actually consider them an indicator of my effort - if I don't have a headache after a race, I probably didn't go hard enough. When I was competing in cross-country running in college, my teammates and I considered headaches a symptom of PMS - Post Meet Syndrome.

There are several different types of headache associated with exercise. Headaches brought on by sub-maximal or maximal aerobic exercise are called "effort" headaches. The pain is usually throbbing in nature and lasts 4-6 hours. These headaches are "vascular", meaning that changes in pressure in the blood vessels of the brain are experienced as pain. Because of the changes in blood pressure that occur with dehydration, vascular headaches are more common in hot weather.

Being adequately hydrated is one thing you can do to prevent an effort headache. There is some evidence that non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, indomethacin and naproxen) taken prior to an event may also prevent the onset of a headache. (A word of caution about taking NSAIDs prior to exercise, particularly in very hot and humid conditions, these drugs may decrease kidney function and increase the risk of dehydration. So always take the minimum effective dose.)

NSAIDs are also used to treat effort headaches. Caffeine may also help, as it constricts the blood vessels of the brain and decreases blood pressure. Be sure to consume some carbohydrate after you ride since low blood glucose can also cause headaches.

Good luck. Next time your head is pounding after a long, hard ride, just be proud you pushed beyond your comfort zone.

Dario Fredrick replies:

In addition to Pam's advice, there is a very simple yoga posture you can practice that reduces headache (as well as mental fatigue). Sit on the edge of a blanket or firm pillow in a comfortable cross-legged position (if you can do half-lotus, that's fine too). Take an elastic ace bandage and wrap it lightly around your head and over your eyes (with eyes closed). Be sure it's not too tight. Bend forward and rest your forehead at whatever height it will easily reach -- if not the floor, use the seat of a chair or a book. If it creates discomfort in the knee of the tighter hip, prop something (a book or folded blanket) under that knee. Stay in this position with your head supported for 1-5 min, breathing evenly through your nose. Inhale as you sit back up, change the cross of your legs and repeat.

Year off

Due a full-time job along with a four-course per semester graduate school load, I've had to prioritize and take a season off of the bike.

I'm curious to know what I can begin to do this season and into next off season to begin to lose weight and come back stronger than ever in 2005.

Thanks for the advice.

Troy Eggers
New York City

Scott Saifer replies:

I recommend that the formal training start about six months before you intend to begin racing again. Between now and that point, ride as much as you have time for, mostly base miles but have fun too. Ride with whatever group you can keep up with once or twice per week to maintain or build your pack skills. You'll probably get tired from doing these hard rides without a base, but you have many months to recover.

This is also the best time to lose weight, while you are not worried about performance or recovery for more training. I'd have to know more about your current diet before I would make recommendations as to how to change it.

Beginner reality check

I would like to participate in a 35-mile bike ride with a local bike organization. However I am not sure I will be able to complete the trip and need an expert opinion. I cycle 1-2 times a week for 1-1.5 hours putting in 10-15 miles depending on terrain. Just to give you an example of my latest ride it included mostly flat roads with 2 very steep climbs: the hills were similar to an average climb around San Francisco. I rode 21 round trip and it took 2.5 hrs. I think I can ride 35 miles of mostly flat, downhill roads. What do you think? I am a female, 47 yrs of age, non-smoker/drinker, overweight by 40-60 lbs but that should help as I need to be in fat burning mode, I cross train with walking/jogging and a light weight strength training program.

Darlene Roberson, Beginning Biker Babe

Scott Saifer replies:

If you are basically healthy, you can do the 35 mile ride. In my work with a health related charity I have prepared several hundred novice riders of every age and weight to complete 100 mile bike rides. We typically have a team ride every two weeks, and we do 35 miles on the third ride, four weeks into the program. The riding you have described already doing is pretty close to what we do in the program, including doing a 20 mile ride a couple of weeks before the 35 mile ride.

If you have a few weeks left before your event, I'd suggest doing a 20-25 mile ride each weekend. Training one more day per week, for a total of three days most weeks, will start to make you faster and stronger and probably more comfortable, but is not needed to prepare you to complete 35 miles.

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