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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 July 6, 2004

A big welcome to a new contributor this week. Steve Hogg is a Sydney bike fit specialist who has sorted out bike position issues for riders from national champions to recreational racers.

Losing weight after inactivity
Cycle racing and pregnancy
Short femur
Runner's knee
Muscle size
Lower back pain
Knee pain
Fitness in general
Power output and kilo split times

Losing weight after inactivity

About 3 months ago (early April) I had a rather nasty fall off my bike during a training ride and as a result suffered 6 broken ribs, a broken collar-bone and a broken shoulder blade. I was hospitalised for 5 days, and off work (and my bike) for almost 10 weeks.

When I eventually got back on my bike, I was not surprised at my lack of form - being constantly dropped by training partners who weeks before, I had left for dead! But as I say, I expected this and have been slowly working on my stamina and strength to return to my previous levels. Again, this has been quite a slow - and at times very frustrating - process for me, especially as I've found doing high-intensity rides or sprints and recovery from these efforts VERY difficult! So any advice you can offer would be most welcome! But the thing that has perturbed me most is that my weight has suddenly jumped up inexplicably!

I have always been a measly 115-117lbs (I'm only 5ft 6in tall, 44yrs old and have held this weight since my 20s) and in fact, was trying to get this down to 110lbs. Although I eat next to nothing and am extremely careful about what I put in my body when I do eat (I am vegetarian, drink hardly any alcohol and avoid sugar, salt, fried foods etc like the plague) my weight has suddenly shot up to 121lbs. Despite cutting down my food, doing even more rides (riding on an empty stomach incidentally) and exercise, my weight refuses to come down! The problem seems to be particularly around my waist - where I have now developed a paunch and love handles have suddenly appeared! (although I didn't exactly have six-pack chest/abdomen before my accident, I was fairly lean in this area).

The big difficulty for me (due to my injuries) is that I still find it pretty painful doing sit-ups and trunk curls to work on my stomach and side muscles. Please can you recommend a way I CAN get my stomach side muscles lean and slender again as well as explain why this sudden weight-gain has happened to me? I also wondered if you can suggest a method to get my weight back down to 115lbs - and hopefully 110lbs!!

Laurie Smith
Hong Kong

Pam Hinton replies:

Here's a great exercise that will augment your cycling and only requires common gardening equipment. Get yourself a pointed shovel, head out into your backyard, and start digging. The muscular direction is similar to cycling as you stand on the shovel and push it into the earth. Go down about three or four feet deep, then walk back inside and get your bathroom scale, take it out there and throw it in the hole. Then cover it up and jump up and down on it to really pack the earth down nice and solid. This adds a good weight-bearing aspect to the exercise that will be good for bone density, and it also will make it more difficult for you to ever retrieve this instrument of guilt that is making you miserable for no reason whatsoever.

But seriously, at 5'6" and 121 pounds, you are nowhere near being overweight. In fact your body mass index puts you in the "underweight" category. I know that body weight is relative and that you are concerned because you feel too heavy for you and the mysterious appearance of 'love handles' and a 'paunch' are stressing you out. But realize that our perceptions of ourselves sometimes do not reflect reality.

A typical, but often counterproductive, reaction to poor performance among cyclists is to try to lose weight. If we are being dropped from training rides more often than we are used to, or if we have a few disappointing performances in a row, we want an explanation-preferably one that has a solution. Cyclists, as a group, tend to be weight-obsessed and when things get tough, we often assume that the solution is to lose weight. Sometimes our attempts to better things may only make them worse. In order to lose weight, you have to either cut back on energy intake or increase training (or both, as you are doing). Both of the strategies have the potential to set you back even further. Restricting food intake can leave you lacking the energy you need to train effectively, i.e., you have to back off the intensity or duration because you're bonking. Further increasing energy output, at this point, could also lead to a state of chronic energy deprivation, which depresses the body's metabolic rate and makes it even harder to maintain usual body weight. Depriving the body of adequate nutrients and/or rest can lead to overtraining, which will only increase the feelings of frustration and depression.

Instead of focusing on your body weight, I suggest you focus on your recovery. You will get your strength and stamina back much faster if you allow yourself adequate rest and feed your body what it needs. If your accident happened 3 months ago, and you were off the bike for 10 weeks, you have only been back for 2-3 weeks. The multiple fractures and 5-day hospital stay indicate that you experienced a rather severe injury. The reality is that is takes time for our bodies to recover. The process of healing broken bones and repairing damaged muscles also requires extra energy, protein, and calcium.

I know from personal experience how frustrating injuries, especially broken bones that keep you off the bike, can be. But you will get back to where you were much faster if you eat well and allow yourself easy recovery days. Consider yourself lucky that you can get back on the bike at all. Also consider yourself fortunate that cycling and exercise are obviously part of your lifestyle. And in the meantime, plant something pretty and sweet-smelling over that bare spot in your back yard-it will give you a lot more enjoyment than what is buried there.

Steve Hogg replies

I'll leave the weight loss to the experts but a side issue given the injuries you have had is that your rib cage and shoulder complex will in the short [medium?] term be tighter than pre accident. This would mitigate against breathing efficiency. Find out what you have to do to firstly stabilise and secondly regain flexibility in the affected areas. Once you can fully fill your lungs, you will be able to train harder or longer and rip off some of that weight.

Cycle racing and pregnancy

Are there any medical reasons why it shouldn't be possible to continue racing (time trials of 10 miles / 25 miles) through the early stages of pregnancy? I have been competing in time trials road races and short distance triathlons for 10 years now and have been trying to fall pregnant for the past four years. For the first two years of trying to get pregnant I cut back on my training (from 10-15hrs/week to 5hrs/week and at a much lower intensity) and didn't race for a season. I have never fallen pregnant or miscarried during this time but doctors tests show it is just a case of unexplained infertility and that I should get on with my life while continuing to try for a baby. Cycling and in particular competition keeps me sane. It does make it harder to plan a full season's racing and training, and makes long term goals seem a bit blurred - I tend to focus on Plan A (train and race as planned), with a backup of Plan B (should I actually fall pregnant).

Anyway, assuming that at some stage I do get pregnant, must I stop the training and racing immediately - ie will I risk damaging the foetus in the early stages by doing lactate threshold training and racing? I know my GP would say 'yes', but he'd also have me shopping and knitting and doing light aerobic exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week like a 'normal' female.

For the record, I'm 30 years, 176cms, 70kgs, 22% body fat and have a healthy, mostly vegetarian plus some fish kind of diet - so pretty much in perfect health for conceiving.

Are there any high profile cases of people competing while pregnant?
Thanks for any advice.

Kelly van der Toorn

Kim Morrow replies:

I would tend to be more cautious during pregnancy, and would not encourage lactate threshold training. This, of course, is a decision that you, your husband, and your doctor would have to make. But, I'd be cautious.

Let me share a link to a question that I answered on this forum last year regarding this issue:

Short femur

I am a passionate female cyclist aged 30. I have a posture problem. I am currently having my pelvis re aligned but I have been diagnosed by x ray as having my right femur shorter than the left by nearly an inch. I have constant pain in my knee and foot. Is there any magical way in which to set my bike up to accommodate this? I have heard of putting a wedge in your cleat but this would not work for me as my length diff is in Femur and not is shin/calf. As I sit on my saddle and clench my knees to my top bar the right knee is 1 inch further back towards the saddle than the left.

Leigh Taylor

Eddie Monnier replies:

Without know more about your knee and foot pain, I don't think it's appropriate (or possible) to give more specific direction, but I can respond to the correction of your leg length discrepancy (LLD). First, please understand that there are functional LLD's and actual LLD's. The latter can only be truly determined by a proper x-ray designed to discern an LLD. And whether there is or is not an actual LLD, the body can function as if there is an LLD (or can actually contribute to or mitigate some or all of an actual LLD).

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 a shortage attributable to the tibia). The correction can be made by using a simple platform under the cleat. I use LeWedges by LeMond Fitness ( Two wedges stacked thick-to-thin provide 1.5 mm of stack height. Assuming you don't have a complicating functional LLD (either contributing to or mitigating your actual LLD), you would use 8, 10 or 12 wedges stacked thick-to-thin under your right cleat. The wedges are available to fit all of the popular pedal systems. With this correction made, your seat height and seat fore/aft position should be re-checked and adjusted.

Given the importance of a proper fit and your complicating factor, I would strongly urge you to seek out the most qualified bike fitter in your area. Don't hesitate to ask for references of people with LLD for whom fits were done. You'll be more comfortable and may likely avoid injury while you pursue your passion.

Steve Hogg replies:

Your problem while not rare is uncommon. Solution is as follows:

1. Make sure that your seat setback is enough so that when on the bike with hands in the bar drops you can take your hands off the bar without collapsing forward onto the bars. Teetering a bit is ok but you need to be able to support the majority of your body weight on the seat without your arms. This will allow you to have a stable pelvis, passively achieved without having to use a lot of extraneous musculature to assist you.

2. Did your x rays show any evidence of a twisted pelvis? Given the magnitude of your discrepancy in femur length I would be surprised if this is NOT the case. If so, it is likely to be twisted forward on the left side which will exacerbate your problem in so much that the longer leg is likely to be reaching a shorter distance to the pedal. If you can verify this, which is as simple as getting on an indoor trainer and having some one observe you from behind and above, twist the saddle nose off centre towards the left so as to square up your hips. Be circumspect with this as the size of your femur difference may complicate or change the scenario just described.

3. What shoe and pedal system do you use? You need to be able to pack up the shorter leg as much as is necessary. This may be more or less than the measurable difference depending on the compensatory measures your body has come up with during a life time of leg length difference. It is easier to pack up cleats securely with 3 bolt systems such as Look. If using Look for instance, a cheap 9mm spacer is another cleat. Given the amount you are likely to have to put under the right cleat you will probably fall victim to the rocking torque effect when pedalling with a packer. To negate this, move the right cleat 1mm further back relative to foot in shoe for every 5mm that you have to pack under the cleat.

4. A life time of asymmetrical function almost certainly means that you have differences in footplant between right and left. This may or may not be an issue for you. To be certain, visit a good podiatrist or chartered physiotherapist with experience with cycling related foot issues.

5. Make sure that the ball of your foot [centre of the first metatarsal joint] is in front of the pedal axle with the crank arm forward and horizontal. For a rough guide for shoe size metric 36 - 38, 7mm in front; 39 - 41, 8mm in front; 42 - 43, 9mm in front; 44 -45, 10mm in front. It is unlikely that your feet are bigger than that. Don't forget to move the right cleat further back again as outlined in point 3. I know that this is at variance with the commonly given advice but you will find as you try it that it works.

Runner's knee

I am a pro level marathon mountain biker who specialises on endurance events such as stage races and 24 hour races as well as regular marathon and xc races.

I usually do about 20-25 hours of riding a week, a lot of it off road on technical trails and gravel roads. I also race and ride on the road occasionally.

I have been suffering from runners knee a few times in my 12 year career. I am now 27 and had a three year stint of runners knee from 1998-2000. In 2000 I took a year away from racing, before I again started racing seriously in 2002 with the Crocodile Trophy in September. In 2003 I raced The TransAlp, the Crocodile Trophy and Laruta without any knee problems apart from the occasional bruising after a crash.

Now suddenly my problems are back, but the runners knee is referring pain to the centre and top of patella. I am to race the TransAlp challenge in 19 days and need to get back into training ASAP. I haven't trained consistently for a few weeks.

I never run and at 184 cm with a 87cm leg length i have my saddle at 77,5 cm. I weigh 74 kg.

I work as a bike tester so I switch a bit between bikes, but always measure up before I ride. I ride with Specialized's body geometry shoes and they seemed to save me the last time I had these problems.

The current knee problems started to appear on a 220 km roadride 8 weeks ago.

How do I train with the runners knee and how do I treat the problem???

Øyvind Aas
Oslo, Norway

Steve Hogg replies:

There are a multitude of possible reasons for what you describe, all to do with knee tracking. Knees are a hinge joint that only like to work in a single plane. The factors that can prevent ideal tracking are usually because of problems of the ankle/ foot at one end or problems with the hip/lower back at the other end. Problems of the foot ankle are generally easily resolved with an eversion of the foot in shoe of the affected side. I suspect your problems are not that acute if they take 220kms to make their presence felt. Try an arch support style insole from a chemist or build up the inner edge [side nearest the crank] with some soft adhesive backed tape 2 -3 mm thick. If your problems with knee tracking are caused by issues with your hip or lower back the only 100% solution is to resolve those with the help of the appropriate health professional.

Muscle size

I have two questions about leg muscles, neither of which is actually related to me. The first is, I remember a photo from round 3 of the Track World Cup in Manchester of sprinters Damien Zielinski and Florian Rousseau. As the caption below the photo notes, Rousseau's legs look quite a bit different than Zielinski's, namely Rousseau's veins and tendons are clearly visible, while Zielinski's legs, though muscular, look quite smooth. Why is that? Obviously Zielinski is just as fast, as he went on to win. Is that something that changes significantly with age?

My next question has to do with road cyclists, not track sprinters. From what I've gathered, strength training and weight lifting has, at best, limited positive effects for a cyclist, especially someone who is already fit. My question is, why do many professional cyclists look like they've been in the gym five days a week for years? I realize that the "pure climbers" are very lean, very skinny riders, but other riders who do well in the mountains - I'm thinking here of Ullrich, Armstrong, etc. - as well as the sprinters still have very muscular legs. Is this increased size a byproduct of being on the bike basically year-round? Is it helping/hurting them at all?

Bryan Pennington
Cologne, Germany

Ric Stern replies:

For the track riders, my feeling is that Rousseau is likely to have a lower body fat percentage, and thus, he looks more defined or 'cut'.

It's likely the same for the road cyclists. When your body fat levels are very low, as elite TdF riders are, your musculature becomes very defined, and you look 'cut'.

When you are having to race up long, arduous climbs such as Alpine passes, and you are possibly as fit as you're likely to be, then to aid climbing you need to have as little weight as possible to get up the mountains rapidly, and therefore have to reduce body fat. Additionally, with the demanding training, the pros will have little body fat, with the some of the riders being about 5 or 6 percent body fat.

It should however, be noted that where you don't race up very long climbs and when you still have plenty of opportunity to increase fitness, small changes in fat mass, make little difference.

Lower back pain

When I was fourteen years old I hurt my back in a way that I had pain running down the inside of my left leg to my big toe. It felt like the disc at L4 or L5 got damaged on the left side. On the x-ray you can see the vertebras sit closer together at the site though back doctors here call it 'normal'. At the time I was forced to stop cycling due to the discomfort.

After many visits to a chiropractor the discomfort became manageable.

Years later I returned to cycling. I find now that when I need to maintain an aerodynamic position for extended periods, I get an increasing degree of pain on the left side from the lower back down towards the foot. When I have done events where I must remain in a tuck for three hours or so, during the last hour the pain radiates down the leg to the foot and I am forced to reduce my pace.

I have seen several physiotherapists and they all point to a tight psoas on the left side as the main culprit. After performing a regular stretching routine for a couple of years the problem is only slightly better. Following a Pilates course for the last year has made the problem better but it's still keeping me from racing longer events. Could there be some problem on the opposite side that needs stretching or strengthening that should be done as well? If I could have a list of all the muscles that should be stretched and/or strengthened I believe that I could achieve a more effective improvement.

Tom Klemola

Steve Hogg replies:

A good self help manual that is worth a look is Overcome Neck and Back Pain by Kit Laughlin. It is published by Simon and Schuster.

Knee pain

I'm a 20 year old male who's been road cycling for about 6 months. I'm 5'10'' and weigh 135 lbs. Yes, I know, pretty skinny. I've decided to start riding a little more this summer and have noticed that two new little knee sores have begun to emerge. The first is located exactly at the back of my left knee. I've recently raised my saddle height about 1.5 cm and think this might be the reason. But I'm holding off lowering the saddle again because I just don't feel like I'm pedaling an efficient stroke when I'm seated any lower. Yet, I don't see why this pain would emerge only in one knee if both legs are extended a little bit more. I actually feel this pain the next day instead of while I'm riding.

The other soreness is located in my right knee. It is located on the outer side about 2.5 cm below the middle of the knee cap. I keep moving my cleat around but can't find a good position. This pain, however, is felt while I pedal. It usually subsides when I stop riding.

Omid Mehdizadeh

Steve Hogg replies:

The symptoms that you describe can be accounted for by a number of scenarios. I will assume that you are typical in this matter otherwise this reply will be in danger of becoming a book. What you describe is most likely to be the left leg overextending [pain behind knee] and the right knee not tracking well [pain below and to the outside of kneecap]. The most likely cause of this is a twisted pelvis; specifically the top of the right ilium [right half of pelvis] is likely to be anterior [forward] to the left. This is common either because of a measurable leg length discrepancy or a functional asymmetry.

When the top of the pelvis is anterior then the ischium [sit bone] on that side is posterior. This means in turn that when you sit so that your weight feels evenly distributed on the seat you are actually twisted with the right hip forward of the left. This means that the left leg reaches a greater distance to the pedals than the right causing the pain on the left side. The right knee in turn rolls in, or less commonly out, on the pedal downstroke causing the pain you experience on that side. If you are in the 90 % of the population with a varus [inward rolling] forefoot then that will only exacerbate the problem.

The quick and simple solution or partial solution is to twist your seat nose to the right. This will square up your hips, decrease the distance that the left leg extends and increase the distance that the right leg extends. As a starting point twist the seat nose so that the centre of the nose of the seat points at the RH edge of the bar clamp of your handlebar stem. If you feel like the seat is rubbing more than lightly on the inside of your right thigh then you have gone too far. Done correctly, the seat should not feel twisted when you are on it no matter what it looks like when you are off it.

Once you have twisted the seat, if you are still experiencing pain on the right side then build up the inside edge[side nearest the crank] of your right shoe insole by a couple of mm for about 20 mm in from the side. Once done your right cleat position will need to be changed so that the heel can sit in closer to the crank as the build up of the insole will change your angle of footplant on the pedal.

All of the above should help but I must stress that I am playing the odds with your case and giving you a likely cause and solution, not the only possible cause and solution. Let me know how you get on.

Eddie Monnier replies:

First, since you're new to cycling I suggest you have a fit done by the best bike fitter in your area. It's money very well spent and will pay huge dividends to your enjoyment and performance.

A knee pain in the pack of the knee is often an indication the saddle height is too high or too far set back. Given that you recently raised your saddle a significant amount, I would consider dropping it some to see if that eliminates the problem. I typically set saddle heights so that there is a 25-30 degree bend in the knee when the crank arm is perpendicular to the ground and the foot is in the natural pedaling position (eg, some people pedal more toes down than others).

A pain on the outside of a knee is often caused by having the cleat set in a manner that angles the foot inward too much. People often move their cleats the wrong direction when making an adjustment. I suggest you mark the current position of your clear by putting lines on the cleat and sole to act as markers. Then loosen your cleat a bit and turn your shoe right side up. Hold the cleat and turn your shoe the direction you want to move, which in this case would be to turn the toes out a bit. Move in small increments but again my recommendation would be to see a specialist as there are many dimensions to setting cleats properly (fore/aft, angle and cant).

Another possible cause of pain on the outside of the knee is excessive float. If you have full float pedals and the problem persists even after getting your cleats positioned correctly, you might want to try a limited float pedal system.

Glad you discovered the sport and hope you stick with it a lifetime.

Fitness in general

This is more of a question about the nature of fitness than a personal question, but it does involve me. I've been doing a lot of recreational mountain biking over the past 6-7 years, but only recently got involved in road. Last June I began training for my first century and completed the century at the end of August. I was so thrilled with riding that I decided to join our school's cycling team. I rode a lot and fairly hard for the next 4 months, eventually riding around 200 miles a week. Then I got burned out (never even made it to a race) and didn't really ride the bike at all until now. I'm interested in once again trying to race (Cat 5) again in our school's team - first race in February. How fast will my fitness come back? What can I do to prevent burning out again? I'm 6'2'', 165 pounds and am 21 years old. I live a really active lifestyle in general, always doing something like surfing, ultimate frisbee and others.

Dan Bridges

Dave Palese replies:

How fast will your fitness come back? It's impossible for me to say. But it really doesn't matter.

The "fitness" that you developed for your recreational MTB riding and for your century, is not the same as that which you will work to develop in the months to come for your road racing.

My suggestion is to look at the months leading up to your first race, or the race in the schedule that is most important to you (your "A" race) and map out a periodization plan to develop the road racing abilities that will help you put in your best performance.

On the subject of burn-out -- following a thoughtful plan and setting motivating goals will help a lot. I suggest hiring or at least talking to a coach about your goals. Doing so will help you over some of the initial hurdles and make the process less stressful and in the end, hopefully more effective.

Have fun and good luck!


I am a male recreational cyclist, 51 years old. I ride about 70 - 100 miles a week, mostly to/from work.

I am curious whether fitness levels have any bearing on amount of calories consumed during riding. For example, if Lance and a recreational rider like myself (assuming I was the same weight and had the same wind resistance profile as Lance) were to ride side by side over 100 miles, and you normalized for his better technique, would we not burn the same calories? After all, we're both doing the same amount of work in a pure physics sense. However, my perceived exertion would be so much higher, intuitively it would seem I'm burning more.

Lee Thoburn
Pasadena, California

Ric Stern replies:

If we assume two identically sized (height and mass) cyclists, with the same bike position and bike kit, riding side by side at exactly the same velocity, then we can assume that they are producing the same power output. Cyclist A, however, is very fit, and cyclist B is considerably less fit.

As they ride along at a slow velocity, they're producing the same power, crucially they're approximately expending the same amount of energy. The work that they do is exactly the same. However, energy expenditure will be slightly different between the two riders, and is based on their gross mechanical efficiency. Efficiency varies very little between cyclists, as your legs are pretty much constrained by the pedals -- basically, your legs just go up and down (compare this to running, where in less trained runners your legs can wobble all over the place). Generally, efficiency for trained riders is ~ 20 to 25%, with untrained sedentary people probably having an efficiency of ~ 18%. Efficiency is related to type I fibres in your legs, with more type I producing better efficiency.

If you know what your power output is, and how long you've ridden for, your work done is easily calculated. if, say, you ride for one-hour at an average of 200 W, the work you do is equal to your power/1000 * time in seconds, e.g.,

(200/1000 = 0.2) * 3600 = 720 kj

to convert kilojoules (kj) to kilocalories (kcal) divide by 4.18.

720 / 4.18 = 172 kcal, which seems unfeasibly low!

if you're 20% efficient, the 172 kcal, will then work out to be an expenditure of 860 kcal

if you're 25% efficient, the 172 kcal, will then work out to be an expenditure of 688 kcal

efficiency can only be worked out in the laboratory, whilst riding steady state, as expired respiratory gases need to be analysed, and the measure of efficiency only applies to the workload and conditions tested.

Efficiency is calculated as the actual mechanical work done / input of energy * 100. By calculating your expired respiratory gases at looking at the amount of carbon dioxide produce / amount of oxygen consumed you can work out your respiratory exchange ratio and how much energy is being combusted within your body.

most trained cyclists (i.e., people who race and aren't pro cyclists) are probably, likely, to be ~ 22 - 23% efficient. it's important to realise, however, that efficiency will change on the actual intensity that you ride at, as paradoxically, it increases at higher power outputs.

Jumping back to cyclist A and B. Riding for a specific amount of time together they'll burn roughly the same amount of energy. Lets say they're both riding at a nice easy level of 20 km/hr. Neither A or B is struggling and they're both okay and burning approximately the same. On a different day they go out again for an hour and average 30 km/hr. Cyclist A is not at all bothered by the effort, while cyclist B is starting to find it difficult. Both burn roughly the same amount of energy. However, cyclist B is burning a higher proportion of carbohydrates than cyclist A. On a third day, the two cyclists ride at an average of 35 km/hr. Cyclist A is riding at an effort equivalent to his warm up, while cyclist B just manages to complete the task. Both have expended roughly the same energy, but cyclist B has expended virtually exclusively carbohydrates to fuel the task. Cyclist A has hardly used any carbohydrates to fuel his ride, and could keep going for another 5 or more hours at this pace (with appropriate fueling)!

Thus, as you get fitter (noted by e.g., an increase in sustainable power and MAP) you still roughly expend the same amount of energy during a given ride, but where the energy comes from (e.g., fat oxidation versus carbohydrates) will change thus, allowing you to ride further at the same power or the same duration at a higher power.

Whilst riding in a group, your drag is reduced because as you ride on the wheels, the people at the front take the wind for you. What this effectively means is that if you're in the bunch (assuming that you're the same size as everyone else) then your power output will be vastly reduced to the person on the front. For example, the lead rider might be riding at say 300 W, whilst 50 riders back you may be at 150 W (and therefore expending a whole lot less energy).

Power output and kilo split times

With the world record kilometer time trial time at 58.875 seconds, what type of split times did the world record holder (Arnaud Tournant of France) do at 250, 500, and 750 meters? What was his average power output?

Fred Balliet

Editor's note: Thanks to Frans Rutten of the Netherlands who supplied the following analysis of Tournant's kilo record.


166,666m  14.349s
250m      18.850s  calculated time; quite modest, but with a big gear of 53x14
333,333m  23.270s
500m      32.143s  virtual 4th place in Melbourne as he actually did with 32,201s
666,666m  40.884s  unofficial world record	
750m      45.324s  calculated time, unofficial world record
833,333m  49.765s  unofficial world record
1000m     58.875s  OFFICIAL WORLD RECORD - 1st sub one-minute ride.

166,666m splits

Arnaud Tournant La Paz 2001: 14.349s  8.921s  8.873s   8.741s*   8.881s  9.110s
Arnaud Dublé La Paz 2001:             8.453s  8.600s   8.797s
Theo Bos Trexlertown 2001:   14.119s  9.654s  9.899s  10.148s   10.429s  11.110s

250m splits

Arnaud Tournant La Paz 2001:    calculated 18.850s  13.293s  13.181s  13.551s
Arnaud Tournant Melbourne 2004:            18.555s  13.646s  14.223s  15.533s
Arnaud Tournant Antwerp 2001:   calculated 18.622s  13.738s  14.451s  15.760s
Chris Hoy Melbourne 2004:                  18.330s  13.743s  14.332s  15.194s

* Very likely first-ever rider reaching his top average speed of any 1000m race in this late phase (500m-666,666m).

His 3rd 250m split in calculated 13,181s was extremely fast, better still than the top team sprinters in Melbourne recently and far better than the vast majority of team sprinters. His 4th 250m split in calculated 13,551s is indeed unheard of, both absolute and in particular relative.

Shortly after Arnaud Tournant broke his own world record in La Paz I wrote a very critical letter to his trainer. My conclusion based on my analysis of the split and lap times in La Paz of Arnaud Tournant compared with those of his recent winning world 2001 championship ride in Antwerp and the 1 kilo of Theo Bos (world junior champion 2001 in Trexlertown on a similar 333,333m concrete outer track), was that in particular the second half of the kilometre was not at all in accordance of the principal laws of 1 kilometre cycling.

The difference between the 1st and 2nd half was an unprecedented 5,411s compared with only but normal 2,149s during his (shortly before) world championship winning ride in Antwerp. Theo Bos had a similar difference in Trexlertown 2001 with 1,985s.

In fact in the case of Arnaud Tournant there was no fatigue-index as such visible, while he still got in an unconscious condition (at least passed out) for at least 20 minutes after his ride.

This means that the overall conditions were in a fundamental way different as was the case with - here I go again - the Superman Position.

How fast he rode in fact during the 2nd and 3rd lap can be concluded out of the following facts.

From 333,333m onwards Arnaud Tournant rode virtual a 500m world record with flying start (26,495s), even without the benefit of the steep banking at a normal start.

Shortly thereafter Arnaud Dublé captured as we know now the world record with 25,850s.

But subtracting the benefit of the steep banking at the start Arnaud Tournant was practically as fast as Arnaud Dublé. This feat of cause proves that Arnaud Tournant is a real world class performer and Arnaud Dublé is not, as proved ever since.

From 500m onwards to 666,666m Arnaud travelled at tremendous speed. He covered that distance of 166,666m (flat) in 8,741s (19,067m/s=68,642km/h=200m equivalent of 10,489s), never seen before in history for any rider on his own without the help of the steep banking.

In man-to-man competition such times rarely been recorded, but even in such races there is still a drag effect to be considered. In fact Arnaud Tournant was from 500m - 666,666m still faster than Arnaud Dublé during his last half lap of 166,666m during his 500m world record.

Arnaud Tournant must have been in tremendous physical shape in La Paz.

But in my opinion his achievement was too heavily based on the great advantages of high altitude (3400+m) in combination with riding a big gear. Craig MacLean found out in Melbourne (250m splits 18,802s - 14,025s - 14,324s quite good by the way and 15,592s) that riding even bigger gears at sea-level quite differ from riding such gears at high altitude.

And of cause Craig was not at his very best.


Maximal efforts hurt the same way under any condition: either time or team trial, peloton, flat course, uphill, even downhill, any wind conditions. But the absolute level of the onset of fatigue on which this occurs (expressed in terms of speed and therefore times) is of course quite different.

If I ride 1 kilometre maximal but with the 2nd half (slightly) downhill I will achieve a better time based on the benefit of descending (quite obvious). But there are still other factors involved: being tiring all the time en route riding downhill in this phase will be easier and because of the higher speed I'm finishing earlier and regain so to speak the bigger losses in the latter seconds of any horrible 1 kilometre race. This is by comparison what happens with riding at very high altitude in combination with a proper big gear. And let's not forget another factor: the benefit of riding at high altitude is not linear but exponential since air resistance also increases exponential.

And of cause being in great physical shape - Arnaud Tournant deserves certainly that credit - helps an awful lot.

By the way, I did quite some time ago such kilometres (flat/downhill), although never with a real standing start, but with a moderate approach. But considering this I still did a sub one-minute time.

Frans Rutten
Wijchen, The Netherlands

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