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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 October 25, 2004

Off-season and depression
Head colds and training
Numb hands
Pulling in a paceline
Flat feet

Off-season and depression

I'm a recently upgraded Cat III cyclist that put in a fair share of training this past season (15-20 hr/week). In addition to numerious road races, I took my racing off-road and did a number of endurance mountain biking events (24 solos, 50+ mile races, etc...) with lots of success.

Now that the winter is arriving and I have been giving my body a break from the bike, I'm having little to no motivation to do anything (at home, work, fitness) and I'm feeling down/depressed the majority of the time. Is this a common thing most cyclists undergo when they take a pause in their training during the off-season? Or could it be something else?


Scott Saifer replies:

First off, good for you for being smart enough to take the break. Depression during a break is definitely not a universal experience. It is however common enough that it has been studied and published on. There are several possible reasons for depression during a break discussed in the literature. Let's see if any of them might apply to you.

"Underlying disphoria": This theory basically says that exercise is a mood lifter and if you are normally a somewhat unhappy person, stopping your exercise lets you return to your normal state. Have you been unhappy when not exercising or having other big projects in the past?

Loss of coping mechanism: This theory says that some athletes use exercise as an escape from the pressures of family life, work, school or even existential malaise. When you stop exercising, you confront the troubling aspects of your life non-stop, and it gets you down. Have you tried substituting other escapes during your break from riding? It sounds like you probably haven't since you are too depressed to do anything.

Lack of mastery feeling or satisfaction: This one is close to the last but a little different. This theory says that if cycling is the only really satisfying thing in your life or the only area where you feel in control then when you lose cycling, you're left with a bleak life. Are there other things in your life that you usually care about and enjoy? If not, you owe it to yourself to add another hobby, social or work challenge from which you can get some satisfaction.

The danger in any of the above is that if they apply to you, you may not take a break even when your body needs one.

Here are two more obvious explanations for post-season depression that are not discussed in the literature that I know of but which could equally well apply to you. First, if you had a really hard season, which it sounds like you did given all that racing, you could be just exhausted and mistaking fatigue for depression. If this is the case, you should begin to come around mentally about 10-15 days after you started your break. If you are past 15 days and not starting to feel better, this does not apply to you.

If you had a lot less success this season than you expected, you may simply be depressed about not reaching your goals and perhaps questioning the value or meaning of what you've been doing.

This list is not exhaustive but does cover the majority of the cases of post-season depression. Think about whether any of the items above apply to you.

One bottom line strong recommendation though: Talk to others about how you are feeling. If you are still depressed three weeks into your break, call your doctor or a mental health worker.


Sorry to do this to you again, but I am going to bring up the creatine questions again.

After having read the response you have provided to other questions regarding creatine I still have a question for you. I am a 30 year-old cat 1 cyclist (primarily a sprinter) I weigh in at 73kg at 5'10" with body fat at around 7-10%(at the moment) I am looking for a way to improve and have tossed the idea of creatine use around for sometime, but people around me have suggested not to use it. I know creatine causes water retention in muscle but with high intensity training and just general hard work can this water retention be dramatically reduced by sweating it out and working hard on the bike therefore keeping the weight gained by water retention to a minimum and muscle growth to a maximum? We all know that we loose a lot of fluids on the bike compared to someone who lifts weights, so to me this makes sense.

Luke Butler

Pam Hinton replies:

It sounds like you want to have your cake and eat it, too. You want all of the potential benefits of creatine, but none of the negative side effects. Let me ask you this, would you take a drug if you knew it was going to make you gain five pounds of water, increase your risk of dehydration, and place unnecessary stress on your kidneys? I doubt it. But that's what taking creatine may do to you.

Creatine is a nitrogen-containing compound that is made in the liver and kidneys from the amino acids arginine and glycine. We make about 1-2 g of creatine per day and consume another 1-2 g per day in meat and fish. Skeletal muscle contains most of the body's creatine, but there is an upper limit to the amount of creatine that the muscle will retain. Any excess creatine consumed in the diet or from supplements is excreted by the kidneys. For this reason, individuals who consume adequate amounts of creatine in their diet are less likely to derive any benefit from taking additional creatine than vegetarians whose diets are lacking creatine.

In individuals who respond to supplementation, the amount of creatine in skeletal muscle typically increases 15-20% and body weight increases 1-3 kg during the first 5-7 days of supplementation. Creatine is not anabolic; it does not stimulate muscle protein synthesis or muscle growth. The rapid weight gain associated with creatine supplementation is due to water retention in the muscle cells. When the muscle cells take in more creatine, they also have to retain more water to maintain the correct intracellular fluid pressure. The extra water not only decreases the power to weight ratio (by increasing weight and not power), but it may impair muscle function and cause muscle stiffness and cramping. Because body water will shift from the blood to the muscle cells, sweating and thermoregulation may be impaired. Athletes who supplement with creatine must be especially careful not to become dehydrated-they should consume copious fluids and refrain from strenuous exercise, especially in the heat.

Creatine is used by skeletal muscle to make phosphocreatine. During maximal, anaerobic efforts, the phosphocreatine allows the muscle to generate a large amount of ATP very rapidly. However, there is only enough phosphocreatine to last 10-20 seconds. The idea behind "creatine loading" is that by increasing the amount of creatine in the muscle, there will be more phosphocreatine on hand to generate ATP. If there is more ATP available for use during maximal, anaerobic efforts, then the muscle will have more energy and performance will improve. Creatine supplementation has been shown to improve performance in repeated cycling sprints and maximal weight lifting efforts. In other words, creatine does not increase maximal power or strength, but allows an individual to achieve their max during repetitive tests separated by short rest intervals. Creatine supplementation will not improve endurance performance because the ATP that is used for submaximal exercise comes from glucose and fat, not from phosphocreatine.

The only way to increase muscle mass is to perform resistance training. In theory, creatine supplementation may allow you to train harder, i.e., do more repetitions at max before fatiguing. However, any gains in strength may be offset by the water retention in the muscle.

I'd toss the creatine idea out, and stick with the hard work, as your safest bet to improve.

Head colds and training

I have asked a number of doctors, cyclists, coaches etc about this, and I have not been satisfied with any of the answers I have received. Having come through winter (in the Southern Hemisphere) relatively unscathed by illness, colds, flu etc, I picked up a cold quite unexpectedly as we entered summer. My question is 3 fold:

1) Can you, or should you, carry on training when you have a head cold. i.e post-nasal drip, sore throat, stuffy nose etc? If you can continue to ride, at what intensity and for what duration? Some cyclists I have spoken to believe in riding out the cold. Is it better to rather take 5 days off and get over the cold, and then resume training?

2) When a rider picks up a head cold, and lays off for a week, how much "capacity" (for lack of a better term) do they lose, in terms of cardiovascular functioning, overall strength and endurance, this being for a rider who is well conditioned prior to getting sick?

3) What do European pros tend to do when they get sick?

Gary Rabie
South Africa

Scott Saifer replies:

I can't answer the question about the European professionals. (They issue a press release about it - Cyclingnews editors). I hope the following handout helps with the first question. I have a few times measured riders with ventilatory thresholds depressed by 5-10 beats per minute for 2-3 weeks after a head cold, with corresponding decreases of power at threshold. Unless you are riding away from the pack with ease when healthy, you'll probably suffer in your first few weeks back to racing.

I got sick. Now what should I do? (From Wenzel Coaching and Scott Saifer)

It is normal for athletes to get sick with a cold or flu once or twice per year, just like anybody else. How you deal with being sick will determine whether it keeps you out of training for a few days or ruins your season. When you are ill the highest priority should be getting well again quickly, not sticking to your training plan. Training too much while you are ill will make you stay ill or get worse. Returning to training too soon can cause a relapse. It is better to miss a few days of training voluntarily than a few weeks due to a more serious illness. The questions are how much to back off, for how long, and how to come back to full training. The answers to all these questions depend on how sick you are.

How sick are you? Illnesses divide into two categories as far as training is concerned. Do you have a little sniffle, or something worse? If you have a little sniffle, continue to do recovery pace sessions up to half the length of your longest recent training sessions. You can continue to lift weights provided that you quit if you start to feel worse. If you have a sniffle, continue the lighter workouts until you feel well and for one more day. Then return to your full training.

How long to take off? If you have chest congestion, fever, body aches, deep fatigue or nausea, you are too sick to train. Do not train (including lifting) while you have these symptoms. Start to train again when you feel close to fully recovered. If you feel sick for a day or two, take a day or two off. If you feel sick for a week, take a week off. If you are very sick or are not recovering for a full week, it is also time to consult a doctor.

How to come back ? If you miss 1 - 3 days of training, just take one easy day and rejoin the schedule. An easy day is done low in your endurance zone for not more than half of the time of your longest recent session. If you feel weak on the easy day, take another easy day. Continue taking easy days or days off until you have a good day. You should always have four symptom free days between an illness and any hard training or racing. If your schedule calls for hard training or racing in the first four days after you return from an illness, just do long endurance sessions instead. Don't try to make up the missing days. If you missed something important like a strength test, talk to your coach about how to reschedule.

If you miss 4 -7 days, you will need six days to return to full training. The first two days of training, aerobic train or lift, whichever is on your schedule. If you aerobic train, do 1/4 the length of your longest recent session and do it at a recovery pace. If you lift, do 1/2 your normal sets and 1/2 your normal weights. On days three and four of your return, if you train aerobically do 1/2 your long session at an endurance pace (dropping to recovery if you get tired). If you lift do your normal weights but only half the normal sets. On days 5 and 6, you can do 3/4 your normal long session at an endurance pace or your full normal lifting routine.

If you miss more than seven days of training, talk to your coach about how best to schedule your return. After a longer break it may be best to delay the remainder of your schedule or do some testing to see how much you have really lost.

When will I be strong again? It is our experience that after even a mild cold athletes are not able to race or train at their best for at least two and often as much as three weeks. After an illness don't be discouraged if you cannot race well immediately after your symptoms clear up.

Numb hands

My problem is that my hands go numb when riding. This begins to occur after 10 or 15km distance into a ride. I'm am not doing large distances - 40 km three times a week. I change hand position on the bars frequently and usually have to remove my hands and shake them to restore circulation. I've been riding for about two years. I've recenty changed gloves but the numbness still occurs. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks for your assistance.

David Prete

Steve Hogg replies:

Numb hands on a bike after a such short periods are usually caused by any combination of a number of things. In no particular order they are:

1. Seat to far forward causing a weight transfer forward which has to be supported by hands and shoulder complex.

2. Handle bars too low causing the rider to bend further down than can be comfortably supported with ease.

3. Bars too far away which can cause the rider to ' collapse' onto the bars in an effort to support themselves.

4. Poor pelvic stability on the seat causing the rider to enlist a lot of upper body musculature in an effort to stabilise. This often means gripping the bars far more tightly than normal. The lack of stability can itself be caused by any number of things of which a seat height that is too high and functional and/or measurable asymmetries of pelvic function are the most common.

Given what you have said about moving your hands around often and still suffering, I would bet on the most likely cause being seat set back or bar height and reach or a combination of those.

It would be worth your reading the posts for the last few months on this site regarding position. Basically, you need to get your seat back far enough so that you can almost support your weight without your arms. It is necessary to achieve a balance between seat setback and bar height and placement though. If your seat is in the right place but the bars are too low you are still likely to have a problem.

Pulling in a paceline

I am a 43 year Cat 4 (soon to be a Cat 3) masters road racer. My question involves speed and how long to pull during our hard Tuesday night training rides. Our rides usually starts out with about 15-20 riders, after a few miles it ends up with about the same 8-10 riders. One of our goals is to see how fast we can do a rolling hills loop of 12.5 miles. We ride between 1 and 3 loops on this same route on Tuesdays. Within this group of there is a wide range of abilities and current fitness levels and fitness goals. We all seem to understand that it's better to have a few more riders in the group for rotation, while keeping the pace high. Usually when I get to the front I bring up the pace anywhere from 3-5+ mph (without jumping). My thought is that I want to pull faster and then rotate as oppose to a longer and slower pull. Occasionally I'll pull so hard that when I get to the back I can barley hang on if the pace is still super fast. My question is how hard and how long should I pull? I'm mainly concerned with my fitness but we are always trying for a new lap record.

Randy Lewandowski

Scott Saifer replies:

If the lap time is the bigger goal and you are really pulling 3-5 miles per hour faster than than some of the other riders in the group, you will do more for the group by pulling slower and for a longer time. Perhaps you could pull for a mile or more at a speed 2 mph faster than the rider before you instead of a short while 5 mph faster. If some of the riders are so slow that you can pull faster than them without making a particular effort, they should not be allowed to pull at all, or should be encouraged to pull harder even if they blow up and get dropped.

As to what is more beneficial to fitness, if you still live where you lived when we worked together a few years ago, this is not the time of year for very hard riding at all. If you've moved to the southern hemisphere, then the most beneficial effort depends on when you will start racing. The closer you are to racing, the faster the appropriate pace for intervals in training. A month or two before road racing, efforts near anaerobic threshold are appropriate. In the final weeks before racing, but not in the week before an important event, very hard efforts of a minute or two duration are appropriate. More than two months before racing, efforts that you can sustain through multiple twenty minutes intervals with no fatigue are appropriate.

Kim Morrow replies:

There are a number of ways to work a rotating paceline during a group ride. If your group is trying to set a new lap speed record (on your 12.5 mile loop) then one of the most important points is to make sure that each rider is on the same page regarding how you are attempting to accomplish this objective. For example, each rider could take a 15 second, 30 second or 1 minute pull. The key would be to maintain a high speed, but not accelerate so quickly that gaps begin to form in the paceline. If the pace is increased too quickly for the riders behind, then the smoothness of the rotation will diminish, hence causing the overall speed to decline.

I'd suggest that you take short, quick pulls with a maximum increase of 1-2 miles per hour when you are pulling. Again, this is so that you can keep your group working smoothly together. However, if you do not have a number of strong riders in your group, then you could take longer pulls. Also, if your group is riding 1-3 laps, your group may consider riding one lap easy, and then the next lap very hard, as opposed to riding 2 moderately hard laps. The fun part about a goal such as you have described is that your group can try various ways to reach this objective. The key is to work together, have fun and have a plan.

Flat feet

I am a 29 yr old, Cat. 2 racer who is trying to fine tune his position, in part to help alleviate lower back pain, but mainly to increase efficiency. I have a slight leg length discrepancy and very flat feet. I have never seen anybody address the issue of flat feet in relationship with performance cycling and was curious if the panel had any insight into this problem. I have never really pain in my feet from cycling the way I do when I run, but I feel that it plays into my back pain. I currently don't use orthodics. Any help would be appreciated.

Andy Weir

Steve Hogg replies:

Flat feet can cause issues with regard to bike position but generally it is in an indirect manner. With true flat feet the most common compensation the body makes can load the lower back unnecessarily. As the feet roll in because the arch hasn't developed, the hips have to internally rotate to a greater or lesser degree to accommodate that. This in turn often means that the pelvis has to tip forward at the top and concurrently hollow the lower back more in allowing that to happen. Flat feet don't necessarily mean back pain follows but they certainly increase the likelihood of back pain.

I have seen any number of people with flat feet who had problems as a direct result, but have also seen a lesser number who though their feet were as bad in a theoretical sense, experienced no pain or discomfort because they placed a much greater emphasis on structural maintenance and improvement than most.

When you manage a problem to the degree where there are little or no ill effects, it is the next best thing to not having the problem.

Your leg length discrepancy; is it measurable or functional?

With regard to cycling shoe choice; choose shoes that don't have a lot of heel lift and set your fore and aft cleat position according to the 'Cleat Position 1 and 2' posts for July 26. Given your feet it is worth experimenting with moving the cleats back another mm or 2 than is recommended there as this often helps. You may wish to consider cycling shoe orthoses. Choose a podiatrist with a cycling background or experience as the prescription of the orthoses often needs to differ somewhat from what would give good results in walking or running shoes.

If you have more specific issues, get back to me and I will attempt to advise further.

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