Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for August 15, 2005
The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel
Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com)
is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping
athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie
specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track
racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology
from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology
from John F. Kennedy University.
Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com)
is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16
years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities
from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl,
daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.
Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of
Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before
obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000.
Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows,
he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins,
CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural,
urgent care, inpatient and the like.
Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com)
is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting
(Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association
(Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy
for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports
Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in
the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10
years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.
Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com)
is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds
undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy
from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.
Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track,
road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with
and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from
David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com)
is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included
World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes.
He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's
degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual
medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization
musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.
Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com)
has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider
positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders
from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable
cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of
the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the
Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick
Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica
Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.
Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular
Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University
of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University
and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University
of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency
on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated
changes in menstrual function on bone health.
Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling
competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion.
Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.
Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com)
is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a
former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in
exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.
Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and
has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years
of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.
Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching
experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.
Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com)
is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association
of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been
professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels
from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching
with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive
cyclist for 20 years
Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com)
is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training.
He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and
a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES).
In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports
Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered
training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past
4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.
Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com)
has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified
USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion,
and a Fitness Professional.
Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United
States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns
a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around
the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find
Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational
purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual
athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews,
you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before
beginning any exercise program.
Leg length discrepancy
Early morning meals
Motorpacing for racing
Pre/post ride caloric intake
Salt, shorts and the cow's lick
Normal hematocrit levels
Maximising small amounts of training time
Leg/knee pain and saddle height
Seating and pedaling
Posture on the bike
Weight loss and twitchy calves
Leg length discrepancy
My right femur is 1/4" shorter than the left. I have been compensating by running
my right cleat forward on the shoe, and my left cleat back on the shoe with
what seems to be good results. Do you see any issues with this or do you think
shimming the short side is a better method? Thanks.
Steve Hogg replies
What you have done is fine in so far as it allows the short leg to ' reach'
further but my experience is that you will be better served by positioning
the cleats in the same relationship to foot in shoe on each side. This will
necessitate a shim under the cleat of the short leg. Depending on how your
body has compensated for the discrepancy on a bike, the shim may need to be
anything from noticeably less than the measurable difference in leg length
[common] or perhaps more than the measurable difference [less common]. If
you have to shim your cleat a lot, move the cleat on that side 1mm further
back relative to foot in shoe for every 5mm that you build up the shim. Given
the small discrepancy, and assuming that you haven't made any 'weird and wonderful'
accommodations for that, I would be surprised if you need a shim of more than
Matt then responded:
Thanks for the responses. My right femur is actually 3/8" shorter as was confirmed
by my chiropractor. I want to avoid using shims because on the mountain bike
cleat it makes the cleat hit the ground while walking instead of the rubber
sole hitting the ground. If I place both cleats in the same position on the
shoes, the left side of my saddle gets really worn on the leather and I have
some issues with saddle sores on the left side in that area where the saddle
is getting worn. I assumed it was because I was stretching to the pedal on the
right which is pulling my left side over and constantly rubbing. This happens
if I am setting my saddle height for my longer left side, what do you guys think
if I were to lower my saddle to fit my shorter right side? Would that be bad
for my left side or would the body compensate for it and be alright. Thanks
for all your time.
Steve Hogg replies
Ideally, I would fit a shim[s] under the cleat to determine what size shim
suits best and find a boot maker to strip off the shoe sole, fit a full length
build up of the required height, and then re-glue the sole on.
Your assumption about the saddle sores and seat wear being caused by pulling
yourself over the seat to reach to the shorter right side is very likely to
If you do drop the seat to comfortable height for the right leg, the only
trap to watch for is any potential for niggles at the front of the left knee
if it is under extending too much when power is applied.
Early morning meals
I commute to work two to three times per week. Since I have to be at work early,
I leave really early. Since I really don't want to wake up any earlier than
5:00AM to make breakfast and wait for it to digest, I'm trying to find the "ideal"
meal(s) that won't upset my stomach as I ride in, I don't need to wait a long,
long time to digest and that will help me jumpstart the first leg of the 50km
ride in. Thanks.
Scott Saifer replies
I empathize with your desire not to wake up before 5AM. The ability to eat
solid food while training without getting an upset stomach depends on training
and fitness as well as some luck in your genetics. A multiple-time national
champion of my acquaintance stops mid ride for cheese-burgers and donuts,
and continues to blow the doors off the other cyclists on the ride. Some beginners
have trouble digesting even an exercise drink while riding.
You haven't clued us in to your fitness level of experience trying to eat
while riding, so I'll simply recommend a few foods that I've found to be gentle
to my stomach and compatible with riding:
If you have trouble with these items, you might examine the intensity of
your early ride. The harder you ride, the more likely you are to get an upset
stomach from a recent meal, so simply starting out easy might allow you to
eat foods that are more difficult to digest, closer to your start and without
When you race I'd suggest waking up early enough to eat 2-3 hours before your
start, no matter how early that turns out to be.
Motorpacing for racing
Hi guys and gals,
I have a question about using motorpacing in training. I understand the idea
is that it is to simulate riding in a fast moving pack. What actual physiological
adaptions occur from this training stimulus? Wouldn't pushing along at 350w
into a head wind at 25km/h be the same as pushing along at 350w behind a motorbike
at 55km/h (I have no idea about the actual power required)? I know there is
no better training than racing in general, but does the motorpacing enable you
to 'race' without actually racing?
Michael Smartt replies
Motor pacing is certainly an excellent way to mimic the power and physiologic
demands of racing in a pack. Top cyclists have known this instinctually for
many years, but thanks to the advent of power metres, one can now visibly
see how motor pacing mimics the demands of high speed pack racing and tailor
What physiologic adaptations occur from motor pacing? Well, as with any kinds
of training, the combination of intensity and duration to structure a workout
is everything; but let's assume that a rider is looking to train at speeds
higher than he/she could do on their own, and they will be riding "steady"
behind the motor vehicle for extended periods of time.
Generally speaking, any workout that imparts a steady state response from
the aerobic system will have similar effects on the development of things
like skeletal muscle enzymes, capillary density, cardiac output, lactate threshold
and MAP (maximal aerobic power). Certainly any short, more intense aerobic
intervals will have a greater effect on MAP than multi-hour endurance riding
(as an example), but generally speaking, steady state training on a climb,
on the flats or behind a motor vehicle will have similar effects on all of
these physiologic determinants of aerobic performance if the durations and
intensities (eg: average Wattage, or average heart rate) are the same.
So, what makes a 350W steady state workout behind a scooter different than
a 350W steady state workout riding solo if all of those physiologic adaptations
are generally the same? Well, if you are familiar with riding in a pack, then
you know how much surging goes on; a constant mix of hard accelerations, coasting
and some steady pacing. However, despite all of these peaks and valleys in
power output, one can have a relatively consistent heart rate/aerobic response
(due to the interplay of brief work and recovery) when the pack is going hard
for extended periods of time; and indeed, this is exactly what happens when
you work to maintain your position within the draft of a fast moving motor
So, what we're looking at is a difference in how the average power is produced
at the muscular level. When riding solo, power output will oscillate around
the average by 10-20W while the road gradient is consistent, with a bit more
variance for brief moments when adapting to gradient changes. When riding
in a pack or motor pacing, power output will vary to a much larger degree;
as much as several hundred watts above the average and all the way down to
zero. It's the average power over time that will cause the physiologic response
to be the same, while the nature of how the power is produced (stochastic
vs. steady) will have differing effects on one's ability to quickly change
speeds (like riding in a pack) or hold a steady pace (like climbing or time
In the end, an advantage to motor pacing is simply that it reproduces the
stochastic power demands of racing in a pack under conditions that you can
control, including intensity and duration. There are, however, disadvantages
to motor pacing as well: there is the inherent risk of cycling at very high
speeds, which is further confounded by the fact that a motor vehicle and a
cyclist have very different acceleration, deceleration and handling characteristics;
motor pacing is potentially outlawed, depending on where you live; traveling
at high speeds without closed roads can increase the risk of an accident.
It's also important to realise that motor pacing is simply another training
technique, like base training, intervals, training races or sprint workouts,
for developing fitness. Simply adding motor pacing to a program without understanding
how to incorporate such forms of training could be detrimental to long term
goals and fitness development. Proper periodisation and structured training
are ultimately still the cornerstones of developing optimal fitness.
Pre/post ride caloric intake
My question stems from a previous post - I am about 20lbs overweight and I
am riding about one hour a day, will a bottle of Cytomax during my ride and
a recovery drink after my ride hamper any weight loss from stored fat? Thanks.
Michael Smartt replies
To fully answer your question, we need to look at two different issues. The
first is what is generally required to lose weight and the second is what
happens when we ingest carbohydrate during and after exercise.
Weight loss is ultimately a matter of how many calories you consume versus
how many calories you expend (the latter being the combination of your basal
metabolic rate and any exercise you engage in). There are different ways to
adapt your diet and various specific diets to adopt, but ultimately, reducing
total caloric intake and increasing total energy expenditure is how weight
is lost. When you achieve this negative caloric balance required to lose weight,
the lost weight will come mainly from stored body fat as well as some protein.
As your question alludes to, taking in carbohydrate during exercise will
increase the amount of carbohydrate and decrease the amount of fat that is
metabolized for energy vs. not taking in carbohydrate at all (i.e.: just water).
This may sound like a bad thing if the goal is to loose body fat; however,
if you consider the point I made above about total calories and the fact that
you will ultimately be able to complete more exercise and at a higher intensity
(both leading to greater total caloric expenditure) when consuming carbohydrate,
then you'll see why your current nutrition strategy is correct. Furthermore,
properly recovering from exercise, as you are doing by having a carbohydrate
based sports drink immediately following exercise, is also the quickest way
to prepare your body for another bout of weight reducing exercise the following
Salt, shorts and the cow's lick
I "suffer" from the same blight that Luis mentions, appearing covered in salt
at the end of any ride in hot weather, far more than anyone else I encounter.
This doesn't seem to affect my performance in any way, but it does leave me
a sight to behold at the end of a warm ride! Is this simply because, as Pam
states, my sweat is "salty"? What causes mine to be so? Is there anything I
can or should do to alter this? Is this in any way connected to the fact that
I never use salt when cooking - I don't even have any in the kitchen! Thanks
for your insight - from the proverbial cow's lick!
Salt Lake City, Utah
Pam Hinton replies
There is no reason to be alarmed that your shorts look like the proverbial
cow's lick. Apparently salt concentration is something that varies among human
beings with no significant consequence - like stature or hair color. (The
exception to this is that very salty sweat can be a sign of cystic fibrosis.)
Sodium concentration in sweat varies considerably, from about 0.5 to 2.5
grams per liter. Assuming a sweat rate of 1.5 litres per hour, that works
out to 0.75 g to 3.75 g of sodium lost per hour. Table salt (sodium chloride,
NaCl) is 40% sodium by weight, so the amount of sodium lost in sweat during
one hour of exercise is equivalent to 0.5-2.0 teaspoons of salt. That's a
lot of salt!
Heat acclimation and diet may influence the saltiness of a person's sweat.
One of the adaptations to exercise in conditions that are warmer than one
is used to is an increase in sweat volume and a decrease in the concentration
of sodium in sweat. Individuals on low sodium diets also tend to have sweat
that is less salty. The Institute of Medicine recommends that sodium intake
in sedentary individuals be limited to 2.3 g per day. This recommendation
does not apply to people who are physically active. It should be apparent,
based on sweat losses, that individuals who exercise regularly, especially
those who live in hot and humid environments, should not restrict their sodium
When is the best time during the season to donate blood to a blood bank? Also,
how long does it take your body to recover from donating?
Pam Hinton replies
Five million Americans receive blood transfusions every year and many of
them would have a hard time living without your gift. Accident victims, cancer
patients, and people with blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, all
require blood transfusions. That's why they call it a gift of life, and you
are to be commended for this unselfish act. But as an athlete, there are some
issues to be mindful of with respect to blood donation. As all of the hype
around blood-doping suggests, having enough red blood cells to transport oxygen
from your lungs to your legs is critical for your training and racing.
Donating one pint of blood results in the temporary loss of about 10% of
your red blood cells. After blood donation, your kidneys detect a decrease
in oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and increase production of erythropoietin
(EPO). This hormone acts on the bone marrow to stimulate production of new
red blood cells. It takes 8 weeks to replenish your red blood cell supply,
so you may fatigue more rapidly during hard training rides after donating
blood. For this reason, you might consider donating less frequently during
the racing season.
If you are going to donate blood regularly there are several precautions
to take so that it doesn't negatively affect your training and racing. Be
sure to allow 8 weeks between donations, so that your red blood cell count
is back to normal before you donate again. Production of red blood cells depends
on many vitamins and minerals, besides iron: zinc, copper, vitamins B6, B12,
C, and folate. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to supply
the vitamins. Meat is an excellent source of iron, zinc, and protein, so,
unless you're a vegetarian, eat 2-3 servings (2 ounces is a serving) per day.
Normal hematocrit levels
Is a hematocrit level of 50% some natural barrier, or is it just coincidence
that such a round number represents some number of standard deviations above
which only a few freaky people find themselves naturally.
I went in for a physical in January, and I'm not exactly in shape (31 years
old, about 15 lbs overweight, and live at 200m elevation). I hadn't been on
my bike (or exercised otherwise) since mid-August due to an ankle injury. I
had all the normal blood work done, and it revealed my hematocrit level to be
47%. The report also listed normal the normal range as being 35-50%. I thought
it strange that the range was so broad, and yet being anything outside that
range on the high side would get you suspended in pro cycling. That's why I
thought that there might be some natural barrier at 50%. (I also looked up my
last blood tests from five years prior and had a 43%).
But if there is no natural barrier, how do the anti-doping agencies account
for folks with naturally high hematocrit levels? It seems like if I just spent
some time at altitude - or even let myself get too dehydrated - my levels could
push past 50%.
While there's no risk of me hitting the Pro Tour anytime soon, it did make
Pam Hinton replies
Hematocrit is the proportion of your blood that is red blood cells. As a
result, anything that affects blood volume or blood flow will interfere with
the ability to accurately measure hematocrit. Dehydration decreases plasma
volume without changing red blood cell mass, so it artificially elevates hematocrit.
Posture also changes hematocrit measurements. Standing upright causes fluid
to leave the blood and enter the space between cells, concentrating the blood
and increasing hematocrit. Acute exercise also increases hematocrit for approximately
1 hour after exercise. Time of day also has an effect with morning measurements
typically being 2-5% higher than evening values. Because hematocrit is sensitive
to these factors, it is important that it be measured under standard conditions.
Hematocrit is normally distributed within the population and the distribution
in endurance athletes is comparable to the general population. In the United
States the average hematocrit for men is 45% and 39% for women. One study
of 1628 blood samples from 69 male and 55 female elite cyclists found that
the means and standard deviations for hematocrit were 45 ± 2.9% and 40.7 ±
2.7%. The average hematocrit in samples taken at the 2000 Tour de Suisse was
44.5%. Within an individual there can be a true increase in hematocrit of
up to 10% with endurance training or altitude exposure. There also seasonal
variation in hematocrit with averages 3% lower in the summer than in the winter
due to expansion of plasma volume.
The 50% rule was set based on hematocrit distribution in the population and
average values for elite male cyclists. Because only 3% of the population
naturally has a hematocrit greater than 50%, values exceeding 50% can be considered
abnormal. It should be noted that a hematocrit >50% is not definitive proof
of blood doping by any method.
I am a 44 y.o. cat. 2 who rides about 200-225 a week. My aim for next year
is to do well in a few 75 mile hilly races in June and July. Also I would like
to do a triathlon the 1st week in august. The tri is 1/4 mile swim, 18 mile
ride and 5 mile run. Can I actually train for both? Thanks
Kim Morrow replies
While it is definitely possible to train for both bike racing and triathlons
at the same time, you might want to think through the expectations you have
for your race performances and then prioritize your training plan accordingly.
For example, do you have the available training time to complete additional
swim/run workouts, and are you willing to limit training time on the bike
to prepare for the triathlon? Or do you simply want to "finish" this triathlon
and focus your available training time to prepare yourself most effectively
for the long road races you mentioned?
If so, I'd suggest focusing on accomplishing your key cycling workouts each
week while adding swim and run workouts at appropriate times which will still
allow ample recovery for your next key cycling workout. Remember, you will
lose quite a bit of "snap" in your legs when you add running to your training
regimen (and this may affect your ability to go with key race moves on a hilly
road race course.) If you can, try to run on trails when possible as this
will save your legs a bit and allow quicker recovery between workouts. Hope
this helps a bit.
Maximising small amounts of training time
I, like a lot of middle age professionals (with small children) find my time
to train pretty limited. I am 39 years old, 5'10" and 175lbs. I will be dropping
that to about 165 in the near future.
I am able to ride only 2x per week and then spend some time on the trainer.
My goals are just to be better with the guys/gals on the local rides and perhaps
do a Cat 5 level crit or TT. My weekend rides are usually 40+ miles and the
week night ride is similar in length, though the club ride increases the intensity
quite a bit (20+ average).
The club ride during the week is what it is….usually fast. The weekend ride
is usually a somewhat more moderate pace. The trainer rides can be whatever
I want them to be. How would you suggest that I maximize this limited amount
Appreciate any input you can provide. Thanks.
Dave Palese replies
We have addressed similar question before in the forum, so you might want
to dig through previous installments to get other coaches' takes on it. Here
You are pretty typical of the athletes I work with everyday. Masters age,
40+ hours of work a week, and a family. There is a solution to your situation,
and the goals you describe are very achievable if you use your available time
And that is really the key. Using the time you have as wisely as possible.
This sounds so simple to so many, yet it seems to be a concept that many have
a hard time putting into action.
Here are some thoughts to help take some of the mystery out of it.
1.) The first step is clearly defining your goals. What is it that you need
or want to achieve on the bike? This too sounds easy, but is again more difficult
to do then some think. The key to making the most of limited time, is keeping
your goal list short and very specific.
You talk about improved performance on weekly group rides as a goal you have
set for yourself. This is great, and to be honest, if you have less than eight
hours to train a week, including the group ride, you should probably leave
it at that for your goals.
2.) Define the purpose of each training session. Let's say you have only
three days a week to ride, and one of those is the group ride. You now need
to get very specific with what you want to accomplish in each session. Just
riding around going as hard as you can ain't going to show the results you
are looking for.
What is your major limiter on your group ride? What part of the ride/course
gives you the most trouble? For most people who have been following a less
than thoughtful plan, or a haphazard one at that, the trouble spot is usually
some portion of the course that demands a submaximal effort lasting 3-6 minutes.
A short steep hill, a flat or slightly uphill section where the stronger riders
turn the screws and the group splits, and so on.
Take an honest look at past performances and decide where your weakness is.
Doing so will make it very clear how and on what you should spend you time.
3.) Train to improve your weakness as specifically as possible. If there
is a hill that shoves you out the back each week, go to THAT hill and train
to improve your performance on THAT hill. With the focused goal set you have
defined in Step #1, you can now get super-specific about improving your performance
on your weekly group ride. If you have the ability to get to the troublesome
part of a group ride course one day during the week, do it. It is the best
way to spend your time. By training directly on that terrain you not only
can work on improving the physical component, but you can develop the mental
component as well. Each time you push your limits on that hill, or whatever,
you will gain more confidence and be more mentally prepared to tackle that
obstacle on group ride day. I can't get into specifics as to what workout
you should do exactly, but you get the picture. And remember, if you put thought
into your training, you will improve.
So to recap:
1.) Set clear, focused goals, and limit that set to just one or two.
2.) From your goal set, clearly define the purpose of each of your training
3.) Make your training as specific as possible.
A few other thoughts - I suggest tacking riding time on after your group
ride or submaximal training session doing tempo block to improve and build
muscular endurance. Also if you have it in your week to fit in one short (60-90
minute) easy ride, do it. It is time well spent. I started a Friday morning
coffee shop ride from our store this season. It is mostly attended by old
guys who work a lot and train very little.
We ride for about 90 minutes total at about 16-18 mph, and spend 30 minutes
chatting and joking at a local coffee shop. I believe it goes along way to
keeping you focused and motivated on the bike. It let's you be on your bike
having fun and not putting the hurt on yourself. Riding doesn't always have
to be gut-busting hammerfests! And remember, consistency is king. You'll need
to train consistently for 3-4 weeks to see real gains. So stay focused and
be patient.I hope some of this helps - have fun and good luck!
Leg/knee pain and saddle height
I have been having a pain from, it is likely, over-extending my right leg (I
suspect my saddle is too high). So I am lowering my saddle by 5mm to see the
effect on my pain in the leg. I read Steve Hogg's numerous replies to this topic
- very illuminating indeed.
A question I have is to do with pain due to saddle being too high or too low.
Is there a typical number, in mm or cm range, between saddle height being too
high and too low for a given person? Is it possible (for example) if I lowered
saddle by say 5mm or 10mm due to it being too high that I get into "too low"
range and get a different new pain to deal with?
My cycling inseam is 83cm and saddle is at 73cm from centre of BB along the
seat tube to (lower) top of saddle, I ride 172.5 mm cranks. I am a 45 year old
male, fitness road rider. At 73cm saddle height I got pain in back of leg/calf
muscle in one leg. I get pain in front of knee of the opposite leg when saddle
is less than or equal to 72cm. So in my case is it likely that a mere 10mm range
is all it takes between too high and too low, pain wise? Or should I be looking
elsewhere for the cause of this pain? Thank you in advance.
Scott Saifer replies
Some riders are much more sensitive than others to small adjustments in saddle
height. 1 cm is definitely a large enough change to go from the range where
there can be injuries from being too high to the range where there can be
injuries from being too low for a few unlucky riders. Your plan to adjust
by 5 mm and see what happens is a good one. Personally, I know that I can
make my hamstrings sore enough to make me miserable by setting my saddle as
little as 2-3 mm above the height at which it has been for six years.
Steve Hogg replies
It sounds to me that the right leg is overextending [pain at the back of
the leg/calf] and that when you drop the seat to solve that, you are underextending
the left leg [pain at the front of the knee]. The likely causes are a short
right leg, a much tighter right side or alternately a twisted pelvis on the
bike. If you sit either twisted towards or hanging towards the left side,
then you are going to find it easy to overextend the right leg and underextend
Get on your bike on a trainer with your shirt off and have an observer stand
behind and slightly above you while you pedal under reasonable load.
-Are your hips level?
-Do you drop or rotate one or the other forward and down?
Get back to me with what you find.
I'm a 41 yr. old male, former distance swimmer, in very good physical shape,
and have recently begun training for sprint triathlons. Due to a pre-existing
condition of Rheumatoid Arthritis at low to moderate severity levels, I have
been limiting my training rides to the length of my cycling leg of sprint triathlons
(approx. 13 mile ride).
Can you offer any insights regarding special weight training, stretching or
approaches to mitigate joint wear and tear and avoid related injury? Will I
need to crank up the mileage to improve my race performance? At present I feel
good but have only been training hard for 3 months and currently only ride about
80 miles per week. Thanks for any wisdom you can share.
Scott Saifer replies
A quick survey of the research available through PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi)
suggests that people with rheumatoid arthritis benefit in strength and aerobic
fitness from strength training and aerobic training, similarly to individuals
without the disease. (For any one who may be wondering, PubMed is a database
of peer-reviewed research on medicine and bio-science related topics, including
training and fitness. Peer-reviewed means that several scientists have signed
off on each article, agreeing that the authors have performed valid experiments
or literature reviews and presented conclusions that are in fact justified
by the data they have collected. This is quite different from the non-peer-reviewed
articles that you find in lifestyle magazines, which may be factually correct,
or may simply be the writer's opinion presented as fact, or even an advertiser's
opinion disguised as fact.)
You will need to increase ride volume if you want to get much faster on the
bike. My clients tell me they feel a large difference if they can ride 3 hour
sessions with some regularity rather than always rides of 1-2 hours. If I
were working with you, I would first ask to what extent your disease interferes
with bike, run or swim training. If you are able to train pain free or at
least with pain no worse post-exercise than pre-exercise, I would suggest
a gradual increase in training volume (perhaps 10% per week), keeping the
intensity in the base or endurance range (heart rate around 70-80% of maximum
measured in that sport). Because you are already an accomplished swimmer and
cycling is the largest part of the triathlon, I'd suggest emphasizing cycling
as a percentage of total training time. When the aerobic training volume has
reached the maximum level that your life, family, job and other factors will
allow, I would suggest a gradual increase in intensity, doing one harder session
in each sport per week. I'm being very vague here and not providing workouts
or details because I would really want to talk with a client at some length
before providing a detailed plan.
Particularly in the case of cartilage, it is true that what doesn't kill
you makes you stronger. Joints that are repeatedly stressed in their normal
range of motion (as by running, cycling, swimming with good form), and well
below their failure limit, gradually develop tougher cartilage, tendons and
ligaments so that they can handle more stress without damage. Push a joint
to a certain extent when it is untrained, and it may fail. Train that joint
and then test it again with the same intensity of challenge, and it does fine.
This is why we emphasize the gradual build up of intensity and volume: to
give the joints (as well as other body parts) a chance to respond to a light
load before challenging them with a heavier load. Again, I would want to talk
to you about what you can do pain-free before suggesting specific exercises.
Most likely we would start with light weight, dynamic exercises of the affected
joints, in the vicinity of 6-10 reps with a weight that felt trivially light
at first, and then building up set length or weight depending on your response
to the early lifting. If your knees in particular are affected I would have
you start with exercises that do not involve body weight, such as leg-press
rather than squats, but if you tolerated them well, I'd have you progress
to a strength plan similar to what I would assign any other triathlete.
I hope this helps.
Pam Hinton replies
You didn't specifically ask about dietary changes that might alleviate some
of the pain and inflammation, but you might be interested nonetheless. Omega-3
fatty acids may reduce your symptoms because of their anti-inflammatory properties.
The term "omega-3" (also referred to as n3) has to do with the chemical structure
of the fatty acids. Because omega-3 fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the
body, they are called "essential fatty acids."
As you know, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that
your immune system is overly active and is attacking your joints. The inflammation,
swelling, and pain are caused by chemical messengers called prostaglandins,
thromboxanes, and leukotrienes. These locally acting hormones are produced
from the metabolism of the fatty acids incorporated into cell membranes. Some
fatty acids (omega-6) are metabolized by the enzymes, cyclo-oxygenase and
lipoxygenase, to pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Omega-3
fatty acids in contrast, are metabolized to prostaglandins and leukotrienes
that have minimal inflammatory activity. By replacing some of the omega-6
fatty acids with omega-3 fatty acids, you can reduce the production of inflammatory
Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed,
and canola oil. Eicosapentenoic acid (EPA) and docohexenoic acid (DHA) are
the most common omega-3 fatty acids in the diet; purified EPA and DHA are
also sold as dietary supplements. According to the Food and Nutrition Board
of the Institute of Medicine, adult males should consume 1.6 g per day and
adult females 1.1 g per day. Four ounces of cold water fish such as salmon,
swordfish, or bluefish contains about 1.5 g omega-3 fatty acids. One ounce
of walnuts or flaxseeds (or one tablespoon of the oil) has about 2 grams of
omega-3 fatty acids. Good luck.
Seating and pedaling
I think you guys do a great job answering all these tough questions. I have
the following question about sitting squarely on the seat. I am 40 yrs old,
cat 3 and never had a problem of pedaling and sitting on the seat until last
year. While riding, I noticed that I was not sitting squarely on the seat and
when looking at my legs I noticed that my pedal stroke was the same but the
knee of the right leg would be farther away from the top tube than the left
leg. I also looked at the inner thighs and noticed that my right inner thigh
would be closer to the seat post than the left leg.
I have gone to a physical therapist and over the past year have worked on my
stretching. originally, when I arrived I was much, much tighter on the left
side than the right side. Presently, after all the stretching I am much more
flexible. I still hang to the left as it feels that more of my left butt cheek
is off the seat than the right. However, the PT noticed no discrepancy in leg
length or any other structural problem. I have also developed over the last
2 weeks after a lot of riding some pain in the outer right leg and the PT observed
IT Band tightness and I have been working on this.
After reading your articles it seems that my problem is a little different due
to the right leg thigh being closer to the seat post and hanging on the left.
1. I was wondering if it could be the actual sitting on the seat in the correct
spot of the perineum area?
2. Core strength?
3. Any other suggestions on the seating arrangement? It's tough getting old!!
Steve Hogg replies
From what you say you are hanging to the left but you are atypical in the
way that you do it. Generally what I mean by ' hang to one side' is that the
rider is sitting on the seat but with pelvis twisted in one or the other direction,
mostly to the right. If this is the case, the inner thigh on the side that
is twisted forward is invariably closer to the seat post. In your case, the
opposite is happening which suggests to me that you are correct in your assumption
of actually hanging off the saddle to one side, rather than twisting forward.
I have seen this but it is uncommon. Here are a couple of things to get your
physio to check or alternately get a second opinion on from a physio or similar
with a cycling background or who treats a lot of cyclists.
1. Are both sacro iliac joints equally mobile or is the left side tighter
and/or is your sacrum rotated?
2. Is your S1 vertebra fused to S2 on both sides as it should be or only on
one side as can occasionally be the case?
3. Do you have a pronounced scoliosis in your lumbar spine?
4. Is your left side psoas, iliacus or rectus femoris markedly tighter than
your right side equivalents?
5. Are both sides of your pelvis the same height and/or are your ischial tuberosities
the same size on both sides?
6. Do you have any eyesight issues in the sense of one eye being better than
7. Is your sense of balance ok? Try something for me. Stand facing a wall
and staying in more or less one place, turn in circles 10 or 12 times in a
clockwise direction. Now do the same in an anti clockwise direction. Was there
a difference? Did you begin to feel dizzy or disoriented in one direction?
If so, get back to me and I will point you in the right direction.
Dave Fleckenstein can probably give you a longer list than this.
If you feel that you have ticked all the physical and biomechanical boxes
and have got nowhere, it may be time to try the ' one in thousand' type options
This is out there a bit, but the last case like yours that I saw was an elite
female triathlete who hung off the seat to the left without any obvious physical
reason why that should be. In frustration I ended up trying a few esoteric
things that sometimes work for the 'one in a thousand' type people and sent
her off to a Behavioural Optometrist who fitted her with non prescription
glasses with a particular nanometre of green lense. When she wears these she
sits square on the seat. When she doesn't she hangs off the seat to the left.
While I have no detailed understanding of the why this should be, the basic
explanation is that 20% of the fibres in the eye play a part in balance and
proprioception [our brains' awareness of the relative position of our body
What I have described may or may not be the solution to your problem but it
is worth finding someone with breadth of knowledge wide enough to diagnose
the basic nature of your problem, and either treat you or recommend the type
of advice you should be getting.
Before you go down this kind of route though, make sure that at the least,
you get another opinion about potential structural issues that you might have.
This is because while I have a large store of tales about weirdo problems
and equally weird solutions, for 99.9% the solutions are more mundane.
I'm a bit confused about what happens when we sleep. I've heard many different
things, and I don't know how to reconcile them. I've read quite a bit about
how our bodies have a big boost of growth hormone (and most other muscle-regenerative
and restorative processes) when we sleep. However, it can also be a period where,
if we haven't eaten correctly (or enough), our muscles can be broken down for
food. What is actually happening?
What does this imply for how we should eat? How should we eat (such as right
before we go to bed?) to prevent this catabolism of our muscles, or promote
anabolism throughout the night - can you offer some insight? Thanks.
Pam Hinton replies
I am not surprised that you are confused by what you've heard about growth
hormone, nutrition, anabolism, catabolism, and sleep. Understanding the determinants
of skeletal muscle synthesis (anabolism) and breakdown (catabolism) is difficult
because the interactions between nutrients and hormones are complicated by
circadian and diurnal rhythms.
Let's start by talking about protein in the body. Proteins, as you probably
know, are long chains of amino acids. Anytime a new protein is made, there
must be free amino acids available. Unlike carbohydrate (glycogen) and fatty
acids (body fat), amino acids are not banked in a storage form for later use.
Except for a very small free amino acid pool, amino acids in the body are
part of proteins. As a result, body proteins are constantly being turned over-broken
down and resynthesized-to supply free amino acids. It takes a considerable
amount of energy to continually break and form the chemical bonds between
amino acids; protein turnover accounts for up to 5% of resting energy expenditure.
The balance between protein breakdown and synthesis is determined by many
factors, but the overriding one is nutrition. During the fasted state, there
is a net breakdown of protein to release amino acids. After a meal, the amino
acids from dietary protein increase the free amino acid pool and there is
a shift from catabolism to protein synthesis. The switch to anabolism occurs
because amino acids stimulate protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown.
It doesn't take much protein to maximize the rate of protein synthesis. As
little as 5 g of protein has been shown to max out anabolism (See Journal
of Nutrition 132:3225S-3227S, 2002 for details). Any additional amino acids
will be used to make glucose in the liver.
About 30 minutes after protein ingestion, the rate of muscle protein synthesis
increases rapidly, achieving four times the basal rate within 2 hours. After
2 hours, the rate of protein synthesis starts to decline even if free amino
acids are still available. Insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I),
and growth hormone (GH) are hormones that have anabolic effects on skeletal
muscle. Insulin is released from the pancreas in response to increases in
glucose and amino acid concentrations in the blood. Protein breakdown is very
sensitive to insulin, which inhibits proteolysis. High concentrations of insulin
stimulate protein synthesis when amino acids are available. The anabolic effects
of GH on skeletal muscle are direct and indirect, mediated by IGF-I. GH, released
from the anterior pituitary gland in response to stimulation by the hypothalamus,
increases protein synthesis in skeletal muscle. GH increases the concentration
of IGF-I in blood by stimulating production of IGF-I in the liver. GH also
causes IGF-I to be made in skeletal muscle. Both systemic and muscle IGF-I
stimulate protein synthesis.
Finally, we get to your question about sleep and GH secretion. GH secretion
is pulsatile, with spikes in GH followed by sharp declines to undetectable
levels. GH pulses occur at a frequency of approximately 3-3.5 hours. Maximal
GH release occurs shortly after the onset of sleep, in conjunction with the
first episode of slow wave sleep. This major GH pulse accounts for approximately
50% of 24-hour GH secretion. However, pulsatile release (amplitude and frequency),
rather than total GH secretion, is the more important determinant of its anabolic
effects. Other factors, such as age, gender, nutrition, body composition,
fitness, sex steroids, and stress affect GH release. GH secretion is elevated
for about 2 hours after exercise, followed by a short period (60-90 minutes)
of suppressed GH release. Interestingly, the GH response to exercise is not
altered by the time of day, but is blunted by prior food intake. So, what
really is happening to protein turnover when you sleep? And, more importantly,
can diet be used to stimulate anabolism and inhibit catabolism?
Recall, however, that nutrition is the most important determinant of protein
breakdown versus synthesis and that dietary amino acids stimulate protein
synthesis for approximately 2 hours after a meal. Most of us will not experience
a net gain in muscle protein during sleep because we spend most of the night
in the fasted state. You might maximize the benefit of the major GH pulse
by eating protein within a couple hours of going to bed. But remember, it
doesn't take much protein to maximize protein synthesis. Plus, it is the GH
pulses that really count when it comes to stimulating anabolism and there
are plenty of those that coincide with the fed state. Take care.
Almost immediately after hard rides, most often races, I get painful stomach
cramps. Similar to cramps leading to diarrhea, but I do not have to go the bathroom.
The cramps last up to 4 hours on and off. They continue even after eating a
meal. Do you have any ideas on the cause and any suggested remedies?
I'm 33 year old male. I've been road racing for about four years. I train three
or four days totaling on average 400 minutes on a weekly basis. Before evening
training races I typically eat a power bar or granola bar. That is the only
food between lunch and the race. Thanks in advance.
Pam Hinton replies
I can offer a pretty good guess as to the cause of your gastrointestinal
cramps, but I can't promise much in the way of prevention. If it's any consolation,
cramps are usually followed by urgent and repeated trips to the bathroom.
So, it could be worse. The cramps are likely caused by a cascade of events
that is similar to those associated with exercise-induced muscle damage. During
exercise, blood flow is diverted away from the gastrointestinal tract and
digestive organs to the working muscles, heart, lungs, and brain. Inadequate
oxygen and nutrient delivery to the gut for a prolonged period of time can
damage the intestinal cells.
Disruption of the cell membrane sets off a series of biochemical and immune
reactions that cause gut cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal
bleeding. Damaged cell membranes are "leaky" and there is a net flux of calcium
into the injured cells. The increase in intracellular calcium concentration
activates phospholipase A2, the enzyme responsible for cleaving arachidonic
acid (AA) from the membrane phospholipids. Free AA is metabolized by cyclo-oxygenase
and lipoxygenase to prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes. Prostaglandins
cause fluid and electrolytes to accumulate in the intestine, leading to diarrhea,
cramps, and vomiting. Heartburn also can be attributed to prostaglandins because
of decreased esophageal motility and relaxing of the sphincter between the
stomach and esophagus. The smooth muscles of gastrointestinal tract contract
in response to prostaglandins, causing cramps.
Both prostaglandins and leukotrienes cause the blood vessels that feed the
gut to become more permeable to fluids and to red blood cells. As a result
there is less blood flow to the intestine and an increase risk of gastrointestinal
bleeding. Leukotrienes attract immune cells to the damaged cells. In the process
of engulfing and destroying the injured tissue, the immune cells generate
unstable free radicals that cause additional damage to cell membranes.
Here's what I can offer as preventive measures. A Power Bar or granola bar
is a great pre-race choice, but allow your gastrointestinal system at least
an hour to digest it before hitting the starting line. Dehydration causes
a reduction in blood volume that will exacerbate the reduced gastrointestinal
blood flow during exercise. So, do your best to replace fluids during the
race. You might try taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) a couple
of hours before your event.
NSAIDs that inhibit cyclo-oxygenase (aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen) and lipoxygenase
(ketoprofen) may block prostaglandin and leukotriene synthesis, reducing your
symptoms. Be careful with NSAIDs during competition, especially in hot and
humid weather. Because blood flow to the kidney is sometimes reduced by NSAIDs,
athletes should use NSAIDs with caution under conditions where the risk of
dehydration is high. If you suffer from heartburn and nausea along with the
post-cramps, drinking a Coke or other carbonated beverage may help. The gas
that gives soda pop its fizz can form a barrier between the acid in the stomach
and the esophagus. Give these things a try. Hopefully, one of them will do
the trick. Good luck.
Posture on the bike
Some friends and I recently got in to a mild debate regarding your posture
on the bike, mainly because of conflicting advices from pros. One says you should
keep your pelvis upright on the saddle, much like the way almost all (if not
all) top pros we see on TV do.
However, there's this pro rider who explicitly advices against this. He says
you should incline your pelvis forward so that your upper body posture looks
as if you were doing dead lifts. Here's the URL of the page where you can see
the pictures so you may have a better idea what I'm talking about; unfortunately
the page is written only in Japanese so you might not be able to read the text,
I experimented the both styles a bit, and found that with the latter style
it seemed I could utilize my glutes a little better. The former style, I think
I'm using my quads slightly more. However, due to more pressure in the sensitive
area associated with the "inclined pelvis" posture, I haven't switched my style
from "upright pelvis" to "inclined pelvis".
Is there any consensus among professionals (athletes, coaches, etc.) one of
these two is better than the other? Or is it just a matter of personal preference?
Steve Hogg replies
I had a look at the URL but the English translation was a 'literal' one which
meant that I am not sure that I am getting the gist of it correctly. Here
is my two bobs worth.
I think that the pelvis has to lean forward to varying degrees for ideal muscular
enlistment. How far forward will be determined in the major part by the flexibility
of the rider in the hamstrings, glutes, hips, lower back etc, though upper
back and neck flexibility plays a secondary role in this as well.. I try and
get everyone I see in a position where their pelvis can lean forward unless
there are compelling reasons to the contrary which is relatively rare.
The seat position needs to be such that the rider can cantilever the weight
of their upper body forward without major effort required by the arms and
shoulder complex to support that weight. Doing this leaves the torso largely
free to breath with. To do this to potential requires elasticity in the spine,
rib cage and an absence of unnecessary tension in torso musculature that can
be used to both breathe with or stabilise and / or bear weight with. I would
tell you that the lower back should incline forward but the degree to which
that should be and needs to be is an individually variable matter. A book
would need to be written to cover all the permutations.
I don't know much about Japanese pros but if you watched the Tour, as happens
every year, some riders look very good, some look ok and some look pretty
ordinary. I'm not sure that the positions that any given pro rides has direct
relevance to the wider bike riding population as a whole.
Dave Fleckenstein replies
The essence of this picture (which is a very good illustration of correct
pelvic motion in the saddle) is that the forward flexion that brings the rider
to the bars occurs primarily through the pelvis and not through a slumped
lumbar spine. See my previous listing for thoughts on proper flexion motion
as it relates to the spine http://www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/?id=letters2003_09_24.
Try this drill that I have cyclists perform when trying to reinforce correct
1. From a standing position, initiate a jumping motion, but when you are
about to jump, stop and observe your spine alignment (it should look much
like the gentleman in the photo). This is a powerful stable position that
maximizes the function of our lower extremities.
2. Now, while still in that "pre-jump" position, slump your spine. It doesn't
feel nearly as powerful or stable.
The point is that we generate power with our pelvis in neutral or slightly
inclined, not slumped or rotated back.
So why do people so often go into the slumped alignment on the bike, robbing
their power production and placing the spine in a compromised position? A
couple of reasons exist. Lumbopelvic tightness (particularly the hamstrings)
will pull the pelvis into backward rotation when we are in the saddle. Poor
bike fit based on measurements rather than watching individual movement patterns
will enhance this as well. For example, I regularly see patients with low
back pain that have been "fit" using measurement-based systems that place
the handlebars in a position that may be ideal for a flexible professional,
but force the tight weekend warrior to slump excessively to reach the bars.
While I do think that formulas function to get us in the ballpark for correct
fit, I will also incorporate flexibility exercises to slowly optimize alignments
Weight loss and twitchy calves
I'm a 50 year old, 6'2" male who's been riding a road bike for 8 years now.
I've been progressing as a club rider, and this year have started racing as
a Cat 5. I'm planning to race masters categories once I upgrade to a Cat 4,
probably next spring. Eight years ago I weighed 235 pounds. Largely due to bike
riding, I've lost 30 pounds, and typically weigh 200 - 205 during bike season,
but rebound to 215 or so offseason. Last summer, I trained hard and dieted in
preparation for a two week cycling dream trip in the French Alps, and got my
weight down to 193 pounds, only to rebound again to 215 over this last winter.
This year, I've successfully and steadily dropped my weight during the spring,
so that by May, I weighed my "usual" 205 pounds. There's a very hilly local
race in late August that I've targeted this year, and decided to get back to
my Alpine weight of 193 pounds before the race. I've developed a calorie in/out
measurement diet that seems to really work well for me, and over the last three
weeks I've lost eight pounds. I'm definitely climbing better, but I also believe
I've lost power - I have a powertap and I can't seem to generate the same 20
or 30 minute threshhold power output that I could before I started dieting.
Why is this? Is the loss of power related to the absolute loss of weight or
to the rate of weight loss? If it's absolute and non-negotiable, then I guess
I just need to peg my ideal weight to the kind of races I'm planning to do.
If its relative to the rate of weight loss, how do I determine a non-power-reducing
rate of weight loss?
My second question is a bit less serious - while resting after long and/or
hard rides, my calf muscles take on a life of their own and begin twitching
and dancing - the muscles are randomly contracting involuntarily. It's fascinating
to watch - I keep thinking a little Alien creature is about to burst through
my skin and attack me. What's going on? Is this normal, or an indication of
a remediable imbalance or stress of some kind?
Scott Saifer replies
Your loss of power is not related to your absolute amount of weight loss
or a too-low current weight. There are plenty of riders a lot lighter than
you who are quite a bit faster. At 6'2" the average pro who is actually winning
major races weighs about 170 pounds. The heaviest about 180.
Your loss of power is indirectly related to the rate of weight loss. To lose
weight as quickly as you have been losing, you must be eating many fewer calories
than you are expending, which means that you are not replacing the glycogen
(carbohydrate stores) you've used in training between bouts of training. You
are essentially keeping yourself in the state that American cyclists call
"bonking". I understand that in Australia bonking means something entirely
different. Muscles need relatively full glycogen stores to be strong and powerful
in aerobic exercise. When the glycogen stores are low, you can still use fat
as fuel, but it supports a much lower power output than your usual mix of
carbohydrates and fats.
The rate of weight loss which can be sustained without loss of power varies
from rider to rider and also depends on how much weight a rider has to lose.
For someone your size, I would guess that 1-1.5 pounds per week might be possible,
though some of my clients report loss of power with weight loss rates below
1 pound per week. I encourage clients to try to lose 0.5-1.0 pounds per week.
You'll have to experiment a bit to see what works for you. One option is to
do your major weight loss during your annual recuperation period, if you have
one. If you do that, you don't need to worry about loss of power.
If you are losing power due to inadequate calorie intake, your power will
return to normal when you start eating enough to maintain weight again, assuming
a well balanced diet. However, if you are losing weight and losing power for
many weeks, the lower quality of training achieved during the weight loss
will eventually have an impact: another reason to try to lose weight sometime
other than your main training season.
I'm not sure of the physiology of the twitchy calves, but I can assure you
that many people who lose weight rapidly share the experience.
Okay, this question seems to be on the tip of most cyclists' tongues. I recently
rode up my favorite test climb that is about 1km long and was eager to view
my wattage at threshold. It revealed 330watts at 186bpm. I'm 74.4 kg so that
means I am 4.43 watts per kg. Yes, this isn't good, but the good thing is that
I have not trained over a year and have only rode 1500km all season. Now the
I can drop 12lbs to get me to 69kg but this means I am only still at 4.7watts
per kg. Does weight training in high reps of 15-25 of squats and presses do
that much? Hill repeats of big ring/low cadence action do anything?
I'd like to build up my watts at threshold - what would you suggest? Also,
how much wattage is typical to add to an untrained person? Any help would be
great - thanks in advance.
Ric Stern replies
Assuming that this hill was about 10% grade (I'm just taking a guess as you
don't state the grade), it's likely took you about 5 minutes to climb the
hill. That would suggest that your power is fairly reasonable and about the
level of an average 3rd category rider.
Dropping your mass without any further changes in fitness will allow you
to climb better, and possibly have better health (I've no idea how appropriate
it is for you to lose about 5.5 kg, or even whether it's possible). Often,
as you increase training, and lose weight - especially when you are restarting
training your fitness would also go up (ie, that 330W would become a bigger
During periods of low fitness, virtually any training of any modality will
likely lead to increases in performance. Thus weights *are* likely to increase
your fitness during this initial period. Other sports would do this as well.
During periods of low fitness any exercise will have a positive effect on
our health and performance, however, none of these exercises would be as specific
as concentrating on cycling, and cycling fitness.
As you increase your fitness, you will only gain fitness via cycling specific
training, and thus, it's highly unlikely that once you are race fit or approaching
that level, weights would not have a positive effect on endurance cycling
performance, and may even be detrimental - see this
It's also unlikely that low cadence - big gear training on hills will provide
much benefit. This training is only likely to increase your performance at
riding hills at a low cadence in a big gear. This is because adaptations to
training are specific to the joint angle and velocity at which they are trained.
While the joint angle with big gear low cadence work would be the same as
any other bike training, the velocity would by definition be much less. I'd
suggest that you only do this type of hill training where it's actually required
- for example, where I live there are several climbs that are between 15 and
25% grade, and sometimes on the steeper ones I *have* to grind the gear out,
as my gearing isn't always low enough to pedal at a high cadence.
By "threshold" I am assuming you mean your TTpower, and this could be trained
in a multitude of ways, from heavy tempo riding in zone 3 (see this
article) to intervals of a moderate to long duration (5 to 30 minutes)
at and just below and above TT power to higher intensity intervals at around
VO2max to MAP and possibly very high intensity intervals of about 30 seconds.
Additionally, as your hill test is quite short (I guessed about 5 minutes)
you may want to do a TT test to establish a baseline figure of where you are
at your current TT ability, as well as establish your current MAP figure for
establishing your training zones.
The amount of fitness (power increase) you can gain will be dependent upon
many factors, and is difficult to say. It may be possible to identify some
initial goals based on previous performances with the help of a coach and/or
sports scientist. If you have previously raced in the recent past, and have
no medical reason why you can't train, you may be able to get back to that
level of performance or even exceed it depending on how well you were training
Please give us a shout and we'll see if we can identify some goals for you
and help with some training or coaching.
I've been a loyal reader of the form and fitness for sometime, as well as an
occasional question asker, but I've never seen anything covering this. I don't
think I've ever even heard of it. Anyway, the last two times I was at maximal
efforts (end of race sprints) I've finished and had pressure in my right ear
like when I'm on an airplane. It stays like that for a few minutes and the usual
swallowing, nose puffing etc won't get rid of it. It never actually pops back
to normal per se, but instead just sort of fades away.
This has happened the last two races I've done, coinciding both times with
higher HR numbers than I'd ever seen before (193). In case you're wondering,
I got a first and a third in those sprints so I must be doing something right!
I'd love some input if you have it - thanks in advance.
Kelby Bethards replies
So, you are filling your ears up you are sprinting so hard, eh? In my opinion,
there are few different things that could be happening, all just a variation
on a similar scenario. When you are breathing very hard the volume of air
going through you nose and mouth is, obviously, increased tremendously. Each
time we breathe; a little bit of air can get into our Eustachian Tubes, which
lead to the middle ear. IF you are breathing very hard, you could subsequently
be forcing air into the Eustachian Tubes…(in your case the right more than
left). This will cause a pressurization of that middle ear, thus the sensation
you are feeling.
Now, if you are dehydrated, or have some slight allergies or a small head
cold…and so on, increasing the swelling around the Eustachian Tubes makes
it harder for the air to get back out that was "forced" in. After time, the
air does "seep" out and you are back to equilibrium.
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