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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. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

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 August 15, 2005

Leg length discrepancy
Early morning meals
Motorpacing for racing
Pre/post ride caloric intake
Salt, shorts and the cow's lick
Donating blood
Normal hematocrit levels
Maximising small amounts of training time
Leg/knee pain and saddle height
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Seating and pedaling
Stomach cramps
Posture on the bike
Weight loss and twitchy calves
Increase wattage
Ear pressure

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.

Matt Mattice

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 3mm.

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 be right.
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.

Michael Sproule

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:

-scrambled eggs
-soft toast

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 distress.
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?


Sean Doyle

Melbourne, Australia

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 workouts accordingly.

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 vehicle.

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 trialing).

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.

Loren Miller

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 day.

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!

Gareth Orr

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 intake.

Donating blood

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?

Rob Karman

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. Take care.

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 me wonder...

Tex Duncan

Pam Hinton replies

Hi Tex,

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

Brian Polhemus

Spencertown, NY

Kim Morrow replies

Hi Brian,

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 of time?

Appreciate any input you can provide. Thanks.


Topeka, KS

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 is mine:

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 wisely.

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 sessions.
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.

Yuri Budilov

Scott Saifer replies

Hi Yuri,

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 the left.

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.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

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.

Boe Clark

Longwood, Florida

Scott Saifer replies

Hi Boe,

A quick survey of the research available through PubMed ( 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 chemical signals.

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!! Thanks guys.

Howard UhrlassI

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 the other?
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 in space].
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.

Joakim Vinberg

Pam Hinton replies

Hi Joakim,

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.

Stomach cramps

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.

Brian Cardona

Rochester, NY

Pam Hinton replies

Hi Brian,

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, though:

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?

Ken Sugawara

Tokyo, Japan

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

Try this drill that I have cyclists perform when trying to reinforce correct riding position:

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 over time.

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?

Tom Martyn

Brattleboro Vermont

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.

Increase wattage

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 question:

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 figure).

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 article

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 previously.

Please give us a shout and we'll see if we can identify some goals for you and help with some training or coaching.

Ear pressure

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.

Carl Bradtmiller

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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