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Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for August 29, 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.
Pre-start heart rate
Finding a coach
Muscle pain and auto immune system
Crank arm length
Training and physiology
Pre-start heart rate
I am 39 year old. I've been an avid cyclist since about age of 20, but start
monitoring my heart rate for past 4-5 years (only because heart monitors were
scarce in the country where I am from). My resting heart rate is bout 48-55
and I can sustain a max rate about 178-180. I noticed that even if I come to
group rides well rested, my heart rate right at the start place is slightly
elevated at 80-95 bpm. Can it be because I am a little worried about how ride
will go? Is it normal to have a slightly elevated heart rate right before the
Scott Saifer replies
Yes, it is normal to have a slightly elevated heart rate before an event
that causes you some anxiety or excitement. I've seen racers on the start
line of time trials with their heart rates hanging in the 140s even as they
sit and wait for five minutes or more. I'm a little surprised that you would
still be anxious or excited about group rides after riding 20 years. Is the
80-95 bpm measurement made after you ride to the start (more normal) or as
you first throw your leg over the bike (stranger but still nothing to worry
Finding a coach
My question is - how do you find a good coach and the right coach for you?
I am 21 years old and just upgraded to Cat 2 road racer. I would like to compete
competitively in Cat 2 next season, and in the long run develop towards Cat
Kim Morrow replies
There are a number of important factors which come into play when selecting
the right coach for you. For example, a coach's background which matches your
primary sport for which you are training, their education and/or coaching
certification, personality fit, coaching packages which fit your budget, location
of coach, etc. I'd encourage you to write down specific questions which you
have for a coach and then take time to personally interview a few potential
coaches to see which one might work best for you. Getting references from
people who have worked with your potential coach is a good idea too.
There are some great coaches listed here on the cyclingnews.com Fitness and
Form panel. Perhaps you could contact one or more of these coaches. If you
need additional assistance finding a coach, please feel free to visit http://www.MyEnduranceCoach.com.
This is a website which I own where hundreds of cycling and multisport coaches
are posted, and we even have a new Coach Finder service.
I seem to be having a few dramas getting comfortable on the bike nowadays,
and I have two problems I really want to solve - as a result of these I get
a sore lower back and power delivery problems.
Firstly, I have issues with my back. I have a broken bone at the base of the
spine, effectively pushing my lower back inwards. I also have some mild shermans
disease in the top half of my back, resulting in a slightly rounded posture
at the best of times. As a result, the two muscles that run parallel to the
spine at the top half of my back are generally very tight. I go to the chiropractor
to have the structural issues managed usually once a month. I have had instances
where my hips are out of wack also. Ive been told my back issues are structurally
related and not muscular. I have fairly strong abs and back generally.
I do work in an office all day also.
Yes, I have inflexible hamstrings relatively, but I'm working on stretching
and so on. I could touch my toes in a pinch, depending on the stretch you do.
I ride a Bianchi 928 carbon 53cm bike. With a pazzaz all carbon seatpost and
SLR saddle (this is the only saddle I've liked since the old avocet o2 racing
saddle). The reach from centre of bars to front of seat is 55cm and to the rear
of the seat is 83cm. I generally use the measurement to the rear of the seat
as this is where I sit, well towards the rear of the saddle. I'm using a 130mm
stem. The saddle is positioned slightly towards the rear on the rails (just
past centre point) - towards the rear of the bike, not quite 2/3rds. I've had
the saddle all of the way back using a 120mm stem (same reach overall) but I
felt this was making my back worse, but now I'm not so sure. I feel comfortable
on the reach.
I have an 83cm inseam and ride with the seat at around 71.5cm, depending on
where you measure to (middle of seat or middle of seatpost clamp). I find that
I ride a low seat compared to others of the same leg inseam, but if I ride higher,
I feel I lose power. Having said that, I think I'm struggling for power in the
hills anyway. Sometimes, the seat feels right in the hills, but a little high
on the flat or right on the flat and a little low in the hills.
After 30 minutes of riding, I do sometimes get tightness or discomfort in the
upper hamstrings (towards the buttocks), but this will dissipate after another
10-20 minutes or so.
When I ride, I often get discomfort right at the base of the spine (that funny
bone that sticks out) and sometimes this is more prominent on the left side
also. In both instances it is on the level of the base of the spine. This is
not necessarily painful, but is noticeable and affects my riding. Moving forward
or back on the seat brings relief, but it returns quickly.
I also have an issue where the left foot will sometimes get numb on my little
toe, from pressure against the shoe (numerous brands of shoes - Carnac, Sidi,
Shimano and now DMT). The DMTs have been better in this regard. But again, I
think it's because that leg tries to twist the foot in. I've set up the shoes
so that the heel can just touch the crank arm on both sides. I ride Look keos
with full float. The shoes are about 3mm from the crank at the pedal. The cleats
are pretty much set so that they are as far back on the shoe as possible. I
also drop my heel considerable when pedalling.
I think overall it's a seat position related issue, as regardless of where
I sit in relation to the bars, once the back pain is there, it doesn't really
The bars are approximately 7cm below the seat - raising them up or down 1cm
either way has no impact on the back. Using the test of letting the handle bars
go in the drops, I could maintain my position for a short period of time.
The Bianchi seat angle (I've since found out) is 74 degrees. I was thinking
that I would be better served to going to a bike with a slacker angle (73 degrees)
and getter further back, without increasing the angle of the hips. The Cervelo
51cm carbon r2.5 was the frame I was looking at as an example. It's a 73 degree
seat tube, a 53cm effective top tube (0.5cm less than the Bianchi) and as such,
I could have the seat further back with the same overall reach and actually
be further back on the bike.
If it matters, I'm 29 years old, 72kg (not overweight) and 175cm tall.
Do you have any thoughts?
Steve Hogg replies
It would be nice if I could see what you looked like on a bike but here goes.
The first thing to do is to make sure that everywhere that you contact the
bike you are as stable as possible. Have a look at
this post and set your cleats up accordingly. Once you've done this, make
sure that at whatever angle each foot wants to sit on the pedal, there is
a reasonably even amount of rotational movement either side of that. Don't
choose a cleat rotational angle that may be what you would like it to be.
Rather choose a rotational angle that is where each foot naturally wants to
be under reasonable load. Once you have done the above, mount your bike on
a trainer and level it.
From what you say, your back pain may be because of undue stress placed on
your sacro iliac joints; that is if I understand you correctly. Any over flexing
of the lower back will only add to that. You need to find a seat position
fore and aft that allows your pelvis and lower back to lean forward without
having to flex to a degree that you cannot tolerate for whatever period that
you wish to ride. Given what you have said about back pain, you may have to
move the seat forward to allow this. The trick is to find the point where
you can do this but still pass the balance
test that you will find here with other
background info. Bar height will have an effect on this also - how flexible
is your neck?
Your bars have to be at a height and brake hoods positioned consistent with
allowing you to exercise all of your hand placement options with ease. Given
your Shermans disease, this may mean that the ideal bar height is where your
upper back is flat. Unless your neck and upper back are very tight, you should
be able to get away with this. I have a client currently with Shermans disease
and good neck flexibility. He is able to ride with his upper back running
down towards the neck to a fair degree and still see where he's going while
riding with hands in the drop bars, without using anywhere near his full range
of neck movement. This may not be you though. Unless you have longer than
average arms, your overall structure probably dictates an above average bar
Once you have read those posts and experimented a bit, get back to me with
any specific queries.
Might you comment on the pros and cons of consuming glucose tablets on long
Scott Saifer replies
Pros: Glucose tablets are a convenient calorie source.
Cons: They are more expensive and less interesting in taste than many other
calorie sources and provide no advantage in performance compared to other
sources of glucose or glucose polymers. If you are doing long rides, interesting
food becomes important because the desire and willingness to eat sometimes
I am a 35 year old male, and I have not been able to do any form of cycling
for over 5 years due to soreness from the saddle. I cannot pinpoint this injury
to any specific event as the symptoms (soreness, numbness, pins & needles) developed
slowly over a period of about a month until I got so sore I couldn't bear to
sit in the saddle.
Previous to this I had been cycling competitively on the road from the age
of 12 and had raced at international level.
After consulting all types of doctors, physio's etc I was diagnosed with PNE
(pudendal nerve entrapment) by a team of doctors in France. They basically said
that there was no treatment that would allow me to ride the bike again. There
is an operation but it is only performed on patients with severe symptoms.
I had never heard of this condition, nor of any sort of injury which permanently
stopped anyone cycling due to soreness from the saddle. I have since tried every
type of saddle out there, and found cut out designs to be the best, but whilst
they don't hurt while on the bike I get sore afterwards, even if I only ride
for 10 minutes.
Could you offer any advice on this condition, or have you experienced any other
cyclists you have had similar problems? Thanks.
Steve Hogg replies
This is not something I have ever come across before. With what part of your
body do you feel that you support the majority of your weight on the seat?
Neil Teggart then responded:
Firstly, thanks for your reply.
I always felt like I was quite evenly balanced between saddle, pedals and bars.
Now if I try the bike I feel comfortable on a cut out saddle as long as I sit
in a reasonably upright position, though after riding for only 10 minutes I
would be sore for the next few days (soreness, numbness, pins and needles in
Anything I have ever read on this type of saddle induced soreness is only ever
temporary, though this condition has lasted over five years.
Steve Hogg replies
Do you bear significant weight on the perineum or rather is it under the
If you are bearing a large portion of your weight on the perineum, I can
understand the problem. If you are not, the only thing I can think of is if
the nerves around the hamstring point of origin [sitbones] are being irritated.
Even then, I don't know enough about neuroanatomy to know whether that could
cause your problem. Perhaps Dave or Kelby have some thoughts on this.
Muscle pain and auto immune system
I'm a 36 year old male amateur cyclist/triathlete. After increasing my training
to get "race fit" I experienced a cold and took a few days off training to recover.
After three days I felt better but my quads suddenly started to spasm, became
tender and painful, and I could hardly walk. I hadn't started training and in
fact was only walking casually at the time.
The doctor thinks my autoimmune system is attacking my muscles. I don't have
any specific injury just agonising cramp-like pain moving all around the major
quad muscles (no where else) and extreme tenderness of the muscle. It can be
unbearable at times. Physio can't help and it would be unbearable anyway.
I can't walk far and have to stay away from stairs etc.
There's this chemical in our blood - creatine Kinase (CK) - that is associated
with muscle damage. Normal range is 100-180. In 2002 when I last had this problem
seriously (I did have a minor episode about one year ago) my level was 1,174,
which was obviously high. Blood tests yesterday revealed it was 6,600.
I've just finished a course of cortisone tablets for 5 days and have submitted
blood for tests again today. The attacks started nine days ago after almost
three days of rest (no training).
This is the same pattern as in 2002:
1. Period of hard training (yes, too much obviously),
2. Took several days to a week off due to flu/cold
3. Feeling better and driving to track session when the legs went into spasm
- very painful
My health is actually fine and I feel good apart from the muscle attacks. Cold
symptoms, etc, have gone.
Obviously there's a link with overtraining affecting the immune system but
why I just don't get a cold / flu like everyone else is beyond me. Any advise
or information would be appreciated as the doctors are a bit baffled.
Kelby Bethards replies
I have a few questions for you. Have you had any other blood work done, like
your CK or anti-nuclear antibodies or ESR or the like, when you are healthy
feeling? Are they abnormal then?
When you become ill do you take adequate rest? My simple monkey-brained explanation
of that is for however many days you are "very sick" you need to take it easy
(slow rides, with gentle ramp up) for twice as many days as you were ill.
The autoimmune process is a difficult one to diagnose and to get a handle
on, but everybody feels that to some extent when they are ill - muscle aches,
fatigue and so on.
To clarify definitions: You have an immune system, and when it attacks your
own body, that is an autoimmune disorder. Somehow it thinks it needs to fix
or remove something that is your own.
If you haven't considered this, you may want to see a Rheumatologist to help
Crank arm length
I am a 45 year old recreational road bike rider. I ride 150 to 200 miles per
week. I am struggling to determine my proper crank arm length. Is crank arm
length based solely on anatomic measurements or the intended purpose of the
road bike (flat riding, climbing, or time trailing)? Thanks
Scott Saifer replies
Crank arm length is so individual that it cannot be based just on leg length
or even on leg length plus intended use. Just yesterday I fit a fellow who
is normally proportioned at 6'4" (193 cm) with a 36" (91cm) inseam for whom
177.5 mm cranks are definitely too long even though this is proportional to
a rider with a 34" (86 cm) inseam riding 167 mm cranks . In his case, his
feet are quite small for his height (size 44) and this is probably why he
can't use the long cranks. Another rider might need shorter cranks than suggested
by height or inseam because of flexibility or pedaling style.
My theory, open to discussion, is that cranks should be as long as possible
without being too long. How do you know if they are too long? You set the
saddle set-back and height according to the oft cited recommendations of Steve
Hogg, putting the saddle as high as you can with no feeling of reaching or
stretching for the bottom of the stroke. Once you've got the saddle height
set, you pay careful attention to the feeling of pedaling over the top of
the stroke. If you feel at all crunched up at the top of the stroke, your
cranks are too long. If you're not sure, try pedaling with one foot against
a slight resistance. If there is a "clunk" as your foot comes over or you
can't get over the top, try shorter cranks. If you are smooth over the top
and are not reaching at the bottom of the stroke, your cranks are not too
Training and physiology
If I don't squat for only a couple of weeks my maximum squat plummets, so if
we only power squat in the off season during a power phase, do we lose that
power gained during the racing season; does your body maintain it, or am I missing
something that happens physiologically?
When training intervals, if you've worked up to 95% of maximum heart rate,
and as your heart rate comes down during the rest minutes it only stays at,
say, 85% for 30 seconds even though you are making no effort, does that provide
the same benefit as training at 85% for 30 seconds hard?
And finally I read somewhere that all the benefits of a hard workout don't
take full effect for 10-15 days; if you train intensively in the meantime what
happens to your body?
Scott Saifer replies
These are great questions that get to the root of why we train. When you
don't power squat for a few weeks, how does your new, reduced max compare
to your max before you started squatting at all. If I'm not mistaken, your
reduced max will be quite a bit higher than your untrained max. It's very
rare outside of match-sprinting to use close to 100% of your leg-extension
strength. What you do use is some fraction of it. The closer the effort is
to the maximum, the more rapidly you fatigue. So the benefit of strength training
is not directly in the increase in 1-RM, but in the ability to repeatedly
push some large fraction of it. In a study in canoe racers, which I hope someone
repeats in cyclists, the endurance time at 100% VO2-max speed increased from
roughly three minutes to six minutes after a very specific strength training
The heart itself is not the main beneficiary of aerobic training. Your heart
rate sitting at 85% of max for a few seconds while you are recovering has
minimal training benefit. Depending on your stage of development, the main
benefits of extensive training may be to the aerobic machinery in the muscles
or to the neuromuscular junction. These benefits only accrue while you are
In the 10-15 days between hard training and the appearance of the benefits
of that training, many things happen. Motor end plates (nerve-muscle junctions)
grow, mitochondria increase in mass, aerobic enzyme activities increase and
capillaries proliferate… all the things we think of as training benefits.
I don't know the timing on these changes. In addition, fuel stores are replaced
(3 days or so after a deep depletion), and torn muscle micro-fibrils within
muscle cells are repaired (up to three weeks after a soreness-inducing workout).
I am an 18 year old road cyclist racing at a national level in the UK. I have
been feeling totally run down for at least the past five weeks noticeably, and
possibly even months before that. My symptoms include lethargy, headaches, sore
throats, and feeling generally terrible on the bike, with the odd good day,
as well as a resting heart rate elevated by around 10 beats for weeks now. I
don't think it's overtrainig as I have really cut back on training and racing
in the last five weeks in order to recover, but the symptoms are as bad as ever.
I have had blood tests etc. at the doctors, which show everything is working
fine, and they reckon chronic fatigue may well be the answer. So my questions
are does this diagnosis sound right and if so, what are the best ways to deal
with/ recover from this so as to be able to resume training for next year without
damaging myself in the process?
Kelby Bethards replies
I don't know if you fit the diagnosis of chronic fatigue. Five weeks is a
little on the short side to be considered chronic and although you say you
have been cutting back on training and racing, sometime cutting back isn't
enough rest. You have a lot of the symptoms of being over trained, and I feel
you may need to rest more so than you are currently.
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