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Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for January 24, 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.
Triple to compact
Over-training and recovery
New forks for old bike
Dealing with illness
Bone density concerns
More strength training
Nutrition and weight loss
Triple to compact
I currently use a Campag Record triple on one bike and a Centaur triple on
the other; I am keen to change to compact chainsets, and wondered if the alteration
could cause any physical problems given that the bottom bracket for the triple
set up is wider than that for a compact. I am 59 and don't want to change if
it's going to cause me any discomfort. Your view would be appreciated.
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Scott Saifer replies
For the vast majority of riders small changes in bottom-bracket width make
no difference whatsoever. For a tiny minority the Q-factor actually matters.
So far as I know the only way to tell which group you are in is to try the
switch and see what happens, unless you have some history that makes you suspect
you might have a problem.
If you do have a problem you may still be able to make the switch by fiddling
with the pedals and cleats, such as by putting thin washers between the pedals
and cranks, moving the cleats to the inside edge of the shoe etc.
I was doing some reading on some of your fit suggestions, and in the July 18
2005 Q&A came across this as part of a response to a question about Hip Pain
and ITB Tightness:
"The least likely reason, though I see more than a few, is that your left brain
hemisphere is so dominant relative to the right, that asymmetric postural changes
are the fallout."
The answer related to the issue of asymmetrical function. As a fit professional,
I find this concept intriguing at least and fascinating at best. Can you elaborate?
Roanoke, VA USA
Steve Hogg replies
Yeah, it is both. It is not a fact though but a theory. I am reminded that
someone whose name I can't recall once said something along the lines of "for
every problem, there is a simple, plausible, sensible answer that accounts
for all that is observed but is totally wrong".
Here is why I tend to think that it is correct though.
Everyone favours one side on a bike. The degree can be anything from all but
imperceptible to very obvious. This usually takes the form of a hip drop and/or
rotation forward with every pedal downstroke to a degree not present on the
other side. There are a few potential reasons for this; limb length discrepancies,
asymmetric patterns of function, development or tightness etc, etc. However,
over time I have seen a number of people that when all of this is accounted
for (and by this I mean that with professional guidance they have spent a
period, usually a long one, achieving well above average symmetry in a functional
sense off the bike) do not change one iota on the bike.
Why do I think that this is evidence of brain hemispheric dominance?
A number of reasons. Firstly, the great majority of people who favour one
side favour the right side. Fair enough you may say - we live in a right handed
world. However, my experience is that left-handed people are just as likely
to favour their right side on a bike as right handed people. (As far as handedness
goes there are gradations, it is not as simple as people are right and left
handed, but that's another story).
So I discount handedness as a reason. My thinking goes like this. Most males
tend to be left brain types to a greater degree than they are right brain
types (and most bike riders are male). Modern society rewards left brain people
because method and analysis will take you a long way in most jobs and this
is characteristic of left brain thinking.
Moreover, riding a bike is a left brain activity according to a neurologist
acquaintance of mine. So the story goes that most of us tend to be left brain
to some degree and in some people this is very pronounced and that the left
brain controls the right side of the body. I had observed all this for some
years and was running it past a couple of neurologists that I know when I
happened across a Carrick Institute trained functional neurologist by accident
who turned out to have an interesting take on this.
The second reason is that after this and to test him out, I sent him a number
of the most intractable cases that I had seen. These were people that I could
help to varying degrees but not to my or their satisfaction. All of them had
done the rounds and seen chiropractors, osteopaths, physios, myofascial therapists,
masseurs etc ad infinitum. One in particular had made it THE priority in his
life to become more even and pain free with little success. After a course
of treatment by the Carrick guy lasting several months, these people are now
square or nearly so on the bike. The treatment methods are unusual, not invasive,
and are intended to wake up the right side of the brain. They don't involve
any stretching or manipulation.
All I can say is that this has worked at least in the cases of these riders.
Nothing else had. I probably see a skewed sample of humanity. Most people
that come to me have a problem and have often done the rounds. It may be that
I am more likely to come across people like this than some.
I get any amount of debate from health professionals that I know about this.
My answer to them is that I am happy to send them similar people and they
can try their luck with them. When they have had enough, I will send them
to the Carrick bloke and they can later see the results. I don't particularly
care about what someone calls themselves or what they believe, only the results
that they achieve.
I am starting to believe that our structural function is the product of our
brains organisation filtered through accidents of birth or development and
life experience. Most people can sort themselves out by getting the right
advice and doing the work, whether it be stretching, core strength, manipulation,
massage or whatever to straighten themselves out. For some though, it seems
that it all starts with how their brains work. I am happy to be wrong about
this but that is my experience to date.
I have read all the numerous questions and corresponding responses regarding
what appears to be some of the same "problems" I have been experiencing.
I am 40 years old. I am 6'4" and 195 lbs. I am split between road and mtb,
but solely race mtb. I am confused on some of the issues I am having relative
to some of the solutions as outlined on your previous suggestions to other posts.
I have discomfort on my right side, mainly knee but sometimes lower right back
and right foot. I appear to be twisted out to the right and get the feeling
of reaching with my right leg when I pedal. I have the right cleat all the way
back on my shoe.
All of the other posts indicate that a reaching with the foot (right or left)
with the heel rotating away from the frame may be linked to a varus in the forefoot.
I measured with the Lemond device many times and found that my right forefoot
is measuring 5 VALGUS. In addition to that, my right tibia measures about 5mm
shorter than my left. My left forefoot measures pretty straight, but may go
Could a valgus measurement be pushing out my right heel and would a shim on
the outside of the foot, along with a couple inverted to correct the leg differences,
potentially correct that?
Steve Hogg replies
You are basically on the right track. Forget Lemond wedges for mtb applications.
I have found them to be largely a waste of time. An mtb cleat with 2 fixing
bolts close together needs the protrusions or serrations on the bottom of
the cleat to bite into the sole of the cycling shoe to stay put. If something
is interposed, they tend to come loose. I have found that Lemond mtb wedges
are prone to this. Either that or the amount of tightening required to keep
them in place chews up the wedges and minimises any help they may have been.
Lemond road wedges are another story as most road cleats are held on with
3 widely separated bolts in a triangular pattern and if tightened correctly,
rarely present problems.
Make a paper fitting and tape it the underside of your cycling shoe. Do so
like this: Get a sheet of A4 paper. Fold it along the short axis 4 times in
total until you are left with a strip approximately 20mm wide x 210mm long.
Get some packing tape and stick this along the inside edge of your right shoe
insole starting at the heel. It must reach at least as far as the front of
the first MTP joint (ball of the foot). If your feet are really large, which
given your height is possible, you may need to add a smaller extension. Stick
this to the underside of the insole well with packing tape.
Fit this to your shoe and lower your seat to the point where the right leg
feels smooth and controlled through the entire pedal stroke. You may need
to experiment with the amount of paper 'wedging' under your insole until it
feels really solid and stable. If you need to add more, get another sheet
of A4 and do as before but only fold it over 3 times. This will leave you
with a strip 40mm wide x 210mm long. Starting at the heel, place the paper
over the first piece but make sure that you do not go past the centreline
of the insole at the heel. Almost certainly you will need to trim some width
of the paper at the rear of the insole (heel end). Once done, use more tape
to secure it over the first piece. I would be surprised if you need more than
this but it is possible.
Don't expect your right heel to necessarily come all the way back in. The
pattern of tightness you probably have in the right side hip / lower back
may not be totally resolved with one or more wedges of paper under your right
foot. You will probably need to start some sort of self improvement regime
of stretching with or without professional guidance.
Once you have found a seat height that your right leg copes with well and
the number of wedges that seems to be correct, raise your seat back to where
it was. Add whatever the difference was between the newer height and the old
height to the underside of your right shoe in the form of a shim inside or
outside your cycling shoe.
This can be a bit of a problem with mtbs as I mentioned before. An Axo Spud
Spacer will give you up to 4mm with good reliability in the sense of the cleat
staying put. If you need more than that, you will have to build up the insole
of the right shoe. If you do this and start to run out of room in the toe
box, you will need to cut off the build up forward of the metatarsal heads
to allow the toes some room.
The paper will stand up ok if well taped even in the wet. Over time and with
repeated dousing it will compress and so needs to be changed from time to
time. If you have any problems with this, get back to me.
Over-training and recovery
I'm currently a collegiate road-racer (male, 19 years old) in my first year
of riding. Our first races are a few weeks off, with targeted races not happening
for about a month and then continuing until early April. Most of the literature
I've seen is about how NOT to overtrain, but, being a first-year rider, I've
already passed that threshold. I haven't hit a mental block yet, but I know
something's wrong because I just can't get comfortable on the bike, and just
about everyday is a lesson in feeling TIRED off the bike. Over the winter, I
did a lot of low-intensity (mostly in or below zone 2 with a few tempo and interval
workouts thrown in), high-volume work. For example, my peek week was 22 hours,
riding 3 2-hour days and 4 4-hour days (during finals week, at that), but most
of the weeks were between 12-18. I'd been told to "keep it easy" during the
winter, and felt that's what I was doing. Obviously, however, I didn't give
myself enough rest time in between workouts to fully recover. Anyway, my question
is: once you've deduced that you're over-trained, what's the best way to recover?
Should one just get off the bike for a few days and do no training whatsoever?
Spend the next week spinning for an hour or so and just generally take it easy?
Or is it necessary to really re-evaluate the next months (and therefore season)
Scott Saifer replies
For 95% of riders in their first year, 15, 18 or 22 hour weeks are too much
in the sense that after such a large week of training, one would need several
weeks of low-volume recovery. If a first-year rider continues to train at
that same volume week after week, deeper and deeper fatigue sets it.
Technically if you are truly overtrained, you will need one to several months
of very low volume and low intensity to recover, which means that you would
not be ready for the collegiate season. If you are tired and staying tired
you are still not necessarily overtrained however. You may simply be over-reached,
which is a fancy way of saying that you need a shorter period of recovery
time, perhaps a few days to a few weeks. If you've been over-reached and continue
to train heavily, that's when overtraining becomes an issue. You haven't mentioned
how long you've been feeling tired, so I don't know whether you are overtrained
or over-reached. The best way to find out is to take some recovery time and
note how long it takes you to come around.
If you take recovery 100% off the bike, you'll rapidly detrain and need a
long period of training to be ready to race again, so the trick here is to
pick a level of activity which will prevent detraining but allow recovery.
Not knowing you other than what you've shared here, I'd suggest 60 minutes
per day of gentle spinning with a heart rate below 70% of maximum for a week
or until you start to feel better. Continue with the easy days until you have
felt really good for two days, and then return to heavier training, preferably
under the guidance of an experienced coach who will help you to avoid getting
in trouble again. If you start to feel good in three weeks or less, there's
a good chance that you will end up feeling very good and being very strong.
This would mean that you had benefited from the hard training and just needed
to recover fully to express it. If it takes much over three weeks to get your
spunk back, you're probably going to need some extensive reconstructive training
to get you up to race-season fitness. Good luck.
New forks for old bike
Hi, I have an older Trek 1500 Aluminium 58 cm frame that I bought second hand.
I've had it for nearly three years and the previous owners had it set up for
them and as you would expect cut the fork steerer height to suit. My problem
is that it's about an inch too short for me and seems to be the cause of my
shoulder pain (bike was professionally set up and matches requirements posted
on this site previously). Can you recommend a fork that would fit the Trek frame,
that would allow me to set up the bike anew a hopefully eliminate my shoulder
Scott Saifer replies
Forks are fairly interchangeable. The obvious choice would be to get an uncut
Trek fork, but any other brand with the same steer tube diameter should work.
A fork with different rake (the offset of the dropouts from a line drawn through
the centre of the steerer tube) will affect the handling, but it's just as
likely to be an improvement to make things worse since your current bike was
not custom made for you anyway. However, you could save a lot of money by
simply getting an up-angled stem and keeping your existing fork, unless there
is something else wrong with it.
Hello, I have been told I need a combination of Lemond wedges on my left leg
by my local bicycle fit professional. However, I use Time MTB pedals and I have
been unable to make the combination of SPD style shims work with this pedal
system. The shims get caught up on the cleat and pedal engagement system, causing
inconsistent performance from the pedal, as well as sloppy and sometimes "sticky"
feelings from the pedalling platform.
I need four wedges (shims), which causes another issue - rocking from side
to side, or sloppy cleat to pedal interaction due to the stack height. I have
addressed this with the man who fit me and he only offered one solution; trim
the wedges. Are you aware of a similar product that use shims specific to time
MTB pedals/cleats? Please help.
Fort Wayne, IN
Steve Hogg replies
I am not a fan of the SPD style wedges because my experience is they just
plain do not work. They don't let the cleat bite into the sole of the shoe
which means that too often they come loose as well as the problems you describe.
If you were told to use 4 wedges and that is correct, do this instead.
If they are being used in counter stacked fashion to give a shim, build up
the underside of your insole instead.
If they are being used as a wedge, do the following:
Get 2 sheets of A4 paper. Fold them in half along the short axis. Fold on
3 times and the other 4 times. Using packing tape, stick them on atop the
other on the inside length of your shoe insole. Make sure that the narrower
piece [4x folded] is along the inner edge and the wider piece covers it but
does not extend past the longitudinal mid point of the heel. You will almost
certainly need to trim the wider piece at the heel. Use plenty of tape and
you have a wedge that will not move around but will need periodic replacement.
The pressure of your foot in shoe will prevent them taking in too much water
in the wet. If your toes feel a bit crowded, cut the paper so that it does
not extend towards the toe further than the heads of the metatarsophalangeal
Don then responded:
I appreciate your response; unfortunately it has taken me a while to get back
to this. Before I try this I just wanted to clarify a few points. Just to make
sure I am interpreting your instruction correctly, when I am making the folds
are each fold in half of itself? Or am I to fold on another line or is the width
of the fold not important? Also does the number of folds include the first fold
of each sheet of paper "Fold them in half along the short axis"?
Once again thanks for your help, I have been struggling with this issue (over
pronation) for some time. I could never get my left leg to "feel right". I see
a chiropractor, for routine maintenance, for an issue of my left hip rolling
forward. The adjustments seem to help that, but despite my efforts of stretching,
technique drills such as isolated leg drills, pedalling, and others, I have
been unable to get the powerful smooth feeling stroke I have with my right leg.
Once the issue was diagnosed getting the correct fix will be a relief. I have
tried custom insoles, professional fit, Specialized body geometry shoes. I have
spent hours reading your column on Cyclingnews and find the overall picture
of biomechanics that you and your staff provide to be very insightful. Thanks
for your work in this area! Cycling needs more talented specialists helping
the athletes develop.
Steve Hogg replies
In relation to the paper wedging - get your A4 sheets and sit them so that
the greater length faces away from you. I will call the top north, the bottom
south and the left and right sides west and east respectively.
Fold the paper so that you are folding along the 'equator' of West to East.
Keep folding in half each time until you have the desired number of folds.
After 3 folds your paper should be 210 mm long by 38 - 40 mm wide. After 4
folds it should be 210mm long by 19 - 20 mm wide. Let me know what happens.
Don then responded:
I got the paper "shim" installed, and rode rollers yesterday, felt pretty good,
much more solid than before. How long should I allow for acclimation in regards
to power out put, muscle soreness from the position of the leg firing, etc?
Steve Hogg replies
Normally I suggest to clients that they ride at low intensity for three weeks
post fitting and stay away from steep hills. The body adapts to changes far
better at low intensities than at hight ones. Try and keep your heart rate
below 75% of max and perhaps 85% if you have to ride up an unavoidable hill.
If you do this you should have little or no problems adjusting to the change.
Also, that paper 'orthotic' for want of a better word will probably need changing
every couple of months or so as they tend to compress when drying out after
Dealing with illness
This is general questions regarding recovery from the common cold. I have been
feeling general fatigue, sinus pain, congested nose and ears (kind-of), and
wake up in the middle of the night and morning with a slightly sore throat.
From what I understand, the general rule is if it is above the neck you are
OK to go, but a bit lower intensity/volume. The thing is I am feeling so fatigued,
not enough to be on the couch all day or napping, but I cannot seem to muster
up any motivation to train. I took about four days off the bike and made a deal
with myself that if I did get any better then I would try moving to see how
my body reacted. I was able to lift some weights one day and ran and rode the
other with no avail; I am feeling the same and slightly a bit worse at days
end. What are my next steps? Should I completely rest until this cold goes away
or should I try pushing through it? Thank you very much.
Colorado Springs, CO
Scott Saifer replies
Here's a general article on what to do for any level of illness from the slightest
sniffle to full-blown flu and any duration from a day to weeks or longer...
I got sick. Now what should I do? (From Wenzel Coaching and Scott Saifer)
It is normal for athletes to get sick with a cold or flu once or twice per
year, just like anybody else. How you deal with being sick will determine whether
it keeps you out of training for a few days or ruins your season. When you are
ill the highest priority should be getting well again quickly, not sticking
to your training plan. Training too much while you are ill will make you stay
ill or get worse. Returning to training too soon can cause a relapse. It is
better to miss a few days of training voluntarily than a few weeks due to a
more serious illness. The questions are how much to back off, for how long,
and how to come back to full training. The answers to all these questions depend
on how sick you are.
How sick are you? Illnesses divide into two categories as far as training is
concerned. Do you have a little sniffle, or something worse? If you have a little
sniffle, continue to do recovery pace sessions up to half the length of your
longest recent training sessions. You can continue to lift weights provided
that you quit if you start to feel worse. If you have a sniffle, continue the
lighter workouts until you feel well and for one more day. Then return to your
How long to take off? If you have chest congestion, fever, body aches, deep
fatigue or nausea, you are too sick to train. Do not train (including lifting)
while you have these symptoms. Start to train again when you feel close to fully
recovered. If you feel sick for a day or two, take a day or two off. If you
feel sick for a week, take a week off. If you are very sick or are not recovering
for a full week, it is also time to consult a doctor.
How to come back? If you miss 1 - 3 days of training, just take one easy day
and rejoin the schedule. An easy day is done low in your endurance zone (zone
2) for not more than half of the time of your longest recent session. If you
feel weak on the easy day, take another easy day. Continue taking easy days
or days off until you have a good day. You should always have four symptom free
days between an illness and any hard training or racing. If your schedule calls
for hard training or racing in the first four days after you return from an
illness, just do long endurance sessions instead. Don't try to make up the missing
days. If you missed something important like a test, talk to your coach about
how to reschedule.
If you miss 4-7 days, you will need six days to return to full training. The
first two days of training, aerobic train or lift, whichever is on your schedule.
If you aerobic train, do 1/4 the length of your longest recent session and do
it at a recovery pace. If you lift, do 1/2 your normal sets and 1/2 your normal
weights. On days three and four of your return, if you train aerobically do
1/2 your long session at an endurance pace (dropping to recovery if you get
tired). If you lift do your normal weights but only half the normal sets. On
days 5 and 6, you can do 3/4 your normal long session at an endurance pace or
your full normal lifting routine.
If you miss more than seven days of training, talk to your coach about how best
to schedule your return. After a longer break it may be best to delay the remainder
of your schedule or do some testing to see how much you have really lost.
When will I be strong again? It is our experience that after even a mild cold
athletes are not able to race or train at their best for at least two and often
as much as three weeks. After an illness don't be discouraged if you cannot
race well immediately after your symptoms clear up.
Bone density concerns
I recently read a disturbing article concerning loss of bone density in cyclists.
The thrust of the article was that due to the non-weight bearing nature of the
sport contributed to a stark reduction in bone mass. Additionally, the article
suggested that since cyclist may train for longer periods, that extra calcium
may be "leached" from the bones and out through extra sweating. While most of
the cyclists they studied were elite level athletes, I got the impression that
I still have alot to be concerned about.
My own background: 35-year-old male, 6', 165 lbs, cat 3 racer, cycling up to
10 hours a week on average. I came from higher impact sports in my youth such
as basketball and running, but quit in my early 20s due to injury and subsequently
took up cycling as my primary form of exercise. My job is very sedentary which
causes me extra concern. I'm considering a bone scan and possibly continuing
a weight training programme throughout the year instead of just the off-season,
though I know coaches usually advise against 'heavy' year round weight training.
Any additional suggestions or thought would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Pam Hinton replies
Reports of low bone density in cyclists are more than just disturbing, they
are accurate. The latest research, however, is not all bad news, especially
for people who are accustomed to improving things by just working harder-just
like, for instance, cyclists. Unfortunately, we don't really know the prevalence
of the problem. Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my hometown racers, a very
fit guy about your age, was asking me about getting a bone density test. He'd
read the same studies that you have and was concerned that maybe he was at
risk. I suggested that he ask his physician for a dual X-ray absorptiometry
(DXA) test, which measures the bone mineral density (BMD) of the whole body,
hip and spine. The results of the test showed some sobering results. My friend
has osteopenia, which is hip BMD 1 standard deviation (~10-12% of BMD) below
the average for young adult males. Osteoporosis, more serious bone loss, is
BMD 2.5 standard deviations below the norm. Low BMD is associated with increased
risk of fracture; each standard deviation below the mean increases the chances
of fracture by 1.5-2.5 fold.
This association between bone mineral density, technically the mass of the
bone mineral per bone area (g/cm2), and fracture risk is why BMD gets so much
attention. When it comes to preventing fractures, the primary concern is bone
strength--the ability of bone to resist forces exerted on it. Bone can be
compressed, bent, or twisted and its resistance to these forces depends on
more than total bone mass. Small changes in BMD have disproportionately large
affects on bone strength. For example, increasing BMD by 5% produced a much
larger improvement of 65% in bone strength. This is because bone geometry
affects bone strength. Tubing used to make bike frames makes a great analogy
for understanding this concept. Frame builders can increase frame strength
by increasing the diameter of the tubing. The same principal applies to bone--adding
or subtracting bone mass from the outer surface of the bone, effectively changing
the diameter, produces large increases or decreases in bone strength.
In a healthy individual, bone will adapt to its environment, increasing strength
in response to external forces. The importance of mechanical stress on bone
health is evident in studies of weightlessness. Spaceflight of 1 and 6 months
reduced BMD by 2.5% and 5%, respectively. Four months of bed rest reduced
bone mass by 3% in the spine and 4% in the hip. In both cases, the loss of
bone mass was greatest in bones that are most stressed by gravity. Important
for bone strength, loss of bone mass during weightlessness occurs at the outer
surface of the bone. So how does bone sense external forces, such as the gravitational
force of body weight, and respond by depositing additional bone mineral? Answering
this question requires a brief look at bone biology. Bone consists of a mineral
matrix that is deposited on a protein framework. Bone cells (osteocytes),
responsible for synthesis of new bone, are located within fluid-filled spaces
(lacunae) within the mineral matrix. The lacunae are interconnected by tiny
channels (canaliculi) that also are filled with fluid. The movement of fluid
within the lacunae and canaliculi creates shear stress (fluid movement) at
the surface of the bone cells. This shear stress is how external forces exerted
on the skeleton stimulate bone growth.
Larger shear forces (flow rate) have a greater anabolic effect. Understanding
this signalling process explains why bone responds differently to different
types of mechanical loading, and thus, to different types of exercise. In
order for fluid shifts to occur, the loading must be dynamic, i.e., the skeleton
must be moving when loaded. Static (stationary) loading does not create fluid
movement. To understand the importance of dynamic loading, imagine what happens
when you are riding in a car and the driver brakes unexpectedly, suddenly
stopping the car. You, and everything else that is not secured, lurches forward
and then slams backwards. In this example, you represent the fluid in bone.
Stopping of the forward motion produces sudden shifts. Now consider what happens
when the driver stomps on the brake when the car is parked. Nothing. This
situation is analogous to the sheer stress that occurs with static loading
The difference between weight-bearing and non-weight bearing sports also
can be understood from this analogy. If the driver of the car is going 50
miles per hour and suddenly slams into a brick wall, your movement (remember,
you represent the fluid) will be much greater than if the driver was going
slower or had time to brake normally. Coming to a sudden stop is analogous
to the ground stopping the downward motion of your body weight. Travelling
at faster speeds upon collision with an immovable object represents the difference
between low- and high-impact weight-bearing activities. For example, both
walking and jumping are weight-bearing activities, but the impact forces on
the bones of the legs and feet are much greater with jumping than walking.
To study the forces exerted by different activities, researchers implanted
devices to measure force into the tibias (shin bones) of six healthy volunteers
and then compared the effects of walking, performing a leg press, stair-stepping,
running, and bicycling. Running induced shear forces that were twice that
of walking and nearly eight-times that of cycling. To put the effects of cycling
in perspective, the sheer forces induced by walking have a minimal effect
on bone mass. Cycling does not generate the shear forces required to cause
bone growth. Therefore, the risk of low BMD associated with cycling is proportional
to the time spent in the saddle.
Cyclists also are at risk for low BMD because of increased calcium losses
via sweat. Although the concentration of calcium in sweat is low (12-80 mg
Ca per litre of sweat), cyclists may have higher sweat volumes than athletes
in other sports. Simply, this is because cyclists spend more time training
than athletes in other sports. Environmental conditions that increase sweating
rates also will increase calcium losses. As an example of potential calcium
loss, assume an average sweat concentration of 40 mg per litre and a sweat
rate of 1.5 litres per hour, a 4 hour ride would result in a loss of 240 mg.
An additional 300 mg of calcium are lost in the urine and faeces per day.
To replace the losses, assuming that only 30% of dietary calcium is absorbed
from the intestine, 1800 mg of calcium is required. This is considerably higher
than the current recommended intake of 1000 mg per day for adults.
Obviously, sweat calcium losses are dependent on the concentration of calcium
in sweat, sweat rate, and duration of the ride. As a result, calcium requirements
will vary considerably between individuals. If dietary calcium is inadequate
to replenish the calcium lost in sweat, calcium will be released from the
bone to maintain blood levels. This calcium imbalance causes loss of bone
mass over time. Aim for 1000-2000 mg of calcium per day, depending on your
training. Do not exceed 2500 mg of calcium per day. Dairy products contain
about 300 mg of calcium per serving. Calcium-fortified orange juice, soy milk,
and tofu also contain significant amounts of calcium (100-200 mg) per serving.
If you do not eat dairy products, you probably will need a calcium supplement.
The best types of calcium to take are calcium carbonate or calcium citrate,
which can be found in chewable tablets or soft chews. Some chewable antacid
tablets contain calcium carbonate and are cheaper than most other calcium
supplements. Make sure the antacid contains calcium by reading the label.
Low BMD in cyclists is not inevitable. You can minimize bone loss by consuming
adequate calcium and by incorporating high-impact activities into your training
program. Thankfully, when it comes to maximizing the bone-building effects
of high-impact exercise it turns out that short, frequent training is best.
This is because the response of bone to external forces requires adequate
rest between loading sessions. Bone cells rapidly become desensitized to fluid
shear stress. Animal studies have shown that bone cells stop responding after
50-100 loading cycles per session. Eight hours of rest is required to completely
restore sensitivity of the bone cells to mechanical stress. Moreover, short
recovery periods (10-15 seconds) between loading cycles, results in a greater
increase in bone mineral than no recovery time. The most effective exercise
program to increase bone mass would consist of jumping, e.g., squat, tuck
or box jumps, or other plyometric exercises, e.g., bounding, single leg hopping,
performed with short rest intervals between cycles and eight hours of rest
between sessions. Also, young bone, particularly growing bone, is more responsive
to external loading than older bone. Although the phrase, "better late than
never," certainly applies to high-impact exercise training, don't wait until
middle age to start high-impact exercise training.
By adhering to some of these regimens, the hometown racer friend I mentioned
earlier can expect to recover some of his lost bone strength and significantly
reduce his future risk of bone fracture. Based on studies done in pre- and
postmenopausal women, my friend can expect to increase his BMD by 2-3% after
six months of training at least 3 times per week. High-impact exercise increases
BMD as much as the drugs used to treat osteoporosis. Although this seems like
a negligible improvement, remember that small changes in BMD translate into
much larger changes in bone strength. For example, in women with postmenopausal
osteoporosis, a 1% increase in BMD reduces the chances of fracture by 4-5%.
When it comes to increasing bone strength, a little bit of preventive maintenance
goes a long way. And you can take it from one who knows that bone fracture
is one of life's lessons you definitely want to avoid. It seriously puts a
damper on your training, your racing and your quality of life. Good luck.
More strength training
Against Ric Stern's advice, I have incorporated a substantial weight lifting
program to my off-season training. My goal has been to develop the meanest sprint
that a 137 pound (now 140 because of the gym) climber can have. I train on the
bike 15-25 hours a week and lift twice a week for about four hours total. My
weight room program includes leg press, hack squats, squats, lunges, and hamstring
curls. Since September I have seen about a 35-40% increase in strength on each
of the exercises.
I have followed a periodized training plan in the gym and am about to begin
a power phase of lifting. I also want to incorporate plyometrics into my strength
My questions are:
1) How do I set up a programme of power lifting and plyometrics? Obviously
I don't want to be doing four strength workouts in a week.
2) What plyometric exercises would be most beneficial to developing explosive
cycling power? 3) At what point should I abandon my strength training regimen
in order to be fresh for the season which begins at the end of February?
Andrew Bloomer replies
Ric would have no objections to incorporating strength training into a programme
to develop your sprint; it's using strength training to increase endurance
where the contention lies
In answer to your questions:
1) I've recently observed strength and conditioning coaches demonstrating
such a programme whereby they carried out a set of back squats using a heavy
weight (around 6-8 reps) followed by a set of cleans with a lighter weight
(10-12 reps) then going straight into a set of plyometric jumps (10 reps)
all straight after each other. They mentioned that this method ensures the
greatest amount of muscle fibre recruitment. For more information, visit www.uksca.org.
2) At a guess I would say simple squat jumps as they replicate the movement
most closely found during sprinting
3) I wouldn't abandon it completely but would maintain it throughout the
Following not recovering from a crash back in September my specialist has told
me I need to have an Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression operation on my
shoulder, to clean a bone spur which is prodding a tendon in my shoulder. Any
idea (ish) how long after the operation I can get back on bike? If it's going
to be two months or more will I lose all of my current fitness levels or will
training right up to the op be 'money in the bank' so to speak?
Kelby Bethards replies
I will have to defer to your orthopedic surgeon on this, but a lot of cyclists
are able to get on the trainer within a few weeks. Again, speak with your
surgeon about riding a stationary bicycle, because the last thing he/she wants
you do to is fall on that shoulder.
I'm a 33 year old male cyclist, just got into road racing last season after
years of other types of riding, including three winters as a courier here in
Toronto. I'm a featherweight - 5'9", 130lbs.
A recurring problem I've had when training in colder weather seems to be triggered
by post-nasal drip. I'm 15 minutes into it when down comes the phlegm, I hork
it away, but that starts to trigger this gag reflex which triggers more phlegm,
this time seemingly from below, as though I'm getting heartburn. It becomes
bad enough that I have to stop riding as I feel like I'm choking on what's in
the back of my throat.
I used to get heartburn semi-regularly as a teenager, when I ate something
without drinking water or some other drink first, but since then I've been fine.
I generally find that drinking water once this problem starts does help somewhat,
and I wonder if I drank enough before its onset, would this not happen. Also,
do you think it's a function of being in less than good shape? Or breathing
the cold air through the mouth instead of the nose?
Any help would be appreciated,
Kelby Bethards replies
I have seen a couple of people for similar problems. Certainly riding in
cold air can trigger rhinitis (runny nose). And, yes, it can get to the point
where people "gag" on it. I have had some luck with prescribing riders nasal
antihistamine sprays and nasal steroids. It helps moderate the amount of vasomotor
rhinitis that cyclists tend to get.
Nutrition and weight loss
I'm going to ask a couple of questions which are probably far below the level
of expertise this group is used to, but I wanted to try. I'm a 27-year-old graduate
student with two kids who is trying to fix his lifestyle. I'm a big cycling
fan, but until recently have been the kind of fan who cheers the OLN coverage
while holding a bag of Doritos. I'm 5'11, and now weigh 240 lbs. I've lost 15
pounds in 3 weeks using a new bike (Trek 2100) and a fluid trainer (I live in
Iowa - no outside riding now) along with a restricted calorie diet (1700-2000
cal/day). I use a scale to get portions correct, so I'm pretty confident about
those numbers. Also, based on these few weeks of counting, I'm going to estimate
that my previous daily calorie consumption was 3500-4000, so these first 15
pounds are probably my body saying, "Thank God, I couldn't take much more of
My problem is that I'm getting very tired. Part of that is coming from the
fact that I'm taking away a little bit of sleep to get my riding done, but I'm
guessing that my diet is also part of the problem. I get 6-8 hours of sleep
a night, which historically has been enough, even when I was in shape six years
ago. I need basic nutritional info as it pertains to my weight loss. I'm riding
first thing in the morning, after I down some water, but no food. I'm only riding
right now for 30 minutes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I'm riding
at what feels like a tough pace for me, but I don't have a HRM or anything right
now, and have spent most of my budget on the bike, the trainer and a pair of
shorts. Basically, how can I get the most bang for my buck, calorie-wise, in
terms of recovery? When do I want to be eating? Are there good rules in terms
of what quantities to eat when? Also, from what I've described, is there anything
you can glean that indicates I'm doing something fundamentally wrong? Is my
body just getting used to this schedule, and will it take a while?
Iowa City, Iowa
Scott Saifer replies
90% chance your problem stems from your rate of weight loss and not from
the timing of your eating or what you are eating. In order to lose 15 pounds
in thee weeks you have been shorting yourself so many calories that you are
not restoring your glycogen supplies. I have extensive experience with racers
losing weight, though not so much with 30 minute four times per week riders.
Among folks who are training extensively, the maximum rate of weight loss
that can be sustained for more than a few weeks without energy loss is generally
around 2 pounds for those with a lot to lose (5'11" and 240 puts you in this
category), and as little as 1/2 pound per week as the final ounces are stripped
away to reach a good race weight (5'11" and 145-165 pounds if you're wondering).
With regard to exercising as a way to lose weight, remember that any calories
expended as carbohydrate have to be replaced before you can exercise extensively
again, while calories expended as fat do not need to be replaced and can be
thought of as weight truly lost. That means that while higher intensity riding
uses more total calories during the ride, higher intensity riding also means
that you have to eat more afterwards to maintain your energy long term. The
ideal would be to ride far enough below AT to be expending substantial calories
from fat, but as hard as you can without ending up extra hungry in the day
after the ride, or deeply fatigued in a way that would require a big dose
of carbohydrate to repair.
An hour before a ride you should eat 1gm carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight
and 2gms two hours before and 3gms three hours before and 40-60gm carb per hour
while riding. Obviously the more time you have to eat before your ride the more
you can stock up the Glycogen stores.
If you are doing a 5hr ride/race and only have an hour or less to eat before
the ride do you only eat 1gm or is there benefit to eating 3gm? Or is this excess
How do you adjust your on the bike eating quantity during a 5hr ride if you
only eat 1gm one hour before and don't have the opportunity to stock up on another
1 or 2gms per kg of bodyweight before the ride? Should you be eating 60-100gm
carbohydrate per hour and how do ensure that your system has enough energy stores
to get through the last hour of your ride?
Scott Saifer replies
The key variable here is the rate at which you can absorb the food. Three
grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight translates to four Powerbars or
three bagels, which sounds to me like a lot of belly-filler to clear in an
hour. I would suggest that you experiment - how much can you actually eat
and not feel unpleasantly full as you begin to ride.
Same applies to during ride eating: Eat as much as you can eat without feeling
unpleasantly full at the end of the long ride. If you come home hungry, you
didn't eat enough. If you come home bloated, you ate too much. 60-100gm of
carbs per hour while riding is not a bad target, but may be too much for less
experienced athletes and smaller athletes. Some people will be able to eat
a bit more.
Remember that even 100 grams of carbohydrate provides only a fraction of
the energy that a strong rider will expend in an hour. It's only decreasing
the rate of glycogen depletion, not really maintaining your stores. Thus stopping
at 100 grams because someone told you that is the target number would be foolish
if you can actually eat and absorb more. Again the key word is absorb. There's
little question that you can swallow more.
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