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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 March 27, 2005

HR Recovery
More training zones
Hill training
Coming back to riding
Healthy weight gain
Torque vs. power
Tyre rolling resistance
Speed training
Fast starts
A pound of fat
Broken collarbone
Heart rate at exhaustion
Toe numbness
Longer left leg
Leg length discrepancies

HR Recovery

I am a CAT 5 racer. I've done 4 races this year. I've been cycling for about 1 1/2 yrs. My nagging limiter seems to by my ability to recover from maximal efforts. For instance during a race this past weekend there was a decent climb (0.6 miles, 11.3% avg Grade). I worked pretty hard climbing it to stay with the leaders. My max HR is 183 bpm. I averaged 175 bpm for the 4min and 30 sec it took me to climb. Once I crested I really had to back off considerably to get my HR to drop at all. This is typical of such an effort. Any advice on how I can improve this? Thanks.

Robert Polcyn

Ric Stern replies


Good to see you've taken up the world's best sport - I hope you continue to enjoy it.

The effort that you're likely putting out over such a hill (about 4:30 mins) is likely to be an effort at or around VO2max - which is the maximal amount of oxygen that the body can take in and utilise per minute. Maximal oxygen uptake is the limiting mechanism in endurance exercise - that is, no matter what percentage you can sustain of VO2max it will always be less than VO2max. Well trained cyclists can typically approach around 90% of VO2max for up to about one hour.

Contrary to popular belief, VO2max and maximal aerobic power (see this article) are quite trainable and are around 50% genetically determined.

Recovery from any effort is entirely determined by aerobic ability (i.e., lactate threshold, and VO2max). How big these are determines your rate of recovery, and is not affected per se by the size and magnitude of decrease in your HR. Any effort where you are close to about 96% of HRmax is going to take some time for you to recover from whether you are a Cat 5 racer or likely to win the Tour de France, as you're likely to be at or near VO2max. However, you may not need to let it recover - if you can keep riding hard, then maybe keep going (this may depend on tactics within the race).

To improve - what you really need to do is make this and similar efforts less close to VO2max, and more close to lactate threshold (which can be sustained for up to several hours). This can be achieved in a two-fold manner: 1) increase your VO2max (if this analogy works for you - it's like increasing the size of your cars engine), and 2) increase your lactate threshold (which is akin to the red line on your rev counter of your car).

VO2max/MAP is best increased with zone 5 and zone 6 efforts (see the earlier link for power and HR zones) that come close to VO2max, and lactate threshold is increased by quality efforts of ~ 90-mins at a brisk tempo (zone 3) and efforts around TT ability (zone 4). By doing these work, your lactate threshold, and VO2max will increase, such that the effort you did previously will now feel easier, as although it's the same absolute intensity, the relative (to your ability) intensity has now decreased. You'll now recover quicker, and be able to ride faster.

The duration of these efforts maybe dependent upon the terrain you have around you, whether you do them on a trainer or outside, and your motivation. They would also need to fit in with your time available that you have for training, and allow you to do other training as well, which maybe working towards other goals that you have.

If you're unsure how to prescribe and schedule in such training, or want to improve at a faster rate and reach a higher level then I'd suggest some coaching, which of course we can help with (along with the others on the forum).

More training zones

Rick, I have a question about your "zones" answer. I am learning about training zones and have read about the TT test or other similar road tests. I have read that these tests need be done on a flat road. Around here more than 1km without a stop sign can't be found and running them can be costly. It is possible to find a hill with say 40 minute effort to climb it. I Is an average HR for a long climb valid and if not why not?


Ric Stern replies


First off I'll start by saying I don't prescribe such tests (that is a TT type test over 40-minutes to set training zones). When i use HR for training zones, I set them by HRmax. Thus, it maybe that you'd want to contact someone who does prescribe such tests so that they can explain.

However, I don't see why such tests can't be completed on rolling up and down roads. Because there is known HR lag when intensity (power output) changes and such that HR doesn't drop to zero when you go downhill i don't see the issue. Given also, that HR at TT intensity can vary dramatically due to cadence, environmental conditions and previous acute training it shouldn't be an issue (I'd suggest using perceived exertion in conjunction with HR).

If you can't find a road that doesn't require you to stop every 1 km (how long do you have to stop for?) then maybe you'd want to test on a trainer, and in which case I'd suggest doing a HRmax test instead.

You could do a test on a 40-min climb, however, your HR maybe higher (and could be lower) than a similar powered effort on the flat. It could be higher if you stand a lot on the climb as this will send your HR up. Conversely, it could be lower as well, if you are forced to ride at a lower than usual (flat road) cadence. Cadence has an effect on HR and efficiency at a given power output, such that a lower rather than higher cadence is more efficient (contrary to what some people state) resulting in a lower HR.

Having said the above, it may not actually matter that much in setting training zones. Setting the zones is only one part of the equation (and a small part at that) - how you train, and the overall structure of your training is far more important than whether you've gone a couple of beats of your HR into the 'wrong' zone.

Hill training

I am hoping you could help me out with two items. My details:

I am a 32-year-old male, I have been riding for nearly 18 months and have just started to get serious after recovering from injury over a the last 3-4 month period, So fitness is down but illness is no longer an issue.

Firstly, I am hoping to increase my base level fitness over the coming months. I live approximately 3 km from the base of a 6 km 10% gradient climb. I am limited to a training time of 1 hour in the mornings on week days due to work commitments. My only real choices are a climb to the top and back home again, or a ride in the other direction of smaller hill climbs in an interval style ride. I am too far from flat roads to be able to get there and back in my time frame.

On the week ends I take part in a 50 kilometre training ride where I can keep the pace but lack the staying power that I would get if I increase my base level fitness.

My main question is am I better doing a hard hill climb on a regular basis or the interval style smaller hills. My concern is that training in the hills most of the time will not be as much a benefit to my enduring fitness, or even slow my speed down, as compared to longer rides on the flats with my limited week day times.

Secondly, I have been told I have a very toey pedalling style, Is this a good or a bad thing, and should I be trying to change that?

Grigor Mead

Ric Stern replies


The type of training that you do is determined by a multitude of factors:

1) The type of topography you encounter when training
2) The time that you have available for training
3) The goals that you have (in cycling)

If all you have is the option for a long climb or short rolling hills then that's all the options you have available. You have to train to the best of your location. Having said that, doing lots of short and long climbs is going to be good for your fitness, in that longer climbs are likely to increase your lactate threshold (and TT power) and shorter climbs of several plus minutes are going to increase your VO2max/MAP, both of which are key components in your training arsenal.

Longer rides on the flat (or on hills) can be useful (e.g., for weight management), but their importance is often overstated. Shorter sessions that involve intervals (on the flats or hills) are likely to be far more beneficial to your actual performance. However, I'd suggest mixing up some of your rides so that you don't do the same one every week day (and get bored). One day you could do the long hill, another day the shorter climbs. Some days you'd want to drill the climbs or whole ride as hard as you can, and other days you should be mellower and take things easier. Add in with your longer weekend rides, and you're covering most/all training (depending on your goals).

The way that you develop which days to go hard and on which terrain (to target either VO2max or LT) will depend on what you want to achieve. Often it maybe easier to develop such a plan with a coach - if you're unsure of what to do, or want to improve at a faster rate, feel free to contact RST about such training development.

I can't see it matters how you pedal. If Ii recall correctly, Jacques Anquetil pedalled in a toe down style. What you may want to consider, however, is whether your seat height is correct (if it's too high you may be pedalling toes down to effectively shorten the vertical distance between the pedal and a flat style and your saddle).

Coming back to riding


Due to various personal and business reasons, I have taken a couple years off of racing, and about nine months off the bike in general. I am a category 3 racer and would like to hit the summer crits in somewhat competitive form. When looking at training programs, how exactly should I classify myself? i.e., given my history of racing, will I come back sooner? Am I essentially a beginner again? Does that make a difference? Should I be focusing only on base miles right now? Can I accelerate the time at which I would introduce interval/intensity? Any insight would be helpful, thanks.

Rob Camandona

Ric Stern replies


I'm not sure what training programmes you're looking at? Given that you've had 9-months off the bike you're likely to be at your sedentary level of fitness (unless you've done some other exercises in that time). It's possible that you'll improve at a faster rate than if you'd not trained previously, as you'll know what to expect.

Depending on what you mean by "base miles" I'd say after you've done a couple weeks of easy riding and started to improve you could probably start to add in some intensity. However, this will be determined by your rate of improvement, the need (or not) to get fit in a short space of time, and any medical conditions you may have.

Probably, the best way of getting fit in a shortest time possible is to develop a good training programme that works towards your goals, or to work with a coach who can help you. If all you're racing is just crits which say don't exceed much more than about 90 minutes you don't need to do any long training rides (unless you wanted to) or you are looking at weight management.

Healthy weight gain


I am twenty years old and am a category two racer. I weigh 130lbs and am about 5'9" with a fairly well power to weight ratio, and put out a fairly large number of max watts for my size. As almost any cyclist I have a healthy appetite and I maintain my weight give or take a pound or two. My problem is with higher training loads more recently my immune system is lacking, which is normal, although in my case it is more substantial than normal. In recent months I have gotten sick on several occasions and seem plenty more susceptible to falling ill than the average person as well as the average athlete. This takes a large toll on my racing and training and hinders my endurance quite a bit, because I cannot get in the amount of hours that I would like to attain.

I have had some blood work done as I raised concerns to my doctor. She told me that I have no deficiencies as far as vitamins and minerals are concerned as well as electrolytes. Well after my latest bout with a cold, I have really thought about what the problem may be. What I have concluded is that I need to gain some fat, because my body fat is a whopping 3.2%. I am very lean and have a healthy appetite and have been following the zone diet, balancing carbs-protein-fat and take vitamin supplements as well including extra vitamin C.

How I came to this conclusion is that fat is obviously what stores energy and being that I have less than the average person, I do not store as much energy, subsequently in longer training rides and races usually about 3.5hrs or longer, I need to eat a larger amount of food than the most because I have less stored than most. Also, fat is where fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are stored which vitamins play an important roll in immune function as they are tied together. This is what supports my theory.

I truly believe that my problem with a high vulnerability to getting sick comes from such a low body fat percentage. I do not want to necessarily gain weight, but more so fat. My question to you is could my problem be from such a low body fat percentage, and if so how do I healthily add more fat to my body mass? I have always had trouble putting on weight, and in this case fat. If you do not believe that my theory is correct, then what could this problem stem from and how can I correct it? Thanks!


Ric Stern replies

Hi Chris,

Research into immune function and athletes shows that a "J" shaped response to illness frequency. That is non-trained people are ill an average amount of times, which is indicated on the "Y" axis of a graph (illness frequency) by the start of the "J". With regular amounts of exercise, it's likely that your immune system is strengthened and the frequency of illnesses decrease (bottom of the J on the Y axis). However, as you start training intensively your immune system and rate of illnesses may increase, such that very elite athletes may be at the top of the "J" (indicating a high number of illnesses).

This figure may explain a little more clearly (with URTI being upper respiratory tract infection). Figure modified from Nieman (1994).

Research by Nieman has shown that repleting glycogen stores immediately post exercise, with 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body mass is the best way of reducing the chance of illness and loading your muscle and liver glycogen levels. The fact that you use the Zone diet may be an issue, as this reduces the amount of carbohydrates that you can take in, and will 1) decrease your performance (as carbohydrates are required for exercise, and moderate and above exercise, 2) increase the risk of illness.

There is no evidence available that the Zone diet is good for exercise performance (there maybe very limited amount of evidence that it;s good for anyone), and you should increase the amounts of good carbohydrates within your diet (e.g., those carbohydrates that come from 'starchy' type sources such as pasta, rice, potatoes, wholegrains, etc). For most athletes who exercise a lot, you'd need to consume around 6 to 10 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body mass per day. To convert your 130 lb to kg divide by 2.2. Therefore, depending on your training volume you'd need 355 to 591 grams of carbohydrate per day.

It's important to read nutrition labels on food to ensure that you eat the right amount. For e.g., while people think that pasta is a high carbohydrate food (which it is) it's dry (uncooked) carbohydrate value is only around 72 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams of actual (dry) pasta. Now, obviously, you wouldn't eat all your carbohydrate source from pasta alone, but purely to illustrate the point, to ensure you'd consume 355 to 591 g of carbs you'd need to eat a dry weight of 493 to 820 grams of dry weight pasta (again this is just to illustrate it's not an actual suggestion!).

To consume the large amounts of carbohydrates that you need as a cyclist your diet should be geared towards eating plenty of pasta/rice/couscous/potatoes/bread etc, while consuming low-fat protein sources, and minimising fat and alcohol intake. You should take in carbohydrates and electrolytes while training in the form of sports drink, gels, energy bars, as well as other sources (e.g., fig rolls/newtons are good).

Torque vs. power


I recently started training with a PowerMeter and am wondering what the difference between Torque and Power is. Plotting the two variables on the same axis shows that (for me) the lines lie on top of each other for the most part, but sometimes they diverge. What do these numbers really signify?

John Wilde

Ric Stern replies


Torque is angular force, which in the case of bikes and power meters is the force required to e.g., turn the cranks around. In the Systeme International units of measurements, torque is measured in Newton metres (N-m), while people stuck in the dark ages (!) may use the units of pound-inches or pound-feet. Torque has a force measurement (e.g. Newtons) and a distance measurement (metres).

Power can be defined in many different ways depending on the situation and the units you have at your disposal. In terms of cycling power is the sum of all the resistive forces that must be overcome to travel at a specific velocity under specific conditions (e.g., gravity, air drag, bearing resistance, rolling resistance, etc). However, as we are unlikely to know all these variables, we can also calculate power from torque and angular velocity. In terms of e.g., an SRM power crank, power is the torque on the crank by the angular velocity of the crank (in radians per second), while with the Power Tap hub it's the torque on the strain gauges in the hub multiplied by the angular velocity of the wheel.

If you're looking at a graph and can see torque and power, i'll guess that you have a Power Tap. The torque you see here isn't that important as it is 'modified' by the gear that you are in. It would be more important to see the torque that is produced at the cranks (e.g. from the SRM).

Given that your cranks don't change length as you ride (other than minutely due to temperature changes) at a given power output and velocity less torque is required at the pedals at a higher rather than lower cadence.

Concentrate on improving your power and pedalling at a normal cadence.

Tyre rolling resistance

My friend is getting rid of his tubular rear disk and replacing it with a clincher rear disk because he is convinced that rolling resistance for clinchers is superior to tubulars, enough to cut 1-2 min off a 40k TT. Is there anything to this? Don't all the pros use tubulars on TT bikes?

Park Firebaugh

Scott Saifer replies

Unless your friend is riding cross or BMX tubulars on his disk, he's going to be disappointed in his expectation of measurable increases in speed from switching to clinchers on a similar disk.

Speed training

I have just commenced riding in 9/2004 and commenced racing with local veterens about March 2005. Had never raced or ridden before, and slowly picking up on the tactics. I am considered a "strong rider" however have no speed, but grind out results rather than win sprint finishes . Our races are generally between 40 and 60kms and are handicapped mainly I struggle in scratch races as the pace varies so much, and I prefer to get in the groove and work consistently. Details are:

Age: 46, male height: 177 cm, weight: 81 kg, build: solid legs, averaging 270km per week including race. My background is in longer distance running.

Basically looking for some specific speed training tips I can work on, thanks for your assistance.

Steven Kennedy

Ric Stern replies


It seems from your comments that you have two separate limiters.

1) The ability to sprint (at e.g. the end of the race), and
2) The ability to cope with changes in pace (which can happen a lot in road races).

These two limiters are distinctly different from each other. The ability to sprint and have a good finish is related to your peak power, and can be trained by doing various sprinting regimes included with other parts of your training. There are several key sessions to do to improve your peak power/sprinting ability.

1) Seated starts from stationary or as near to stationary as you can get without putting a foot down. These should be done in a low gear (e.g., 39 x 19) for 5-secs, and can help build the force you can generate. Stay seated and mash down on the pedals

2) Flying starts in a moderate to big gear (e.g., 53 x 15) from say 35 km/hr for 15 seconds. I like to get out the saddle for the first ~5 seconds and then get in the saddle. Keep effort the effort up for the ~15 seconds

3) Tactics. Often in road races it isn't just the raw power that you can generate, but the tactics that you use. These can be practiced with friends in a group situation (making sure it's safe to do so; as you should for all the sessions). Lead sprints out from a long way, practice staying on a wheel until the last few metres and then trying to come around the others. In a race situation try following a known sprinter and try to copy what they do.

The ability to cope with changes in pace is likely related to your lactate threshold and your MAP/VO2max. It's likely that when the pace changes and goes up you can follow that pace change, but afterwards it's recovering from the effort, and or continually repeating the process. If that's the case, it's down to your LT and MAP not being high enough. These can be increased with moderate to long work loads (e.g., zone 3 efforts for 90+ minutes; zone 4 efforts for up to 40 minutes) for LT and shorter intervals of 3 to 8 minutes at zone 5 and 6.

Additionally, you can also try practising the changes in power/speed, by looking at the sort of efforts that hurt you (e.g., they could be one-minute surges; followed by a pause and then another surge, etc) and replicating these in your training.

Fast starts

I was wondering if there is a way to better prepare for the fast starts at the beginning of a cross country mountain bike race? Besides getting an adequate warm-up, is there any way to incorporate a different training technique that will allow you to get used to going all-out off the line and then settling into a sustainable pace? My problem is that I take a long time to warm up so I end up in the middle to the back of the pack heading into the first singletrack section in any race. But I am a good technical rider so once we get to the single track and the pace has started to drop off, I find myself being held up for most of the first lap and then playing catch-up for the rest of the race. If only I could condition myself to the fast starts I could get close to the front in the first single-track and make up lots of valuable time. Any suggestions?

Chris Brunet

Scott Saifer replies


First, a question: How well warmed up are you when the race starts? A MTB race is essentially a time trial that starts with a sprint. Your body must be prepared to put out a really hard effort off the line. A good warmup requires a minimum of 45 minutes of continuous riding. At most MTB races the only possible way to get a real warm-up is to use a stationary trainer. Many riders do better with an hour or even a little longer. The warm up should involve gradually increasing the heart rate, up from 10-15 minutes of very easy turning over of the pedals, to a few short race pace efforts near the end. If you are not already doing a warm up that matches this description, try it.

If you are already doing a good warm up, then your idea of doing some specific training is a good one. The ideal training for the sort of short efforts you need to be able to make at the beginning of a race is a simulation of the race start itself. Once you are really warmed up, stop and stand still for a few minutes. Then jump hard up to a bit above sustainable race pace. Finally let your pace drop to a sustainable pace and continue for a few minutes.

Keep track of how long you go flat out and how quickly you settle into a good pace. If you need to recover after your jump, you jumped too long. You may recognize this exercise as a lactate threshold interval starting with a sprint. That is just what it is. Between intervals roll around for 5-10 minutes to recover and then do another. Continue with these intervals until you are starting to get tired, which you will recognize by a loss of power, or taking longer for your heart rate to rise, or not covering as much distance before you need to settle in, or not covering as much distance as you did in earlier intervals. This is a hard workout, so do it only once per week, and not in the six days or so before a race.

A pound of fat

Hello Cyclingnews,

I have some questions about a pound of fat. Maybe Pam Hinton or another expert can illuminate.

How many Calories in a pound of fat, and how is this defined? Is this the amount of energy released by burning a pound of fat in a lab?

How many Calories do you expend to lose a pound of fat? I've heard human efficiency is about 23%. Is it simply this percentage?

How many excess Calories do you eat to gain a pound of fat? Does the metabolic cost of digesting food and depositing fat reduce the total?

How much weight do you lose if you bike enough to burn a pound of fat? Is there associated water weight (or other tissue) that is permanently lost when the fat is lost?

Does a fit cyclist losing weight from training just lose fat, or are there other less energy dense body parts that go away increasing weight loss per calorie?

Cyclists like me who are continually trying to cut weight may be curious. Thanks in advance.

Steve Young

Boulder, CO, USA

Scott Saifer replies


Thanks for the great questions. I'll assume you mean adipose tissue or body fat, rather than pure fat as a chemical substance. Fat tissue contains mostly but not 100% fat. Because it is body tissue, made up of cells, it does contain small amounts of water, protein, DNA. The usual rule is that a pound of fat contains 3500 Calories, though the number can vary since the fat tissue is not 100% fat.

Yes, this is the energy that would be released by burning the fat in the laboratory. You expend approximately 3500 Calories to use up a pound of fat. You do not however do 3500 Calories of physical work to use up that pound of fat. The efficiency of the human body when doing cycling or running type exercise is in the vicinity of 18-25%. The exact percentage depends on training, movement pattern, body temperature, feeding state and numerous other factors. This means that you do roughly 700-900 Calories of work to expend 3500 Calories, and the rest are dissipated as heat. That is, to use a pound of fat, you have to use 3500 Calories, but 3/4 of those calories or so come out as heat, while the remaining quarter can be turned into moving the body through the air, or up a hill.

The metabolic cost of digesting food INCREASES the number of excess Calories you need to eat to gain a pound of fat. Think of the Calories available from a food as the total Calories that would be released by burning that food, minus the energy your body needs to put into chewing it, moving it through the gut, pumping it around the body with the blood, converting it to energy or to fat and so on. Sugars are absorbed and converted pretty efficiently, while for other items, the metabolic cost may represent most or all of the contained Calories. I suspect, though I don't know for sure, that if you chew celery really thoroughly and you count the Calories you expend to go to the fridge to get it, celery actually costs you more Calories than it provides.

It's not possible for me to say how much weight you would lose if you rode enough to expend a pound of fat. As you noted, you lose body water as you ride. If you expend 3500 Calories during a ride, you will get some of that from fat and some from carbohydrate. If you want to be able to continue to exercise on later days however, you will need to replace the water and any carbohydrate that you used on your ride. You do not need to replace the fat, so long as your body fat content is not getting into the dangerously low range. It is very hard to eat enough to replace the glycogen used up during an exercise bout 100% but not replace any of the fat. So if you exercise enough to use a pound of fat and then take care of your needs for water and glycogen repletion, you could lose up to one pound.

Of course this discussion applies if you ride enough to expend 3500 Calories and you do not eat during that ride, but of course if you do that you'll run out of stored glycogen and end up bonking, which puts you at risk of getting sick, as well as feeling awful and being very inefficient as a way to train for fitness.

If you are a fit cyclist and you lose weight while riding in an ongoing way, replenishing glycogen, water, electrolytes and so on, you will lose mostly fat, but also lose some muscle. For 90% of riders who want to be competitive road or MTB cyclists, some muscle loss is a good thing. This is not to say that you should continue losing muscle indefinitely, but simply that you should lose any body tissue, muscle or fat, that weighs you down but does not contribute to your ability to ride a bike fast.

Broken collarbone

I broke my collar bone in a racing crash last week. I realise this will be difficult without the x-rays, but I'll try to describe it. I landed on the side of my right shoulder and broke the bone in two places. Both breaks are in the middle of the bone which has left a small piece in the centre that has turned nearly 90 degrees. All of the bone ends are touching and as a result there is obvious shortening of the overall bone length. Both the emergency room doctor and the orthopaedic surgeon I saw recommended a figure eight strap and sling along with the kind words of "yours is pretty bad, but 99% of these things heal on their own". I'm supposed to go back to the orthopaedic surgeon in three weeks to ensure the bone is healing correctly.

I'm obviously not a doctor, but after a few days of agony at home, I am curious as to wether or not this extreme of an injury to the collar bone would be better of with a plate or pin to help the bones heal in the proper direction. Despite my best efforts, it's nearly impossible to completely immobilize my shoulder and arm and I can feel the bone ends moving around in there from time to time. Also, now that the swelling has subsided a bit, I can already feel a sharp point where one of the bone ends is just beneath the skin. Should I go to another doctor for a third opinion or should I tell my current doctor that I'm not comfortable with the current treatment? I'm certainly not in a rush to receive surgery, but I'm a very active 31 year old who still wants to get some good races in this year and I don't want to have to worry about shoulder pain for the rest of my life. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Matt Baugher

Kelby Bethards replies


Believe it or not, your clavicle fracture is not that uncommon. I work at a ski resort and see about 2 to 4 of these a day when I work there. Now, keep in mind I am not an orthopaedic surgeon, but these midshaft clavicle fractures tend to heal well. That clavicle with have a "bump" on it and may not look the same but it will heal. In three weeks, I wouldn't be surprised if the orthopaedist told you that you may begin riding the trainer, if not sooner.

That sharp point you feel will "round off" and reabsorb as the bone heals itself.

THAT being said, there is an orthopaedist in town where I live that does repair these operatively on cyclists, mostly professional cyclists, so that they may resume their training sooner. It is not an easy bone to plate due to the tortuosity of it (curviness). You may find that another surgeon would operate, but from what you have described, the treatment the docs there have offered you is the standard of care for this sort of fracture. If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Scott Saifer replies


I have a client who had a similar injury last week - the choice to get plated or not for this injury is a tough one. Many doctors leave it to the patient rather than recommending strongly for or against. Going with the plate and pins means you are back on the road a few weeks sooner, but has the danger of two surgeries (one to put stuff in and another to take it out). Since there is a small but not vanishingly small chance of serious complications such as death when you go under general anaesthesia and nasty infections every time you go under the knife, you want to think hard about this. If you don't get the surgery, you'll have a lump for the rest of your life. If you do, you'll have scars and maybe a lump. If you don't get the surgery, your right shoulder will be a little narrower than your left for the rest of your life. This is actually good for bike racers provided that you regain full mobility. A narrower profile reduces wind resistance.

Heart rate at exhaustion

Hi, I am currently supporting a Degree in Fitness and Recreation student (Donna) at the moment - I am her assignment. She measures my fitness in a sports lab, writes me a programme for 6 weeks which I have to follow, then measures me again and has to explain any physiological differences (my fitness improvement or lack-thereof).

So last week I did the first set of tests - a VO2max tezt, an endurance test and a lactate threshold test on my bike in their science lab. The interesting thing was, when I was nearing the point of exhaustion in the exhaustion test, my heart rate dropped. And the same thing happened in the lactate threshold test even though I could feel my heart trying to pump its way up my throat...on the monitor my heart rate dropped.

She and her supervisor/tutor were surprised as this is not supposed to happen...I felt really tired, my heart was thumping and yet both times as my cadence dropped because although I was pushing real hard my legs wouldn't go fast anymore, my heart rate dropped as well. I have been searching around on the net for an explanation - have you heard of anything like this? Thanks in anticipation.

Helen Stewart Mackenzie

Scott Saifer replies


How many beats per minute did the heart rate drop while you were still making your hard effort at the end of the test? A drop of just a few beats, up to about eight, is totally normal and is expected. That is what is called the heart rate "peaking over". If you don't get that peaking over affect, you have not done a true VO2-max test as you have not really gone to your limit. I'm not familiar with much larger drops. I'd be surprised that any trained physiology lab personnel would not be familiar with this effect. Was your drop larger, or were they perhaps surprised that it occurred when it did?

Toe numbness

Dear Steve,

I found your website and wondered if you might have some thoughts on toe numbness. For the last 2-3 years, after about 20 minutes of riding, both great toes become numb. It's generally relieved within a few minutes of getting off the bike. I have no back pain or any neuropathic pain down the back of my legs. I've found that if I get out of the saddle more often, it takes longer to set in. If I'm riding the rollers, where it's difficult to get out of the saddle, I notice it more. On the rollers, I will occasionally notice perineal numbness.

All my bikes have the same dimensions for saddle height, handle-bar to seat distance etc. I use shoes with a carbon sole and Look cleats, although on a spin cycle, I use SPD cleats. However, I've even noticed it using regular shoes without clips. My saddles are Selle Gel Flite, Terry Ti-Fly, Selle Italia Flite, and Specialized Alias (155mm).

I've made sure shoe is correct size and use a padded insole. I've tried moving the cleat fore and aft. Most recent was your idea to move cleat 10mm ahead of axle. I wear size 44. An orthopedist thought shoe was most likely culprit, but it doesn't seem limited to shoe and more to seat. A neurosurgeon thought it was more likely related to nerve or vascular compression. I've tried several different saddles and tested your teetering idea. The saddle seems to be set in the correct fore-aft position.

My suspicion is that I'm putting pressure on the wrong place in my bottom, but I can't seem to figure out which way to move saddle (fore-aft, tilt) or change saddle (type). I've read the relevant articles on cycling news, but this seemed slightly different. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Douglas Keim

Steve Hogg replies


Toe numbness can have a variety of causes. Shoes that are too tight, cleats that are too far forward, nerve compression higher up in the body, too small a contact area of cleat and pedal, uncorrected forefoot varus/valgus - take your pick.

One thing that stands out in your query though - you have a number of bikes with a variety of seats and have set them up the same way you say. I don't see how having the same handlebar to seat distance can give you the same body position on a variety of bikes when you are using four different seats. For instance, the Flite is about 10mm longer than your Specialized Alias. If you handlebars aren't all the same shape or reach, then another complication is added. What I am getting at is this. Is the toe numbness less apparent with one seat than another?

If so, then it is likely that nerve compression caused by sitting position plays a part and it is worth fitting the kind of seat that has a lesser occurrence of toe numbness to the other bikes and mimic the position. To correct an inference you may have taken incorrectly. What I wanted you to do is to move the centre of the ball of the foot 10mm in front of the centre of the pedal axle. By moving the cleat 10mm in front of the pedal axle centre as you have described, you are moving the ball of the foot behind the pedal axle, not in front. Altering the cleat position as I suggested will make a positive difference if the plantar fascia is being overworked because the cleats are too far forward. If that doesn't resolve or improve things, then you toe numbness is caused by other things. Do you get any knee niggles? Have you discussed your problem with a podiatrist?

I would, because in broad terms there are only a few possible causes and seeing a podiatrist will probably help narrow down the possibilities.

Longer left leg

Hi Steve,

I read your article from last week's Fitness Q&A about Kieran's longer left leg and have the exact same problem with the same legs. My chiropractor, through x-rays, has shown that rather than an actual leg length difference, my right hip is rotated slightly more forward and the left rotated slightly more back, which may be the problem this person is having. However, I too am interested in how to correct it. Shims on the inside of the left shoe do seem to help. What about sliding one of the cleats slightly more forward/back on one shoe to compensate? Thanks very much!

Ryan Bates

Steve Hogg replies


The appropriate solution is to fix or reduce the asymmetries of function. Find a good structural health professional and put your self in their hands. Additionally, find a good yoga, pilates or similar class. Regarding the shim on the inside of the left shoe; if it feels better it almost certainly is, at least in the short to medium term.

Regarding the moving cleats; I would advise against what you suggest. Ideally your cleats position should enable your feet to be in the same relative position over the pedal. This may or may not be in the same place on the sole of both shoes depending on any size differences between your feet, proportional differences in your feet and any difference in angle of foot plant on the pedal.
Having a differing cleat position in the sense of gaining a difference in foot position over the pedal on each side makes no sense (unless there is a large difference in foot size between left and right) when the goal you are seeking is to gain or regain reasonably symmetry of function. Differing cleat position in the way you suggest is antithetical to that goal.

Leg length discrepancies

Thanks for all the great stuff on this site!

I have been reading numerous Q&A's about leg length discrepancy and the use of shims/wedges, and I am a bit confused. Hence a question: do shims go on the short leg side or the long leg side? Intuitively, I had expected shims to go on the short leg side, to reduce the extent of stretch at the bottom of the pedal stroke. But at least one answer (Steve's response to Kieran, 20 March 2006) suggested that my intuition is wrong.

My confusion might also relate to another are of possible misunderstanding. In terms of hip rotation, my intuition was that the hip would drop/move forward on the short leg side, as that leg "reached further" (needs to extend straighter) at the bottom of the pedal stroke. But again, the same recent answer indicated that it is the hip on the long leg side that rotates down/forward.

Can you clear this up for me please?

Finally, I note your advice that leg length discrepancies are only reliably measured by a CT scan or similar, bony projections being misleading. One thing I have noticed in myself is that when lying on my back with hips square, feet together on the floor and knees raised to a 90 degree angle (or more acute), my right knee is noticeably lower (closer to the floor) than my left knee. Presumably this must be caused by a difference in leg length? Couldn't in principle one use that difference in knee height to calculate a difference in leg length (square of the hypotenuse and all that)? Thanks!

David Archer

Steve Hogg replies


Regarding shims for leg length differences; my advice was to fit a wedge to the left (long) leg as often a long leg with a hip on the same side that rotates forward and has an on corrected forefoot varus in my experience. Where your confusion starts is that I also advised a packer or shim under the LEFT leg. That should have read RIGHT leg. My stuff up and my apologies for the confusion.

Regarding which leg will have the rotated hip and consequent hip drop; my experience is that there is no hard and fast rule. My experience is that more often it is the long legged side but I have seen plenty of the other.

Regarding your last point; yes, you could use your test providing you know that your pelvis is dead square and symmetrical in function. If not, then certainty is hard.


Steve Hogg,

I read all your advice on - thanks for all the info on setup; I have followed all the suggestions and have a great ride!

I am wondering however in the case of fore and aft saddle position, when pushing the saddle back, how far is too far? I am 6"1 and 183kg, and am blessed with extreme lower back flexibility. Currently I have my knee one inch behind the pedal axel. What can happen if my saddle is too far back? What injuries can occur? Is there a way of telling if I am too far back? I feel comfortable, but I am wondering if I may be doing unseen or unfelt long term damage.

Apologies for emailing you direct however I have posted this to six months ago and never heard back? I have resent today.

Brigham Milne

Steve Hogg replies


My apologies for not replying last time. Sometimes the volume means that some queries don't get answered. If your seat is too far back you would probably experience any or of - low back pain, hip flexors that tighten up over time from riding, sore hamstrings in the belly of the muscle group, a feeling of riding well on moderate hills but running out of power well before the bottom of the pedal stroke on steep hills, an inability to pedal fast or accelerate fast while on the seat and a ponderous feeling of weight transfer when getting off the seat. If you don't feel any of these things then you almost certainly don't have a problem.

Some people are very body aware, some not at all. If you feel comfortable as you describe and stay that way over time then it is very unlikely that you are doing yourself any harm.


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