Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for March 27, 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.
More training zones
Coming back to riding
Healthy weight gain
Torque vs. power
Tyre rolling resistance
A pound of fat
Heart rate at exhaustion
Longer left leg
Leg length discrepancies
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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
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 http://cyclecoach.com/images/illchart.jpg
(with URTI being upper respiratory tract infection). Figure modified from
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?
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
I have some questions about a pound of fat. Maybe Pam Hinton or another expert
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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!
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!
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
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.
I read all your advice on Cyclingnews.com - 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 Cyclingnews.com
six months ago and never heard back? I have resent today.
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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