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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.

Cyclingnews also has the full directory of all Form & Fitness questions and answers to our expert panel in a separate archive.

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 April 17, 2005

Energy expenditure
Compact cranks
Fixed wheel training
Heart rate in different sports

Energy expenditure

Hi Cyclingnews,

I have a quick question about workout energy expenditure. When my Powertap tells me I have put 2000kJ onto the road during a workout, what does this correspond to in terms of energy expenditure by the body. I have heard multiplying figures of 4-5 for the conversion is this in the ballpark and does this figure vary much for different riders and different workouts (e.g. long endurance vs. interval workout)?

Adrian Jackson

Scott Saifer replies


The multiply by 4-5 rule is good. The human body when cycling is somewhere around 18-25% efficient. I'm not familiar with the very latest research, so the exact limits are vague. Yes, the efficiency does vary from rider to rider. It generally increases with training and it does vary from workout to workout, as well as varying with diet, body position and temperature, among other factors. Some of the energy you expend during exercise goes into cooling your body, holding your body on the bike, digesting your food and so on, so efficiency changes as different amounts of energy are expended on these items.

The reason I'm dumping this info on you is to help justify my next statement: The only way to really know what multiplying factor you should use during a given few minutes of riding would be to do a gas-exchange measurement, that is, to measure how much oxygen you are taking in and how much carbon dioxide you are putting out, which in turn lets you estimate how much fat and carbohydrate you are metabolizing. And of course the efficiency in a lab with a mask on and limited breeze is different than on the road. For road riding, we're not going to get any more precise that the 4-5 you already have.

Compact cranks

I am getting back into road biking after 15 years. My question is whether a 12-27 cassette will make much of a difference compared to a 12-25 for climbing. I am desperately trying to avoid a compact crankset. I am climbing ok on a double up until 10% then I struggle to keep above 8 mph. Any advice would be appreciated.

Gordon Collins

Las Vegas, Nevada

Scott Saifer replies


Neither the compact nor the 12-27 will make you much faster up the hills. They will let you maintain a higher cadence on the steepest hills, and that will allow you to climb longer with less fatigue so that your average speed for long hills or average speed on a long ride could increase.

It turns out the minimum fatigue is associated with cadences in the range of 103-108 rpm, which will probably be impossible on 10% grades for you unless you choose MTB gears, at least until you've regained some cycling fitness. Fortunately you don't have to get over 103 to get some of the benefit of higher cadences. Much of the benefit is available if you can pedal over 85 or 90 rpm, so choose the gears that will allow you to do that on the hills that you will ride routinely, or as close to that as you can get with the equipment you are willing to use.

Fixed wheel training

Last summer I purchased a fixed wheel bike to use as my commuter bike with the expectation that I would gain some added training benefits during the winter. I also figured that fewer moving parts equalled less to clean up. My commute is a bit hilly and I have been riding at noon, weather permitting, to get in additional training miles. I have a couple of questions regarding the 'benefits' of fixed wheel commuting.

I have been riding the fixed wheel all winter (about 5,000km) gradually increasing my ability to ride down hill at speed. When I am on a long steep down hill I try to relax and put pressure on the reverse side of the stroke to try to slow down (thereby saving a considerable amount of money on brake pads). On a long steep hill I am putting considerable pressure on the pedals to slow down and then pedalling like there is no tomorrow trying to stay smooth and not bounce in the seat.

I have two questions:

1. When I am spinning like a madman going down a hill, does this do me any good? I know I am exhausted at the bottom of a hill, particularly if I have exceeded a speed of 60 kph, but will this do anything to improve my pedal stroke when I get back onto my road bike?

2. When weight training (back in my body building days - ha) sometimes you do reverses to stimulate your muscles. When putting back pressure on the pedals, am I getting any benefit or is the fact that I am putting back pressure at the back end of the stroke make the effort meaningless? I am inclined to the latter but wonder about the muscle groups that are actually mobilised for the effort.

Ralph Hildebrand

Dave Palese replies


There are differing opinions as the benefits of riding a fixed gear. I for one am glad you are riding one.

The benefits of riding a fixie are best realized during the General Preparation period of the training year. In-season, you time is much better spent doing specific training on your road bike, racing, or recovering.

To answer your questions:

1.) The high cadence spinning, that is controlled, will yield neuromuscular benefits to improve the efficiency of your pedal stroke. Riding a fixie, and this is just my experience and is very anecdotal, improves your ability to spin lighter gears, more efficiently, for longer. When you can do this in, say a crit, you will be able to save your legs for the key points in the race when pushing a larger gear with more force is required.

2.) I would use your brakes to control your speed on downhills keeping you just at a speed you can maintain smoothly. Back pedalling doesn't really have any benefits. The key to fixed gearing on downhills is "staying ahead" of the pedals. Pedal just faster than the natural cadence for your gearing and speed.

Again, once in season, I would avoid a lot of fixed gear riding. During the early General Prep period of the training year, one to three longish (1:30-3 hour) fixed gear rides a week can be very beneficial. Work on strength on the up hills, staying seated and applying high force to the pedals at a low cadence. Then work on that leg speed on the downhills. Light muscular endurance work can occur on the flats.

With regard to gearing, I like 42x18 and 16 as two good options. Hope some of this helps - have fun and good luck!

Heart rate in different sports

As both heart rate max and VO2-max are sport specific, should one adjust the exercise zones based on heart rate according to the sport you are doing? Is the level of exertion higher if one maintains the same HR in a sport where HR-max is lower?

If the level of exertion is different at the same HR in different sports, doesn't this mean that in the base training period one should train a large part of the training in the sport where the level of exertion is the lowest for a given HR? At least if one believes that VO2max is the most important factor for improving performance.

Inge Lindseth


Scott Saifer replies


To answer the first part of your question, yes, if you are training in different sports and are training by heart rate, you should develop heart rate zones specific to each sport. As an extreme example, an appropriate endurance training zone for cross country skiing might be above the maximum heart rate for swimming, at least for some athletes.

I have to admit I don't really understand the logic of the second part of your question. Did someone tell you that minimizing the feeling of effort is a goal during base training? The correct answer is that you should do the majority of your base training in the sport in which you want to improve your performance. If you want to be a bike racer, ride your bike a lot during base. If you want to be a runner, run. If you want to be a triathlete, do a balance of running, biking and swimming.

If base training is done appropriately it's not really easy, though it is aerobic. A few years ago I ran into Freddie Rodriguez when he was base training, averaging 25 mph (40 kph) for many hours at a time. While this was not near the limit of the speed he could hit for a short while, he did have to push very hard on the pedals and he felt that he was working hard, but within the range of effort that he could sustain.

Other Cyclingnews Form & Fitness articles (including the archive of Fitness Q & A)