Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for July 17
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.
How do dopers evade?
Optimal race weight
MTB Cleat Set Up
Low max HR
Pain behind knee
Riding in polluted environments
How do dopers evade?
I have a question I'm sure you get a lot, but I never see the answer.
How do you dope on the professional level of cycling and not get caught? Are
they taking levels of growth hormones, EPO, testerone and reintroducing their
own blood at lower does than the tests can detect? How do they do it? Somebody
must know how because it is happening. Example: Ulrich is alleged to have doped
in the Giro this year, but he won a stage and the tests showed no signs of doping?
John M. Spidaliere
Scott Saifer replies:
This is an interesting question. I don't know the real answer, but I'll throw
some discussion at you: A rider only gets caught if he does something the
doping folks know to test for. Thus a trick is to be one step ahead. For instance,
for a good while, they've known how to tell if a rider had red cells from
two different people, so you could get caught doping by using someone else's
blood but not your own, and there was no test for EPO, so you couldn't get
caught for that. Now they can identify someone who has taken a boost of his
own blood or EPO.
For many years athletes used steroids without getting caught, then steroid
tests came along, so for a few years athletes used masking agents that would
fool the tests, until the masking agents were banned. We don't know if athletes
have found more masking agents or stopped using steroids. How could we? The
problem is that the rules and the enforcement methods are not exactly matched.
The rules, very roughly paraphrased, say you are cheating if you use a performance
enhancing substance. The enforcement method is to analyze blood and urine
for a very long but necessarily not comprehensive list of substances. Since
all performance enhancing substances other than foods are banned, but many
possible performance enhancing substances are not yet discovered and still
being discovered, the testing will always be a step behind and unscrupulous
riders, teams and doctors will be a pedal stroke ahead.
This is why it is so important that the rider's samples are stored for at
least a few years. The hope is that someone will spill the beans within a
few years of the introduction of a new method of cheating, a new test will
be developed for the recently popular method of doping, and then the old samples
will be retested identifying the cheaters of the earlier years. That is supposed
to intimidate the current riders.
The number of riders still getting caught suggests to me that the intimidation
is not working.
Optimal race weight #1
I am a 5'10" 160lb Cat 3 / Expert Mtb racer. In these two articles (www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/?id=2006/letters07-03,
you address race weight for specific examples, but I'm interested in understanding
optimal race weights across various rider heights. My strengths are long and
hard road and mountain bike races. I enjoy breakaways, time trials, and short
power climbs. I'm not a pure climber but can usually be found dangling with
the leaders on the big finesse grinders. I can mix it up in the sprints but
usually don't win a whole lot of them. In general, regardless of crit, road
race, or mountain bike race, I can be found in the top 1/4 percentile of my
categories, rarely on the podium. I am wondering if I need to be more diligent
about my diet and shedding more weight, or if I need to continue to put more
emphasis on training. Or both.
Ric Stern replies:
There's no real ideal mass for various heights of riders. People tend to
fall into a range that is normal, irrespective of fitness (e.g., i know sedentary
people who weigh less than me, and others who are heavier. Also, i know elite
athletes who weight less and more than me, all the same height as me).
There's absolutely no point suggesting that to be successful at bike racing
that there's some formula for ideal mass, based on height. We know from your
description that you are either heavier than other riders and produce similar
power or you are lighter and produce much less power than them.
If you want to ascertain your ideal weight, or more specifically, what weight
it may be possible to get down to, then you need to find a qualified
person (e.g. sports scientist) who can estimate your body composition. The
three ideal ways to do this are DEXA scans (expensive), hydrostatic weighing,
or skinfold assessment (if the person testing you uses plastic calipers the
results will be useless). The most cost effective way to be tested is skinfold
measurements. From the measurements and by using equations the person testing
you can estimate (there's only one way to actually ascertain your body
fat, and it ain't too useful for athletes and most people) your body fat percentage.
From that they can then suggest an ideal weight range based on your physical
characteristics (e.g., whether you're muscley person or not). It may be that
you don't have any (or much weight too lose).
For the majority of cyclists, a bigger performance effect will occur with
a change in training and increased power (unless you happen to be significantly
Thank you for the explanation, this is useful. Your response begs the question:
what would an optimal body fat percentage be for a guy like me in my racing
categories? It is not very easy for me at my weight right now to lose incremental
pounds, but I do know that I have some added 'fluff' that could go away with
a very concerted effort. Is it better for me to focus on shedding fat or building
power? I get the sense it's the latter.
Ric Stern replies:
The optimal body fat % would be the one that allows you to perform well,
without holding you back. In general most racing cyclists are likely going
to be between 8 and 15% body fat (for males, females would be significantly
different to this). Under 8% and you're going to be very lean -- a few athletes
will be in this range.
By and large, for most racers it's going to be about building power over
the duration that you race at (etc). It's generally easier (in the sense that
you don't have to deprive yourself), potentially easier to gain power, and
most importantly it will have more affect on your performance than losing
a kilo or two. As a side effect of better training you may find yourself losing
a little fat mass.
Scott Saifer replies:
I agree with Ric that there is a pretty wide range of weights at which any
given rider can race bikes successfully. I have accumulated the heights and
weights of a large number of riders who win stuff at the world elite level,
and the range of weights for each height is about 20 pounds (9 kg). Of course
the guys at the high end of the range don't win a lot of hilly races, and
the guys at the low end the range don't sprint well. At 5'10" and 160 pounds,
you are as heavy as the heaviest pros your height winning European classics,
National Championships and similar top-level events. You are much heavier
than the guys who are winning hilly road races and MTB races. They come it
at 140-150 pounds roughly.
If you are looking to "improve" your climbing, Ric is right that you will
see faster gains from improving your training than from losing weight, assuming
your training has room for improvement. If you want to optimize your body
for climbing you will need to optimize both body weight and training. Since
you are already hanging with the leaders on climbs despite being quite a bit
heavier than many of them, I'll guess that your training and aerobic power
are already pretty good, though there is almost always room for improvement.
Before you try to adjust your weight, consider your goals though. If you
just want to win whatever you can, Ric is right that you should find out your
approximate body fat percentage and then what you would weight if you kept
essential fat (5-8% for men) and lost any excess. Use that lean weight as
you target. If you are set on winning hillier races though, you will have
to get your weight into the range where guys who win those sorts of races
reside, which may mean losing excess muscle if you would be overweight even
when lean, or gaining muscle if you would be underweight when lean. Losing
muscle is challenging and takes longer than losing fat if you want to do it
in way that maintains performance, but it can be done. The problem is that
you have to be close to starving to lose muscle mass rapidly, unless the muscle
is immobilized, and neither immobilization nor starvation is good for your
training. Losing ten pounds of muscle without sacrificing training is the
sort of thing you attempt to do for next season, not within a season.
Ric should have distinguished between two types of plastic callipers. Some
are large, heavy, stiff and work just fine. Others are small, light, flimsy,
don't create a reproducible measurement and are much less useful.
Optimal race weight #2
I'm 29 and an intermediate cyclist who might like to race at some point in
the future. I've seen several posts on "target" weights for different size people,
but none are really close to my size. Is there a general formula to estimate
a target weight? Do these include bone structure/chest size etc? I know I have
some weight to lose but am unsure how much to aim for.
I'm currently 6'3.5" and around 198 lbs. Inseam as measured without shoes for
bike fit is 36.5". Chest size is around 41".
Scott Saifer replies:
Rider weight vs height
The graph linked from the thumbnail on the right shows the heights and weights
of successful professional riders, both men and women. Each Men point represents
a rider who either won a classic, grand tour or world championship. The women
and Saturn men rode for a domestic or international professional team. As
you can see, the great majority of riders are within about ten pounds one
way or the other of the average weight for their height, and none are more
than 20 pounds either way from the average. The range for riders your height
is roughly 170-190 pounds. That doesn't mean that you have to be in this range
to enjoy racing bikes, unless you equate enjoyment and winning at the elite
world level. If you are willing to be satisfied with keeping up or competing
in flatter races, your current weight is fine. I've had a client 6'2" and
235 pounds win a reasonably well attended category 1 and 2 criterium, though
he couldn't go uphill with the fours to save his life or ego.
MTB Cleat Set Up
I have my road cleats set up as advised on the cyclingnews posts. For my mountain
shoes, however, the cleats are hard to set back. The shoes are Sidi Dominators,
with cleats for Crank Brother Candy pedals. The cleats just won't move back
far enough to put the ball of my foot back a smidgen over the spindle. Is this
a cleat issue, a shoe issue, or an adjustment issue?
Steve Hogg replies:
In my experience, it is almost unknown to NOT be able to get an MTB cleat
in the position that I would recommend on an Mtb shoe. As to why, the possibilities
1. Your Sidi shoes have sliding threaded fittings in the sole that the cleats
attach too. Could you be using the front holes rather than the rear most holes?
2. If you are using a shoe that is a size too large in length, this could
explain your problem. This is likely if you have very wide feet. Many wide
footed riders erroneously buy a shoe one size (length) larger than they should,
just to get width. Better to seek out extra wide shoes. Sidi, amongst others,
make extra width shoes in some models
Low max HR
I am a 45 year old male who does triathlon and has been doing so since 1989
doing mostly long distance events in the last 20 years. My maximum heart rate
these days seems to be around the 160 mark. Does this seem unusually low to
you for a 45 year old? I have training partners that regularly hit the 170's
when training. I think I'd be dead if I ever got to that! Any opinion would
Scott Saifer replies:
A maximum heart rate of 160 is low, and a bit out of the common range. That
in itself is not reason for concern, so long as you are reasonably fast at
the heart rates you do hit. I'm attaching
an article about the range of maximum heart rates. It's common for maximum
heart rate to decrease by 6-10 beats when you go from untrained or weekend-warrior
status to well trained. Other than that, any sudden decrease of maximum heart
rate (sudden being more than two beats per year) is reason for concern about
either overtraining or heart disease.
Pain behind knee
Hi, I am experiencing some pain behind my right knee where my calf muscle meets
the hamstring towards the left side of the back of the knee. It hurts right
at the bottom of the pedal stroke and I can feel it about half an hour into
a ride. I am a 15 yr old male and race on the weekends. I have Shimano SPD-SL
pedals. Could you please give me some advice to get rid of the pain? (moving
cleats, saddle height, etc.) Also, I find that at the end of a hard ride, my
quads (in particular the muscle just above the knee, to the inside of the leg)
gets really sore and my hamstrings and other leg muscles don't feel fatigued
Steve Hogg replies:
Overextension is your problem. Drop your seat 5mm.
That muscle on the inside of your knee is the vastus medialis obiquis or
VMO which is as well as being a quadricep and helping to extend the knee,
also plays a part on laterally stabilising the knee. So either you have footplant
on pedal issues or some other factor is askew.
Why right side only?
1. Generally tighter on the right side
2. Seat a touch too high causes you to favour the left side resulting in the
right side over reaching. This is possible but not common. More often than
not this scenario would be the other way around.
3. Seat too far forward.
4.Cleats too far forward on shoe
and a host of other possibilities.
I am not a betting man but the most likely possibility is that your seat
is too high and possible too far forward.
I am a 46 year old male, 70Kg. Raced 20 years ago and returned to cycling for
health and pleasure 12 months ago. I have a let of set back on my bike, which
is my preferred arrangement, and I 'ankle' a lot so seat height is lower rather
than higher. However, to achieve sufficient set back (I use a FSA seat post
with maximum set back) my previous seat was set a long way back. Due to where
I sit, this broke the rails on the saddle through use, though it was very comfortable
(before it broke). I now have a Selle Italia Filante, which was recommended
on the basis of its long rails so that I could get close to a decent set back.
(I purchased my current bike second hand and its seat tube is too steep for
me so it is all compromise.)
I am now experiencing significant perineum pain on one side which is constant.
I am experimenting with having the saddle lower, level, pointing up slightly,
and so on. I have also read what I could find in the forums here (thank you).
I will probably need to purchase a new seat, and what I would like to ask is,
if possible, what sorts of qualities in my position and in saddle design that
contribute to not sitting on my sit bones? I realise this is different for every
person, but what I am wondering if there are general rules of thumb that can
be used, such as (as an example) that if have perineum pain then my weight is
too far forward so things that make you sit back (back more on the saddle, higher
on the bike, tilting the seat up?) would help alleviate such problems?
Steve Hogg replies:
Saddles are a wretched subject in the sense of trying to recommend one to
someone of whom I have no knowledge. Even if I had more knowledge there is
no foolproof method that I have developed or come across and I have tried
plenty of things. That assumes you have a seat problem rather than a seat
The question that begs asking is why one side only?
The likely answer is that you are not perfectly symmetrical on the seat.
The other thing that can be an influence on males is which side of the seat
does your genitalia tend to sit over to. Sometimes moving the wedding tackle
to the other side makes a significant difference.
It may be that the seat is still not back far enough; it may be that the
width at the back forces you further forward than you would like; it may be
that the angle of the seat relative to horizontal needs to be up or down at
the nose a degree. And I literally mean a degree though the nose may appear
to be higher than this with a rule and dial protractor if there is a channel
through the middle.
Is your Filante the one with the hole in the middle?
If not, that could be something to try.
Do you have any feeling of the seat being too wide through the mid section
of its length?
That can be an issue for many.
Assuming that the seat that you were comfortable on was fitted to your existing
bike, you could do worse than get another or alternately a seat of similar
shape and profile.
Riding in polluted environments
I really enjoy the column and often find there is excellent information in
questions that I would not think relate to my circumstances.
I am a Cat 4 rider who trains 6-12 hours per week, with time dependent on work
and family commitments. A lot of my training is based around commuting to/from
work, especially when the light allows more time to do longer rides on the way
home. I am currently living in Paris where the residents are very considerate
to bike riders and the air is pretty clean.
In a couple of weeks I am moving to Shanghai. One of the by-products of China's
growth is heavy pollution, with Shanghai having 3-5 days per month where the
sky can be seen instead of the grey haze. In addition, the vehicles there do
not appear to be as concerned with regular maintenance and add there fair share
to the pollution. I am keen to keep cycling when I move but have some concerns
that it may do more harm than good.
As a multi-threaded question;
What is the short and long term effect of exercising in polluted environments?
Does the type of exercise make any difference (i.e. high versus low intensity
or cycling versus swimming)
Is there any way to counter the effects of smog/pollution? I.e. cycling on the
turbo inside a room with a good a/c system or other any ideas you can offer
or just cycling on weekends when out of the city?
Do the face masks that some cycle couriers wear work and if so are there any
particular type you should use?
Thanks for any thoughts you can offer,
Cyclingnews tech editor John Stevenson replies:
I can help with the last question because, many years ago, the magazine I
worked on at the time got one of our guys to look into this. The short answer
is yes, absorbent face masks do reduce the pollutants in the air you inhale.
As with many things though, there are caveats:
Activated charcoal-based systems work better than simple paper filters.
They must fit well or hard breathing will suck air round rather than through
Breathing hard through a well-fitting mask is difficult.
If the filter or charcoal is not replaced regularly the mask can become counter-productive
as it can desorb pollutants back into the air you're breathing.
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