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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 August 7

Physical limits
Optimal interval duration
Crank arm length revisited
Thyroid needs change with increased efforts, increased fitness?
Pro bars/stems and bruised wrists
Optimal race weight revisited
Fused ankles revisited
Lateral offset?
Leg numbness
Interval training vs sustained effort
"Balance test"

Physical limits

My question relates to the physical limits attainable by individuals. I have seen various figures published on the varying power output of top individuals racing in the Tour De France. The one that particularly caught my eye was a comparison of the record times up Alpe d'Huez.

It was a graph showing Marco Pantani's record time with an average power output of 388W, Lance Armstrong's second place time with an average of 454W and for comparative purposes it showed Jan Ullrich's power output over the climb of 422W.

Now, I understand that Pantani was a considerably smaller cyclist than Armstrong. I believe Pantani's optimum racing weight was 57kg as opposed to Armstrong's which is closer to 70kg.

Now to the question bit: would it actually have been possible for Pantani to have a similar power output to that of Lance Armstrong with similar dedicated training or was his power output inhibited by his size and low weight?

I would really appreciate your input on this.

Kevin Kalis
Preston, England

Scott Saifer replies:

The short answer to your question is "no". No amount of training would have made Pantani able to sustain 454W up the Alpe D'Huez. I'm not arguing that Pantani's training was perfect or that his power could not have been increased somewhat, but he was not a total slouch. Athletes at the level of Pantani and Lance are looking for the final 1 percent and fractions of a percent through changes in training. Lance's power that you quoted is 17 percent higher than Pantani's. Here's another way to understand this. Athletes have to have talent in the top tiny fraction of the range of possibility, and be trained very close to their potential to win at the international level. Otherwise someone else more talented and equally trained or more trained and equally talented would beat them.

Optimal interval duration

I'm 32, a dad, and fairly new to competitive cycling. So I'm always looking to maximize my gains on the bike without wasting time away from the family. My question is: what's the current science on the length of intervals that will help me most in a 40k TT? And what about helping in 100k road races, if that differs.

I'm a bit confused: while coaches recommend 10-20 min intervals to help TTs, any sports science articles I see are only talking about gains made by doing one of two things: VO2 max intervals of about 30sec-1 min, or Pmax intervals of about 3-4 minutes.

Hamilton, Canada

Richard Stern replies:

The answer isn't as straightforward as you'd perhaps like. It depends on your relative strengths and weaknesses, and how fit you are. These may need to be identified with a power meter.

Efforts of around 15 to 30 minutes, repeated one to four times, and up to three times per week at an intensity around your 40km power will certainly help you improve this facet of your performance. However, if for example, the ratio of your 1hr TTpower to MAP is very high (e.g., ~77 percent) you might not be able to improve your TTpower much more without first gaining an increase in MAP/VO2max.

Intervals for increasing MAP/VO2max would be best done ~ 80 - 90 percent of MAP/VO2max for ~ 3 to 5+ minutes, with maybe as many as eight intervals.

That would help with TTs. In terms of RRs you want high sustainable power (as above) plus, MAP/VO2max (as above), a good anaerobic capacity (maybe something like 30secs on/off intervals) and the ability to sprint well (if a race is going to come down to a sprint).

Add into this mix - and you want some quality endurance work, so that you can be sure you can ride the durations required, and some tempo work, such that you can ride briskly for long periods of time.

More specific recommendations could only be made with a full audit of our requirements and current ability. For that you'd need coaching either from ourselves or one of the others on the coaching panel.

Crank arm length revisited

Question regarding crankarm length. I have a 70cm inseam (yes, I'm vertically challenged!). I've been riding 165cm crank arms with a 36-52 in the front, and changing out the cassette as dictated by terrain, quite happily for the last 3 years. (I use 650 wheels) However, for reasons beyond my control, I was forced to ride 170's this past week. With a 39-53 on the front, same cassette in the back. What did I find??? I LOVED them. I was cranking out all sorts of new power highs with (seemingly) less effort, didn't get dropped by the group on the flats like usual, and felt no real difference with the "larger" pedal circles. I did not get to try this set up out on the local hill climb, though, before I got my previous set up back. My first lap on that hill today found me missing the longer crank arms. The 165's took some getting used to again.

My local guru says adamantly not to change to the longer crank arms, no way, my 70cm inseam is waaay too short for 170's. But why did I like them so much? In fact, it felt so much more comfortable...would I be a fool for changing over to the longer crank arms? Help! Was the additional power coming from the larger chainrings? Or the crank arms, or both? Yes, my fitness level is improving right now, too - how many factors can there be?

I saw in a previous post where Steve Hogg recommended to a gal w/ a 74cm inseam that the 165 were most likely too long for her, even, and not to switch up. What to do? Lastly, I've had some hip flexor problems lately, and I didn't feel it all with the 170's, but I did notice it again today with the 165's.

Any insight you can offer would be much appreciated!

Stats: 5'2", 43yr old female road biker who enjoys racing, wanna be mtn biker.


Scott Saifer replies:

Thanks for an easy one. All the formulae in the world and all the expert opinions cannot compete with a good old "try it and see if you go faster or are more comfortable" test. The goal of the formulae is to help you pick cranks (or whatever) that will allow you to ride with comfort and power and freedom from injuries. If the 170s make you more powerful and eliminated the hip-flexor discomfort, they're better than the 165s. To be fair to the 165s, you may just have had a good day the day you rode the 170s, so if you have a choice, try the 170s a few more times for a more complete comparison, but if you feel good and make good power each time you ride them, get a set on the bike you use all the time. (And tell your "local guru" he needs to put a bit more thought into his recommendations).

Thyroid needs change with increased efforts, increased fitness?

I had a hyperactive thyroid, had radioactive iodine, and now have a hypoactive thyroid. I take replacement hormones, levothyroxine and a little triiodothyronine. Since January, I have been working hard to get back in shape on my bike. My fitness has gradually increased and I've gradually been able to ride further, faster, and climb hills better. However, in the past month, when I've begun to do some 100-mile rides, I feel as though I've gone hypothyroid after them. And recently my legs feel much weaker when I'm climbing hills, like they are turning into noodles instead of getting stronger. When a person's fitness and muscle mass increase, do they tend to need more thyroid hormone? Are my increased demands "burning up" more thyroid hormone so that I am digging into a deficit and will need to increase my dose?

Thyroid function tests occur so far apart (8 weeks) that they are a very belated indicator of what's going on. My impression is that I can feel the impact of medication problems in a matter of a week.

Alyson Garland

Scott Saifer replies:

Yes, the amount of thyroid hormone required to normalize metabolism and perceived energy level does change with fitness as well as with time, especially shortly after an ablation or the start or hormone replacement. If you feel that your levels are off, request that your doctor send you for retesting sooner. My vicarious experience with several clients suggests that you can arrive at a dose that keeps you blood hormone levels in the right range and keeps you feeling good, but it may take as many as a half dozen tests and adjustments. Stick with it though. The outcome is worth it.

Pro bars/stems and bruised wrists

While reading pro bike specs on Cycling News, I noticed very few pros ride with carbon bars and stems. Is it an issue of flex and strength or sponsorship? In addition, the majority of pros seem to use round drops in favor of the anatomic drops that come on most stock bikes. Is their an advantage this set up or is it just personal preference?

Sometimes I have problems with bruises developing just above my wrist from sprinting in the drops on my road bike. I do not have the same problem on my track bike as the shape of the track bars leave more open space above the drops. I tried rotating the bars down to bring the drops further back, but then the anatomic notch was in the wrong place for my hands on the brakes. Is there any way I can adjust the angle of my road bars to alleviate this problem? Would switching to deep/shallow round drops help?


Steve Hogg replies:

Good observation, great question and a chance for me to get on my soapbox.

Why the preponderance of aluminium bars and stems?

At this stage in the development of carbon bars and stems; carbon bars offer negligible weight savings and many carbon stems are heavier than their aluminium counterparts. I'm sure that will list individual exceptions to that, but across the board what I have just said is accurate. So no weight advantage to be had. Aluminium is a proven material in this application having been in widespread use for bars and stems since the late 1950's or early 1960's. It is a developed enough material in this application to be almost idiot proof. Carbon is not at that stage yet. Carbon markets well (high tech, exotic etc) and manufacturers oblige by producing items for those susceptible to tech appeal to buy. And good luck to them.

To summarise, carbon offers no meaningful weight savings, is often heavier if bars and stems are considered together, is more expensive and does not tolerate mechanical ineptitude nearly as well as aluminium. That is at the moment and that is why it is the overwhelming choice amongst pro teams. I would have to consult a crystal ball to say whether that will still be the case in 10 years time.

Round bars versus anatomic bars. For mine, a good round bar beats an anatomic bar every time. That said, there aren't many good round bars. We need to consider what we need from a handlebar in a positional sense. Here is an ideal list:

1. A shape that allows good hand placement in the drops for sustained efforts.
2. A shape that allows good hand placement for off the seat sprinting.
3. A shape that allows good hand placement for short, anaerobic efforts on the seat.
4. A shape that allows for brake lever placement that is as high as a given individual needs for good comfort and minimum bend of the wrist when holding the brake hoods when on or off the seat.
5. A shape that allows no.4 but still allows the rider to reach the brake levers with ease when placing the hands in the drops.
6. A shape that allows good hand placement for the hands on top of the bars.

Before I continue, we need to define a couple of terms. All of the terms listed below are measured with the rearmost part of the drops horizontal as though that part of the bar was placed flat on the floor. That doesn't mean that the bars have to ridden with the rearmost part of the drops horizontal; it is only a measuring convention.

Bar Drop is the vertical distance between the centre of the handlebar stem clamp to the centre of the lowest point of the bar drops.

Bar Reach or throw is the horizontal distance between the centre of handlebar stem clamp to the centre of the bar at the furthest forward point of the drops. I would term short reach as less than 80mm, medium reach as 81 - 90mm and long reach as 91+mm.

Drop Minimum Radius is the radius of the bar drop bend at its tightest point of the bend again.

Upper Drop Slope is the angle or rate that the top of the bar descends to the drop as it reaches forward.

Those last two probably need some clarification. This example will help. We have two bars of 145mm drop. Bar 1 is fairly flat where it turns forward from the top of the bar 9 (low upper drop slope) but Bar 2 drops steeply (steep upper drop slope). Unless there is something very fancy in the shape of Bar 1, it will have a larger drop minimum radius than Bar 2. This means that for the same vertical brake lever placement, that the brake lever will be easier to reach with hand in drops on Bar 1

Lastly, Grip Angle (anatomic bars only) is the angle relative to horizontal of the anatomic 'handgrip' section of the bar.

If you think about those terms and their definitions it becomes obvious that a good all round shape has an appropriate depth of drop to allow the hand of the rider to fit, an appropriate reach, a large drop minimum radius to allow good lever placement and a flattish upper drop slope to allow the shape of the bar to merge into the rear of the brake hood with a minimum angle for comfortable hand placement.

Now why is a round bar a better bet for most riders in my view?

Anatomic bars offer one hand position in the drops. Some have a more vertical grip section than others. The more vertical hand the grip section, the greater tendency to pull the elbow and hence upper body down for a given bar height. These style of bars are a poor choice for off the seat sprinting because the hand angle is not a good one to resist the downward force of the opposite leg.

Deda anatomic bars are an example of this. They have steep grip angle. Rearward of this where it is natural to grip the bars in an off the seat sprint, Deda's have pronounced kink right in the middle of that point. Yes that kink can be filled with padding and taped over to smooth the shape of that kink but why should we have to?

They are not all bad though. Their drop minimum radius is good as is their upper drop slope. If they changed that kink into a bend, they would be a near perfect anatomic bar.

Anatomic bars with a flatter grip angle (there are plenty of them) are good for off the seat sprinting and sustained efforts on the drops but suffer from having a small drop minimum radius as a consequence of this. That means that as the brake hood is raised further up the bar to a comfortable height, the brake lever moves further away (often too far away for all but the very long fingered) from the bar.

This is your problem and probably compounded by a bar with a steep upper drop slope. As you rotate the bar up in the stem bar clamp to get a better brake hood height, the grip angle steepens causing you to bend your wrists noticeably when off the seat. It is this that is bringing your wrists in contact with the top of the bar when you are sprinting off the seat.

There are many, many variations on the themes of anatomic bars with flatter or steeper grip angles and some are a lot better than others. Some bar manufacturers have reduced the bar reach dimension to try and solve the problem you have. That approach however, doesn't address the real problem which is that many anatomic bars are poorly named. Over the last few years, some designers have shortened the reach of anatomic bars to the point where many are now under 80mm. This has been in an effort to address problems of the type that you describe. In shortening the reach, the rider has to reach further to the bar tops because they need a longer stem for the same overall reach to the drops as they would with a longer reach bar. I think the better solution would be to make the shape of bars more versatile in terms of the hand placement dictated by the shape in the single grip section of most anatomic bars.

Now to round bars. There aren't many left but they are making a comeback of sorts. 'Deep drop' in pre STI / Ergopower days usually meant a bar drop of 150mm - 170mm. This allowed pros to have their brake hoods high (just like many do now) but a lower and more effective height for sprinting with hands in the drops when off the seat. The old style bars mated poorly with combined brake / gear levers, particularly Ergopowers, because if the hoods were at a sensible height, then with hands in drops it meant a large change in hand position to get to that thumb lever for all but a few riders.

The newer deep drop round bars, Deda Deep and Ritchey Classic have a bar drop of 145mm or close to it which largely solves that problem. Better still, they have flattish upper drop slopes, particularly the Ritchey Classic, meaning that for a given hood height, their large minimum radius means that the brake lever is relatively easy reach from the drops. FSA make a deep drop bar as well but I don't rate it as it has a steep upper drop slope and consequently a smaller minimum radius than the Deda or Ritchey.

The Deda Deep and Ritchey Classic shape allows a variety of grip angles which anatomic bars don't in general. I think this is a plus and my major complaint against the majority of anatomic bars.

The largest difference between the Deda Deep and Ritchey Classic is their respective bar reach. Deda measure 95mm and Ritchey 82mm in that dimension. What that means is that for a given position on the drops, the Ritchey will need a longer stem than the Deda's. Both are available in 26.0 mm and 31.8mm clamp diameters. In 31.8mm Deda's are better for use with aero bars if that is a consideration, because the centre bulge extends further laterally giving a wide clamping surface. Other than that, I have no strong preference and am happy to let other factors determine which is better suited to a rider. Sadly, both of these bars are their top of the line quality and price. We are not going to see a strong resurgence until similar shape bars are available in heavier ( meaning less expensive) versions.

Shallow drop historically has meant a bar drop of 130 - 135mm in the main and that is still the case today. Shallow drop bars are meant to be used with people who don't have wide palms. The problem is that narrow palms often (not always) belong to riders with short fingers. A shallow drop bar by definition has a smaller drop minimum radius than a deep drop bar meaning in turn that the problem of hood height versus easy reach to the brake levers from the drops often surfaces. A well designed anatomic bar is often preferable to a poorly designed shallow drop round bar for the narrow palmed, short fingered rider.

This is where Shimano, Campag and soon SRAM should reconsider their brake / gear lever designs slightly. If I can buy a pair of $10- mtb brake levers with span adjustment, why can't I do the same with a good quality STI, Ergopower or soon to be released SRAM lever?

Whoa, War and Peace! All bars do the job at some level. I think that there has been a needless rush into the ever increasing complexity of shapes of anatomic bars. Whether it is marketing driven or the result of designers trying to solve a particular limitation of a bar shape without creating others I don't know. What I do know is that a well designed round bar is a more versatile answer to the problem of having human hands steer a bike around than any well designed anatomic bar that I have yet seen.

I doubt that everyone will agree with that but as you have observed, the people who spend more time on their bikes and use them more intensely than the rest of us have voted with their hands in that direction.


There is an article in the current issue of Bicycling magazine about the MIT cycling team. They have advantages that less scientific schools lack, such as their own wind tunnel. And as time trial specialists, they have a keen interest in matters aerodynamic.

In the course of the article, some pretty startling assertions are made. They claim that a $200 aero helmet gives you four times the aerodynamic benefit of a pair of aero wheels such as Zipps or Heds ($2000). Also that gluing your race number onto your jersey so it doesn't flap is at least as good as an aero front wheel. That wearing gloves negates the saving of an aero front wheel. etc.

Any comments? Because it's too late for me; I've already dropped the bucks on the pair Zipps. Should I have kept the bulk of the money and just bought one of those incredibly geeky looking TT helmets? I'm a triathlete, so my cycling revolves around TT efficiency.

And by the way, on an almost completely unrelated aerodynamic matter, why does it benefit Tour de France team leaders to be paced up those long mountain climbs by a team mate? They are going maybe 20km per hour, which is around 12 - 13 mph. My understanding is that the benefits of drafting only kick in above 16 mph? Is this so?

Paul Schwartz

Scott Saifer replies:

Thanks for the inquiry and the fun new data points. If you wanted to win enough to buy fancy wheels, buy the helmet too, for five times the advantage. And of course the faster you go, the more difference aerodynamics makes, so the extra speed you get with the helmet will make your Zipps worth even more.

You're right that the draft at 20KPH is pretty minimal, but it's not zero. If the wind blows a gust in your face, as it sometimes does in the mountains, having a rider in front you is worth a bit more. If the road levels out and you speed up, it's worth a bit more. But maybe more importantly, the domestique is literally setting pace for the star, helping him not need to think about how hard or how fast he is riding, not have raise his head to watch the road multiple bike lengths ahead, not have to worry about attacks and so on. If the star is a slightly stronger climber than the domestique setting the pace, he may actually be counting on the fact that so long as the domestique is not blowing up, he is completely safe.

Both of your questions really get at one point: If you want to win, you don't spend time pondering which advantages you'll take and which you'll pass up. You use every possible tool you can to shave whatever tiny percentage off your time or effort. If you waste half of one percent of your effort, you can be beaten by a smarter rider who is 1/2 if 1 percent weaker than you. If you make ten of those errors, you can be beaten by a rider who can't even keep up with you in an even race with the same equipment.

Optimal race weight revisited

This message is mainly targeted to Scott Saifer. I enjoyed the response to the Optimal Race Weight question. I'm a Category 2 road racer looking to upgrade to a Cat 1. I prefer hillier races to crits and can do well, but need that extra push to get there. I follow a strict diet and during the season, maintain 5 percent body fat. I have a coach and the training is right where it needs to be. My problem lies with my pre-cycling life. I was involved in contact sports and got into heavy weight lifting when I was younger. As a result, I have way more upper body mass than a bike racer ever needs, especially to go uphill.

Scott mentioned losing muscle mass to achieve optimal weight. I agree, this is not something I would attempt to do during the season. How can I start the process in the off-season? For me, that's after 'cross Nationals are over. Can you give a more detailed description of how to do this without sacrificing too many watts? I think I could easily lose 5 pounds and maybe even closer to 10. My peak races involve 3-10km climbs ranging from 6-11 percent.

Jer Walker

Scott Saifer replies:

As I noted before, losing muscle mass is difficult. It is so difficult in fact that when I have clients who are lean, as you are, but still too heavy, I try to talk them into focusing on flatter events before I have them start losing muscle mass.

I'll assume you've already thought this through and want to be a scrawny bike-racer type. So now the goal is to specifically lose mass from the muscles that are not needed for cycling while maintaining mass in the muscles that are used in cycling. The key to understanding how to do that is to note that muscles constantly cycle their protein content. Muscle protein is constantly broken down into amino acids (catabolism), and amino acids are constantly being assembled into new proteins (anabolism). If you anabolize faster than you catabolize, the muscle grows. If you replace less than is released, the muscle shrinks. There are several factors that affect the rates of breakdown but they tend to affect all muscles pretty similarly, so you can't use them to control which muscle you lose. The rate of laying in new protein however is dramatically affected by muscle activity. Protein is not installed into muscles that are not used. Given a choice, your body will incorporate the amino acids into the most active muscles. Thus, if you immobilize a muscle, as you would in an arm or leg cast after an injury for instance, the muscle will shrink. Muscles that are used minimally or not at all shrink. If you eat plenty of protein, muscles that are used more than a tiny bit will be maintained or shrink very slowly.

You can't have your upper body put in a cast and still train, so losing unwanted muscle mass requires three actions: Limit protein intake slightly below what is required to maintain muscle mass, maintain training for the muscles you want to keep, and minimize the use, especially high-force use, of the muscle you want to lose. There are a variety of numbers in the literature as to how much protein an athlete needs to maintain muscle mass, but somewhere around 1/3-2/3 gram per pound of body weight are pretty typical numbers, so to lose muscle mass, aim to decrease protein consumption below the low end of that range. I know lots of readers are going to squawk at this point that more protein than that is required for good recovery, and they are right. Reread the first paragraph at this point, and good luck.


I am a 37 year old road racing cyclist. I packed in racing for 15 years and have now returned, 2 years ago. the problem I have is that I seem to be redlining all the time in races. My max heart rate is 192; when the hammer goes down in races my HR is above 180 and I can only sustain this effort for short periods of time. The real problem is when we hit a climb, I blow up big style after 2 mins effort or if there is a lot of counter attacking; also crits are out the question after 10 mins of racing. I have had a good winter's training, riding long rides over the weekends 3, 4hrs on sat sun and 2 mid week rides of between 2.5 ,3.5hrs . I would be very grateful if you could give me some pointers in the right direction so I can get back to enjoying my racing.

Mark Millington

Ric Stern replies:

From your description of training it sounds like you don't include any intensity work. I suspect that this is the problem. The reason that you 'blow' and your HR goes sky high is because the intensity of racing is too high for you. This can be rectified by working on various areas of fitness -- these being mainly your sustainable power (i.e., TT ability) which is correlated with your lactate threshold, and your maximal aerobic power (which you can think of as the size of your engine) and is correlated with your VO2max.

You can increase your TT type ability by doing intervals of around 15 - to - 30 mins duration, with one to four repeats at just below TT effort, one to three times per week. These can easily replace a steady endurance ride, or could be included within a steady ride, depending on how much time you have to ride.

You can increase your MAP with 'hard' intervals of about 3 to 5-mins duration, repeated up to eight times, and up to three times per week. Often I find I just do these intervals and then roll home!

How many times you do each type of interval and the frequency of them, as well as other training is beyond the scope of these replies. You'd need coaching for that, for which ourselves or one of the other coaching companies here could help you with,

Fused ankles revisited

I read with interest your recent response about shimming for a person with a fused ankle.

I also have a fused (tibio-talar) right ankle and have considered shimming. However the effect of my fusion gives me virtually the same leg extension at the bottom of the stroke but as the ankle cannot drop my right knee ends up considerably higher than my left at the top of the stroke. I also feel more stable on my fused leg than on my good one and suffer sciatic type symptoms in my good(non fused) leg.

I am thinking of shimming my good leg to help drop the ankle a little more to stabilise that leg. Would appreciate your opinion as this has been a problem for some time now.

Steve Hogg replies:

I haven't seen thousands of riders with fused ankles. At a guess, probably 20 or so over a long time. Each case is best decided on its merits but from what you are saying you have two choices.

1. Drop the seat which will help the 'good' leg but cause the knee of the leg with fused ankle to rise even higher which is probably not a good thing.


2. Shim the 'good' leg as you suggest. I would try it. Also find out why you are suffering the sciatica or similar symptoms and put that to rest. Lack of stability can be overextension which shimming would solve. It can also be a number of other things too. Pelvic asymmetries on the seat and poor footplant angle on the pedal caused potentially by a variety of factors come to mind. It probably wouldn't hurt to play with some LeMond wedges as well.

Bottom line is that you will never know unless you try, so do so. As with all these things be a little circumspect and ease into any changes sensibly.

Lateral offset?

I had no idea that a lateral offset for a saddle was possible! How is this accomplished? Do you custom build the required hardware? Is it possible to make an adjustment as small as 5mm?

Joshua Harris
Durham, N.C., USA

Steve Hogg replies:

For some background have a look at this article.

Now for the detail - if you read that link and think that info is applicable to you, get hold of an FSA seatpost in the appropriate offset (they offer 3; zero offset [like on a Thomson straight post], standard offset [like Campag or Shimano posts] and more than standard offset. You will want one of their recent releases with what FSA call Data Head. This is a 3 piece seat rail clamp assembly. The upper most piece runs fore and aft and is secured by a bolt at each end. This clamps the two halves of the seat rail clamp themselves. I will call the top piece secured by bolts No. 1, the upper half of the seat rail clamp itself No 2. and the bottom part of the seat rail clamp No.3.

No 2. has a serrated upper surface that mates with the serrated underside of No.1. No 2. is kept centred laterally by two small pins on its upper surface that project upwards. If these are ground off and then the serrations cleaned up with a file, then No 2 and No.3 can be moved laterally either side of the centre line of the bike by up to 12 - 13mm.

If you only want to move it 5mm, no problem. This isn't for everyone, so exercise a bit of caution. The basic approach is that if you hang to the right of the centre line of the bike, laterally offset the seat to the left. If you hang to the left, laterally offset to the right.

The link provided will explain in general terms why.

Leg numbness

I am a 58 year old man and have a cross bike which I use for recreation.

When I bike longer distances, somewhere between a half hour and an hour my legs often start to go numb. I get off my bike and walk it for a few minutes to relieve this.

What do you think causes this?

What might relieve this?

How dangerous is this? Can it lead to permanent injury?

Joe Veltman

Scott Saifer replies:

Generally numbness means that you are compressing a nerve somewhere or cutting off the circulation that supplies that nerve. Yes, it is dangerous. If you continue to compress a nerve the time it takes to regain sensation can get longer and longer until you get to a point where it stays numb for days or even weeks. I suppose the loss of sensation could become permanent, though I've not heard of this actually occurring.

The odd thing about your case is that you report numbness in both legs. The nerves that serve the two legs come out of the sides of your spine separately, which means that you are either compressing two nerves farther down, which is unusual, or the problem is in your spine farther up. In either case, there may be something about how you are sitting on the bike that is causing the problem and correction may be as simple as changing the saddle or handle-bar shape or position. It may also be that there is actually something medically wrong such as a slipped disk or some obstruction within the channel of the spinal cord.

I suggest that you consult a medical professional or chiropractor who can help you determine exactly where and how the nerve(s) are being compressed to rule out medical problems.

Interval training vs sustained effort

My question relates to interval training versus constant effort at a sustained elevated heart rate.

For instance - what is better: doing 10X2 minute intervals at 85 percent-90 percent of max heart rate with a 2 minute spinning at 70 percent max heart rate between efforts or constant effort for 20 minutes at 85 percent-90 percent of max heart rate?

I would assume the 10X2 minute intervals would more reflect normal racing conditions where the sustained 20 minute exertion would be better for time-trail training?

In short - which of the above would make me fitter & faster?

George Barrie
South Africa

Scott Saifer replies:

Neither is "better" until you've defined better. You are on the right track with the idea that the intervals would help prepare yo for intermittent effort and the steady work would prepare you for steady efforts like TT's or break-aways and chases. One thing to consider though is that when you jump hard enough to raise your heart rate from 70 percent to 90 percent of max, it will probably take 45-75 seconds for your heart rate to adjust to the new effort. That is, for about half the interval time your heart rate does not match your instantaneous effort. There a huge range of efforts that could be described as 2-minute intervals at 85-90 percent of maximum heart rate. For short intervals, power, perceived effort, and speed on set terrain give a more precise prescription of a workout than does heart rate.

Now if you mean 2 minute intervals at the power or speed that corresponds to 85-90 percent of maximum heart rate when ridden for 20 minutes, the 20-minute solid ride may be the better choice, since 2 minutes at that speed should not be much of a challenge.

Finally, if you are at all fatigued, a recovery ride (perhaps an hour at 60-70 percent of maximum heart rate) will be better for your speed and fitness than any harder work, intervalic or continuous.

"Balance test"

Steve Hogg refers to a "balance test" repeatedly but I cannot find it using the search function. Could you provide me a reference to that balance test?

Steve Hogg replies:

Here is a simple explanation and rationale for it. As a generalisation, we have two types of external musculature, postural and phasic. Some muscles exhibit characteristics of both and there is still debate about details but it is not a bad generalisation. Postural muscles, as the name implies are like tent guy ropes. They allow us to hold a position whether it be static or dynamic. Phasic muscles generate power for movement and have indirect postural implications if at all. To complicate things somewhat, some postural muscles can be also used for power generation by operation phasically. Some examples of this are the hamstrings and gastrocs.

Neurologically, our brains have evolved to give absolute priority to postural musculature.

Assuming that you accept the above, then if we want to perform on a bike to potential, we need to sit on it in such a way as to minimise the enlistment of postural musculature. Simply, we need to be able to devote maximum effort neurologically and physiologically to propelling the bike and minimum effort to maintaining a position. Any extraneous effort involved in maintaining a position can only rob from the effort of propelling the bike. At 30kms an hour this is not particularly important because it is a low intensity effort, but if the goal is maximum efficiency, which is what high performance is about, then it is fundamental.

The only way to achieve this minimisation of postural musculature on a UCI legal bike is to have the seat set back far enough to allow the rider to cantilever their torso out from their pelvis while pedalling without unnecessary weight being borne by the arms, shoulders etc. There will be some effort required to steer and control the bike but we want to minimise that effort. Just how far back the seat needs to be varies massively from person to person depending on body proportions and above all, functionality and individual technique.

A simple example is that a particular rider may have a long torso and poor core strength and on the surface, poor ability to support their torso without a lot of seat setback. But if their back is inflexible and tends towards flexion in their pattern of tightness, then their effective torso length will be quite short and the seat will not have to be a long way back to allow them to support their torso.

The simplest way to explain this, and it is not a perfect explanation at all, is what I call the balance test. A rider should be able to ride with hands in the drops in a big gear at moderate rpm and take their hands off the bars without uncontrollably falling forward or having to arch their backs and / or swing their arms back to allow them to pass this test. They should teeter on the point of balance to some degree but be able to do it with some control.

The reason that this isn't a perfect test is because some people display marked pelvic assymetries on a bike. That means that they are inherently unstable on the seat and have evolved a method of stabilising themselves by using the shoulder complex and upper torso musculature to provide the stability that to some degree, they inherently lack. For those kind of people and there are plenty out there, then it becomes a matter of best possible compromise. They may never be able to pass the balance test as I have described it without substantial improvement in their levels of structural fitness but there will be an achievable compromise which will improve their efficiency and performance.

Assuming a reasonably functional rider can pass this test, there are gradations to being able to do it. For all but a few of these functional riders, having the seat setback far enough to allow them perfect no hands stability when riding in a 'drop bar' position will compromise their ability to pedal fluently at high rpm and hinder the speed of making a quick 'jump' from riding on the seat to sprinting off the seat. Conversely, if they are a little too far forward, then high rpm pedalling will be fine but ability to pedal in a high torque, low/moderate rpm style when necessary, will be affected negatively.

All of what I have said here goes hand in hand with the type of cleat positioning I am always on about because it plays its part in on seat stability.

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