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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 September 21, 2006

Can milk for breakfast hurt performance?
Stretching revisited
Difficulty breathing
Getting the most out of base training


Can milk for breakfast hurt performance?

I have recently heard stories about professional riders having water on their breakfast cereal instead of milk due to the latter's lactose content, and the belief that it causes lactic acid. Does the lactose found in milk cause lactic acid to build up in the muscles during intense exercise more rapidly (and to higher levels) than if no milk had been taken, or is this just another myth?

Ian Rudolph,
Melbourne, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

I don't know what the pro's have on their breakfast cereal, but the idea that lactose somehow causes lactic acid is a myth. Besides, if there were a way to boost lactic acid without boosting the other chemicals that cause fatigue, pain and muscle failure, you'd want to do it. Lactic acid is the fuel of aerobic metabolism, and aerobic metabolism is good, last I checked.

Ric Stern adds:

There is a difference between lactate and lactic acid. The former is a dissociated salt with hydrogen ions. Dario Frederick wrote this article about it in 2004.

Scott Saifer adds:

Ric's right that the chemical species consumed in aerobic metabolism is lactate. If one was to somehow slightly increase lactic acid concentration in the blood, moments later it would be floating around as lactate ions and hydrogen ions, and lactate ions are the fuel. The point here, however, is that neither lactate nor lactic acid is affected by lactose consumption, nor, for that matter, is aerobic performance.

Stretching revisited

I took a look at David Fleckenstein's PDF on stretching and saw that the recommended time for the hamstring stretch was 6 minutes for each leg. I then read an article on stretching the next day that said it does no good (and possibly some harm) to hold a stretch more than 30 seconds. I've read that you should stretch no more than every other day and I've read that you should stretch twice a day.

I do not understand why there seems to be so many different opinions on this subject. How hard can it be to take a mixed population and put them on different stretching programs and measure the results? Why so much contradiction and confusion over a seemingly simple activity?

Kevin Burnett

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

This is an outstanding question and is a frequent source of conversation and argument. I could send you a very large body of research on effects of stretching on various tissues - a lot of it contradictory. I completed a thesis in graduate school regarding effects of different stretching techniques on various tissues. If you would like to see the bibliography I would be happy to send it to you.

The main question here is what is the most effective way to lengthen collagen, the primary building block of connective tissue? I like to think of collagen as an unusual type of spring. With stretching we are trying to lengthen, or deform the spring. While force is the most effective way to deform a regular spring (how hard we pull it apart), time is the most effective way to deform the spring of collagen. Healthy, mobile tissue generally looks like nicely combed hair under the microscope - all the fibres are aligned in parallel, allowing the 'spring' of collagen to be mobile in certain directions and resistant in others. Restricted tissue tends to look like fibres of a furnace filter - randomly aligned (which is actually the cross-linking of collagen tissue) and generally resistant to any motion.

My overall thoughts regarding stretching are as follows, based on research and my clinical experience:

1) Low load, long duration (LLPD) stretches are the most effective ways to permanently lengthen tissues - in simple terms, time is a more effective way to lengthen tissues than force.

An interesting observation is that there are certain tissues that we want to stretch and certain ones that we don't. The same way that time is an effective way to lengthen the hamstrings, prolonged slumping (either sitting in a chair or sitting on a bike) can also lengthen the collagen fibres of the disc and supportive ligaments of the spine. This results in a loss of integrity of the disc and premature breakdown. If you notice in the stretch sheet, the spine is always in a neutral alignment in my pictures to protect it.

2) 30 second stretches, contract/relax stretches, AIS stretching, etc., does not permanently lengthen tissue, but can result in transient improvements in flexibility.

My clinic is full of patients who have performed this type of stretching for years, notice a short term benefit, but no cumulative improvement. Why? Because I don't think collagen is affected with these stretches, the nervous system is. The nervous system plays an important role in regulating how tissue moves. These types of stretches affect mechanisms that regulate the tone of muscle tissue - how much contraction is going through tissue at one time. These can be effective ways to reduce spasm or provide short term increases in mobility.

A couple of stretches that I listed in the PDF are 30 second stretches because these are structures that are also highly intertwined with specific nerves and most people aggravate themselves with LLPD stretches of these structures if left to themselves. Clinically, I can progress these individuals to LLPD stretches under guidance with excellent results.

3) There is an optimum amount of flexibility. If there is not some resistance present in the connective tissues, we don't transmit forces well - it is dispersed within the tissue. Indeed, some professional athletes that I have seen demonstrate marked tightness, but they are able to prevent those forces from transmitting to structures that are not designed to disperse stress. I think that these are the athletes who picked their parents well and have a physical gift. I certainly have patients that are too flexible as well, but it is generally not their hamstrings, hip musculature, and hip flexors that are too mobile. It is usually the musculature and structures surrounding the spine, and this is not good.

4) Flexibility is not something that should just occur when we are "warmed up," it should be present permanently. This enables us to move correctly throughout our day, through all motions. My general rule is that I want local spine stability (to protect and maintain optimum alignment of these highly reactive structures) and lumbopelvic musculature flexibility, so that our pelvis can move correctly and provide a well-aligned base for the spine. I will be writing more this fall [or this spring in the southern hemisphere - ed.] on stability issues.

So, what seems simple is not so simple, after all. In many of the studies that found negative results of stretching, tissues that should not have been stretched were lengthened, creating problems. I often see athletes selecting very poor stretching techniques, such as bending forward to touch their toes thinking that they are stretching their hamstrings when they are actually placing huge forces and stretch on the disc and ligaments of the spine.

The PDF is a very generic start to a very complex issue. Ideally, we would all have a very individualized system of stretching and stability based on our specific needs, but the stretches given are ones that I feel 'do no harm' and lengthen the most commonly shortened structures that I feel promote pathology.

Many thanks for a great question and I look forward to discussing this more!

Difficulty breathing

I'm a 44 year-old male, 5'6", 200lbs, and I've been riding road bikes for over 10 years. With a group of six riders, I'm averaging about 17 to 22 miles per hour for 40 miles or so. When I ride on my own, I usually ride up to Chantry Flats where I live, a climb of over three miles into the mountains. I started pushing hard (i.e.) riding faster and longer, and I try to do this climb at least once a week. For the last couple of weeks I've become very weak. I'm tired, I'm waking up with a mild headache and it's hard to breathe. I want to ride but my body tells me no.

I went for a ride to the Rose bowl last Sunday morning. I climbed a few hills, then went home and became ill. It became hard to breathe. I felt better when I breathed into a bag - the warm air helped me. I'm eating the right food during the ride, such as carb blocks, etc., and I'm staying hydrated.

I don't know what's wrong with me. What's happened to my energy? I want to ride!

Chantry Flats

Scott Saifer replies:

Difficulty breathing when you are not exercising is an issue you should take to a medical professional, not to a cycling coach. The deal is that a coach, unless he or she is also an MD or OD, is not qualified to make this diagnosis.

Getting the most out of base training

I have a question about base rides which, in my world, consist of riding slowly in zones 1 and 2. If training is about 'overload' and steady progression with regards to intensity or hours spent on the bike, what is the point of, say, a two-hour base ride in the middle of the week (which I've been prescribed) when I do a four or five-hour ride in the same intensity during the weekends?

My body should already be capable of handling five hours of slow riding, so how could a shorter ride make me better?

Joachim, Norway

Dave Palese replies:

'Base' training is often misunderstood. There is a lot of tradition in cycling training, one of which is the thinking that LSD (Long Steady Distance) riding is how base training is done. And it's true, to a point.

I have over the seasons moved away from prescribing rides that consist solely of low intensity riding. I'm all about getting the most bang for your buck with regards to time invested. Most of the athletes I work with are trying to fit cycling into an already busy life, so it's important that for every hour they commit to training, they get the biggest return. The long rides that I have my riders do during the General Preparation period consist of riding mostly in the ENDURANCE zone (either using heart rate or power), and including up to 50% of their total ride time riding in the TEMPO range. Using this guideline has yielded some of the best aerobic performance gains I have seen.

You are on the right track when you say "training is about 'overload'...". Training should overload your system. I got to thinking, from my own experience and after reviewing client follow-up test results, that there must be a way to get more out of the General Preparation period. So, I started prescribing sessions like I describe above. You need to stress the system with more than just volume to boost its performance.

Since you say that you have been prescribed a certain training type, I gather you are working with a coach. I would discuss this issue with him or her. The best place to start is for a client and a coach to discuss the training program so that the rider gets the most out of the program.

Hope some of this helps. Have fun!

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