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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 April 17, 2007

Early morning training
Off season training
Maximum heart rate and aging
Calf problems
Leg pain
Base training and gym work
Weight gain
Recurrent illness

Early morning training

Do you have any advice for someone who has to do his training very early in the morning? By early I mean starting a training ride at 4:00am and ending at 6:00am three or four days per week. My weekend rides are standard daytime rides.

I am interested in any comments on early morning physiology and response to training. I do get seven hours of sleep per night.

Madison, WI, USA

Dave Palese replies:

You are a stronger man than me! Kudos for making the commitment to getting up so early to improve your performance.

Although they may exist, I have never seen any studies centered around the physiological response to early morning training v. training later in the day with regard to one being more or less effective. Maybe one of the other panelists has?

Your situation, for what ever reason mandates it, is pretty common. I have many clients who have family (get the kids off to school, car pool with the spouse and so on), and work schedules that make it necessary for them to train early in the morning. The biggest obstacle that we have had to deal with is that the body's metabolic systems take some time to get going in the morning. This most often manifests itself as a heart rate that is slow to or unable to rise to the needed beats per minute for efforts of higher intensity (i.e., Threshold, VO2 Max, Anaerobic Capacity…). This can cause an effort to feel much harder than normal. This hasn't always been the case but it has happened with my clients.

Here are several suggestions I would make:

1. Eat something. Put half an energy bar in your stomach on the way down the basement. The process of digestion, and the sugars in the bar can help to jump start your system.

2. Warm-up a little longer than usual for a trainer session. 5-10 extra minutes of a warm-up at sub-threshold intensity can help get things going too. Do this even at the expense of an interval later in the workout. Those minutes will be well spent if the quality of your workout is of higher quality because of it.

3. Use output instead of depending on HR as your indicator of intensity. Remember-if the output is Threshold, and it feels like Threshold, but your HR is low, go with it. Ignore your HR and use the other two inputs (output and RPE) to guide you through your session.

4. Have a plan. Save your long steady distance riding for the weekends. Design your morning sessions to be short and sweet. Get on. Do your warm-up. Do your workout. Cool down and get off. Over the long haul, this will help keep you consistent and more motivated.

Off season training

How do you feel about using a Concept 2 rowing ergometer as an off season training device for biking? I've always felt that getting off the bike for a while was good for the psyche and that the mental attitude, really looking forward to getting back on the bike, was a real advantage.

Ken Andresen

Dave Palese replies:

Riding the rowing machine will not improve your cycling. It will help you maintain and maybe even develop cardiovascular fitness. There are also benefits on the muscular level, especially those often ignored upper body groups. And the mental benefits you cite shouldn't be overlooked.

But I wouldn't row to the exclusion of riding in the off-season. Actually, for the competitive rider there is no "off-season". Just times of the year when the balance shifts. Riding year round is very important to maintaining the cycle of continuous improvement.

If you want to build on, improve upon, and be a better cyclist than you were last season, it is important to have a cycling plan that runs through the winter months as well. It can be greatly reduced in comparison to your summer program. I nordic ski (skate and classic) 4-5 days a week in the winter here in Maine, but I still ride the bike a few hours a week to stay on track.

Scott Saifer adds:

The answer to your question depends on your goal in cycling. If you are riding for fitness, recreation or health, the answer to your question is that rowing is a fine foul-weather alternative to cycling, or even just another sport in which to gain fitness, recreation and health.

If your goals are competitive at a higher level, you can still use the rower as a cross training mode so long as you are several months before your racing season, but do keep pedaling once or twice per week to maintain your cycling movement patterns.

Maximum heart rate and aging

My situation is one that is, as far as I know, unique. In all the reading I've done on heart rate training, I've never come across any documentation listing situations like mine.

In 1991, at the age of 29, I took a VO2 Max test and had at the time a maximum heart rate of 196bpm. At that time I owned a Polar Accurex (top of the line then) HRM, and it recorded a maximum HR of the same; give or take 1bpm. I lost the Accurex in 1993, and didn't have my HR checked while riding for 14 years.

In 2007 I bought a Vetta HR100 HRM. Having ridden the bike several times now with it, I've reached a maximum HRM of 192 on more than one occasion! This number seems odd to me, as would not my theoretical maximum HR, if 196 fifteen years ago, now be about 181?

I am aware that the general math of your age minus 220 is not scientifically accurate, but it strikes me as very odd that my maximum HR has only dipped four total points in the last 16 years!

Is there something wrong with my Vetta HR100 that shows my heart rate incorrectly? Or was my VO2 Max test (and Polar Accurex) incorrect back in 1991? Or has my heart somehow aged four years in the last 16, or am I just some sort of mutant?!

Phil Anderson (no, not the famous Aussie)
Portland, Oregon, USA

Dave Palese replies:

You're a mutant.

I wouldn't sweat it. There are so many issues with max HR, its decline over time, its relationship to age and so on.

If the numbers you see with your HRM are consistent, then use those numbers. Accurate or not. If they are consistent enough that they can rely on them to be the same under given workloads, then use them.

The short answer is max heart rate not declining over time in the same fashion for everyone is not uncommon.

Have fun, ride fast! Good luck!

Scott Saifer adds:

Stress not oh yee of famous name. The formula 220-age and the idea that one loses 1 bpm per year are both poor approximations to the reality of the average human. If you behavior is not typical (exercising), your response is not typical.

Among my fit clientele, the average maximum heart rate is closer to 210 - 1/2(age), meaning that in this sample at least, the loss is only 1/2 beat per year, or seven for your 14 years. Your four beat loss is well within normal range.

Calf problems

I am a 37 year-old male triathlete that had continuous problems with my calf muscles for one and a half years, I am 198 cm tall and my weight is 93 kilos.

I have always believed the problems derived from my running, and have this winter got new insoles made for me at a sports clinic, and my running has been going very well since, with no calf problems whatsoever during three months.

However, with spring arriving, I have increased my cycling volume and right away my problems with the calf muscles comes back, which would indicate that the problems comes from cycling, rather than from running. My problem is in general painful and stiff calf muscles, especially on the upper, outside of the muscles, which at its worst leads to regular muscle ruptures in the calf muscles when running.

I ride a Trek Madone 5.9 with 62cm frame and use SpeedPlay X/2 pedals and Shimano SH-R215B shoe. I have recently moved the cleats back as much as possible on the shoe and increased my cadence from 82-83rpm to 87-88rpm to take some load off the calf muscles, but with no improvements. Any suggestions on what do to about this problem?

Johan Lindblom,
Zurich, Switzerland

Steve Hogg replies:

The likely reason for your problem is that your Speedplay pedals do not allow your cleats to be far enough back. Speedplays have approximately 5mm less rearward adjustment than other popular three bolt systems. You may be tight in the calves already but the further forward your cleats are, the more the calves will be strained.

Speedplay make an alternative adaptor that can be ordered through any shop that sells Speedplay pedals. The part number is 13330. Most shops don't know that it exists so don't be put off if they don't know about it. The alternative adaptor allows 13-14 mm more rearward cleat movement than is possible with the standard adaptor plates.

The shoes that you have have quite a bit of lift in the toe and the heel. For a minority of people, this can add to their susceptibility to Achilles tendon or calf strains.

Move the cleats as far back as necessary to solve the problem. Don't forget when you do this to lower your seat accordingly. Moving the cleats back will cause more leg extension. If you run into any problems with any of this, please let me know.

Leg pain

I'm a 32 year old male `5 6 and 140 pounds. I train 3-4 times a week with various sets - including TT intervals, hill sprints and standing-start sprints as well as distance rides (100km with hills) in local club events I race in scratch or A grade. At the moment I ride a ‘07 Giant TCR C2 and use Shimano pedals and shoes.

Late last year I began to get cramps in my calves and inflamed Achilles tendons when racing or training hard, I lowered my seat to try and protect the calves/tendon but this made no difference, I then moved my cleats back so the ball of my foot is 6mm in front of the pedal axle. This seems to have solved the cramping/tendon problem but I noticed pain in the front of my thighs so I've raised my seat back to its original height.

The problem I now have is that when I ride I develop stiffness and pain down the outside of my left calf and also from my hip down the outside of my (left) thigh. Although both cleats are set the same it feels like my left foot ball is closer to the pedal axle than the right and on the down-stroke it feels like I have a thick piece of foam in my shoe and cannot develop full power (the right leg feels perfect!)

Adam John

Steve Hogg replies:

The picture you describe is a common one. You have one of the following:

1. Shorter left leg
2. Tendency to favour the right leg to the extent where you pay a price for this on the left.

More likely, #2. is the problem. Though either will cause what you describe currently. You should lower your seat and move it further back so that your quads don't die.

If you go through the archives there is any amount of stuff about this. Once you have looked, get back to me for any clarifications.

Base training and gym work

I am a 36yr old male entering my second year of riding and racing. I have just begun my base training and gym work at the start of our season.

Gym sessions are Mon, Wed & Fri and I am intending to do base mileage in zone 2 for the next 6-8 weeks Tues, Thurs and Sat with the occasional race or harder efforts on Sundays.

From the reading I have been doing it is my impression that high cadence work should be completed with the gym work to convert the gym strength to cycling strength. My question is should the high cadence workouts be scheduled on the gym days or mixed in with the endurance rides?

When planning recovery or easy days of riding is that to rest the muscles and give them time to repair or is to rest the heart or both? If the recovery days are for muscles it seems to me that it wouldn't be a problem to include the high cadence work on the recovery days because the muscles will be working under a light load even though heart rate will be high?


Dave Palese replies:

I won't talk too much about strength benefits and what not here, only to say be careful to choose a program that is designed to get you the results you are looking for. Not all strength training programs are created equal.

When I have my client in the gym during the General Preparation phases, I have them follow-up all gym sessions with riding immediately after. And this riding is done at a higher than normal cadence. I have found that it 'keeps them loose'. Plus, the increased blood flow cleans things out and aids in recovery.

I suggest making rest days restful. The heart is a muscle, just like you quads. When it is tired, it needs to rest so that it can perform efficiently next time you ask it to. So I would error on keeping your rest days very easy.

Weight gain

I'm a newcomer to the sport of cycling and absolutely loving it. I've been riding competitively for about nine months doing about 300km a week. I'm 18 years old and 185cm currently weighing about 79kg.

I was surprised to see myself at this weight when I weighed myself recently considering I'm feeling pretty fit. Before I started road cycling I weighed about 72kg. This seems perhaps a little odd considering that a most people tend to lose weight while doing such an aerobic sport.

Is it possible to put down the weight gain on the building up of muscle? Perhaps also growth (I haven't grown in height in the past nine months more than a cm or two)? Seven kilos seems like a lot. Is there anything wrong?

Sydney, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

At your current height and weight you are pretty much ideally built to be a flat land cyclist but are getting heavy if you want to be competitive in the mountains. Seven kilos is a lot of weight to add in just nine months, but not totally out of the normal range for an 18 year old. Did you add muscle or fat? You should be able to answer that by pinching yourself on the belly and thighs. Is there more fat than there used to be?

It's actually not that uncommon for cyclists to gain weight. All they have to do is work up a big appetite with long and hard rides and then eat a bit more Calories each day than they expended. The rate at which you have gained weight corresponds roughly to eating one more thick slice of bread each day than you actually needed.

Recurrent illness

I'm a 48 year old masters category racer. Last year I did my first somewhat serious year of racing since I was in my mid twenties. I managed to usually finish with the masters 40 pack, which I felt good about since in my state this includes a large number of category 1 and 2 masters as well as a few ex-professional riders.

This year it was my intention to start racing in March, and I thought that by this time I would have had about 5 or 6 weekends of racing under my belt. However, I've been plagued with a series of illness - gastroenteritis, then labyrinthitis with vertigo, and now a respiratory infection with fever. I have not done a single race this spring, and my training has been sporadic over the past month and a half. When I've been able to ride, I've been able generate good power according to my powertap (up from this time a year ago), but after riding for a couple of days, I'll be sick again and off the bike for up to a week. My wife thinks I'm not letting myself recover completely from an illness before I jump back on the bike, and this has left me more vulnerable to the subsequent bugs.

She very well may be right about this, but the situation has me somewhat frustrated about my racing season (nonexistent so far) and I'm not certain what I should do when I get over this current bug. Should I just go ahead and do a race and see what happens, or should I try to work into cycling gradually for a couple of weeks (starting slowly with endurance rides, then intervals) before doing any competitive riding?

Carrie Cheadle replies:

Well, the wife might be right (I know my husband loves to admit when I'm right as well). As far as the physical aspect, I'll leave that up to the expert coaching panel and your doc. However, mentally - it can be tough to readjust your expectations for the season when you are dealing with any type of setback in your season whether it be illness, injury, or some other life circumstance.

It's easy to spiral downward when you are focused on where you think you SHOULD be compared to where you are. The first part is accepting where you are and keeping your mind focused on what is in your control. What's done is done and there is no amount of wishing it would be different that will change that.

The second is readjusting your goals. The quicker you can readjust your goals, the quicker you will be to start moving forward again. You have to be okay with having a transition back into racing. View this as an opportunity. This might mean your peaking at the end of the season when everyone else is starting to burnout!

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