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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 24, 2007

Fitness decline on a rest phase
Maximum heart rates
Physiological cycling issues
Iliotibial band syndrome
Lower back pain
Hip rotation
Crank length

Fitness decline on a rest phase

I am male, 35 years old and currently riding Cat 2 events in Australia, mainly criteriums of 60 minute duration.

I have been training consistently since August 2006. I average about 450-550 km per week and haven't had any rest periods away from the bike at all for this entire period. I ride pretty much every day averaging 2-4.5 hours. This training consists of hills, flats, race and low recovery heart rate days - less than 120bpm. So I have a big base.

Before you say it, yeah I know I'm overtraining - and I admit that I'm fully addicted. What I'm wondering, is if I go away on holiday for three weeks (20 days) will I lose the fitness I've gained and also what should I do to 'get back into it' on my return? I suppose I'm asking 'how long before your fitness begins to decline when away from the bike?'

I'll be doing heaps of walking etc while away but no riding at all.


Scott Saifer replies:

This is one of my favorite questions and thanks for the opportunity to answer it in this forum. When you take time away from the bike, measurable signs of detraining show up by the second day.

In particular, heart stroke volume decreases dramatically. Those riders who have taken a few days off will be able to tell you that their heart rates were unusually high relative to perceived effort in the first few days back on. It also happens that heart stroke volume returns to your normal, trained level within a few days when training resumes.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the muscle-memory or refined movement patterns of pedaling last for years. I have not trained seriously for nine years now, but I still blow by the beginners even when I feel that I'm not pushing on the pedals, simply because I can't help applying power to the pedals very efficiently even in the absence of significant aerobic fitness.

In three weeks off the bike you will not lose much aerobic capacity. You will lose your tolerance for very high-intensity effort. That will take a few weeks to return once you start doing very high-intensity effort again.

But here's a more important question than how much fitness you will lose by taking time off: How well will you race next season if you don't take time off? I've watched enough athletes take their annual 3-5 week rest and come back stronger the following year that I at least am convinced that there is nothing wrong with giving up some fitness at one time of year in order to be able to race better at other times of year.

Enjoy the vacation. Plan to come back with a few months of base riding before doing higher intensity again. You'll be glad you did.

Maximum heart rates

I just read a few responses to a query about maximum heart rates and am a little concerned about mine.

Around the age of 21 I recorded a maximum heart rate one day of almost 220bpm. I remember it because it was the hardest I had ever ridden a bike.

I did a VO2 max test at the age of about 32 and reached around 210bpm from memory which the testers noted as being high. They almost stopped me riding towards the end of the test.

Recently (at the tender age of 38) I have recorded (using a heart rate monitor) a max heart rate of 208 during a very hard effort.

Out riding with some friends I have noticed that as we up our pace my heart rate sits about 20bpm above theirs. I can comfortably sit at around 180bpm (breathing moderately) but above this things start getting harder.

My resting heart rate is around 48bpm

Should I be worried?


Scott Saifer replies:

In a word, no. Your maximum heart rate has been on the high end of the normal range for many, many years and is not something to worry about. If you need a way to think about it, you have a relatively small heart that beats relatively fast to move the same amount of blood as the hearts of other, larger hearted riders.

It sounds like your ventilatory threshold (VT) is around 180 bpm or a very normal 86% of maximum heart rate. I know of at least one rider who managed to advance to Cat 2 status and be competitive there with similar maximum and VT heart rates.

Physiological cycling issues

Hi there, I am studying Sport Science at university. Currently I am investigating physiological issues related to cycling. I was wondering if you would just be able to point out what you would say are the major issues in cycling?

Thanks for you time.

Sarah Nicholls

Scott Saifer replies:

I'm not trying to be flip here, but open an exercise physiology textbook to the table of contents and you pretty much get a list of important physiological issues in cycling: Muscle contraction; glycogen synthesis, storage and use; pulmonary function; cardiac function; responses to heat, altitude, cold, dehydration; contraction speed-force curves; muscle fatigue; glycolysis; lactate metabolism; endocrinology; fatty acid mobilization and metabolism.

Is there an aspect of physiology that is not relevant to cycling? Maybe the response to breath-holding? Some cyclists even do that. Response to weightlessness might be safe to skip.


I have an enquiry into the conditions of overtraining and chronic fatigue syndrome.

I have been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome, and my doctor has basically explained to me that this is more or less the same as chronic fatigue syndrome. I am realistic enough to expect, at this point, it will likely be a number of months until I am able to return to regular activity.

The basic treatment that I have been advised to follow is to rest for an ongoing period until I feel better. I have also consulted with a sport psychologist to better cope with a long period of relative inactivity.

My doctor, who is quite experienced having worked at a sports institute in Australia for a long period, has also mooted that we may try using some hormone therapy (testosterone), but this would involve jumping through a variety of hoops with ASDA, and there is no clinical proof for it actually working in this circumstance.

Ultimately, the reason I ended up this way is that I tried to put too many races together over too many seasons, both in the northern and southern hemisphere. I was of the mistaken belief that you didn't really need an off season and could just keep pressing on.

My specific questions are:

1) What is fatigue anyway?
2) Is there any way to accurately and scientifically measure it apart from my subjective assessment of how I feel?
3) Is there anything I can do to speed my recovery apart from basic rest and working to ensure I have quality sleep and nutrition?

Also, I'd appreciate it greatly if you could point me in the direction of an article or website that accurately explains my condition.

Melbourne, Australia

Carrie Cheadle replies:

It's great to hear that you have consulted with a sport psychologist. A couple additional things you can do during this time:

Overtraining often means under recovery. You can work on both passive recovery and active recovery during this time. Passive recovery includes abstaining from training and resting. Active recovery includes using relaxation techniques and imagery to aid in your recovery.

Life stress also adds to overtraining so it's important to assess that in your recovery as well. You can work with your sport psychologist on relaxation techniques (i.e. progressive relaxation, etc.) to help strengthen your skills of dealing with stress. Life stress burns up energy that you need for your recovery.

You can also use imagery to aid in your recovery. If you haven't already, talk with your sport psychologist about the benefits of imagery. It's a skill like any other skill, so the more you practice, the better you get and the more likely it will benefit your recovery and performance. Imagery research has been shown to speed recovery time. Imagery can also be used to "practice" while you're not on the bike.

There's a great story about Marilyn King, an Olympic athlete that was in a car accident that left her in bed for four months as she was training for the 1980 Olympics. During that time she spent hours using imagery to visualize herself competing. She couldn't train physically, but her mental training helped her place second in the 1980 Olympic trials.

Imagery doesn't take the place of physical training, but there is research that demonstrates that it is better than no practice at all and when combined with physical practice, it is more effective than either one alone. Using these skills also helps you feel like you have some control over your recovery process.

Iliotibial band syndrome

Hi Folks: Got a new bike, did the classic dumb thing. Ran my up miles too early too fast before I'd gotten it dialed in 100%. Bam...ITB in my left knee only. Did the usual rest/ice/stretches. Improved, but I'm still not trusting it...still feel it just a bit. Afraid to jump on the bike and just do a 50-75 miler again.

On my old bike. it doesn't bother me as much...why? I've now got saddle height, set back, and pedals and shoes the same (though when I started off on the new bike, pedals were platforms, not SPD, and shoes were gym). Old bike is a 56cm Specialized Roubaix, new bike is a 59cm Rivendell Bleriot.

I think the old bike is too small, but it feels good when I ride it. My only issue with the old bike was I couldn't get the bars up enough; I've since found a widget that does that for me.

So assuming I stick with the old bike, do I have a chance of ridding myself of this? Thanks in advance, any suggestions on best way to do this would be much appreciated.

Marc Bratton

Steve Hogg replies:

Why the left knee only? The most common reasons in no particular order are:

1. You have a long right leg and the left leg is being asked to reach further.
2. You drop the right hip which challenges the plane of movement of the left leg (left knee moves out on the upstroke and in on the downstroke).
3. You have a pronounced uncorrected right forefoot varus and favour and protect that side at a cost to the left (No.2 again)
4. A seat height that is a touch too high which in turn causes you to choose to favour one side. Most people under these circumstances will protect the right side; again at a cost to the left.

There are many other potential causes but that would be the top four in my experience.

What to do about it?

Firstly, mount your bike on a trainer, take your shirt off and have an observer standing by. Have them standing above and behind you so that they can see what is happening with your hips. You will need to ride in a hard gear because that will exaggerate any tendency to asymmetry in your pedalling technique. What you need to know are:

Which hip do you drop?
Which hip sits further forward?
Which knee moves outward on the upstroke and inward on the downstroke?
Does either foot have a noticeable callous under the 5th MTP?
Does either leg have the feeling of being the stronger and more controlled leg?

Let me know the answers and I will attempt to advise.

Lower back pain

I am a 52 year-old male and compete regularly in our local veterans road racing events and commute daily (20kms each way) to work.

Over the past 12 months I have suffered from lower back pain which seems to originate in the left side hip area. The problem only arises after riding for more than around two hours and performance is not really affected. The pain and discomfort becomes more noticeable when standing in the one spot for a while or after lifting and carrying heavy objects.

Stretching and massage help matters and at the moment the problem is quite manageable however, over the past few weeks I have started to experience slight numbness in the left hip when driving, sitting and occasionally riding with one instance of the numbness extending to my left shoulder during a rather hard climb.

I am getting a little concerned with this latest development and am contemplating a number of options, having a total break from the bike and re-evaluating my bike fit come to mind.

Nathan Graham
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Steve Hogg replies:

First option is to see a good structural health professional for a stripped to underwear structural assessment so that you know the state of play. The left hip numbness/left side low back pain I can explain away as various structural shortcomings and a bike position not ideal for that. But now that it is affecting you off the bike and with the shoulder numbness as well, I think you should rethink your approach to fitness. A change of bike position may minimise or even sort out the pain / numbness issues on the bike but will do nothing to solve similar issues you are experiencing off the bike.

Time to start prioritising your structural fitness. The first step is to increase your awareness of what the issues are. Visit the structural health professional (physio, chiro etc) to start that process. Once you know what the story is, I am happy to try and help.

Hip rotation

My Chiropractor has told me that I have my right hip rotated forward, also looking at the x-ray you see the right hip lower than the left by almost 9 mm. My left knee moved toward the top tube. I use Specialized S-Works shoes with two varus wedges on my left and one on my right. I did notice a severe pronation in my left foot (inward) that's why I use two wedges.

Can you tell me what can be done to try and get my left side feeling stronger while pedaling? My inseam is 85cm and I have a seat high of 74.6cm. To get my bike fitted I used Andy Pruitt's Medical Guide. I still use the book to address this problem, but I don't know if it's IT band syndrome or a functional leg length inequality. I'm a 44 year-old recreational rider that would like to get better bike fit. I love to hammer my Sunday training rides!

Keep up the good work.

Eric E Medina
Puerto Rico

Steve Hogg replies:

Everything you say can be explained by the forward rotation of the right hip assuming that is still the case on the bike. If it is, then the plane of movement of the left leg is challenged, the left leg reaches further and so on.

Find out whether you have a noticeable right forefoot varus (have the left foot checked as well). If so, and it is very likely, use Lemond wedges to compensate for this. Often a right forefoot varus and common tendency for the left cerebellum (which controls right side of body) to be dominant in matters of motor control lead to an anterior right hip as a self protection measure for the right knee.

Assuming you do have noticeable right forefoot varus and wedge that side, you probably need to try two other things.

1. Drop your seat. A seat height even a touch too high will cause the tendency to favour one side (in your case almost certainly the right at some cost to the left)

2. Use one less wedge on the left side than is recommended for the degree of left forefoot varus that you have. The reason for this is that your tendency to drop/rotate the right hip won't disappear unless you change how your body works (and for that you will need to get on a first name basis with your local yoga or Pilates teacher and introduce yourself to your body) totally.

In the meantime, the tendency for you to favour the right side by dropping the right hip (I am assuming this as from what you have said it is the most likely occurrence) will drag the left side towards the centre line. If you wedge it theoretically 'correct' amount, you are just making the job of the left leg to deliver power more difficult.

Crank length

I just bought a new ride for the spring. I noticed the crank length was different from my current ride. I was riding 172.5mm cranks and the new ones are 170mm. Will I notice a big difference in the crank lengths?

I am 5'10 -5'11, a club rider but no longer race but still do some high intensity workouts. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Mark Lovallo

Steve Hogg replies:

The short answer is no, not much. If you have two bikes, you are likely to have different seats, bars, seat tube angles, stem lengths and so on. The difference in crank length for an average leg length for your height will not make a huge difference either way. Other equipment differences will probably have more impact.

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