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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 fitness@cyclingnews.com. 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

Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the 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.

Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com) is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, 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 December 18, 2007

Power training
Winter training and lung effects
Plyometric exercises
Indoor trainers causing knee problems
Training for cyclo-cross
VO2 max outdoor test
Swimming for cyclists
Long ride duration
Cannondale sizing

Power training

Why is it easier (or more doable) for me to constantly push 300-350 watts up a hill for 30-45 min but then when I try to create that same power output on a flat to slightly downhill time trial I get nowhere close to being able to hold that wattage? It is boggling my mind.

Second is a bit of form and muscle symmetry. When I very first started training I noticed I wasn't pushing down on my right leg as much as I was with my left so when I did my intervals in the trainer every night I made sure to. Is it possible I just over trained my right leg because my left quad is considerably bigger than my right and I find myself always favouring my right in hard efforts?

Thanks

Bart Boma
Sacramento, CA

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi Bart,

Your situation is extremely common and most likely correctable: Are your cadences similar in the uphill and flat-downhill scenarios? If you are spinning down hill but mashing uphill, you likely have not developed the coordination to make the high wattages at higher cadence. That can be corrected with practice.

Is you position the same in the two scenarios? If not, you TT position may be too extreme to allow you to make efficient use of the muscle strength and aerobic power you have. You can test this by trying to climb in your TT position at your normal climbing cadence. If your power is down when you do that, rethink your TT position.

Finally for whatever reason some people simply find it easier to push when something is pushing back. If this is you, you'll need to work on motivation for the downhill performance; picture being in the winning break at Milan Sanremo.

Dario Fredrick replies:

Hi Bart,

With all due respect, I disagree with Scott in that your situation (or motivation) needs correcting. You are simply experiencing basic laws of physics as resistive forces in cycling, specifically gravity and aerodynamic drag. All of us who use power meters are familiar in practice with what you describe.

When considering climbing power, gravity is a constant which is multiplied by the slope of the road incline (~gradient), and it exerts a greater relative force versus air at a given speed. It is "easier" to produce higher power if the resistive forces are greater. On flat terrain, you have to work to develop speeds high enough to exert sufficient resistance in aerodynamic drag to maintain TT power - whereas on a negative gradient (downhill) resistive forces are further reduced, making it "harder" to maintain TT power.

Let's assume that your 30 min TT power *average* is ~335 W (+/- 10 W), thus on flat terrain it is ~335 W, uphill ~345 W and downhill ~325 W.

Regarding your second question about muscle symmetry, yes it is certainly possible that you simply strained/fatigued the quadriceps of your right leg. I would recommend focusing on pedaling smoothly with both legs rather than focusing on driving downward only with the right. You can also try single-leg pedaling exercises on the trainer. I would also make certain your bike fit is neutral (specifically saddle and cleat placement) so that there is no compensation happening that would lead to greater asymmetry.

Many of us experience a difference in the expression of our two legs at high power. Anecdotally, what I hear from many cyclists is that one leg feels like the "driver" and the other is more dexterous or "circular" in the pedal stroke. No human is perfectly symmetrical, so we will all likely have some difference between the two sides whether we perceive it or not.

Winter training and lung effects

Hi,

I was wondering if you know anything about the effects of hard training in the cold?

Some "coach" stated that its a very bad idea to train in the cold weather, because your lungs "shrink", their capacity lowers & it can take all summer before they expand again?

Sound rather absurd to me, any knowledge on this?

Billy

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi Billy,

Cross country ski racers must necessarily train outdoors in the very cold, and they are known for having the highest VO2-max of any athletes, so there is obviously no significant, long-lasting lung damage from training in cold.

Hard breathing in extremely cold air can be irritating to the lungs, causing or exacerbating exercise induced asthma is some athletes. In extreme cases, there might be coughing for a few days. It is possible however to completely avoid the problem by wearing a bandana or muffler over the nose and mouth when training in cold air.

Plyometric exercises

Hi Guys,

I am thinking about adding some plyometric exercises to my program. I am a 37yr old male road rider/racer and have been riding for two years. I am currently in the base stage of my program and am spending two days in the gym with an average of 300km of riding each week.

In three weeks I'll drop one day in the gym and move to strength maintenance and commence strength training on the bike.

What I would like to know is what would be the best time to introduce plyometrics, for how long and your thoughts on their effectiveness in improving jump and sprint speed.

Thanks in advance

Andrew

Dave Palese replies:

Andrew,

I have had some of my athletes do plyometric exercises in the winter.

What I found was that the plyos worked good as a transition from gym work to on the bike work, really as an alternative mode.

If plyos are comfortable for you, keep at it. But just like with any strength training, the amount should be dialled back the closer you get to your race season. I wouldn't suggest doing any plyos for legs once you are 8 weeks out from your target event(s). Otherwise 1-2 sessions a week should be fine.

Hope this helps.

Indoor trainers causing knee problems

Like many cyclists, I am now settling into a long winters worth of indoor training sessions on my trainer. I currently have my bike hooked up to an Elite fluid trainer with my front wheel up on a block.

My question is related specifically to knee pain experienced while riding on the indoor trainer only. For the last two seasons I have been getting pain in my left knee, just under the knee cap. I only experience this pain when riding inside, never outside. At this point in the year I am spending most of my time spinning comfortably in mid 90 rpm range with concentrated efforts to simulate climbing a couple days a week for a total of 5 - 6 days of training per week. My knee doesn't show any signs of swelling but does seem to tighten up after a long ride.

What could be causing this knee pain and why does it only present when on a trainer? Given that my position hasn't changed and my workload is really pretty easy right now, the only thing that I can think of is that it has something to do with the bike trainer combination. My thought is that the bike, while mounted on the trainer, has no give so any natural movements or quirks are being stopped by the trainer whereas they would normally be absorbed into the natural movement and flow of riding on the road. Of course I could also be on the completely wrong path which is why I am writing to you.

Any help or direction that you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Jason

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Jason,

Assuming the bike is level on the trainer and given what you say about riding under moderate load only, the most likely reason for your problem is the lack of momentum of an indoor trainer compared to you and your bike on the road. Indoor trainers have relatively small flywheels and when flywheel momentum and the roller momentum is added to the weight of your rear wheel and crank rotation etc, it is still only a fraction of momentum of you and your bike on the road.

That in turn means that on an indoor trainer, pedaling technique differs anything from slightly to massively.

Here is a test; next trainer session, twist your left hip forward a touch when the knee niggle starts.

If that arrests the niggle, then either your seat is too high by a few mm on the trainer and you are autonomically choosing to self protect the right leg and sacrifice the left (very common) by mildly twisting the right hip forward OR you are already doing that on the road but the technique you adopt on the trainer causes you to drop your heels more and again, you choose to protect the right side as described above. Either way, drop the seat 3 - 5 mm and let me know what happens.

If twisting the left hip forward (and it will seem forward to you but if I am right, that forward movement of the left hip will be squaring up your hips) doesn't eliminate the niggle when it arises, get back to me for more advice.

Training for cyclo-cross

Greetings, I'm a 40 yr old masters Cat 4 road, and expert mountain biker. I have changed my focus to cyclo-cross. I was wondering how should change my training, especially my off-season training and setting up a weights program? Is there anyone who specializes in training for 'cross?

Thanks so much
Paul

Dave Palese replies:

Hey Paul,

Many of my athletes do cross through the fall, after long road seasons.

How you set-up your program all depends on the priority you put on your cross events, and even on certain events. The clients I have did no weights through the cross season. It wasn't a choice we made like "If you are doing cross, you can't do weights". It was more just a process of elimination. There is only so much time to dedicate to training. Only so much of that can be training that induces a high level of fatigue. And on and on and on, all the way down.

Now, if you performance in your cross races was not going to be a high priority for you, and you were just going to use the races a hard workout for those weeks, then you would likely be able to fit in some gym work.

It can be a tough balancing act - coming out of a demanding summer road season, taking a short break and then ramping up for cross, and racing through December before turning right around to start preparing for the following road season. You need to be careful in the balance you create. Define clear goals, and plan, and stick to it.

I hope some of this helps, but my suggestion is that you find a coach/adviser that you trust to help you set-up a program to help you hit your goals.

VO2 max outdoor test

Hello,

Is there a determined protocol for testing Vo2max outdoors? Possibly by using a 1 mile long slope? Can different variables like wind, heat influence the outcomes?

Thank you for any information.
Giampaolo Mora

Dario Fredrick replies:

Hi Giampaolo,

There is a formula developed by Hawley & Noakes (1992) that estimates VO2max from the peak power (Wpeak) in an incremental test protocol. (VO2max = 0.01141 x Wpeak + 0.435). While it does not require VO2 equipment, it does require power measurement. You can try to replicate the protocol outdoors, preferably on a track, since as you noted in your question, variables such as wind or variations in slope can make it difficult to maintain steady power. The protocol starts at 110 W and increases by 35 W every 4 min, with 1 min recovery between each stage. Wpeak is the power sustained in the last completed 4 min stage. The caveat here is that the protocol was validated on an indoor lab ergometer and replicated on a track, so if you try this on the road the validity is unknown.

Once you calculate VO2max using the equation above, you get an estimation of your absolute VO2max in litres per minute (l/min). To convert this value into your relative VO2max (ml/kg/min), multiply by 1000 and divide by your body weight in kg.

Best of luck and let me know if you try it out.

Reference: Hawley JA, Noakes TD. (1992). Peak power output predicts maximal oxygen uptake and performance time in trained cyclists. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol.; 65(1):79-83.

Swimming for cyclists

I too have experienced the benefit from swimming (competitively) in the off season. I tried to maintain swimming with my increasing cycling demands after the off season, but I found the additional training (swimming) sessions were contributing to an increased degree of fatigue. I stopped swimming in favour of cycling (and my decreasing productivity at work), with the intention to return to the pool next off-season.

As a follow-on question to the benefit of swimming for cyclists explained by Dario last week, I wondered how many sessions in the pool Dario was maintaining during his competition phase of his cycling season. Or perhaps, what would be a minimum amount of swimming which could maintain the swimming-cycling benefit.

Many thanks,

Vlad

Dario Fredrick replies:

Hi Vlad,

I was swimming on average two days a week during heavy cycling training and racing phases. Usually one swim workout was easy to moderate, depending on how well-recovered I felt, and the other was a moderate to intense workout. In bad weather, I allowed myself to substitute a swim for part or all of my cycling training. During some winter weeks I was swimming 3-4 times in conjunction with shorter indoor trainer workouts. At a certain point in my racing career, I decided to try to optimize my power to weight ratio and stopped swimming to help minimize muscle mass. I had gained ~3-5 lbs in my upper body from swimming. While I was successful at completing this goal, I certainly missed the swimming and the equilibrium of strength I felt in my body.

I would recommend two days a week to maintain swimming form and cross training benefit. Of course, it is not a substitute for cycling in terms of direct training benefit, only an additional mode of conditioning and a nice training variation for the mind.

Long ride duration

Hi,

I'm a 45+ road-racer entering his second year of racing, mostly time trials and hill climbs, but also some hilly road races. I'm 5'7", 135lbs, have been doing all sort of sports my whole life, but only started to get serious about cycling some 1.5 years ago. I have a challenging job, but can do an average of about 12h of training per week. However, due to work and season, I have problems allocating time for longer rides (>2h).

My question is mostly about base phase training, more specifically about long ride (level 2) duration. Given that my longest race is about 2h, can I replace two 4h training rides (which have to be crammed into the weekend) with - say - four 2h rides (spread over the week)? This would not only be more flexible (esp. during winter), but would also allow a better mix between high/low intensity work during late base training, and better accommodate available routes. Which physiological benefits would I miss by skipping rides longer than 2h?

Thanks
Peter

Dave Palese replies:

Hi Peter,

I've never seen a benefit of doing over distance in the amounts you mention (4 hour rides, for a race schedule that has races lasting up to 2 hours)

I might suggest (and take this with a grain of salt, since I know very little about you) that you still try to build up to getting one ride that is about 3 hours in on your weekends towards the end of general preparation. Like maybe in the last 3 weekends of general prep, you do a 3 hour ride over varied terrain.

Hope this helps.

Cannondale sizing

This reply from bike builder Peter Teschner is in response to last weeks letter regarding the purchase of a Cannondale Six13 from Bryan Kroeker.

Peter Teschner replies:

Letters 12-12 #3 refers to a question about suitability of a 58cm Cannondale Six13 fitting Bryan rather than his previous 56cm. Unfortunately Bryan does not say if the new 58cm is from the same family of geometry as his current 56cm. The answer that Scott gave Bryan is only part of the picture even if the 58cm is from the same family.

I checked the Cannondale website for both International and North America, and geometry seems the same for both sites. However there are some differences between the 56cm and 58cm worth noting that Bryan should consider and they will affect set up and handling. I'll list for comparison: -

Size

Top Tube

Seat Angle

Head Angle

Fork Offset

Trail

Head Tube Length

Reach

56cm

560mm

73.5

73

45mm

56mm

169mm

399mm

58cm

575mm

73

73.5

45mm

53mm

189mm

406mm

Simplistically without looking at the geometry one could easily think that all Bryan has to do is reduce his stem length by 15mm and all should be reasonably OK. But the geometry shows there are four main things actually happening here between the 2 bikes 1. Seat angle is 1/2 degree shallower, the trail is 3mm shorter, head tube length is 20mm longer and the Reach is actually only 7mm different.

Lets look at these four and their affect - all things being equal and Bryan is actually going to set his position up the same:

1. Seat Angle 1/2 degree shallower - This will affect the location of the saddle on the seat post rails. Assuming for example (only) that Bryan sits at 70mm behind the BB he will have to move his saddle 6 - 7mm forward to compensate. This should be OK assuming that there is enough room to do this.

2. Trail 3mm shorter 56mm to 53mm. In my estimation the 56mm trail would already give a pretty quick steering bike and the 58cm goes to 53cm making it even quicker and almost in my opinion a little nervous for today's light bikes. The USA race scene was developed around criterium style racing. When I built the frames for the Mercury Pro Team from 2000 - 2002 all their bikes had trail around 52 - 53mm. These days most manufacturers tend to go much more in the direction of longer trails for a bike that suits the longer distance type races. My own philosophy suggests around 58 - 60 for bikes the sizes we are discussing here. As bikes get lighter (and especially the front end in the fork and wheel area) I tend to design to compensate for this.

3. Head Tube 20mm longer. This will only affect Bryan if he has less than 20mm of stackers under his current stem

4. Reach - the big one. There are not many manufacturers these days that understand or apply the significance of reach in bike design. Certainly Cervélo is probably the only mass produced bike manufacturer that I know who understands and applies this principal in their design. They cover the discussion of this very well at http://www.cervelo.com/viewkb.aspx?id=03755#3. Typically reach is the distance taken from a vertical line projected from the centre of the BB to a point passing through a horizontal top tube, measured forward from this intersection to the intersection of the centre line of the head tube and top tube. Most manufacturers usually apply the design principle of "as the bike top tube gets longer, the seat angle gets shallower". Cervélo keep the seat angle pretty constant and with good reason. The only draw back with this is choosing the right starting seat angle and ensuring that toe over lap is not an issue on smaller bikes (at Teschner we take into consideration reach but also consider toe overlap just as an important design criteria). So in the situation of the 56cm V 58cm Cannondale the top tube gets 15mm longer but the seat angle gets 1/2 degree shallower. The overall affect of this is that the reach only increases by about 7mm and not the 15mm for the increase of the top tube length.

So Bryan, with a 90cm inseam you should have plenty of standover clearance on the 58cm, the steering will be quicker, you will not need as many stackers under your stem, you will need to move your seat forward about 7mm and reduce your stem length and as there are no in between stem sizes I'd say reduce by 10mm.

In conclusion I would suggest that when buying a bike and the increase or decrease in the top tube length doesn't seem to make much difference in fit, check out the difference in reach.

Peter Teschner

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