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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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 January 16, 2008

Air temperature, heart rate and actual calories burned
Higher HR in hills
Where to start?
B12 for cyclists
The steepest gradient

Air temperature, heart rate and actual calories burned

Hi I am currently doing base km’s as part of early season training and to lose some weight (Male, 191cm, 98kg). It’s summer in Australia and gets up to 42C. Even though I exercise during the early morning, I note that my heart rate is higher for a given cadence/gear/terrain vis a vis a cooler morning, therefore for the same speed a higher heart rate is the result. My HRM tells me I have therefore burned significantly more calories, but does this translate directly. To put it another way, would a HR of 150 for an hour in 20C really burn the same calories as 150 HR for an hour in e.g. 30C heat – my Polar HRM would give the same answer. I’m concerned that my elevated HR in the heat is overstating actual calories burned and negatively impacting on my strict diet exercise regime (measure calories with CalorieKing online and use HRM for exercise calories).

Paul Smith
Evandale, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for this note. I've been making fun of the Polar algorithm for counting calories for several years and you have just provided more evidence of how silly it can be. No, you don't use the same number of calories at 150 heart rate independent of temperature. At comfortably lower temperatures, most of the blood moved by your heart goes to your working muscles. As the temperature rises, your muscles need essentially the same amount of oxygen and blood to do the same amount of work but the heart must beat faster to make up for blood going to the skin to dissipate heat. There is small additional calorie cost for the additional heart beats, but that is far less than the calories that would be expended if the same amount of blood were being delivered to working muscles proportional to their oxygen uptake.

Higher HR in hills


First thanks for the fitness Q&A, it's great.

I'm a male 32y.o road rider 176cm 68kg. I ride 250-350km/week. I was recently lent a heart rate monitor and on the last few rides I paid attention to what my heart rate is doing on the bigger hills as compared to the flats. I tend to be a good climber and a pathetic sprinter. I generally feel comfortable spinning 100-110rpm. I normally climb with my elbows sticking out and my hands on the bend between the tops and the hoods.

I have a good 10km/500m climb nearby as well as a 8km/ 380m climb. When I was climbing these ascents last week with the new HRM I noticed my HR was 180+ for the duration of the climb. My highest I have seen is 195bpm (I get close to wanting to be sick at over 190). But on the flat I cannot seem to make an effort that gets my heart rate sustained over 170. It is as if my HR is an indicator of the gradient. An slight descents I find it hard to sustain HR of 160+. This doesn't make any sense to me, why I can happily put out power up a climb for 30mins to make my HR 180+ yet cant put out the same power to make my HR go over 170 on the flat for 30 seconds. Even slight plateaus on a climb will see my HR drop. It also seems to explain why in a group ride every time the hill kicks the bigger advantage I have.

Steep descents are different - doing over 80km/h down hill in 53x12 I will see my HR near 180.

Can I train myself to be able to go as hard on the flat as I can on big hills? What is going on here? Is it psychological?

Melbourne Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James,

What cadences do you do on the various gradients? I'd prefer actual measurements to recollections based on feel.

James responded:

Hi Scott thanks for your reply,

my last ride I was doing 93rpm (18.5km/h) into a very stiff headwind (trees were being blown about) up a long 4% grade. Normally I would be doing 22.5 (105rpm) - 24.5(104rpm) and changing between 39x23 and 39x21 at 23km/h (108 v 98 rpm).

Steeper grades I am straight into the 25cog. On the flat my shift points are 5rpm lower, until I am doing over 40km/h where it is back up to the "climbing" rpm.

The lowest I do is 95rpm on anything, unless I'm drafting a bunch and just ticking over. If the hill is too steep to maintain over 90rpm (17km/h in 39x25) I will get out of the saddle. The range of cadence is purely for covering the gear ratios. I don't make good power at low cadence. Wind greatly affects my climbing, into a headwind I will be markedly slower than climbing with a tailwind but I will just gear down and spin regardless. I feel like I am mashing at 95, but have recorded max cadence of 201rpm. If we are sprinting for the top of a hill, I will normally gear lower and spin up to 130rpm which is normally enough to beat my companions.

I hope that makes sense.

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James,

So you were climbing at 93 rpm and that's where you saw the high heart rates. What happens if you ride flats at 93 rpm? You note that you never go under 95 rpm, and that you don't see high heart rates on the flat. Might be connection there? Also, do you ride the hills in the same position as the flats?

James responded:

If I ride the flats at 93 rpm my heart rate still drops, it feels as though I can't push as hard on the flat. My position does changes with the grade of the hill, on a steep climb I will have my hands on the tops, and sit upright, on a moderate grade I have my hands on the bend b/w the tops and hoods (both allow me to open my chest up), on slight grades I will be on the hoods and I only ever get in the drops going on descents.

Are you thinking that my HR goes up when I start 'mashing' when the rpm drops? The places where I have seen 195bpm were on 10% grades but I was still doing 90rpm.

I will do an experiment today on a velodrome and get back to you, I will go flat out at 80rpm-90rpm, recover and then go flat out at 100-110rpm and see what HR I hit. Would that help?

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James,

Your proposed experiment is a good one. The other thing to check is the position question. The fact that you never get in the drops on the flats suggests that you are not comfortable there, which in turn may relate to a too-closed hip angle and loss of power when you are riding the drops. I'd like to know what happens if you try to ride the drops uphill at highish cadence, Vs what happens if you climb on the tops at the same cadence, too.

James responded:

Hi Scott and Carrie,

The results of my experiment yesterday were that I could hit 180bpm on the flat, first I did 44km/h spinning 124rpm, and 41km/h spinning 128rpm (different gear) in my climbing position I maintained it for 2km. Then I did 41km/h 79rpm flat out till I was sitting on 180-181bpm, in the drops, which I maintained for 2km.

As I had a target HR I suffered a lot to put in the effort to get my HR up. At low cadence my legs were screaming at me, they apparently do not like force work, but they got used to it. I had set my mind on keeping the effort high enough to produce the HR.

On one hill on the way home I forced my self to accelerate over the hill and actually increase my HR from 178bpm to 183bpm as the gradient dropped.

I know I find it extremely uncomfortable in the drops spinning a high cadence I will arch my back on a climb. I have been undergoing chiropractic treatment for an unstable pelvis. and I do a fair bit of stretching to compensate. I do pass Steve Hogg's balance test.

I will give it a shot tonight, I have a couple of good long hills to try.

Thanks again this is great - and doing the drills I ended up with close to fastest average speed for my training route yesterday.

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James and Carrie,

Thanks for this strong bit of evidence that with enough motivation one can do the same heart rates and power on the flats and down-hill as uphill. Many riders do so much of their intensity work on hills and so little on flats that they have not learned to really push on the flats. If you keep trying it, the mental effort required will decrease.

Do send the results of the rest of your experiments (and don't push for maximal efforts day after day unless you want to end up overtrained. One or two days per week of maximal efforts long enough to get tired is plenty for training, and more will leave you getting weaker rather than stronger if you do it week after week. Short efforts and a small total effort time are okay, so long as they are short enough to leave you not-particularly more tired than you would be on a long, endurance ride.)

James responded:

you are right about the efforts - yesterday I was too wrecked to get my HR over 160bpm, so I did it this morning. I did 19.5 up a steep hill at 98rpm on the tops and then went to the drops HR was 178bpm.

I was wrong about arching my back, I didn't arch my back and I was still spinning in the normal range, I did however have to keep shifiting backward as I would roll onto my perinium. It was easier today, so I think I will keep practicing like you say twice a week. I have assumed that if I wasn't getting enough air in the drop my effort would drop and the HR would drop.

I have a 7km climb planned for this weekend so that will give me plenty of time to see what happens over a longer period.

Thanks again

Where to start?

I've had a 45 year hiatus from training and racing but I'm now back on the bike. I've been reading lots of training books but they all seem to be geared towards people who are much further along than I. After 3 months of riding and 2 in the gym, I'm getting more serious as my fitness level has increased rapidly. I'm doing laps in my local park much faster, I've dropped a few pounds (6 ft. 180 lbs, 59 years old), but I'm confused as to what I should be doing.

Should I just forget about all the training stuff and just try to put in as many miles as possible on the bike? Intervals? Is there some reference I should look to that I've yet to find? My natural inclination is to race again, probably time trials as that's what I was always best at as a junior. Everyone seems to think that because you are reading a training book you have 10,000 miles in your legs already. Thanks for any help you can give me.


Dave Palese replies:

Hey Phil, Welcome back!

Your situation is one many athletes face either when returning from time off the bike, or even after they have been riding for some time.

There is a lot of training info out there. In books and on the web. Making sense of it all can be tough. There isn't one reference to point you to.

My suggestion is that you do some research and get some help from a coach. This doesn't have to mean that you start doing bulk miles and putting in lots of hours with the goal of racing. A good coach will talk with you about what you want to achieve and then work with you and your schedule.

Even if you got a 12 week training plan and had contact with the coach during that period to check in and bounce questions off of, you'd be way ahead of the game at the end of those 12 weeks. Then you could assess whether you need to continue working with someone to get out of the sport what you want, or not. But I think working with someone might get you over this initial hurdle much faster and more efficiently.

B12 for cyclists


I read somewhere that B12 vitamin helps produce red blood cells. Therefore, it can help cyclists perform better. Should one be interested in taking B12 supplements to hopefully increase performance, what dosage do you recommend? I use to take B12 as a teenager, because I was vegetarian. The dosage back then was 1200 mcg, which, to my knowledge, is the higher dosage available on the shelves here in Canada.

Thanks for your time!

Normand Boivin Rookie cat 4 racer, Montreal, Canada

Steve Owens replies:

Hi Norman,

That is a fantastic question that I think many readers are interested in knowing more about. I will first say that one can write a book on every micronutrient, so for B12, I’ll focus only on what you’re asking.

It seems to me though, every time you talk about vitamins, you end up scaring the individual into mega dosing of all supplements. If you eat a balanced diet that includes meats, then you’re probably doing just fine with vit B12. However, here’s some background on it:

Vitamin B12, also called cyanocobalamin, is part of the B complex vitamin and is an essential vitamin, which means it must be obtained from your diet it or bad things happen. It’s available mostly in fish, shellfish, meats, dairy and eggs, so vegans and vegetarians should most likely consult with a nutritionist about supplementation. Absorption of B12 requires intrinsic factor, which is a protein synthesized by acid-producing cells of the stomach. Most of body's supply of vitamin B12 is stored in the liver, but is absorbed in the distal portion of the small intestine called the ileum.

Vitamin B12's two main functions are the formation of red blood cells (erythrocytes) and the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. B12 is necessary for the rapid synthesis of DNA during cell division. This is especially important in tissues where cells are dividing rapidly, particularly the bone marrow tissues responsible for red blood cell formation. If B12 deficiency occurs, DNA production is disrupted and abnormal cells called megaloblasts occur. This results in anemia. Symptoms include excessive tiredness, breathlessness, listlessness, and poor resistance to infection…something that an athlete training hard probably feels every day, so that could be easily confused as such. Deficiency would possibly occur in vegans, malabsorption diseases like celiac disease, lack of intrinsic factor and pregnancy. Normal values of intake per day are 200 - 900 pg/ml (picograms per milliliter). Values of less than 100 pg/ml show a lack (deficiency) of vitamin B12.

So yes, it is true that vitamin B12 provides a key role in the development of red blood cells, which are the little friends that carry oxygen to your muscles, which make your muscles work. That said, and this is the important thing to note: Having the building blocks (all your micro and macronutrients) available to your body is super important! As an athlete, you need to have everything your body needs readily available. If you don’t have enough B12, or any other vitamin, it can cause problems. Having more of them won’t necessarily do you any better. They call that expensive urine. But keep in mind that it’s not only B12, but other ‘ingredients’ that are required for the development of red blood cells (erythropoiesis), like iron, and many others. You also won’t develop more red blood cells (assuming you have the building blocks) unless your body thinks it needs it. (that’s the whole blood doping thing, where people inject extra blood or inject more erythropoietin (EPO) and for the record, don’t even think about it! It’s unfair for one, but tremendously unhealthy and can cause a whole cascade of major health problems and very easily, death.)

I would recommend two things for a very, very active athlete.

1.) Get a simple blood test through a doctor and in this case Norman, ask for it to include B12 (which will probably be measured at the same time as a folic acid test). Do it in conjunction with a CBC. It’s my personally opinion that athletes should monitor these things because often times general population recommendations of micronutrients don’t correlate perfectly to an athletes’. And who wants to give up a week of good training adaptation because of a deficiency. You can monitor your body well with these tests just a couple of times a year. You can benefit from these simple tests with the help of an athletic-minded doctor (like Dr. Kelby Bethards – hi Kelby), or an educated coach who can read a blood test.

2.) Eat a balanced nutrient-dense diet. You can usually get everything you need this way. If the calories you’re eating don’t contain packed nutrients, they’re ‘empty’ calories and you’d be better off eating something else.

I found this really cool diagram which shows in the left column in particular, the generation of red blood cells. Along the way in this development, vit B12 and other key ingredients are needed to build the cells into good strong erythrocytes.

The steepest gradient

To settle a bet; assuming a length of 100 m or more what is the steepest gradient a road biker could manage without toppling over? Also, what is the steepest gradient the pros race up?


Scott Saifer replies:

Hi Ed,

Okay, since this is a very theoretical question, let's plow through some very theoretical calculations. First, given that some riders can actually trackstand, I'd argue that there is no lower limit on the speed at which one can balance and not fall over sideways, so let's just look at the power needed to keep a rider moving forward uphill at 1 km/h on a gradient of X degrees for starters. Assume a 70 kg rider and 10 kg of bike, shoes, helmet, clothing and food.

Power required to lift that rider in watts is: M*g*(ascent rate)

Where M is the mass of the rider, kit and bike in kg
g is the acceleration of gravity (9.8 m/s/s)
and ascent rate is measured in m/s
Ascent rate is speed*sinX
Speed in m/s is speed in km/h/3.6

Power in this case =80kg*9.8m/s/s*(1/3.6)m/s*sinX

Here's the fun part. The power actually equals 217W * sin X, and the sin of X is always less than one. So the required power to ride at 1 km/h is less than 217 W, no matter how steep the grade. That means that with right gears and a way not to flip over, any decently fit rider could ride up a telephone pole for an hour or more at more than 1 km/h, assuming he or she could pedal in the required position. The most aerobically powerful riders in the world could climb vertically, continuously at about 2 km/h. I can't lay my hands on it right now, but I'm pretty sure I've seen a photo of pedal powered lifting platform used by telephone repairmen.

Now the second part of the question is, if the rider is on a standard road bike, how steep a hill can he climb and keep the front wheel on the ground. This is going to be more of a limiter than power. I'm going to be a bit sloppy but here goes. If you draw a vertical line through the center of mass of the bike and rider and that line intersects the ground between the wheels, the bike won't flip so long as the rider makes absolutely steady torque on the cranks. If he pulses the torque, he may go over even if the center of mass is between the wheels (popping a wheelie), so lets assume a really smooth pedaler. The next assumption is sloppier, but lets figure that by really standing over the bars, with bars low, the rider can put his center of mass right over the stem. If you've got some math background, you can draw a few pictures and convince yourself that the tangent of the largest angle Y that can be ridden without going over backwards is given by:

Tan(Y)=wheelbase/height to top of stem (I'm ignoring head angle and fork rake. Sue me if you want).

From this we learn that guys on small bikes can climb steeper hills without tipping. If you picture it, you'll see that being tall on a short bike is an advantage here as well. So, what about a numerical answer? My bike has very close to a 1 m wheelbase and a 1 m height to the top of the stem, which makes the limiting grade about 45 degrees, also known as 71%.

The steepest grades the pros actually ride are limited not by their strength or ability to ride without toppling over but by the available roads. The steepest road I'm aware on in a race is the final 200 m or so of the Mt Diablo Challenge (not a pro race) at 16% for a few meters. There's probably something steeper somewhere.

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