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Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for January 16, 2008
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
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
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
a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around
the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find
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.
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).
Scott Saifer replies:
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?
Scott Saifer replies:
What cadences do you do on the various gradients? I'd prefer actual measurements
to recollections based on feel.
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"
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:
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?
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
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:
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.
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
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.)
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.
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:
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
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:
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
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
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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