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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 May 13, 2008

Training for year round racing
High heart rate
Strength training for cyclo-cross
Thoracic Spine extension
Positioning question

Follow up
Spinal cord injury & available bikes
Junior mileage
15 years away from the bike

Training for year round racing

I am 26 years old and I started cycling about 6 months ago. A month a ago I started racing criteriums. I guess you could call it my new Saturday sport. I have the goal of moving up a couple of grades by the end of the year, from D to B, and maybe next year thinking about longer races.

At the moment it is winter time, I am a full time uni student so my training timetable is as follows:

Monday: 1-2hr ride w/ group or solo including 4-6 hill sprints or 20min, 15min, 15min intervals
Tuesday: rest day due to work commitments
Wednesday: 1hr trainer
Thursday: 1hr trainer
Friday: Off
Saturday: race (30kms) or every 2nd Saturday 2-4hr ride
Sunday: 2-4hr ride w/ a few friends

Considering I am wishing to improve and race at least every fortnight is this basic outline okay. I know I seem to be cramming everything over 3 days but with winter, work and university its the best I can do. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.


Dave Palese replies:

This is one of those questions with no good answer.

In short, the schedule you layout here might yield some improvement in performance for a short period, but then what? Directly, it isn't a schedule I would layout for a client in your situation (of which I know very little, except what you have told us here) and who had the goals you do. And this schedule should be only a part of your overall annual plan.

What you need to do is look at your calendar and break the time between now and your target events into blocks targeted at addressing weaknesses and the specific abilities needed to perform in criteriums.

I suggest finding someone, a club mate, friend or local rider your respect and trust, or a coach, to help you set-up a plan and training schedule to help you reach your goals.

I know it wasn't the answer you were looking for but I hope it helps.

High heart rate

I'm a 16 year old road cyclist who trains 10 hours a week. Earlier in the year I had my tonsils out, and took a few weeks to recover. When I did start to get back in form, I was able to reach really big max heart rates. Several times I went over 210bpm, and once hit up to 216bpm.

Is this unhealthy? Or do I just have a naturally fast heart? Since then I haven't hit so high a heart rate as my fitness improves, despite being much faster and now racing in a much harder grade. Do you get a higher heart rate after just coming back to form and when you aren't quite at your peak or is this unusual?

Scott Saifer replies:

A maximum heart rate of 216 is not too unusual in a rider your age, and yes, riders typically see slightly higher heart rates for a few days after returning from a break, and yes, riders typically lose 6-10 beats off their maximum heart rates as they go from recreationally active to highly trained.

Strength training for cyclo-cross

I am a 32 year old male, 6' 1", 180 lbs. and I have been racing for a little more than three years. I came from playing soccer in college, and still played at a high level up until three years ago where I switched to cycling. I train on the road, but I race mountain bikes and cyclo-cross (with my highest goal being results during cross season). Last fall was my first cross season and I absolutely loved it! I have the time to train for, and be highly competitive in an hour race while still balancing work, and a family life.

I learned last year that power is essential in cross! I have a good grasp for on the bike strength training, but I'm struggling on where in my training week to fit in the gym/free weight leg strength training.

I'm currently doing interval training/hard group rides on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with recovery rides following those days and taking Monday as a complete rest day from the bike. My mountain bike season is more for fun and good hard training while not being focused on results, just the benefit for cross season. Based on Periodization schedules that I've read, I'm assuming that now is when I should be doing my strength training, and then moving into a maintenance phase around September. Where would you recommend I put in free weight training during my weekly schedule to have the most benefit, while complementing my on the bike strength training?


Dave Palese replies:

These types of questions have no concise answer. But here are a few of my thoughts:

1. I'd have you take a step back from the weekly schedule and look at the coming months as a whole. If your cross season starts in September like it does here in New England, then you have roughly 15-24 weeks - depending on where your target events/peak period lies - to prepare for a great cross season. Take those weeks and divide them up into chunks, each with a specific focus. To just go from now through to the fall repeating the same weekly schedule will yield limited results.

2. If you don't have any road racing goals, or mountain biking goals, now is your general preparation period. You should be focused on developing the aerobic engine. 2-3 hard, anaerobic capacity sessions a week is too much. And then to try and pile on strength training that is highly fatiguing, will leave you with very tired legs when the leaves start to turn.

3. All this being said, and taking into account that you mention work and family, don't feel like you have to waste any precious time going into the gym to develop good power for cross. I have several riders who never do a single squat or leg press all season and have some of the highest power to weight ratios in for the short duration efforts. Just remember, more isn't always better. More is just more. And often too much.

4. I suggest enlisting the help of a club/team-mate, a local rider that you respect and trust or a coach to advise you and help you plan your season and your time. It could help you get over a lot of the trial and error and have a great cross season!

Thoracic Spine extension

I just finished reading Steve Hogg's article, "The anatomy of bike position", and a light came on. For a very long time, I have been noticing the position of pro riders and how they differ from my own, and one feature in particular is the horizontal, flat back and sharp bend in the lower back. George Hincapie's position is a prime example; it looks like he has an extra joint in his lower back.

In trying to ride in this position, I notice improved breathing from the opening up and elongation of the chest, but I am unable to comfortably sustain this position for an extended period. I don't have any pain; it is just that it feels somewhat forced, and unnatural. I was wondering if Steve could recommend any exercises or stretches, in addition to a core strengthening regimen, that would help me to improve my ability to flatten out my mid-back and help this position to feel more natural.

Steve Hogg replies:

I am glad that you got something out of it but I am not the person to best answer your question. I stretch a lot because it keeps a lot of old injuries quiet but don't consider myself as having the expertise to advise others. Years of trial and error have taught me what I need but I hesitate to advise others specifically. I draw your attention to two posts by Dave Fleckenstein that sum up the issue eloquently. The first is in regard to which frame to choose? While the second is regarding stretching confusion.

Positioning question

Hi - I really enjoy your column. After suffering from Achilles tendon problems for years, I have moved my cleats back as far as possible with my Specialized shoes. I don't have any problems with them anymore. It would seem intuitive that by moving cleats back, even though I have lowered saddle, that I am still increasing the "reach" to the pedal unless I move the saddle forward a bit.

My question has to do with fore/aft saddle positioning. What are the relative pluses and minuses of having a saddle forward vs. kicked back? Assume that I increase or decrease saddle height an appropriate amount with any forward/backward adjustments. Will I work different muscle groups more in different positions? Is either position easier on lower back and hips? It appears that most triathaletes have pushed their saddle quite far forward vs. Euro road pros positions on their TT bikes. It also appears someone like Fabian Cancellara has his seat pretty far forward, especially compared to riders like Contador or LeMond.

Erik Sass

Steve Hogg replies:

Read the following two posts of Dave Fleckenstein's regarding which frame to choose? and stretching confusion. This article on bike position will help as well.

If you have got the bulk of those posts, you will realise that there is an advantage in having the seat where it needs to be and there is probably a window of + / - 5 mm. For some, that will be further forward or further back than for others. Your structural abilities and proportions play the major role in determining where the seat needs to fore and aft. A couple of things that are important to add.

1. For full muscular enlistment in pedaling, the pelvis must lean forward. If a rider is tight in the way that Dave Fleckenstein describes in the first post (and many are), then the seat needs to be further forward for that rider to be able to angle their pelvis forward. Happily, a pattern of tightness as described almost always is concurrent with poor ability to extend the lumbar and thoracic spine meaning that effective torso length is shortened. That shorter effective torso length means that properly positioned, the rider doesn't transfer unnecessary weight forward and need over enlistment of upper body and shoulder complex muscles to support that weight.

2. If the rider is flexible in gluts, external rotators of the hips, hamstrings and has good ability to extend their spine, then their effective torso length is longer and so they need their seat further back than in the example in 1. I have to say though, that good structural fitness usually goes hand in hand with better ability to support and longer effective torso length which means that the seat may or may not have to be much further back than the rider in 1.

Basically, there are only individual answers to the issue of seat setback. Too far back for one may be too far forward for another. Bar position plays a part in this as well. Ideally and if your seat position is good, we should look for a bar position that gives us the greatest amount of spinal extension as that can be maintained easily under load. Bars that are too low = spinal flexion which in turn = lower effective lung capacity. Bars that are too high = more wind drag. If in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.

Additionally, assume that a rider has a good seat position as far as setback goes. If he moves forward slightly from there, generally ability to maintain high cadences increases but ability to force the gear lessens. If he moves back from his 'good' position slightly, ability to force a gear improves somewhat but ability to pedal fast enough for real speed decreases. The pattern of muscular enlistment also changes. Further back = more hamstrings and greater lumbar flexion and further forward = more quads and less lumbar flexion. Bear in mind that with a good seat (and cleat) position for a given person, there should be a feeling of muscular equilibrium. By that I mean that post hard ride, the legs are tired but fairly evenly and without any localised soreness, just general fatigue.

Follow up

Steve, Pete Moore here from Chicago. I just wanted to follow up with you regarding my progress and get some suggestions from you. After I had the scanogram done, my podiatrist and I have come up with a magic number of 6mm for me in a heel lift with a 4 degree varus correction in all of my street and athletic shoes. The actual discrepancy is 10mm. This has worked out great for me. There was some pain in my back as my spine adjusted but after some adjustments from my chiropractor and a few massages I am good to go. I duplicated the 6mm shim in my left cycling shoe plus two varus wedges and my pedal stroke is great. I had to reduce my reach and get a firmer, wider saddle and I chose the San Marco magma as it is fairly wide, flat and has zero flex with the magnesium base.

One of the symptoms I described to you was that my right hip wanted to slide forward and down on the downstroke and I had more weight on my right sit bone. I followed up with my chiro and he was quite embarrassed but what he never saw was how my spine curved while sitting but straight standing up with the 6mm heel lift. He has since diagnosed me with a left hemi-pelvis on top of the 10mm LLD. So I am great standing, walking, squatting, running etc. But my spine is out of whack when sitting.

This would explain why my right sit bone takes all the weight and wants to come off the right side of the saddle. The shims helped a ton for the left leg especially out of the saddle.

He told me that I best get something made like a pad I can roll up and take with for movies, meetings, restaurants etc. placing it under my left sit bone and to try and sit in firmer chairs.

Reading some previous posts from you I see a few suggestions. Building up the left side of my saddle, modifying a seat post etc. Do you know of anyone who makes a seatpost that tilts left and right as well as up and down I can use? Or what do you suggest? I firmly believe this is the last piece to the puzzle as I am now pain free in my everyday life. Bursitis disappeared and back pain did as well. But after 40 miles on the bike my right side lower back is screaming because my spine is pointing to the left coming of the saddle compressing the right side.

Make sense?

Thanks again Steve and I literally would have been lost without your advice because no bike shop around here has anyone who goes to the last detail of biomechanics.


Steve Hogg replies:

It would be a good idea to confirm that small left hemi pelvis with an x ray or similar. I need a few clarifications please.

Re: your cycling shoes, you say duplicated the 6mm shim in my left cycling shoe. Is that a heel lift as per your walking shoes or a shim outside your cycling shoe and placed between cleat and shoe sole?

Re: left hemipelvis; are you saying that the left ilium is smaller than the right ilium?

You imply that the left ilium is smaller by the measures you are considering but I want to be sure.

Let's proceed on that assumption. If you pack up the left side of your seat or tilt the left side up, you are asking the already short leg to reach further. Either measure will work but you will need to add to the shim that you already have under your cleat because by tilting or padding the seat, you are lifting the left hip and by so doing, asking the left leg to reach further to the pedals.

American Classic makes a seat post in 27.2mm diameter called the J Post. It uses a unique single bolt clamp that when loosened allows either side of the seat to be tilted up by 6 - 7 degrees after retightening. If you are using a seat post with a diameter of greater than 27.2mm, Wheels Manufacturing make shims that will allow you to still use a J Post. There are a couple of considerations though. While tilting the J Post is possible, it isn't what they are designed for. That means that if you are a heavy rider or hit a lot of bumps, they tend to move back towards horizontal over time and so need regular checking.

There are other ways to raise one side of the seat too.

1. If you are using a Thomson, FSA K Force or any of the many other seat posts that have the seat rail clamp located in a hemispherical recess at the top of the seat post shaft then here is a method to try. Get thin washer and bend it 90 degrees or close to that across the middle. Loosen the seat clamp on your Thomson or similar and insert the washer underneath the bottom half of the seat rail clamp on the side that you want to lift. Retighten well and check periodically. The approximately 2 mm thick Campag cleat washers that I often use for this purpose will lift one side of the seat by 6 - 7 mm and may be enough for you. That will depend on how much lift you need on the left side.

2. You can try gluing a dense neoprene or other material onto the left side of the top of your seat. I have tried this with many materials in the past and haven't found it entirely satisfactory. What is better is to unglue the cover on your seat and have it reshaped or added to on one side and then have the cover reglued. To do that though, you need to know how much build up you will need and the J Post or the measures outlined in 1. will help with that.

Spinal cord injury & available bikes

I am looking to purchase a road bike (or hybrid) but suffer from Von Hippel Lindau disease (basically a slew of tumours in the spinal cord & brain). Unfortunately I only have some dexterity & feeling in my right hand / arm so I require all braking & shifting to reside on my right handle bar - my current bike has gear shifts on both handle bars (very noisy & tough to ride - lol).

Are there road bikes that can be modified to accommodate someone like me - I can't foresee using a recumbent as I hate my recumbent exercise cycle.

I am male; 48 years old with very limited road experience (borrowed a friend's bike & loved it despite the numbness in my arms & torso). Not looking to race but would like something that goes around town & on the country roads around here.

Paul Murin

Scott Saifer replies:

If your goal is really just to have a regular bike but be able to control both shifters and both brakes from the right hand, your problem is not that hard to solve. Use whatever you like for the rear shifter and add a bar-end shifter to control the front derailleur. Then a get a brake splitter (they're usually used on tandems) to let you operate the two brakes from one handle.

Or, if you live somewhere flat, go radical with a fixed gear bike and single brake, or a coaster-brake bike.

Junior mileage

As a male U17 junior B-grade racer, I get varying advice about how much riding I can do a week. Some say 200 km, while another U19 rider told me he did about 400km a week when he was my age. I fully understand the reasons behind the suggestion to limit my mileage, but I don't really know how much is enough. Until now, I have been doing about 220 - 300km a week without encountering any problems.

I am average height for my age; approx 175cm tall, and weighing in at about 63 kg. I'm more of a climber or time-trialist than a sprinter. So far, I have been doing commuting on a MTB to school 4/5 days a week (100-150km) and doing weekend rides or races of 70-120km. Once every week, I do sprint training for about an hour and/or an early hammer-session with my local club. I don't know if it matters, but my mtb has 175mm cranks, while my two road bikes have 172.5mm crank sets with the appropriate junior gearing (46/15). Is it possible that this variation between my bikes could have an effect on my performance and/or the effectiveness of my training during the week? Also, is it a good idea to stretch after a ride?

How much should I really ride?

Kristian Juel

Dave Palese replies:

Well, first I'll reinforce that you have entered into an awesome sport for the body and the mind. Cycling is truly a lifelong sport.

As far as how much you should ride... I believe it's better to focus on the quality of what you do on the bike rather than volume of time spent. Make no mistake, you want to ride. And you want to ride as much as you can. But setting arbitrary goals with regard to total miles for the week or month doesn't really target the needs of a junior cyclist, or cyclists of any age or experience

Juniors need to focus on the fundamentals of the sport:
1. Goal setting - This is key. Learn it now and you will be an infinitely more successful athlete
2. Technique - sprinting, climbing, descending, cornering, etc
3. Energy conservation tactics - group riding tactics
4. Competitive tactics for individual and team racing - sprint and lead-out tactics and theory, bridging versus chasing, etc
5. Strategy Planning - this is short for the ability to show up to an event and be able to start developing a plan for the race before the gun goes off taking into account all the variables of the race: course, competition, and conditions, as well as your current condition and fitness.

The above should be learned by practicing. Find a group of cyclists of your own or slightly higher ability as well as someone willing instruct and lead training sessions. Set a day or two a week aside for the group to get together and practice sprint finishes and the other techniques. Pick the techniques apart and learn how to execute the tactics and skills correctly, repeatedly, and consistently.

If you com up with a training plan that includes sessions and a progression targeting these items, the volume you need will fall into place, and you'll develop the skills and the physical abilities you need to be successful. Just clocking a certain number of kilometres a week is an imprecise mode for developing your cycling performance.

15 years away from the bike

I am a 50 year old master's cyclist. Currently cat 4. I returned to racing in 2007 after 15 years away. I started racing when I was around 27 years old and stopped at 35. I stopped racing when I was accepted to graduate school and also wanted to spend more time with my children and watch them compete in their various sports. During the time I was away from racing I stayed active with cycling, running, skiing, hiking and weight lifting. I did not compete in cycling during that time away ....only in some 5k running races. I did not do any intense training for cycling but I would ride for enjoyment and fitness. I did do some interval training for running races but it was not consistent.

I weigh the same as I did when I left racing. I am 5'8" 146 and am in excellent health. In 2007 I put in about 5,000 miles outdoor training miles and logged about 700 indoor. I followed a standard annual training program and competed in about 6 races last year. Needless to say my first year back was a struggle. I was not able to keep up with the better riders and was finishing in the bottom half of the field (3rd quartile) early in the season. I had some better results as the season progressed and started beating some guys that I could not keep up with when I started but nothing like the past. When I left racing at 35 years old I was riding well, scored enough points move from a cat 3 to a 2 in the masters events. I was placing in the prize money for most of the local races I entered.

I have kept up my training over the winter and this year and I am riding stronger, with more training miles but continue to struggle to keep up with the guys that never stopped racing. (Example last year in the 45-45 age group in my first race I was dropped on the first big climb. This year I was able to stay with the lead group for a full lap before falling off the pace.) I expect I will get better as the year progresses.

I want to become competitive again and am willing to work hard to get there. My question: is it possible to gain back the form I had before with a solid training program at my age or was staying away from competition and intense training for that length of time put me at a permanent disadvantage that I can't overcome. I don't ever remember getting dropped on a climb before however it has happened to me now and I don't like it much.


Dave Palese replies:

Welcome back!

It's tough to be looking up the road knowing that you used to be able to be up there in the lead group, but now the legs just can't make it happen.

Well, I can't tell you for sure if a sound training plan will get you back to your previous level of fitness, but it will surely get you closer than no plan or structure at all. Only time and sweat will tell.

I can tell you that I started racing as a junior in 1985, and have been racing with reasonable consistency since then and the sport has changed quite a bit. The speeds across the board have risen. So be ready for those Cat 4 races to be ridiculous fast. They are often the highest average speeds of the day. Even faster than the P/1/2!

Anyway, I suggest finding a local buddy you trust and respect, or even better a coach to help you design a training program that will target the abilities you need to hit your goals. And you should also set some realistic goals to measure your success by. Don't make not riding like you 15 year younger self mean that your season was a complete loss.

Remember, they say that the trip is often more fun than getting there. Savoir every minute on the bike. Enjoy it. Embrace hard work. Be constructively critical of yourself and push your limits.


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