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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

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

Jon Heidemann ( is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since 1986 Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Owens ( is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

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.

Michael Smartt ( is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete™. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.

Earl Zimmermann ( has over 12 years of racing experience and is a USA Cycling Level II Coach. He brings a wealth of personal competitive experience to his clients. He coaches athletes from beginner to elite in various disciplines including road and track cycling, running and triathlon.

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 July 29, 2008

Sinus problems
Post knee replacement
Start up track training
Crank length
Carlos Sastre

Sinus problems

I am a 26 year old male elite cyclist who has been racing competitively for the last 10 years, six as a pro. I ride road, mountain bike, and cyclo-cross. I have been quite successful over the last 6-7 years on the local scene and even on the national MTB and cross scene, going to Worlds for each along with being a top rider in the midwest.

In April of 2006 I came home from a top 20 overall at Sea Otter and a few days later got what I thought was a cold, or, extreme mucus drainage for about a week - but no other cold symptoms (aches, headache) my legs also stopped feeling good. This went on for 2-3 weeks and I finally saw a doctor who gave me a Zpack of antibiotics after a quick check up my nose.

I continued racing, but my legs were gone and I DNFed the next few and came home. I saw another doctor, took 10 days of antibiotics for a sinus infection because at this point the mucus had moved to the back of my throat with constant post nasal drip and plugged nose that had turned nasty colors. The greenish color went away, but not the clogging, post nasal drip or the constant throat clearing that I needed to do all the time now.

At this point I had cut back training drastically but my legs were still not good and were empty. I also started having extreme cases of what felt like I was bonking, even off the bike and especially after eating. This would happen 4-5 times a day and I would be extremely lethargic and spacey. Any type of carbohydrate I ate would cause this to happen and I could not even ride my bike to work without feeling like I had bonked and extremely lethargic.

This has continued in cycles for the last two seasons and my legs have never come back. I can ride OK at times, even race in the late fall and winter during the cross season with some success, but still with a plugged nose and what feels like hypoglycaemia shortly after eating or beginning a training ride. Sometimes after a large breakfast of eggs and oats I can ride OK for 30 minutes, but then my heart rate will drop more than 10 beats for a steady wattage and I will feel hungry and lethargic, eating a gu or bar will help slightly but will not take away the feeling completely.

I have been gaining weight the last 2 years now because I am constantly eating to stop from bonking and have gained about 12-15lbs even though I continue (or try) to train and be competitive - with very little success compared to what I had previously. My legs rarely feel good, even while training and my recovery is slow. I have taken extensive time off both winters to try and recover from this, but both years after starting to train all the symptoms reappear right away.

According to the endocrinologist, my thyroid, cortisal, testosterone and basic chemical panels are all "normal", she has no explanations after some extensive testing.

I am wondering if you can give me any ideas for other areas to check in - adrenal fatigue, hormone deficiency? I think my endocrinologist thinks I'm crazy, but she doesn't have too much experience with skinny people with weird tan lines.

Tristan S.

Pamela Hinton replies:

I am assuming that you have been screened for diabetes? Onset of insulin-dependent diabetes when in your mid-20s is unusual, but not unheard of.

Has the cause of your respiratory symptoms been determined? It might be worth your time to see an allergist.

Post knee replacement

I am 16 months post total knee replacement. My recovery went well & I was able to start back on the bike two months post surgery. I ride primarily on a tandem, but also trail / mountain bike and just started back on my single. My main complaint is a "dead spot" over the top from 11 to 1 o'clock.

Any suggestions on building back up to eliminate that? I've never been much of a "spinner" and the new knee isn't really into that, especially on the flats, but doesn't mind at all on climbs.

Lincoln, NE

Steve Hogg replies:

You probably have one or both of two potential problems. As background, my experience is that usually the leg with the knee replacement ends up 20 - 25 mm longer than pre operation because typically, the length of bone removed is shorter than the length of the artificial joint. This is because the femur and tibia taper from their diameter at the knee joint fairly quickly. A certain diameter of bone is necessary for the spigot on either end of the artificial joint to be hammered into securely. Usually the upshot of this is that the affected leg increases in length. Initially this tightens muscles as they are now stretched but rehab can sort that out over time. Also flexion of the knee is limited to about 110 degrees maximum providing the rehab is done conscientiously which can be painful.

That means that your dead spot is probably caused by the knee of the now longer leg rising too high and this may be exacerbated if you don't have enough ability to flex the knee over the top of the pedal stroke. Often the only effective solution is to place a substantial sized shim under the cleat of the 'shorter', i.e. surgery free leg. That allows the seat to be raised high enough to allow the surgery affected knee to get over the top of the stroke effectively. The height of shim needed to achieve a good result can be substantial, but individual cases vary. With road and 2 bolts MTB cleats there are purpose made shims available.

However with 2 bolt MTB cleats and the need to keep them recessed in the depression in the shoe sole, it can often be better with large shim stacks to take your MTB shoes to a good boot maker, have the sole taken off, a full length build up fitted and then the sole reglued.

Start up track training

I need some advice on initiating a fitness and training regime for beginner level track racing. I am 6' tall and weigh app 160lbs and have a basic level of fitness but have done no training or fitness work lately. I will be attending the track clinics soon but would like to be in better shape before I begin. Any advice or resources would be very helpful.

Paul Harris

Earl Zimmerman replies:

If it's been some time since you have been on a bike, welcome back.

Attending the race clinics at the track is a great way to learn many of the nuances of the track itself and the different types of races. The good news is that most of the events at the track can be considered endurance events except the Match Sprints, thus a road training plan will help you develop your cardiovascular and muscular systems.

There are several books at your local book store that can assist you with putting together a yearly training plan or finding a coach in your local area is also a good option. You probably don't want to jump right into racing as this could possibly cause some injuries to the working muscles and/or tendons.

There are no short cuts for endurance training and there are various training plans out there, I usually recommend 8 to 12 weeks of endurance work, done at a conversational pace, during this training phase, I would suggest a strength training routine at least two times per week. Followed by the transition to intensity phase of 8 weeks of gradual build up, where your legs begin to burn and your breathing slightly raised.

Follow this with four to six weeks of interval workouts, no more than two times per week and alternate with short spin or recovery rides. During this phase you can begin to develop a higher cadence between 120 - 150 RPM's with specific drills.

For the remainder of this year's season you should take advantage of the weekend open track sessions to improve your bike handling skills. Now, is a great time to watch and learn the different tactics used in the various events from the elite level athletes on Friday nights.

Crank length

I'm 40 and been cycling for over 20 years. Based on my height, 6'2" I've always assumed I should be riding with 175's. I noticed in the pro bike review that both Schleck brothers that are close to my height use 172.5's. Is this a new trend, better for climbing or because they are pretty light?

Scott Saifer replies:

The research supports the idea that there is an optimal road crank length for each rider, but not that it is proportional to height or leg length. I don't know of any conclusive studies to explain why crank length should not be proportional to leg length. I have seen a very tall rider with very small feet who could not ride smoothly on the expected crank length for his height and had to go down a full cm versus the cranks that would be proportional to his height.

I recommend that riders notice whether they can be smooth through the top and the bottom of the pedal stroke. If they can, their cranks are not too long. If they are smooth through the bottom but not over the top, the seat needs to go higher. If they can be smooth over the top but not through the bottom, the seat needs to go lower. If the seat needs to go both higher and lower by these tests, the cranks are too long.


My buddies and I were debating the cause of their cramps in a 2 ½ hour road race. They are drinking 3 big bottles during the race, but eating nothing during the race, no bars or gels. One of their bottles has 300 calories of Heed in it the other two are just water. They weight about 170 lbs. Could the lack of eating during the race be a cause of their cramps?

Mark A. Neumann

Scott Saifer replies:

There are many possible causes of cramps, but yes, under-eating is one of them, and 300 Calories in 2.5 hours definitely qualifies as under-eating.

Pamela Hinton replies:

The recommended carbohydrate intake during endurance exercise (>1.5 hours) is 30-60 grams per hour. At 4 kcal per gram, that works out to 120-240 kcal from carbohydrate, preferably glucose, each hour.

Of course, cramps may also be caused by dehydration or failure to replace sodium lost in sweat. During exercise, fluid should be consumed at a rate of ~1 litre per hour. The recommended sodium intake is 500-700 mg per hour.

It is important to remember that excessive consumption of sodium and/or carbohydrate will exceed the absorptive capacity of the intestine and cause other problems.

Carlos Sastre

Watching Carlos Sastre climb Alpe d'Huez in the Tour it appeared that his shoe cleats were on crooked, as his knees were not going up and down in straight lines. Is it possible in elite competition to get something as basic as shoe/pedal position wrong?

Philip Bryan
Melbourne, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

There are two assumptions you've made that are at least questionable:

1. Sastre's cleats were deliberately set where they were when you saw him. Professional mechanics make mistakes like anyone else, just less often. The cleats may have been loose and have moved after they were installed. I'm not saying this happened, but I'd want to see him ride another day to know that it was or was not deliberate.
2. Knees that move up and down with no side to side movement are good. I've had a client with a hip deformity that prevented his knees coming close to the top tube. He had a choice between riding with his knee out or not riding at all.

It's entirely possible that Sastre tested a variety of cleat positions and found that the one that gave the wobbly knee you saw was also the one that gave the best power or the most comfort. Again, I'm not saying this is the case, only that the idea that knees not moving straight up and down is wrong, has not been proved to my satisfaction.

Steve Hogg replies:

In addition to what Scott says, don't expect pro cyclists to be any better than the general population in a structural sense. My experience is that they are not. As a group they tend to have the same problems and asymmetries as occur in the wider population of active male cyclists in their 20's and early 30's.They also have bigger engines that allow them to do what they do. If you watched the first week of the Tour you would have seen some fairly 'interesting' positions, Piepoli for instance.

I missed the first TT stage and only saw a snippet later with brief footage of the rear view of 5 or 6 riders. Why it sticks in my memory is that 3 of them were dropping their right hips. Just like you'll see in any bunch of club riders. What I'm saying is don't expect perfection as you won't find it.

Self selection also plays a big part. An anecdote. I did some work with a pro from one of the major teams earlier in the year. He is very flexible but has a marked leg length difference. The LLD plus the effects of surgery on one leg after a crash in last years Giro were what brought him here. When I remarked on his exceptional flexibility he said that he was the only rider on his team who stretched and that he felt he needed to but couldn't understand how the other riders could perform consistently without stretching. I told him that all of the pool of potential pros who needed to stretch and didn't had fallen by the way side leaving only the ones who need to stretch and do, as well as those who don't need to stretch and don't.

The other thing that may have contributed to what you saw with Sastre was that it occurred 200kms into a stage and when he was on the attack.. Being tired and on the limit will tend to heighten the structural shortcomings of anyone. The bottom line is that if Sastre couldn't do what he does within the constraints of whatever structural limitations he has, he wouldn't be wearing yellow.

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