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Form & Fitness Q & A

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

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

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.

Jon Heidemann (www.peaktopeaktraining.com) 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 (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.

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

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

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

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. 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 (www.wholeathlete.com) is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athleteô. 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 (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.

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.

Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) 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 (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.

Michael Smartt (www.wholeathlete.com) 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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com) 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 September 2, 2008

Aerodynamics
Ankle weights
Post dinner hunger
Balance problems on the bike
Crank length
Hypothyroid

Aerodynamics

In a recent fitness answer Scott Saifer said "If you can't engage your hamstrings in the drops, your bars are too low." Steve once replied to me and said that few people he knows have lost appreciable power by changing position, but you imply that positions beyond the capacity of the individual can be limiting, which makes a lot of sense. Can you expand upon this?

Iím always interested in angle of hip closure, which I see as one of the delicate balances that you have to manage if youíre trying to optimize your power to aerodynamics. I know that the bar to saddle drop is going to come into play on road bike and time trial bike when you are trying to get the most out of your position, but are the hamstrings where you being to loose the power with a more aggressive position? Can the aggressive position, too much hip angle closure, be adapted to by spending more time in the drops and/or more time stretching those muscles to allow them to function at greater extremes?

Reid

Steve Owens replies:

Iíll try to clarify that for you. Itís a question that comes up a lot and something every cyclist is after. Few people loose a ton of power when you make changes to a position, but almost all people loose some power when changing a position. Thatís a matter of training adaptation and efficiency. Itís determining, in your case, what is the most aerodynamic position that you can attain because of its tremendous advantages - over 70% (conservatively speaking) of the power youíre producing on the bike goes to overcome air resistance - then taking that position and measuring the power output relative to your Ďbaselineí, or regular position. With positional changes, youíll see power output changes. Itís the process of teaching your body to adapt and perform in that position that is the other important part of the equation. The process is basically three steps:

1. Determine the most aerodynamic position and equipment you can legally use.
2. Determine power output changes from baseline to Ďnewí position.
3. Devise a plan to help you get your power output to original baseline position power - at least.

Now, you mention hip angle. Hip angle is very important also in developing power. When you close the hip angle, you will most likely see a decrease in power (at some point). Power decrease varies from one person to another, as does that angle of the hip and the respective power loss. There are two things I consider and would give advice with - the first being that lower isnít necessarily Ďfasterí, so you might not need to go as low as you think. The other thing is very important - try to maintain hip angle. There are certain exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles that support the way your hips stay. If you close your hip angle, you stretch your hamstring muscles, making it more difficult to produce power. You can rotate your hips back (so they are more neutral), which will help dramatically with power development on the bike. Itís hard for me to write in a few paragraphs what exercises to do, but you can get your body used to maintaining a certain hip angle without too much effort. What it basically would come down to is ride more, and stretch more.

Attaining the most optimal position with respect to power output and aerodynamics is definitely an ongoing process. It takes time and dedication. If you ride your TT bike a few days a week - even starting in the fall for a subsequent year - then youíre doing well. Your body needs time to adapt to the position. And as funny as it sounds, you can in many cases, attain a faster position (from point A to point B) with even an initial power loss. Itís simply because of the relevance of wind drag. That said, when your body adapts to the position, you can make dramatic improvements.

Ankle weights

Hi guys, just a quick one,

What are your thoughts on training on the bike, presumably only spinning, with light (<1kg) weight attached to each ankle? I'm thinking of the boxers and fighters practice of sparring with overweight gloves so that come competition time, their hands would be moving much faster. Does this sound feasible? Or could the extra stress potentially damage the connective tissues, therefore doing more harm than good?

Have you guys ever heard of this? What do you think?

Brett

Ric Stern replies:

It's highly unlikely that adding weights will improve your cycling as opposed to just cycling harder. Why not just cycle harder (i.e. generate more power) and at the same time also develop the skills required to ride a bike at higher velocities. Obviously, to travel at the same velocity uphill (under the same conditions) with ankle weights compared to without ankle weights will require more power to be generated, which would lead to greater fitness, but this could be achieved simply by riding harder. If you were to travel at a slower velocity with weights (compared to without weights) then you'd not necessarily be generating greater power output.

Post dinner hunger

I'm a 21 year old male, 5'9" and around about 155lbs at race weight. I'm currently a 3 around half way towards gathering all of my points to upgrade to the 2s. I train anywhere between 10 and 20 hours a week depending on the time of year. My questions pertains to a phenomenon I've noticed since I first started cycling around 14 years of age, although it's lessened over the past couple of years. I find that some nights, after a full meal for dinner and consistent, clean eating throughout the day, I'm still ravenously hungry. It starts out with a piece of fruit and perhaps a rice cake an hour after dinner although it may degenerate into peanut butter sandwiches or even bowls of cereal. I can eat and eat and eat and feel that my stomach is full but still feel hungry, as if I could eat a second dinner if I wanted to. It doesn't seem to matter what kind of riding I've done during the day. It's happened when I've had hard intervals and it's happened when I've done nothing but a short recovery ride. I haven't really noticed a pattern in terms of foods eaten prior, either; that is, it doesn't only happen after I eat certain things for dinner or the day of.

First, I'm curious as to the physiological occurrences that cause these feelings. Second, I'd like to know if I'm doing something wrong with my diet and what I can do to keep my appetite suppressed after finishing eating for the day.

Jon

Scott Saifer replies:

Congratulations! You're a bike racer.

More seriously, unless you are eating high-glycemic foods off the bike, you are just experiencing what it is to be a fit, athletic young man. If you are eating high-glycemic index foods off the bike, stopping will probably reduce but not eliminate that seemingly excessive hunger.

Balance problems on the bike

I am totally perplexed!!! When cycling I find that my butt (unbeknownst to me) slides left on the seat resulting in me not being balanced on the seat. Going from the upright riding into the aero position exacerbates the problem. I have asked other riders to confirm that I lean to my left and they acknowledge that I am not centred on my seat.

Utilizing the seams in my cycling shorts, I estimate that my seat slides about one and a half inches to the left. In the past I have felt that I was (for lack of better term) leaning to my left but was able to compensate for it. For example, last year I participated in TTs averaging 25 mph. However, this year if I approach 19 mph I feel so uncomfortable that I cannot maintain the aero position and change to the upright position. Some more background...

If I jump on another bike I still have the sensation that I am leaning to my left which makes me believe the problem is biomechanical or something wrong with my overall sense of balance. Just to be sure I had my bike tested to see if it was straight and it passed with flying colours. I had my chiropractor x-ray my legs to see if there was a length differential. No difference was noted. Regardless I put shims on my left Look cleat that measures about 2mm in thickness hoping it might help. I noticed no difference. When I tested my leg strength on a power meter (one leg spinning) my left leg proved slightly stronger than the right.

Steve Hogg replies:

What you describe isn't common but isn't rare either. There are various reasons it can occur so here are a couple of things to check. Firstly, if this is a relatively recent occurrence, what has changed?

Do you have a new frame, a new position, or have you had a crash or other big hit?

Have you changed shoes?

You are seeing a chiropractor who has said there is no leg length inequality. Ask him to confirm that your pelvis functions symmetrically. What you describe can happen (not will happen) when someone has -

A restricted left sacroiliac joint
Any combination of psoas, glutes, QL and hamstrings which are noticeably tighter on the left side. If you stretch, you will know whether you have an asymmetric pattern of flexibility.
A deformity of one ischium (sit bone)

Sometimes there can be a twist in the thoracic or lumbar spine that can cause a rider to sit askew... I would be betting on some kind of pelvic issue. If we have a restriction somewhere in or around the pelvis, it will always be more pronounced when we lean down to the aero or drop bar position. Unnecessarily steep or slack seat tube angles can exaggerate this tendency as well, but torso position relative to horizontal plays a part. I've lost count of the number of riders I've seen who have noticeable functional asymmetries on their road or tri bikes, but these either disappear or aren't as severe on their mtb. The higher bar position is less of a challenge to on bike pelvic stability.

Lastly, your proprioceptive awareness may be skewed. Have you had any neck problems in the recent past?

If you try everything above for no result, or, if while you are investigating you need to ride more symmetrically. Get hold of an FSA K Force Lite seat post with Data Head in whichever offset (there are 3) that you need. On this post the 2 halves of the seat rail clamp are secured along the centre line by a fixture on top that runs front to back. It is in turn secured with 2 screws, one at the front, one at the back. The upper of the two halves of the seat rail clamp have 2 little spigots on them; one either side of the upper fixture. If you file these spigots off, both halves of the seat rail clamp can be moved to either side of the centre line by approximately 12mm. Make this modification and move the seat to the right of the centre line of the bike as this will bring your backside back to the centre line of the bike. I would try 5mm to the right at first and if that isn't enough, experiment incrementally with more.

While this will work, it is worth finding out why you function so asymmetrically. Often situations like this are the end result of 'normal' asymmetries that get worse over time because the rider doesn't do enough structural maintenance. Or if they do, it is poorly directed.

Crank length

Steve Hogg answered a question on the suggested crank length on Aug 26, making some convincing statements about work done at different pedal rates with varying crank lengths. You write about power output in ways I don't understand. Iím hoping you can help me explain this in terms of physics and kinesiology.

According to the laws of physics it takes the same energy to carry a load up a hill no matter who carries it. How do we understand the difference between individual efforts it takes to carry this load uphill? Do we need to consider the potential energy of the person much like a tightened spring?

My buddies with physics degrees insist that there is no difference in the work done yet given the same weight individual/bike systems one rider can feel as though they did more work than the next similar individual/bike. Any help understanding this would be enlightening.

Michael

Scott Saifer replies:

Steve may want to answer as well, but your question seems to have more to do with physiology and psychology than with physics. Two riders of identical dimensions on bikes of identical weight and dimensions would most likely feel that they had done different amounts of work climbing the same hill at the same speed because human bodies do not have a way to measure absolute effort or work. What we can do is feel how hard we are working compared to our own abilities or limits. If your two seemingly identical riders have different power at lactate threshold, one rider will be closer to the threshold than the other when making the same effort, and that's something they can feel. Riders producing a few watts above threshold power feel that they are working pretty hard. Riders who are making the same power but are riding 20 or 30 watts below their own personal higher threshold feel that they are cruising with moderate effort. Does that answer the question you meant to be asking?

Steve Hogg replies:

I agree with Scott, if that's the question you're asking. I think what you mean based on re reading the answer I gave to the gent regarding crank length, is that you think my answer contravenes the laws of physics, which it doesn't. I'd better qualify what I'm about to say by explaining that I'm not an exercise scientist, while Scott and a number of the panellists are, and I would defer to their views in this matter. You're implicitly focusing on the metabolic cost of the rider, whereas the system we're talking about (and I assume, though you don't specify, that the difference in crank length is the sticking point that is concerning you) is comprised of a rider plus bike with the variable being crank length.

If we assume two identical riders and bikes with the only variable being crank length and also measure power at the rear wheel, then the same amount of power will be produced to carry an identical bike and rider up a hill. However the rider with the shorter crank will have a higher metabolic cost because the shorter crank length is a lesser multiplier of the work he performs. His 'twin' has a longer crank length that is a greater multiplier of the work the rider performs, which in turn means a lower metabolic cost, all other things being equal.

That example can't be extrapolated to suggest that longer is always better. There is a cost in turning a longer crank that my explanation above doesn't consider. Shear forces on the knee increase because the knee is flexed more at the top of the pedal stroke and the size of the 'dead spot' in the pedal stroke increases (not in degrees of arc, but in length). So a longer crank usually makes life easier at low to moderate cadences and life harder at high cadences particularly when high cadence is paired with high output. Individual differences in function, proportion and type of riding that the rider prioritises means there is no clear cut 'rule' to determine optimum crank length.

Hypothyroid

I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism. My TSH levels where around 6.0 and 4.95 from the several tests that where done. It looks like I've had this for quite a while. Even though I "look" fit I have always carried around an extra 10lbs or so.

I know this explains why I'm often tired and can sleep through a plane crash.

But my main question is once I get this fixed will my racing ability improve at all? And roughly how much of an improvement do you think I will see?

Anthony

Scott Saifer replies:

There are two hormones that are important in diagnosing hypothyroidism. TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone tells your thyroid gland to make more T4. T4 is the hormone that up-regulates your metabolism. It is standard but somewhat misguided procedure to diagnose people with high TSH as hypothyroid. In the general population, TSH is high when the thyroid gland is not responding normally to TSH by producing normal amounts of T4. The gland is said to be "failing". I call this sort of diagnosis somewhat misguided because highly trained endurance athletes often present with high TSH and normal T4, also called "subclinical hypothyroidism.

You didn't mention how much you train, but if you are serious about your racing, have a follow up test of your T4. Being 10 pounds overweight and frequently tired could be hypothyroidism, or it could be simply overeating for the exercise you do and poor or inadequate sleep.

If your T4 is actually low and you manage to correct it with supplemental T4, your performance will improve immensely. I have had one client go from Masters National Champion level performance to inability to keep up with the local pack after thyroid failure. With supplementation, this rider is back to competing at the old level. If your T4 is not actually low, taking supplemental T4 will not have any effect on your weight or your performance.

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