Cyclingnews TV   News  Tech   Features   Road   MTB   BMX   Cyclo-cross   Track    Photos    Fitness    Letters   Search   Forum  

Recently on

Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

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 December 16, 2008

More fat burning
Asymmetrical ride position
High blood pressure
Sore thigh muscle
Leg length discrepancy
Heel wiggle
Ankle pain
Crank length

More fat burning

I was curious how weight training would factor into the calorie/weight loss that Johan from Switzerland was enquiring about. Like him I can go on long rides with only refilling my bottles and then maybe a gel towards the end.

I ride a lot in the spring/summer and fall and am on track to finish with around 4,500 miles for the year. I work out in a gym five days a week doing legs/core work three of those five days. I already try to limit my caloric intake. Obviously with winter here and shorter days I am limited to one hour trainer sessions and whatever I can do on the weekends (weather permitting). So my question is then how much does weight training add to calorie burn/weight loss?

Chris Wright
Dover, New Hampshire

Scott Saifer replies:

Great question, because the answer is really interesting. Strength training can add quite a bit to calorie expenditure. For a larger rider, one deep knee bend uses about one kcal. A long session of even shallow squats can use a few hundred calories. Other exercises use plenty of calories as well. The thing is, though, that strength training will not really support weight loss at all for two reasons. The main reason is that strength training will rely mostly on fast twitch muscle and fast twitch muscle uses carbohydrate as it's primary fuel.

A strength training session uses very little fat. You might think, "but a calorie is a calorie, no?" No. If you expend a given amount of energy from carbohydrate, you have to replace that much energy as carbohydrate before your next workout or you'll have a poor workout. Calories expended from carbohydrate stores have to be replaced so there is no weight loss. By contrast, calories expended from fat or muscle protein don't need to be replaced, so exercises that utilise fat as fuel support weight loss and those that utilise carbohydrate don't.

The second reason that strength training is not a great way to achieve weight loss is that when you do strength training, you pretty much have to eat enough protein to maintain muscle mass or you lose strength and vigour. So, strength training won't reduce ft mass, and can't consistently reduce muscle mass without inducing exhaustion.

Pam Hinton replies

Weight loss occurs when you are in negative energy balance, i.e., your energy expenditure exceeds your energy intake. When considering your energy balance,you need to think about it over the course of at least a 24-hour period and not just the deficit that results from the exercise itself.

Additionally, to the added energy expenditure associated with resistance training, there are other benefits. Numerous studies have shown that strength training preserves (to a point) skeletal muscle mass during weight loss. This is a significant benefit, as losing leg strength would be detrimental to cycling performance. Moreover, resting metabolic rate is proportional to lean body mass, so losing muscle decreases your maintenance energy requirements.

High-intensity exercise, whether aerobic or strength-training, increases your metabolic rate for several hours after training, during which time, the primary fuel source is stored fat.

So, the bottom line is that strength training can facilitate loss of body fat while preserving skeletal muscle mass. However, the magnitude of the effect will depend on both training volume and intensity.

Asymmetrical ride position

I saw your latest fitness response on this subject. While I don't have your broad experience from seeing many bikes, I have found a couple of drivetrain combinations that may not be symmetrical as to Q factor. Most recently, I switched from a Dura Ace (7700) triple conversion on an Ultegra triple bottom bracket (which appears symmetrical) to a SRAM Red compact crank set. Before I did the triple conversion the Dura Ace bottom bracket I used was also symmetrical, although narrower over all.

Immediately after the change I had some problems with my left knee that I had long resolved with the Dura Ace setup. When I measured the pedal distance from the (apparently) symmetrical chain stays, the left crank was closer than the right. I have CX-6 Look pedals and when I adjusted the left pedal to be the same distance as the right, the problem disappeared. By the way, the Q factor of the SRAM double was similar to the Dura Ace on the right side.

An old Campagnolo "Racing Triple" crankset I used for a while had a similar asymmetry, which I attribute to the longer spindle needed for the triple crank. Mostly the longer right side on the spindle seemed to be needed to accommodate the inner limit of motion of the matching derailleur on my frame, which has a 35 mm seat tube--Campy specs shorter spindles for smaller seat tubes. I didn't have as much of a problem with this setup but that was 11 years ago in comparative youth and I only used it for a couple of years.

It's safer to say that it's not all uniform from maker to maker, or even year to year.

Larry Klose

Steve Hogg replies:

I haven't seen a Red compact crank and so can't comment. Also, I don't deny that the experience you had took place. My point is that it isn't common (at least in my experience) to see a large manufacturers crank set that has an uneven distance between the outer edge of each crank arm at the pedal hole and the centre line of the frame of more than a mm or so, which is within measurement error. range. All of us have functional asymmetries far greater than that and often do little to sort them out.

I'm aware of the Campag cranks that you mention, but that was some years ago and Campag addressed the situation within a year and their triple crank/ bottom bracket set became symmetrical. They needed to too as I saw a couple of riders for whom it caused problems. I saw a lot more who weren't aware of it in the sense that it didn't cause them any issues that they were aware of. What you say about extra distance needed on the drive side for a triple set is partially correct only. It was more the product of poor design.

Many years ago, Campag Nuovo and Super Record bottom brackets had an axle that protruded more on the drive side but the crank arms were equidistant from the centre line of the frame when mounted. The reason for the longer axle on the drive side was that it allowed greater contact area with the crank in an era when casting and forging methods weren't as sophisticated as they are now and crank failures were more common. More contact area equalled more support.

High blood pressure

I am 46 years old and have been cycling competitively for five years. I have a resting pulse of around 54bpm and a max HR of 189. I have been told by three different doctors that I have high blood pressure (regular recordings of 145/90 and higher)I personally don't feel any symptoms of high blood pressure apart from occasional headaches. My doctor has recommended that I be put on permanent medication and here in lies my problem.

I have been put on a blood pressure tablet that has a diuretic in it and this causes me to cramp in the latter half of races and long training spins. I normally train at an average HR of 140-150bpm for three hours and race at an average HR of 168 bpm; I have recently tried training without taking any medication and did not suffer with cramps.

I do not smoke or drink any alcohol and was just wondering how my figures relate to some who suffers with hypertension? Am I causing myself harm? Although I don't feel like it. Is it possible to find medication for hypertension without a diuretic in it and still continue to race without any adverse effect.

Gerald Francis

Kelby Bethards replies:

In short, yes there are other medications that can be tried. We, the medical community, generally start treatment for Hypertension (HTN) with a diuretic or a Beta blocker. Neither of which you should be taking as a racing cyclist. There are others, ACE inhibitors, Angiotensin Receptor Blockers, etc, that can be used and not dehydrate you or blunt your heart rate.

In your case, I do agree with the treatment. HTN is a "silent" process, in that you don't necessarily feel it. BUT, your heart is a pump and has to push against that elevated blood pressure. So, simply put, more pressure, the pump wears out sooner. Less pressure, pump last longer.

You aren't harming yourself by exercising and if anything your BP is likely lower because of the exercise. So, don't stop that.

But get back into your practitioner and tell them your problem with the current meds. He/she should be able to change it for you. If not, seek another practitioner.

Sore thigh muscle

I am a 36-year-old male, 182cm tall and weigh approximately 78kg. I ride between 12-15 hours a week, including a longer 3-4 hour ride on the weekends. I've never been properly set up on my bike but have never had any real problems with comfort during rides of any length.

In recent months I have started doing more intense sprinting sessions but have noticed that near the end of these sessions that my left lower thigh muscle (vastus medialis) gets quite sore, while my right one seems fine.

I am right sided and have played football in the past so my right leg is probably stronger than my left. But that was a long time ago and I would of thought the strength of my legs would have evened out.

Daniel Hynes
London, United Kingdom

Steve Hogg replies:

The vastus medialis (VMO) plays a part in laterally stabilising the knee. That means that something about your pedaling technique is challenging the plane of movement of the left knee. Common possible reasons are a leg length difference on either side, an uncorrected foot plant on the pedal on either or both sides, an inability to sit square on the seat, a seat height a touch too high or any other factor that tends to destabilise the pelvis on seat under load.

Next time your riding hard, look down between your thighs at the gap between each inner thigh and the seat post. If the gap between left thigh and seat post is greater, you are hanging to the right to some degree which would explain the problem you have. That's probably the most common reason. Get back to me if you need more help.

Leg length discrepancy

I have been riding competitively for four years. I have an athletic background in running and developed severe chondromalacia/tendinitis in my right knee five years ago. This injury prevented me from running at all and actually was my catalyst for turning to the bike. Two years ago I developed tendonitis in my right knee (upper, inner) while training and racing in Italy. Initially I tried to ride through the pain (for about a month) until it got so bad that I was eating ibuprofen on my long rides just to get through.

I then took about a month off the bike until it was eventually pain free enough to ride. I haven't had a problem with it since. Now, however, and since the injury, I've felt as though my right leg is extending more than my left (that the seat is too far forward for my left leg but too far back for my right). This has led me to be "one of those guys" who is constantly messing with his position. I don't have a leg length discrepancy that I am aware of. Do you have any ideas what might be causing this problem? Thanks for your help!

Chris Duffy
Los Angeles, CA, USA

Dave Palese replies

I'm sure for as many coaches you ask, you'd get the same number of different answers to this question. So here is my take.

We're really talking about two different things here.

The first is the workload of the interval, in this case the amount of time you will be producing power in a certain range. The second is frequency. Or, how often your do repeats during a session and the amount of time between them.

As far as workload goes, the length of the interval you are doing to improve threshold power can be almost any length (but I'll be speaking to that statement in a minute) as long as it is more than say 6 minutes or so. Now, that being said, I don't usually prescribe true "threshold" intervals of 45 minutes. I have found that intervals between 6 and 20 minutes at threshold power have yielded the best results with my clients over the years. In my opinion, any thing longer the power towards the end drops enough that minimal gains are realized and the time spent is a bit of waste and can even induce fatigue that can affect later sessions.

Now to the point of frequency: when it comes to the rest between threshold intervals that can vary depending on the workout environment. As a general rule, I usually prescribe 3-5 minutes depending the riders fitness and the time of year. In a situation like yours, doing the intervals on a longer ride, you have little control over the distance between hills, so you are at the mercy of your course. That is the compromise you make when you ride on the road. Now, you could ride up and down a hill or portion of a hill to control the frequency better.

When it comes to threshold training, the length of the rest between intervals is less important that with super-threshold training (i.e., anaerobic capacity intervals). I prescribe the 3-5 minute range of rest so that during a session the client could do, say, 3 intervals of 15minutes with 4 minutes rest between. This gets back to my comments about how during longer intervals the power can drop during the later portions of the effort and be of little significance. When you break the total volume up into smaller chunks, you'll spend more time in the optimal training range, since you'll get a bit of recover every 15 minutes. Then the overall quality of the 45 minutes of threshold training is higher and should yield better results.

So that is my, albeit long-winded, take. Hope it helps.

Steve Hogg replies:

When you say, "I don't have a leg length discrepancy that I am aware of" what have you done to determine whether you do or not?

External measurements don't count as they aren't accurate.X rays or scans, properly taken are definitive. From what you describe you are not sitting squarely and have the left hip further forward than the right on the bike seat. This reduces the distance that the left leg reaches to the pedals and increases the distance that the right leg reaches to the pedals

How's this for a scenario?

You had a pre existing issue that you were unaware of. As evidence is the chrondomalacia of the right knee that you had as a runner. Why the right knee and not both knees?

The obvious answer is some functional or measurable asymmetry. So you take up bike riding and then go to Italy to race and train. Italy is mountainous so it is likely that you had to ride harder in terms of the length and gradients of the climbs as well as possibly the intensity.. So by working harder, your underlying asymmetry asserted itself and your right knee was again the casualty. You have recovered from that now, but I assume you're at home and are not riding as hard or perhaps in as tough a terrain as you were in Italy.

What to do?

Find a good structural health professional who is a cyclist, or who has a cycling clientele, and find out what the issues are. Once armed with that knowledge (and probably with advice from the chiropractor, physiotherapist or osteopath that you see).get back to me and I'll attempt to advise.

Heel wiggle

I am a cat 3 and 45+ racer, my height is 5'7" and I weigh 155lbs. I have a left right wiggle at the bottom of the pedal stroke on my left foot only. I have noticed my son has the same thing going on. We both use Speedplay x2 pedals. We are both 5000+ mile per year riders and have no knee pain. We both use Specialized Pro and S-Works shoes. Mine are new and his are two years old. I use the green insole in mine because I have a high arch, he uses the stock ones.

Paul Mathieu

Steve Hogg replies:

Like father like son I suppose. The left foot 'wiggle' you mention can be caused by the right hip moving backwards at the top of its pedal stroke and then rebounding forward as top dead centre is passed on the right side pedal stroke. It can also be caused by using a seat height that is too high by a few millimetres. If the seat is even a touch too high (but not high enough to cause injury) we will all autonomically favour one side, usually the right, with any fallout tending to be on the left side. What I'd suggest is drop your seat 5mm and get back to me if there is no improvement.

Ankle pain

My wife and I ride a road tandem and have aspirations of doing some longer (100+ miles) rides but her left ankle keeps preventing this.

- We have been fit on our tandem by Paul Swift and Katrina Vogel ( who are friends and who I have worked with before, so I'm very confident the bike fits both of us well.
- Since my wife does not ride as much as I do (she pretty much only rides when we are on the tandem and I race on the road) her natural pedaling cadence is slower than mine but even if I make a conscious effort to ride in larger gears and/or slow down the cadence her ankle will still start to bother her after about 30 or 40 miles.
- Running does not bother her and she has completed two half marathons with no pain in her ankle at all.
- She rides with SPD cleats and MTB shoes and her cleats are adjusted pretty neutral both in terms of fore/aft positioning and in terms of toe in/out.
- We did complete one century last summer and the last 20 miles were extremely uncomfortable for her. Afterwards the pain lasted for at least one week.
- The pain/discomfort is located right above her heel in the Achilles tendon. It's definitely not a muscle or joint pain.
- We both suspect that cycling flexes the ankle LESS than running so this pain is a mystery to us.

What do you suggest we try?

I have considered moving the cleats as far back on the shoes as possible but this would only change their position by maybe 5 millimetres.

I have also considered trying a pedal like the Speedplay X Series to allow as much float as possible but I'm dubious about the benefit as the problem seems to be related to ankle flexing and has nothing (I think) to do with how her knee tracks.

Martin Criminale
Seattle, WA USA

Steve Hogg replies:

Don't underestimate the effects of moving a cleat back 5mm. It may not seem like much but can make a substantial difference to feel and the short term (and sometimes permanent) solution to an Achilles problem almost always involves shortening the foot's lever length (moving the cleat rearwards).

I have never met Paul Swift but do have an email relationship with him. I also that know he has an excellent reputation as a knowledgeable guy. As you are socially acquainted, I would suggest contacting Paul as first option. I'll tell you why.

In an ideal world, a bike fit should be a one off occasion unless the rider changes noticeably over time in a functional sense, or changes equipment. But what can happen from time to time, is that a rider comes to a fit session displaying a particular pedalling technique and what I call on bike "body language". Even if substantial changes to position are made, the rider can sometimes leave the fit session with much the same way of pedalling and relating to the bike as when they arrived.

Then over the next few weeks or months, as the changes in motor pattern dictated by the new position take hold, the rider can change their way of relating to the bike. Usually subtly, sometimes obviously. This means that it can sometimes be necessary for a follow up visit to tweak the position to allow for the changes in technique.over a period, and as you deal with a reputable person, that's what I would suggest.

Let me know how you get on.

Crank length

I am a recreational triathlete and although I notice you guys have tons of questions on crank length I have yet another one. It seems to me that in triathlon applications, especially long distances like an Ironman, it would be beneficial to use a shorter crank at higher rpm in an effort to enlist more slow-twitch muscles and remain as aerobic as possible on the bike. I naturally pedal somewhere between 90-95 rpm and am hoping a shorter crank will also allow me to pedal more perfect "circles" thus being more efficient with my energy. Let me know what you guys think.

John Maalouf

Steve Hogg replies:

Without getting into the enlistment of muscle fibre types or aerobic changes, which I don't know enough about to comment on, if you are in doubt about crank length it is better to err on the conservative side. Whatever your crank length, don't expect going up or down 1 size (2.5mm) to make a lot of difference because it won't. But you are right that over 180kms, a small difference may be a benefit or a hindrance, just don't expect miracles.

In a personal sense, the only way that you'll find out is to try what ever length your thinking of.