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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.

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.

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.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.

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.

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 February 2, 2003

Training during seasonal illness
Leg Performance
Weight loss
Cold-weather rides
Training zones
Losing excess muscle

Training during seasonal illness

I wanted to get your take on training during a head or chest cold. I have small children and this year I seem to catch every cold they bring home. Is your advice to train through the colds or rest and fully recover before getting back on the bike?

Mike McCullough

Eddie Monnier replies:

The short answer is if the symptoms are above the neck (scratchy throat, runny nose, etc.) and you feel like training, it's okay to train at light to moderate intensities. If at any time during your workout you feel worse, I would recommend stopping.

However, if the symptoms are below the neck (chest cold, deep cough, etc.), it's best to forego exercising until you are better as the risks of spreading the illness and/or developing a more serious ailment are too great (e.g., persistent bronchitis).

Thomas Weidner, director of the Athletic Training Research and Education Laboratory at Ball State University, did a study where they injected 50 people with rhinovirus. The group was split into two, with one exercising at 70 percent of max heart rate for 40 minutes per day. The other was sedentary except for normal activity (e.g., going to class or part-time work). The group that exercised reported feeling better after working out. The groups were the same as far as intensity and duration of symptoms.

Ric Stern replies:

Whether you train, ride the bike, or rest during your illness, will in part be dependent upon your exact symptoms. For instance, with symptoms above your neck, no fever or (abnormal) muscle aches or pains, and no productive cough it maybe possible to do some easy, low intensity, shorter than normal riding. On the other hand, if you do have the above symptoms then you should avoid exercise. Full details can be found at

Finally, none of this information should replace advice from your physician.

Leg Performance

Hi, I am 27 years old, I weigh 89kg and am 6ft tall. I have been riding consistently now for 4 months and starting racing in the lowest grade at our local cycle clubs. These are short races in the summer of about 45 minutes and I have placed in the top three in my three outings. I train by doing approx. 6 rides per week at an average of 50km per ride, including the race.

I find that when I begin my rides that my legs don't feel that they have the energy that they do at the end of the race, I therefore find it a lot easier to sprint or to dramatically pick up the pace after about 40km.

I do stretches before the ride (standard types) and warm up at 100-105 cadence slow pace for about 10 minutes at the start of the ride. I do have virtually no calves and feel that my legs are a little underpowered.

Do you have an answer for the lack of energy (and tightness) in my legs for the first 30 to 40 km's

Steve Fort

Dave Palese replies

It sounds like your aren't completely warmed up when the races start. My guess is that you are starting the race a little on the cold side, the race starts fast (I'm guessing that at only 45 minutes, the races must be high intensity. A criterium format or some variation), you struggle for the first part of the race until there is a slight lull in the action. After the little rest you get in the low point of the race, just time enough for your legs to open up a bit, and you come back with legs blazin' for the final. At least you got it when it counts! But you'd probably like some legs for the early part of the race too. Here a few thoughts and suggestions for warming-up.

Warming-up is a pretty personal affair. Everyone has their own routines that they use for different events. Each type of event demands a different style of warm-up. The general rule is the shorter and more intense the event, the longer and higher the intensity during the warm-up. So for a short, 45 minute crit, your warm-up might be between 30 and 40 minutes. For a long road race, sometimes just rolling over to the start will do. But let's look at your pre-crit routine.

There are several reasons for you to warm up prior to a training session or race: increased blood flow to the working muscles, increased availability of oxygen to the working muscles; and increased body and muscle temperature. All of these allow the muscles to work more efficiently. You basically want to work for a short time at the intensity you are going to ask your body to work at the beginning of the event. So for a crit, that's a hard effort. For a road race, that might start more gradually, a lighter intensity warm-up might be the ticket. I always tell riders, you want to get that first hard effort out of the way during your warm-up where it doesn't matter.

Let's back up for just a second to discuss race preparation. Preparing for a weekend race, let's say on a Sunday, starts on Friday. I suggest to my riders that they take the day two days prior to an event completely off the bike. If the rider does this a few times and we find that some light activity would be better, then we go that route. But in general, two days prior is a day off.

The day before your race, go out for a short, 60-90 minutes, very easy ride. I call this training day an "opener". The idea is to go out, loosen up after the day off, check your bike over and make sure that you are ready for tomorrow. During this ride do a few jumps of 8-10 seconds. These are out of the saddle sprints from a slow roll, at about 90% effort. Keep the efforts short but intense. How many sprints you do depends. Do them until you feel like you are firing on all cylinders. Once you feel like all is good, small ring it home and rest up for tomorrow. If you aren't feeling good after four sprints, it isn't going to happen, so again, small ring it home and get some rest.

On race day start your warm-up about an hour before your event is scheduled to start. If your races are run anything like most are here in the states, that'll give about an hour and a half before your race actually starts. Unless you live like a three hour ride to your races, there is no better training than to ride to your races and ride home. If you do live a distance from the event, try driving a point that is about an 30-40 minutes away and park your car. Throw a back pack over your shoulder and go. Each week park the car a bit further away to add time. I would say that a ride of 90 minutes is far enough. The ride over should be very easy and relaxing and can include the intensity discussed below. When you get to the venue, stash your bag in a friends car. Riding to and from races will make you look hardcore and you will be envy of all you cycling buddies! After the race ends and war stories have been traded, you'll throw your bag on and ride off into the sunset. Everyone will just sigh and say, "There goes Steve. He's hardcore." Try it sometime.

If you can't ride over, I always tell riders to bring a wind trainer. You probably know the venue for your club race pretty well, but when you travel on weekends to new events, you never know what the roads will be like. The trainer lets you always have an option and a great amount of control over how you warm-up.

Whether on the trainer or on the road, the basic of the warm-up are the same. Take about 10 minutes or so, depending on your time constraints, to just let your legs fall around and loosen up the knees and hips. Slowly, over 10-15 minutes start building the intensity. You should be sweating by this point. Also remember to drink during your warm-up. Now do 2 short, 5 minutes Threshold intervals building up to about 84-90% of your max heart rate. Separate them by 3 minutes of easy spinning. Then spin real easy for 5 minutes or so. Get off the bike. And if you are warming up on the trainer, take he bike off. Get yourself ready to race and go tool around. Find a straight stretch of road and do a couple of jumps similar to what you did the day before during the opener. At this point you should be ready. If you look over what I just outlined, all you have done expose you systems to the efforts you are going to demand of them in a few minutes time.

Try this format a couple times and see how it works. I think you'll notice a difference. Try some variations on it too. Like I said warm-ups are very personal. Find what works for you.

And if you nail a top three again this week, it's time to upgrade.

Weight loss

I'm 55 years old and race on the road as a cat 4 and dirt as an expert. My question is, I'm trying to lose some weight this season. I'm 5'6" and weigh 140lb. I'm in my base training at the present time and am riding 5 days a week and doing weights and treadmill work 2 days. I ride the Computrainer for an hour on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, then, depending on the weather [I live in KS.], I ride 2-4 hrs outdoors on Saturday, and Sunday. On Monday and Thursday I do weights and run, 1 hour workouts.

I know about the calorie deficit and am doing that. My intake is around 2000 calories a day. I'm hungry all the time and my weight will go from 139 one day to 143 next. I can't seem to lose that last 4lb and stay there. I want to be at 135 +/- 2 by April when our season gets going well.

Any ideas on how I can keep it down and not have the shakes all the time?

Dan Perry

Dave Palese replies:

In my humble opinion, I don't think weight loss is something you need to be concerned with.

For a male at 5' 6", and 55 years of age, 140 is a pretty ideal weight. I can't imagine that you have much fat on you at that height and weight.

If you are feeling symptoms of any kind, as you elude to at the end of your message, I would do two things. First I would not strive to create a deficit of any kind. Eat a number of calories equal to your BMR plus the estimated number of calories expended through exercise and activity. If the symptoms persist, I would see your doctor.

But, the long and the short of it is, I don't think weight loss needs to be one of your goals.

Kim Morrow replies:

I read your height and weight stats and immediately wondered if you were a climber. Not many competitive male cyclists are your height (5' 6") and your weight (140 lbs.), unless they have a "climbers" physique. Obviously, we are all unique in the way in which we are built, but I wondered how you came up with this target weight of 135 lbs.

I tend to believe that measuring an athlete's body fat percentage - which also measures lean muscle mass - is a more accurate assessment.

You also mentioned that you are hungry all the time. Be careful in your attempt to create a caloric deficit that produces these symptoms on a regular basis.

One final idea that you might consider is a reduction in the amount of high glycemic foods (i.e. breads, starches) consumed during the winter months. This is the time of year when most athletes training volume and intensity is reduced, and we all have to fight the battle of shedding those last five pounds!

Cold-weather rides

Here in the Midwest, we've been having the normal January surge of cold weather - for the past week it hasn't gotten above 30 F. I've been doing most of my stuff on the stationary trainer but it finally cracked me yesterday, and instead I went out for a couple of hours. Dressed warmly enough, the cold didn't make me too uncomfortable. So my question: does riding in weather that is say, less than 40 F, increase the chances for respiratory sickness? I want to get in my early season distance rides, but is going out in such weather for 5 hours or so more harmful than beneficial?

Midwest, USA

Dave Palese replies:

I have never come across a study or any formal write-up on the subject of cold weather riding being harmful. So, all of my thought as just what I have learned form my own experience and what those before me clued me into.

The first thing that you should always consider when venturing out in the winter cold is safety.

Are the roads safe for riding and do you have the correct equipment/clothing.

Proper layering is key. You should have a base layer against your skin on your upper body, and possibly your lower. Fabrics like Coolmax and Dri-Fit work well to transport your perspiration away from your skin keeping you relatively dry. Next is an insulation layer. The thickness of the insulation layer depends on the temperature. The final layer is the outer shell, which in winter is best if it comes in the form of a waterproof, windproof and breathable fabric, like Gore-tex or the like.

I will say one thing about these fabrics. Many time riders complain that they get very wet on the inside of their jackets in the winter. They paid all this money for the great jacket and they get soaked! Well, I tell you, I have been around the outdoor industry for many year having worked at Backpacker Magazine for several years and then at the North Face for a stint. I have yet to see a fabric that can keep up with the amount of moisture the human body produces when it is at work. But, my motto is "It's better to be warm and wet than cold and dry". So long as you don't spend prolonged amounts of time standing outside in the cold inactive, as your body temp starts to drop, you will be pretty comfortable. Also, a cap under your helmet will keep most of your heat from escaping. Windproof gloves and booties will also keep your extremities warm and toasty.

Now that I have that out of the way, on to your question. The temperatures that you mention are not that extreme. Eddy B. used to say "No sprinting outside if the temperature is below 50 degrees." His thinking was that you would get sick or at least get a bad cough from breathing in all the cold air. If you think about it, this doesn't make much sense. Cross country skiers work out and train all winter in freezing temps, doing threshold and submax efforts, and they don't get sick. Here in Maine, I have gone out for long rides when the roads were clear but the temperature was in the single digits.

Here are a few tips and guidelines for training in the winter cold:

1.) Warm-up longer than usual. If you have efforts planned for your ride that go beyond some simple Tempo riding (sprints or threshold intervals), give your joints and muscles more time to get warm and lubed up. I recommend doubling your normal warm-up time to be safe.

2.) Those insulated water bottles not only keep water cold in the summer but they will keep hot things warm in winter. Fill a bottle with tea, or better yet, and this is a trick I learned from winter camping, take some hot water and dilute a half packet or so of instant Jell-O in it. Very tasty! The warm liquids will help you body stay warmer and cope with all the cold air.

3.) Try to build your long rides around a coffee shop or convenience store stop. Pull in for 15-20 minutes to warm up and have something warm to drink. You also might want to have a snack too to keep the fire burning and keep you warm on the way home.

The simple answer is, 'No", riding outside in cold temps like you have mentioned shouldn't be harmful if you are prepared.

Eddie Monnier replies:

I have never seen any studies linking cold weather training to any respiratory illnesses. Most respiratory illnesses are due to viruses, which enter the body through eyes, nose, etc. after you come into contact with somebody who is contaminated (viruses, left untreated may sometimes lead to bacterial infections). But training outside, regardless of temperature, will not increase your susceptibility (providing you're otherwise healthy).

Furthermore, training outside during cold weather does not cause any other respiratory ailments. Our cold-weather endurance cousins like x-country skiers train in temperatures far below what most cyclists would even consider enduring, and they are some of the most fit of all endurance athletes.

So in addition to following Dave's advice in dressing appropriately, take care for normal cold weather hazards (e.g., ice patches, drivers not looking for cyclists in the dead of winter, etc.) but don't worry about making yourself sick by training when it's cold out.

Training zones

Could you please tell me the heart rate as a percentage of maximum heart rate for each training level i.e. level 1 ,2 3, 4.

Andy Clements

Dave Palese replies

That's a wrong question to put to a group of coaches. You'll get 5 different answers from 5 different coaches. But I'll give you my take.

First, I don't refer to the training zones I define for my riders by numbers. I have found over the years as a rider and then over the more recent as a coach that the numbers are just a bit cold and not so user-friendly. I refer to the zones by names that are more descriptive of the work done in that zone. I have found that riders can more easily understand their training and the use of heart rate as a tool, when they understand the purpose of the zone system.

The zones I use look like this. The percentages are of Max Working Heart Rate:

Recovery (Up to 65%) Active rest, recovery. Very light activity.

Endurance (66-77%) Basic endurance, aerobic capacity. Light to easy activity.

Tempo (78-82%) Aerobic capacity. Easy to moderate activity. You usually break a sweat in this zone.

Threshold (84-90%) Anaerobic Threshold. Moderate to hard activity. Labored breathing occurs at about the mid point in this zone. This change in breathing is known as the VT or ventilatory threshold. It is believed that the VT aligns well with an individuals lactate threshold.

Submax (91-100%) Anaerobic capacity. Hard to very hard. The effort here is pretty much as hard as you can manage for the length of the effort. Submax efforts generally range from 2-6 minutes'

Max (Maximum effort) Sprints. Simply, as hard as you can go. Heart rate does not apply to these efforts as they are too short, 8-15 seconds, for the heart rate to react and rise.

A couple of notes about these zones.

These are also a starting point. Often after a period of time training using the zones that we set-up initially, a rider and I will tweak the zones to more effectively fit them as an individual.

Also you should remember that heart rate is not the end all be all of training intensity. With the advent of the affordable heart rate monitor, I believe riders today are not as in tune with their bodies and the idea of gauging your intensity by feel is something many riders don't know how to do. Make an effort to learn how riding just below your threshold feels as compared to riding just above it. Being able to do so will give you more control over your training and that will make your training more effective.

Eddie Monnier replies:

There are all sorts of theories on how to set training zones using heart rate. I advocate basing zones off the heart rate associated with lactate threshold (LTHR). A true lactate threshold (LT) test requires drawing blood to measure blood lactate (often associated with 4 mmol/L). However, LTHR is affected by test protocol, non-test factors such as diet, stress level, etc. and will vary with changes in fitness. Consequently, I like to test athletes every 4 weeks or so. As such, I use Joe Friel's approach of having the athlete complete a 30-minute time-trial. The average heart rate for the last 20-minutes is a reasonably good proxy for LTHR. We then base the training zones off the estimate as follows:

Zone Approximate % of LTHR Ex of LTHR of 170 bpm
1. Active Recovery <82% <139 bpm
2. Endurance 82 - 89 139 - 151
3. Tempo 89 - 93 152 - 158
4. Sub-threshold Training 93 - 100 159 - 169
5A. Threshold Training 100 -102 170 - 173
5B. VO2max Intervals* 102 - 105 174 - 179
5C. Anaerobic Intervals* >105% 180+

*HR is not really meaningful when doing intervals at these intensities because the interval duration is so short that HR doesn't stabilize.

Heart rate is one way to gauge intensity. It is perfectly suitable for lower intensity efforts. As intensity increases, however, heart rate becomes a less useful metric for intensity because of the lag between actual effort and heart rate. The other ways of measuring intensity are RPE (a subjective rating of perceived exertion) and power. Power meters, which are becoming more affordable, offer objective and instantaneous feedback on intensity. Each metric has its inherent strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, training zones (whether by heart rate, power, RPE or all three) in and of themselves are not particularly meaningful. It's how you use them in your training program that's important.

Losing excess muscle

I am 6'2" and 185lbs (riding weigh). I feel that I carry a little too much weight above my waist. The problem is, that it's not fat, but muscle. Genetically I am more predisposed to increase muscle mass.

Can you prescribe a training program or exercise that would allow me to trim or slim this excessive mass?

Jason Kilmer

Dave Palese replies:

You might want to try a strength training program based on higher repetitions, 25 for upper body; 20 for lower body, and lighter weights.

The style of strength training I would recommend would be circuit training. With circuit training, you get the strength building benefits with the added bonus of a quality aerobic workout. Plus, using lighter weights, the risk of injury is greatly reduced.

In circuit training, a circuit is defined as several exercises or stations that work different or similar muscle groups. Circuit training is done by performing one set of one exercise, then one set of another exercise, then one set of another exercise, and so on, with little to no rest between exercises, until you complete the circuit. A circuit can contain as many stations as you like, but I would try to limit it to 8. When you have completed a circuit, you will rest and then repeat, completing the number of circuits you want to do that day. The key to effective circuit training is to keep a steady pace. Gym machines work really well for this style of strength training since the transition time between exercises is reduced.

A circuit training workout I might recommend is this:

Warm-up for 10-15 minutes with some light aerobic activity.

Then complete 2 circuits as follows:

Chest Press
Bicep Curl
Triceps Extension/Press
Lat Pull-down
Shoulder Press
Abs (2-3 exercises; 20-30 repetitions each)

The exercise names above are vague on purpose. You should use exercises that you like and feel you get a good workout from.

Start by doing 2 circuits, doing 25 repetitions for each exercise. Again, try to limit the amount of rest between stations. Rest for 3-5 minutes between circuits.

The weight you use should be one that allows you to complete all of the repetitions, with the last 3-4 causing a noticeable level of fatigue, but not pushing you to failure. Lift with a smooth and controlled motion. Twenty repetitions should take you 30-40 seconds to complete. Work up to doing 3-4 circuits.

[Jason then asked Dave how often the program should be repeated]

The frequency with which you do this can vary. Not only according to the time of the training year, but also to the individual and the schedule they have for training.

Here are my suggestions:

During your General Preparation period (Nov-Feb), you might want to do circuit training 2-3 days per week. During the Specialization period (Mar-Apr), you'll want to reduce the days in the gym, in favor of more on the bike training. Through the Competition period (May-Oct), you could hit the gym one day a week and combine both legs and upper body into one circuit and do it 1-2 times per session.

*Note: The breakdown of the periods above are generalizations. Your yearly schedule may be different.

Ric Stern replies:

Your weight sounds fine, however, as you're aware the more you weigh the more power you have to produce to travel at a given velocity.

If it is mainly muscle that you need to loose then the best option is obviously to shed some of that bulk. This will be achieved through disuse of those muscles. Therefore, you should do no upper body work, other than that required by your daily duties. Over time, you will loose the muscles that you do not require, which will result in a lower weight.

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