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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 April 15, 2003

Is my haematocrit too low?
Rest weeks and peaking
Leg strength
Picking the right hill
Recovering from surgery
BMX training

Is my haematocrit too low?

I am a 35 year old male cyclist who has raced on and off for over 12 years.

I also donate blood on a regular basis, and in doing so I get a report of my haematocrit from the Red Cross nurses. The last time I attempted to donate blood, I was deferred because my haematocrit was too low (only 37 percent). And, in the past my haematocrit has rarely been above 39 percent.

My question is, could this low haematocrit be affecting my cycling performance? And are there any LEGAL means I could use to raise my haematocrit to a more normal level? What is considered a below normal haematocrit for an athlete?

Paul Stock
Columbus, Ohio

Kim Morrow replies:

It sounds like you have had your blood work tested several times over the years. Gathering information regarding your individual haematologic profile (including red blood cell count, haematocrit and hemoglobin) is both helpful and important. I'd suggest discussing this issue in detail with your own physician. A haematocrit test is often used as a diagnosis for anemia. This may or may not be caused by an iron deficiency and this may or may not apply to your situation. But, your doctor will be able to help you figure it out. Let me try to answer a few of your questions though.

Haematocrit levels will vary between individuals, as well as between males and females. The normal range for haematocrit in adult males is 42-52 percent and for adult females is 38-46 percent. (These values will vary slightly between laboratories.)

As the haematocrit is raised, the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is improved. This has been shown to be beneficial for endurance athletes such as cyclists, runners and cross-country skiers.

You asked, "...are there any LEGAL means I could use to raise my haematocrit to a more normal level?" Some athletes use the 'live high, train low' approach to altitude training to raise their haematocrit. Although, not all athletes benefit from this type of training. Altitude chambers are becoming more popular and are a convenient alternative for athletes who otherwise would have to travel to train at altitude. Of course, the ethical issues of using these altitude chambers is a whole other discussion. I won't get into that in this response.

Finally, you might consider including more iron-rich foods in your diet.

Rest Weeks and Peaking

I am a 27 year old Cat 2 who has had some sucess in local and national level racing over the last ten years. This summer I have the time and energy to really gear up for some regional and even national level racing, Fitchburg, Bear Mt., Univest. In the past I have always got into good shape, but I reach a point where I need some structured rest. I either overtrain during the rest week(though at the time it seems good) or undertrain and loose fitness.

I am 5'10" weigh 150lbs. and do well in races that have moderate hills to get rid of pure sprinters, after which I can usually clean up in the sprint, though it is usually for fifth or sixth place. I climb well in shape but blow up easily if I get over active in the race. My best finishes are slow uphill sprints. My big weakness is long time trail efforts, so I will be doing some twenty minute threshold rides when I am fit enough, but in the past they have given me dead legs. I have a high VO2 max(70+ in shape), but low efficiency. Based on race results I think my slow and fast twitch muscle fiber ratio is balanced slightly to the fast side. The few race victories I have had all came from small group sprints.

What is your recommendation for finishing up one training cycle and beginning another at a higher level. I usually get one and a half months of base with some weight training, followed by teasing my form little by little with sub-threshold and tempo riding. After a several groups rides and a couple of VO2 max intervals(up hills and on the flats), I start racing. My form usually lasts five weeks, after which everything falls apart afterwards. Do I take the rest week(8-10 days) and start all over? Do I cut the racing short after three weeks and rebuild with less rest (5 days), or do you have another recommendation?

David Gitt
Brooklyn, NY, USA

Eddie Monnier replies:

Peaking is truly an art, not a science. The number of peaks that can be achieved in a season will depend on many factors, including the individual's responsiveness to training and the duration and rigor of the event (e.g, fewer peaks for three-week tour riders than vs. single day racers).

Periodized training for endurance sports involves manipulating volume (frequency and duration) and intensity. Throughout the annual training plan it's important to schedule periodic recovery periods so that you allow your mind and body to recover to maximize the effectiveness of your efforts during higher intensity periods. As a matter of convenience, I usually prescribe week-long blocks with multiple weeks comprising a phase (with full-time athletes I don't constrain myself to week-long blocks). Although it's athlete specific, I will generally assign a recovery week every third or fourth week at the end of the phase.

Note that a recovery week isn't a complete week of the bike. While there will generally be a reduction in volume, it usually includes some intensity albeit less than a "Build" week (e.g, it will frequently involve fitness testing). There's no magic formula that fits everyone; however, I find that 3 weeks on with 1 week off works well for many athletes. I also use 2 weeks on, 1 week off frequently, especially with Masters athletes and in those who are too tired to achieve quality break-thru sessions in the third week of 3:1.

In my experience, the peak itself will generally last up to three weeks but usually closer to two. I find it fairly common to see a significant drop off in performance following a peak. For someone doing primarily single day and shorter stage races, I generally prescribe a transition (no bike training, rest with some cross-training okay) of 4-7 days after a peak to allow the athlete to rest physically and psychologically. This also allows the athlete to have in-season vacations with family members who sacrifice a lot for the athlete's love of sport. The intent is to allow recovery while not losing too much fitness prior to working toward the next peak (which I like to schedule at least six weeks later). How to start the next phase depends on how far off your next A race is and how different your limiters for that event are versus the just completed A race.

To learn more about periodization, I suggest you read work by Tudor Bompa or Joe Friel and/or hire an experienced coach.

Ric Stern replies:

Having a rest, or better yet a recovery week (reduced volume, but generally similar intensity) is an integral part of training and adaptation. During your recovery periods is when you increase your fitness, and feel better. The recovery period can also allow you to mentally take a break form the taxing efforts you've been completing prior to the recovery.

With such a high VO2 max, it's likely that you are more 'slow twitch' than fast twitch. To confirm (or not) your thoughts on efficiency, the lab that tested your VO2 max will also be able to test your efficiency, although efficiency does alter for both the absolute power that you're riding at, and cadence you are using for a specific power output.

If your weakness is TT efforts, which are important to you for staying away in a RR, and also important for your performance ability in general, then you should really get started on them as soon as possible. Sure, they might hurt (although you may be attempting them too hard), but they will improve your ability. It definitely sounds like these intervals will improve your general bike riding, such as helping prevent you to blow up from being over-active in a race.

Rather than doing lots of VO2 max type intervals (for example, several plus minutes at high intensity, repeated frequently), you'll be better off sparing these efforts and doing the longer (20mins) intervals at lower intensity. Allied to this you should also do plenty of tempo and endurance riding. The very hard VO2 max type intervals can be quite debilitating if done too frequently.

I feel that the frequency of recovery periods needn't necessarily be dictated by a specific time frame (for example, every fourth week -- although this can be a good starting point) as different training periods provide different physiological stresses, and different recovery time frames. In, for example, base period it might be possible to go for a longer period of time without a major recovery period (such as 7 days) and might only require small recovery periods (for example 48 hours every so often). However, during intense periods (for example, racing, and when completing lots of high intensity intervals), more frequent and/or longer periods of recovery maybe needed.

The other important aspect is to keep a training diary (I use Cross Trak) so that you can look back over large periods of time and see what happened with your training, and maybe ascertain why it happened. This sort of specific information can be very useful to a coach, who can fine tune your programme and/or make bigger alterations to help with your programme. All the coaches on the Q&A Board would be able to help.

Leg Strength

I am a 45 year old, 78.5kg, pretty serious road racer always looking to improve. I want to improve my leg strength, but time does not allow me to get to a gym.

I have been riding hills in a big gear at slow cadence eg 50 to 60rpm. A couple of questions:

1. Is mashing big gears the way to go?
2. If yes, what cadence is ideal for max effect?
3. What heart rate should this work out be done ?
4. How often and at what stage of training is this work out best suited?

Henry Hayes
Tzaneen, South Africa

Brett Aitken replies:

I'm sure your scenario of time restriction for gym training rings a bell with the majority of cyclists. When this is the case 'on the bike specificity' is definitely the way to go.

When it comes to improving leg strength on the bike your idea of riding big gears in the hills is renowned as being one of the best ways to go about this. The only thing I would suggest is that you lift your cadence to around the 60 to 70rpm range as anything below this puts a very heavy amount of stress on the knees and patella.

If your focus is on building strength then heart rate is irrelevant but it is closely related with cadences; that is, higher cadences for the same power output equals higher heart rates. Knowing this you can increase the force on the muscles by dropping the cadence, maintaining the same power output but not increasing the heart rate. If you wish to do this then there is no problems going down to a cadence of 50rpm but I would highly recommend that it is done on an indoor trainer.

Finally this training phase should be introduced in the latter stages of base training (6 to 8 weeks). Introduced too early you will run the risk of injury.

Picking the right hill

I live in a hilly area and am obliged to ride one of two routes to get to home. The first finishes with a steep hill that takes me to 90 percent of my maximum heart rate for about three minutes and then I am in the door without any time to wind down. The other route is a fifteen minute climb at 80 percent of my maximum including a short climb (14 percent) that takes me to 90 percent and then a five minute spin home. I am often able to keep the rest of my ride in the appropriate zones and am wondering which option is going to allow me to recover better? Is there something I could do after I get off the bike that will help (I don't own a trainer)?

Brett Aitken replies:

In terms of making your cycling route part of your training program to best effect then I would suggest that you use the second climb which takes you 15 minutes. This is the perfect length of time for a climb to obtain a benefit and improvement of your anaerobic threshold which is vital to your cycling progression. Providing you already have a good base of training then adding this climb in twice a week at time trial pace will give you an added improvement in cycling performance. Of course this should be structured around a good training program of specific training and recovery miles to enhance this training to best effect.

Without a doubt this climb will also help you recover better by allowing you to spin home lightly and thereby cool down and flush the legs of any lactic acid build up. Afterwards it would be of benefit to do some light stretching to reduce any tightness from muscle fatigue and massage will also enhance your recovery.

Recovering from surgery

On January 23 this year I underwent surgery on my spine. I had two disks removed, between c-5 & c-6, and c-6 & c-7. They put instead two bones from a bank, and a titanium plate, plus five screws. They sliced me from the front, and the bones are supposed to fuse with time.

One doctor told me after the surgery I would need to stay away from the road bike for 6 months; he is a roadie himself.

The doctor who performed the surgery (excellent doctor, but doesn't practice any sport) told me I could go back to my road bike after three months, and to the MTB after six months.

I am a little confused. A part of me wants to go directly to the bike at the end of April. But I am a bit concerned to what the other doctor said about waiting six months.

I have been on the trainer for a month now. I started with 15 minute sessions and built my way to two hours so far. But I do take rests on my neck (not spending all the time with my hands on the handlebar, some times I sit up) and of course I'm not wearing a helmet on the trainer, so my neck is only carrying my head, I don't know how much uncomfortable it will be with a helmet.

In Mexico you cannot be without a helmet, too dangerous.

Laura Franco

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

There are really two factors that I would look at with return to cycling. First, the fusion must be solid with no motion present - this typically takes about 8-12 weeks. Your surgeon will most likely x-ray the fusion to evaluate how this is proceeding. Secondly, the small stabilizing muscles in your neck must be strengthened to provide stability above and below the fusion and to protect your spine in the event of the inevitable first crash.

I work with 200-300 cervical fusion patients per year and I additionally include treatment to optimize alignment and normal muscular flexibility of the spine. I also 'relax' the road and mountain positions slightly at first - this will reduce the shear on the spine and decrease the initial stress. I would definitely recommend some type of specific rehabilitation.

I agree with the return to road riding at three months and mountain biking by six months. This is a relatively conservative estimate and is very appropriate to ensure that all is well. I have had some advanced patients with excellent strength and mobility of the spine and optimum surgical outcome return to mountain biking at three months. My biggest concern is the 'what if' of a crash. You and, more importantly, your physician must have full confidence that you have adequate protection mechanisms in your spine to tolerate a spill. One surgery is enough!

BMX training

I started racing BMX at age of 31. I started on standard pedals and slowly got faster, then I went to Shimano clipless pedals, and straight away I had much more speed. I could spin the bike with a 39 front, 17 rear and 185 cranks with a 24" wheel. I seem to have good spin, but no power to get it out of the starting gate.

The other problem is I had some bad crashes and quickly lost my confidence. I am 38 now and would like to finish what I started. Don't be to surprised about the age thing, because there's guys 50 racing. And old farts like me ride 24" wheeled bikes.

So please can you help with training, because there is absolutely no one that will help me in the BMX world. And I want to smoke them like I used to!

Grant McGonagle

Dave Palese replies:

I have some BMX experience in my past but it was some time ago. Almost 20 years ago! Ouch!

BMX, as best I can remember, and I didn't analyze it to this decree at the time, is a series of high cadence, high output sprints. The first comes out of the gate and lasts until the riders go for the hole shot. Then it is repeated quick accelerations, one after the other, through the length of the track.

Knowing what I know now, I would say that your training week should include 1-2 days of aerobic training on a road bike. This can't hurt. 90-150 minutes of riding at a fairly light intensity, using a higher cadence, 100-110 rpm. The higher cadence will help promote a certain suppleness in your legs.

You might ask, why would I want to do this type of training for racing BMX?

Training that focuses on training the aerobic system has many benefits that will help support the harder, race-specific training you'll do. These include but are not limited to: increased capillaries density, mitochondria and enzymes within the muscles. These days could be sandwiched between some harder, BMX training days and would serve as active recovery between sessions.

One day a week I would suggest a shorter workout that includes Standing Starts, done on your race bike. You could do them in a field for better traction or if you have a access to a gate or practice gate, you could ideally do them there. These sprints last from 8-10 seconds. The effort is Maximum. Explode to get on top of the gear and reach your maximum cadence. Sustain that cadence for the length of the effort. Rest with easy spinning for 5 minutes between sprints. Start with 8 Standing Starts or as many as you can do before you start to feel sluggish. Add 1-2 sprints each week.

The other workout I would suggest is a variation of the a Crit Sprint workout we roadies do. These sprints consist of multiple sets containing a number short maximum sprints. From a slow roll, sprint hard for 10 seconds, then spin easy for 10 seconds, sprint again for 10 seconds, spin easy for 10, and so on. Start with 3 sets.

Each set contains 6 sprints of 10 seconds each. Rest between sprints is 10 seconds. Rest between sets is 5 minutes. Also, with such a high cadence, mechanically chaotic effort, I would recommend a good flexibility regime be followed 2-3 days per week, preferably following your workouts.

Finally, if you were faster with clipless pedals, use them. When I was racing there was no such thing as clips - just bear trap pedals and an old pair of Vans!

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