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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.

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.

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.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 (www.wholeathlete.com) 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 (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.

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.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) 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 MyEnduranceCoach.com, 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 22, 2003

Leg length discrepancy
Hill training
Picking the right hill
Leg Strength redux
Full-Time vs. Part-Time Training

Leg length discrepancy

I am a Cat 4 road racer living in Chapel Hill, NC, USA. I started cycling 3 years ago, coming from a running and speed skating background. Over the course of the last three years, I have primarily cycled and hardly run or skated. For some reason, my left calf has become visibly larger and more muscled than the right and, I suspect, stronger. The left calf is probably a third larger than the right. I think my left quad is also more developed, but it is harder to tell. However, this does not seem to affect my cycling and I don't notice it except in the mirror. Should I be concerned? Should I try to even them out somehow or see an exercise physiologist or someone who can evaluate my pedal stroke? Is this a common problem among cyclists?

As a runner I was plagued with numerous ankle injuries and IT band tendinitis due to my left leg being 1/8th inch longer than the right and general ankle weakness. Also, as a speed skater, my left leg was more devloped from always skating the same direction around the track, but that was 9 years ago.

Liz Hansen
Chapel Hill, NC

Dave Palese replies:

Muscle size imbalance is pretty common among people in general. In those that are more fit and leaner, it is more noticeable. Bodybuilders are constantly trying to overcome it.

I don't know for how long you were speed skating, but the size imbalance you mention with regards to skating may never totally go away.

If you suspect that there may also be a strength difference between the two legs, you could do single-leg exercises in the gym to try and balance things out. A word of caution when doing single leg exercises: start with lighter weights. Go considerably lighter then you might think to start. Using lighter weight will allow you concentrate on good form and avoid injuries. You did mention that this size difference has no affect on your cycling, so you may not need to address it in the gym. I, in my earlier days, used to skateboard a lot, and my right calf is noticeably larger then my left. When I'm in a pace line I always a few comments.

You mentioned that your right leg is an 1/8th of an inch shorter then your left. There is a company, I forget the name, that makes shims that go between the cleat and the shoe on the short leg, effectively making the leg longer. Although, an 1/8th of inch is not that great difference from a positioning standpoint.

I would have an experienced coach help set your position on the bike. It always helps take out the guess work and get the most for every muscle contraction.

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

A leg length discrepancy of an eighth of an inch is negligible - the human body is rarely symmetrical, and I rarely do anything to clients with that little of a difference.

However (as I open the can of worms): With higher level athletes these small asymmetries can be significant and I would pay attention to it particularly with significant muscular differences.

My one question is how that number was arrived at - the most accurate technique for measuring for "true" leg length differences is a long leg x-ray. Most other methods - particularly the "tape measure method" - have significant margins of error and poor inter-and intra-tester reliability.

I would recommend having a physical therapist, kinesiologist, exercise phys, or sports med chiropractor evaluate your flexibility with specific attention paid to your left hip flexors. I would suspect that the left are significantly tighter than the right due to the increased left side hip flexion of speed skating. Since the hip joint is in front of the axis of the pelvis, this would potentially create an "apparent" leg length difference. I am working with two hurdlers and a couple of right-dominant soccer players who have exactly that problem and have magically "leveled out" just by regaining normal length of the musculature that inserts on the pelvis (that is, the iliacus, psoas, rectus femoris, hamstrings, TFL, ITB, and hip external rotators).

It is possible that, through skating, you've simply developed the neuromuscular response of your left leg more than your right and, have not presented an adequate stimulus to your right leg to gain an equivalent response. When combined with a long left leg (either true or apparent) you would continue to preferentially load the left leg. Once you have your flexibility evaluated and reestablished, I would consider some single leg work in the gym (particularly leg press and plyometrics) and possibly some single leg work against significant resistance on the wind trainer. Using a computrainer-type spin scan would also be valuable.

One other important thing that I am obliged to add in for the readers - I am making assumptions about Liz's medical history due to her report. I have seen healthy cyclists with significant difference in calf sizes of acute onset (short time span) actually have a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot). While highly unusual, any acute change in leg size or circumference should be addressed immediately.

Hill training

I am writing on behalf of myself (45yrs and 78.5kg), Gerhard (34 and 74kg), and Jaques (30 and 68kg). We train as well as compete together, and we are all pretty passionate about the sport.

I need some clarification on hill training. We have a number of long climbs in our immediate riding area, from 6km to 15km, of varying grades, between 3.5 percent average to 8 percent average.

Assuming time is not an issue, is it better to ride the whole hill and repeat it whether it is 6km, 8km or 15km in preparation for racing, or do you get better a quality workout if you take a section of those hills and do 5min, 8min, 10min or 15 min interval with an active rest before you repeat the interval?

Obviously you can make your total interval time the same as the single climb or climbs if that is the issue.

If the interval is the way to go because the quality is better, then what is the benefit of riding long hills in the broader scheme of things?

Henry Hayes
Tzaneen South Africa

Dave Palese replies:

In the April 8 edition of this section, I answered two questions about hill training. You may want to give those a read. As a very general statement, the shorter the hill, the harder you should go up it from a training standpoint. "Hills" that take longer than five minutes to ascend, I consider to be a climb. The effort on these hills is a Threshold based, steadier effort. Shorter hills, lasting three minutes or less are what I call 'power' or 'sprinters' hills. The intensity on these hills is higher then that described above. Try climbing these hills at an aggressive pace, but not a sprint. Once you are halfway up, shift one or two cogs harder and attack to the top. Give those earlier responses a read for more details. Training different length hills in different ways will give you a few more cards to put up your sleeve on race day.

Periodized training

I'm a 33 old road racer and I train from Monday to Saturday at 5:30 AM. I race in a monthly basis, therefore I would like to know which is the best way to periodize my training. All the articles that I have read or books focus on yearly periodization of training. I usually have four weeks between races.

Carlos Garza

Dave Palese replies:

I would suggest that you still view your overall training plan by the year.

Although you race once a month, the training aimed at improving your performance in those events is done over a period of several months. I suggest choosing 1-2 races a season and building a periodized training plan, using the books your referenced, around those priority events.

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.

Mark Friedländer
Australia

Ric Stern replies:

I too live in a hilly area with a very steep climb to my house, so I know the pain!

The overall intensity of the ride will be what most affects your recovery, along with what you eat during and after your rides, along with your general daily diet. It's important to eat some high glycemic carbohydrates when you arrive home to help restore muscle and liver glycogen for subsequent days' training. Depending on the intensity of the overall ride, your training phase and whether you are riding again within the next 24-36 hours you should aim to consume 1.0-1.5 g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass so a 70 kg person should eat about 70-105 grams of carbohydrate. You should also drink plenty of fluids - make sure they don't contain caffeine or alcohol as these will impair fluid absorption.

At the end of a ride it might be beneficial to cycle around for a few minutes in a low gear to cool off and wind down - if you have a small stretch of flat road at the top of your hill (mine's about 150 metres long). You may also find it better to just 'plod' up the hill to your house at the end of a ride, so that you aren't gasping for breath as you get in the door. The technique I use is to stand up and just try to take it as easy as possible up the hill, using this technique I can ride up at about 60 percent of my normal power.

Leg Strength redux

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

Ric Stern replies:

Often people feel that they lack strength to perform a certain cycling situation. However, for the majority of cyclists (i.e., endurance cyclists) this isn't the case. Very little strength is actually required to get the pedals over and the forces that are required are way below what can be generated maximally. Maximal forces can only be generated at very low or zero velocity, such as pushing against an immovable object (e.g., a brick wall) with your legs. These forces would be far higher than that needed to turn the pedals even up a very steep hill. For more information, see the article I wrote on this subject last year.

Thus, for improving endurance cycling performance in riders who are trained I see no point in gym work/weight training. Leg strength will not be a limiting factor unless you have some sort of medical condition, that adversely affects strength.

What might be happening is that you can't generate enough power output for, say, climbing. In other words, your power to mass ratio might not be high enough. You'll therefore, need to improve the amount of power (fitness) you can produce so that you can travel faster under given conditions. Excellent ways of increasing fitness (e.g., lactate threshold power, TT power, etc) are to regularly include 20 minute TT type efforts into your training. These should be performed at a few percent down on your regular TT power (if you have a power meter) or at an average HR a few beats/min below which you would TT.

Cadence itself, is a secondary issue and one that is not overly important for road cycling. However, at a given power output under given conditions, heart rate will be higher at higher versus lower cadence. Cadence is determined by the gear that you are using and the speed at which you are traveling.

On a personal level I choose to do these intervals at a normal road cadence (85 - 100 revs/min) on the flat and whatever on a hill (determined by the power I produce, and my lowest gearing). I would tend to schedule intervals like these for the majority of a year, but would alter the frequency and volume of them.

A few studies have looked at 'mashing' versus trying to pull on the pedals. In one study it was shown that elite endurance cyclists 'mashed' down more than less elite cyclists, with neither group being able to pull up very well on the pedals.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Training

I am 27, a solid Cat 2, and have done 45-60 races a year the past three years. I currently train 10-15 hours a week very consistently (and have a coach), and also work exactly 40 hours a week in a desk job. I am strongly considering quitting my full-time job late this year and devoting my full effort and focus to training to see if and how far I can make it into the pro ranks.

How much of a difference do you think training full-time vs my current situation will make in my fitness/ability? How much work/week would be too much (in a part-time job)? What would be the best time in the annual/seasonal period to quit work and begin this? I had Nov 1st in mind.

Stuart P.
Los Angeles

Dave Palese replies:

Big step! I wish you the best of luck. I'll deal with each of your questions in turn.

"How much of a difference do you think training full-time vs my current situation will make in my fitness/ability?"

It's hard to say really. A high volume of training alone will not ensure that you will be competitive. Your ability to adapt to training and racing, stay focused and be realistic are most important when making such a change.

I'm sure you and your coach will look at your target event and set-up a plan to help you prepare.

"How much work/week would be too much (in a part-time job)?"

How much do you need to pay for travel and entry fees, eat, and have a roof over your head? Make a budget and this answer will become very clear.

"What would be the best time in the annual/seasonal period to quit work and begin this? I had Nov 1st in mind."

I think that your start date is good. Doing so will give you plenty of time to put in a solid foundation of aerobic training pointed towards you new goal set.

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