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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 July 17, 2003

Obree methods
Cramping during races
Interval work to rest ratios
Muscle vs. aerobic fitness
Numb Leg

Obree methods

I was just curious what you guys' take might be on the training Graeme Obree used to prepare for his Hour Record. I recall reading an interview where it sounded like he did little or no Base and basically got into a rhythm of doing a super hard one hour effort one day and then spinning completely easy for three to five days before going back to the hard one hour day again.

In terms of specificity and proper recovery, it seems ideal, but I have been told by some people that it was more of a fluke, since training in that manner would inhibit aerobic development. Yet the idea that Obree was a fluke seems to me to contradict everything I've heard about Lactate Threshold (LT) work being the supreme intensity for fitness development as espoused by Conconi and a number of others. Have you ever heard that LT level work combined with proper recovery can be counterproductive and actually reduce VO2?

Just wondering if you've ever come across the Obree phenomenon (I'm guessing Ric is quite familiar) and if it might not be an ideal method for people with time constraints training for MTB races, although this would probably require doing two hard hours at a little below LT instead of one at LT to be more specific. Thanks in advance for any input!

Jeff Burnard

Kim Morrow replies:

There is much to be said for specificity in training. This is a key training principle. In order to be good at time trialing, an athlete should accomplish key workouts specific to the development of their time trialing abilities. This may sound obvious, but this principle is sometimes overlooked. The past few seasons, I have had the privilege of working with one of the top amateur time trialists in the United States. Every workout we did last year had his time trial goals in mind. We didn't really care if he had a good sprint, or if he placed high in criteriums. He had a singular focus on his time trial event preparation, and I believe this specificity in training contributed greatly to his success. He also spent a great deal of time on his time trial bike, in his time trial position. And, he has a real passion for time trialing.

Another point to note is the importance of individuality in establishing an athlete's training plan. Obree's plan was a plan that worked for him. While there are training principles which will apply across the board for most athletes, there are also a number of individual variables which must be considered. For example, due to different life stresses, there are various rates of recovery for each athlete. There are also natural strengths and weaknesses for each cyclist. Finally, I believe that the mental aspect is another important factor to consider when establishing goals and training workouts for each athlete. Obree could obviously handle going out and repeatedly riding at race pace for an hour at a time. Does every athlete have this same mental strength to suffer by themselves for this length of time? I don't think so. However, most successful time trialists do seem to have that ability.

Richard Stern replies:

By training at a pace that is close to TT pace, it will have the biggest effect on your TT power and would thus, for Obree's goals have been very specific.

It is, however, worth pointing out that lactate threshold, is now generally regards as being quite a low intensity. The usual definition in science is that of a 1mmol increase in lactate over baseline levels. For most people, this would equate to an upper endurance training zone, and could be sustained for 1 to 4+ hours.

One of the key sessions I use for all endurance cyclists is one to four efforts of 15 to 30 minutess at just below to about 100 percent of TT power, once or twice per week. This is very similar to the Obree session, but slightly easier mentally, by breaking up the training block.

This type of effort will increase LT (even though the power output will likely be about 20 percent higher than that generated at LT) and will of course increase TT power, as I get my riders to gradually add on a few more watts every so often. It will also (likely) push up your VO2 max.

The only negative impact on cycling performance with these sessions is likely to be on sprint power, as most (all) endurance training will tend to have a negative effect by increasing aerobic machinery and decreasing contractile proteins.

If you are severely time constrained (for example limited to about an hour per day training), then it would be best to ride as hard as possible.

Brett Aitken replies:

I think everyone would agree that Graeme was an incredibly talented and unique individual with unique training methods.

I had the pleasure of spending a late night with him along with my team pursuit compatriots at a competition in Paris after winning the World title in Hamar. I was interested in his training methods which he summed up, saying, "I just get on the bike and f*****g ride flat out for an hour." And if he didn't feel good then he got off and went home.

So what can be concluded from this? Well he obviously spent a lot of time at his Lactate Threshold which is the reason for his incredible success. For anyone else this way of training is extremely hard mentally and shows that he must have had an exceptional drive to succeed and mental toughness.

I think the key lesson to take from this though is that specificity is everything in cycling and in most cases the best training you can do is to simulate a race situation. If you want to be good in pursuiting you've got to ride pursuits, if you want to be good at sprints then you've got to do lots of sprints and if you want to be good at road racing you've got to ride on the road at race pace.

Sounds like a good formula to me and not at all a fluke.

Cramping during races

I am a 39 year old male, 181cm, 78kg, occasional (about 5 times/year) cat. 4 racer. Most of the races lasts 2-2.5 hours. Because of family and work commitments my winter training consists mainly of running, basketball and weight lifting, totaling about 3 hours/week. Come early spring I will start riding 2 x about 1 hour tempo sessions, a 2 hour endurance ride at weekends (with hill intervals), and a 30 minute run.

I usually race between late June and early September. I find that in races (Cat 2/3/4) I am okay for the first 90 minutes. At this point I invariably begin experiencing cramp in both legs; half the time it is severe enough to cause me to retire.

Is this cramping being caused by a lack of muscular endurance?

What are the injury risks in trying to ride through cramps? The cramping hits hardest when a sudden acceleration is required.

Because of my limited winter training I avoid early season races as I will not be fit enough. I know some racers can perform with limited early season racing (most famously Lance Armstrong), but in the real world is my limited schedule (training and racing) insufficient to get me race fit?

Douglas
Bedfordshire, UK

Richard Stern replies:

It's likely that some of your cramping problem is caused by your relatively small amount of training. Your winter training, whilst it may not be hindering you, is probably not the best for summer racing. I question why you can't do any cycle training during the winter? If you have time to do other sports, then I see no reason why you shouldn't do some cycle training (unless, for example, your family etc was involved in the other sports you mention and you do those to be with them?) Even with a limited 3 hours per week, you could do some training on an indoor trainer/turbo trainer and get in some fairly intense efforts in that ~ 3-hours, which would help your cycling.

It's likely that you suffer from a lack of endurance and power, which can be trained by more specific on-the-bike sessions, including (if possible) a longer ride (about 3+ hours every 14 to 21 days in the summer).

While LA might tend to avoid some early season races, he is actually training an awful lot (as are the other pro cyclists).

Interval work to rest ratios

I am a 43 year old road cyclist. I train approx 10 hours per week and have a MHR of 185 and a RHR of 41.

Firstly, having built up a solid aerobic base, I am now starting to incorporate wind trainer interval sessions (three per week) into my program. My question is, what is the most effective work to rest ratio one should use to get optimum benefit from these hard sessions?

I have studied programs that say a longish recovery is important between efforts and others that advocate a short recovery.

A typical interval set for me may be 10 x 30 second efforts, then 8 x 1 minute efforts and finish with a 5km effort at TT pace and 15 warm down.

Should the rest between these efforts be more or less than the work time? As the sessions are not pleasant, I am striving for the most effective methods.

Secondly, how great would the benefit be of me doing a wind trainer session in the morning and a road ride that same afternoon? I normally train on the road Tuesday, wind trainer Wednesday, road Thursday, wind trainer Friday and long road (over 4 hours) Sunday. Would fitness improvements be greater if I did a wind trainer session on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (along with the road session on the afternoon) instead of Wednesday and Friday? Wednesday and Friday would then become 2 extra road sessions at perhaps E2 effort.

Paul Freeman
Australia

Eddie Monnier replies:

Nice to hear you make use of a wind trainer for intervals, a topic on which I recently wrote for another publication. Trainers can be very effective for interval sessions.

The optimal recovery interval (RI) duration depends on your training objective. There are times when complete recovery is appropriate between efforts and other times when short RI's are preferred. It all depends on the training objective of the intervals, that is, how want to stress your energy systems.

For example, during sprint training (best done outside rather than on the trainer) full recovery between efforts is preferred because the primary objective is to stress neuromuscular power and the ATP-PCr energy system which provides most of the energy for 10-12 second all-out efforts. Recovery should be at least 3 minutes between efforts because that's how long it takes ATP-PCr to replenish itself.

During lactate threshold power intervals, I usually prescribe a recovery period of 2-5 minutes (3 x 12 minutes with 2-3 minutes RI or 2 x 20-mins with 3-5 RI).

For some types of intervals, multiple approaches are available. For example, velocity at VO2max can be trained using long or short RI. You could use longer intervals of 4-5 minutes with 3 minutes RI or, alternatively, you could use shorter efforts (30 seconds to 1 minute) with equal recoveries (1:1). Both have been shown to be effective at accumulating time at VO2max. So which is more effective? That depends. Some individuals may respond more favorably to one format than the other. I sometimes like to use the shorter format and progress to the longer format as fitness gains are realized.

Without knowing enough about you, your background or your abilities, it's hard for me to assess your current sessions. I will say, however, that it looks like an awful lot of intensity. I suspect if you trained with a power meter -- a real benefit for interval sessions -- you would find that your power is dropping significantly during the workout. Just to give you an example, for vVO2max intervals in the shorter format, I typically assign 10-12 x 1 minute with 1 minute RI. Most athletes are "baked" by the 12th interval. When the intensity cannot be maintained, it's time to stop.

One purpose of your interval sessions is to address the "limiters" you face for achieving your objective for your upcoming A-priority race. For example, if you primarily ride 40km time trials, your focus will be almost exclusively on lactate threshold power with some vVO2max work as you approach your peak. A criterium specialist, on the other hand, may be more focused on vVO2max and sprint efforts. You should review your interval workouts to assess if they're the most effective approach possible for achieving your objectives.

As to your second question, split workouts can be effective in some instances. They can also quickly lead to psychological burnout and even over-training. At this point in the season, you should have a solid foundation and endurance should not be a limiter. It is natural for volume to drop as intensity is increased. It is especially important to allow yourself to recover following very hard workouts. Failure to do so will hinder your body's response to overreaching and limit your fitness gains. Given the limited information I know about you, I can only speculate, but it sounds to me like you are doing plenty and the additional sessions would not be beneficial (and may in fact be counterproductive).

Best of luck in achieving your goals.

Richard Stern replies:

There is no "most effective work to rest ratio" for intervals. The rest that you need between intervals, will be highly dependent upon the goal(s) that you are trying to achieve, your acute and chronic fatigue levels and your fitness level.

For instance with 30 second intervals, these could be completed with an equal work:rest period (that is, 30 seconds), or a much longer rest period (for example, 5 minutess). With the shorter rest interval, you'll likely generate high levels of lactate and these intervals will become quite painful. However as the session progresses, you'll be generating your power from more aerobic sources and thus your power output will tend to drop. With the longer rest periods, you'll be able to maintain a much higher power output, which will help increase anaerobic capacity.

With longer interval blocks, such as 10+ minutess, I'd advocate an roughly 5 minute recovery period.

However, I question the need to do such an intense session as 10 x 30 seconds, 8 x 60 seconds and 1 x 5km, depending of course on your goals and objectives. It is also, far better to start the lower intensity intervals first, and work your way up in intensity during the session.

As I've suggested in one of my other responses, I believe that it's more important (for endurance cyclists) to aim for at least 15 minute intervals to help build aerobic power. This is especially important if you are interested in TTing or breaking away in road races, but is still important even if you only compete in short races such as criteriums.

You can combine the longer intervals (for example, 15 - 30 minutes at just below to about full TT power) with shorter more intense intervals (such as 4 minutes at about just above TT power/80 percent MAP, see http://www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/trainingstern.shtml).

It's rare that I advocate doing lots of interval work and split sessions for most cyclists (that is, those who work) as it can compromise recovery and in some cases lead to overtraining or staleness.

Good luck with your goals, and don't hesitate to contact one of the gang, who will be able to help with coaching.

Muscle vs. aerobic fitness

I am a 42 year old, 157lb, 6ft tall male.

After 20 odd years of smoking I gave up about 8 years ago, then got into keeping fit (something I had never done before), liked cycling best. I bought a road bike in 2000 and started doing TTs in 2001. This season I have been road racing as well.

So far, my PB's are
10 miles: 22:45 (on a dinosaur)
25 miles: 57:37 (on a proper TT bike)
50 miles: 2:02:30 (on a dinosaur)

So finally to my question. Talking to other riders, apart from outright hill climbs, it's the leg burn and general fatigue that seems to be the limiting factor in their performance. For me, apart from rides of 50+ miles, it is my breathing. I never seem to be able to breathe enough to power my legs and my legs never ever get to hurt.

To be honest, I am an odd shape with a wimpy chest and very well developed thighs and calves which I guess explains my situation. What's the best way I can improve my aerobic performance? I ride around 150 miles a week, slightly less in the summer as I'm too tired from 2-3 races/week. I do lots of long steady miles in the winter coupled with lunchtime running. I introduce more and more high intensity intervals through the spring then don't train as such in the summer.

Russell Catchpole (Southdown Velo)
UK

Ric Stern replies:

Great to see that you've given up smoking and gone into cycling. This will have an excellent and positive benefit on your health. The times that you are doing, are certainly good, and you must've improved a lot after giving up smoking.

Whilst you are certainly light for your height, I don't feel that your "wimpy" chest will have any adverse affect on your cycling performance. Looking at pro cyclists, they all have very lean upper bodies and well developed legs.

To improve your cycling performance, you need to target the main areas that limit cycling performance, these being lactate threshold (which correlates with TT performance, but is about 20 percent lower power output than TT power), and VO2 max and the power associated with VO2 max (which is trainable).

Key sessions for improving your fitness, especially at this time of year includes quality endurance work for 1 - 3 hours at zone 2 (with higher intensity on the hills), 1 - 3 x 15 to 30 minutes at just below to TT effort, and shorter more intense intervals of 4 minutess at just above TT power (see, http://www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/trainingstern.shtml).

Myself, or one of the panel will be able to advise on specific sessions and training prescriptions.

Numb Leg

I'm a 25 year old cat. 3 who has been racing for over 10 years. Never really had many problems with fit other than the occasional tendonitis flare-up from time to time. However, I was racing a tough 40km TT a few weeks ago and had my left leg fall asleep! It wasn't the 'pins and needles' kind of numb. Rather, it felt like it was full of Jello. I couldn't even stand on the pedals without almost falling over. If I remember correctly, I hadn't changed my saddle position or cleats in a long time. I attributed it to the fact that I hardly ever use aero-bars and have a long top-tube. However, it seems to be still occurring. So now, on reasonably hard efforts on the flats where I don't stand or alternate positions for 15 minutes or so, I can feel the leg 'fading away.' Really weird. Any ideas or suggestions?

Evan Solida
USA

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

This is a very concerning issue, and you need to promptly make an appointment with a physician - preferably a spine-oriented orthopedic physician or neurologist.

There are two main concerns that I have. The first, and most obvious concern, is that some type of nerve compression is occurring. This can occur at the nerve root due to disc or bony compression or at the piriformis muscle. The piriformis is a muscle that courses through the middle of the buttock and the sciatic nerve courses either through or closely around the piriformis (it has some variable anatomy). Tightness of the piriformis will compress the sciatic. Irritation of this muscle is common with cyclists and is commonly aggravated with the more extreme time trial positions. While your symptoms would be a more significant than the average piriformis syndrome, this is certainly a possibility. The second concern is not very common, but more urgent, and that is some type of vascular insufficiency in your leg. The cycling position (significant hip flexion) can compress the arteries that supply your lower leg and there are numerous documented cases of iliac artery insufficiency in cyclists. This would be aggravated the more that you flex your hip.

I would highly recommend laying off or minimizing bike time, until you have this looked at.

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