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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 September 24, 2003

Lower back pain
Winter Training
Foot pain
Missed workouts
Junior criteriums
HR during Intervals vs. Group Rides
Heart rate training for weight loss
Proper tire pressure

Lower back pain

I have been having recurring lower back pain for the last couple of years and can't figure out why. It feels like muscular pain in the middle of my lower back, and if I change my position on the bike it seems to go away for a couple of months then recurs. I was wondering if it might be over-tight hamstrings (I don't make the time to stretch) or seat height has been to high. When I do stretch it feels bearable but doesn't go away totally and when I lower the seat it also seems to help. I was also wonder if it could be a weak area because during the season I don't do any specific exercises to strengthen that area and when this problem flairs up I do start and that also seems to help. I am really perplexed, and wondering if it is anything specific or a combination of all the above.

John Driscoll

Benoit Nave replies:

It sounds like your problem is more a 'mechanical' problem than anything else. I bet that with a good chiropractic treatment you'll get rid of this pain very quickly! If you have any problem finding one let me know and I can probably help you to find someone!

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

As someone that performs manipulative treatments, works closely with a number of chiropractors, and also does extensive work on development of stabilization musculature, I would like to provide a more scientific perspective on your symptoms to help you solve the root cause of your problems rather than 'band-aid' the symptoms.

Pain is typically a mechanical phenomenon - something places tension or compression on a pain-sensitive structure - a nerve root, a ligament, a joint - there are many different sources of pain. I will use an oversimplified analogy involving two ways that I look at the spine and how forces are transmitted through the spine.

First off, let's think of the spine (including the ligaments, disc, joint, etc) as a wire. We know that if we smoothly bend a wire it remains intact, but if we repetitively bend a wire at one point it will break at that point. Flexing forward on a bike involves 'flexing forward' through two separate areas - the pelvis, which rotates forward, and the lumbar vertebrae which glide upward (upper vertebra moving up and forward on the lower vertebra) causing trunk flexion. Very often, cyclists have extremely restricted lumbopelvic musculature (hamstrings, piriformis/hip external rotators/iliacus/psoas) which make the pelvis unable to rotate freely, and transmits the majority of flexion to the lumbar spine.

If, hypothetically, the pelvis should contribute 50 percent and the vertebra 50 percent of the motion necessary to flex forward to reach your handlebars, but the pelvis can only rotate for 20 percent of the motion, we have placed an excessive load on the lumbar spine. It will be forced into excessive flexion - approaching end range. The wire analogy is appropriate here because, the same way that a wire will break down the more severely it is bent, the spine will break down when forced to end range for prolonged duration. I have seen numerous cyclists bend forward and touch their toes thinking that they have nice long hamstrings, only to discover that they in reality have tight hamstrings and excessive motion present at the lumbar spine once their true hamstring motion is assessed.

The second way to think of the spine is as a stack of blocks. If we tilt this stack of blocks, the blocks usually will shear forward of the stack. If the vertebra are forced to end range, they too will shear (placing stress on the ligaments, disc and joints). Unlike the blocks, our spine has a system that will counter that shear and pull the spine back into alignment - the multifidus and transverse abdominals are the primary muscular stabilizers. Research shows that even one relatively small back injury will inhibit the small stabilizing muscles, and these muscles don't return unless they are specifically retrained - ab crunches and back extensions are not adequate to stabilize the spine and can actually contribute to the pathology present.

My problem with just getting a manipulation is that, yes, it does restore the joint position, but it does nothing to address how it was displaced to start with. Thus the cycle of needing repetitive manipulation to perform is started. Why is that joint moving out in the first place? If it is constantly under stress, how can we relieve the stress surrounding it? I am seeing one such patient right now. He was always getting short term relief from manipulation (approximately 15 treatments in 4 months) but noticing the interval necessary between manipulations was decreasing. He had extremely tight lumbopelvic musculature and a 50 percent deficit in his multifidus musculature. At his first two treatments, I initiated appropriate lower extremity stretching which he then progressed independently for two weeks. At two weeks symptoms were 50 percent improved. The next 6 treatments were spent regaining appropriate core stability with progression to a local Pilates program. I have performed one manipulative session in the last 6 weeks to help restore some lumbar extension and he reports symptoms as 95 percent improved.

I have recommended that he still see his chiropractor periodically, introduced him to a massage therapist, and he now has a flexibility and strengthening program with which he can maintain and promote the normal motion and stability of the joint segments.

Please understand that I find manipulative treatment to be very appropriate (one of two medical professionals I allow to work on me is an excellent chiropractor!) - but joint alignment is only one piece of the puzzle - flexibility, muscular stability, ligamentous stability, and neural activation patterns (how you move, how you are positioned on the bike) are all equally important components of the puzzle. In my opinion, good healthcare professionals should openly look at all components of movement.

My most sincere apologies to the editors here at cyclingnews.com for using 50GB of their memory for this column, but this truly is one of the most frequent issues that I deal with - both with cyclists and the less blessed bipeds as well.

Winter Training

I'm a 33 year old Cat 5 just finishing my first year of steady riding/racing. I've been riding for about 9 years, but just as I started getting serious about it I developed thyroid cancer. For three years, the effects of the treatment greatly interfered with my ability to ride on a regular basis. I gained weight and lost a great deal of my fitness. However, by this time last year I was healthy enough to start riding on a regular basis. For the past nine months I have been riding on a regular basis, I've lost about 10 kg (although I have another 10 kg to go, since I'm still about 92kg at 6ft tall), and I have seen significant improvements in my overall fitness, with resting heart rate dropping 20 bpm and average heart rates for certain regular rides dropping by 30 bpm. In order to keep my riding fun as I get back into shape, I've avoided a highly structured training progam, but instead have done several hard group rides each week, a couple of easy rides each week, and perhaps one easy ride with a few sets of short intervals thrown in. Lately I've started replacing one of the fast, flat group rides with a longer, hilly group ride. My mileage averages 150 per week.

Because I was in poor shape at the beginning of the year, it was hard to get a lot of easy miles in. My fitness was such that a 16 mph pace on the flats meant a heart rate of 150-155, instead of the 130 or so that would represent Zone 2, but it was almost impossible to ride the 13 mph pace necessary to keep my heart rate in the "endurance" zones. For that reason, I suspect that I didn't develop my aerobic system very well. Instead, I fed myself a steady diet of hard group rides and intervals after just a couple hundred miles of 'base' miles. My goal for the fall/early winter season is to work on developing my aerobic system by getting a lot of Zone 2 miles in to have a better base to build on next year. With my increased fitness, I can now ride at a pace I don't find boring, perhaps 18 mph, with my heart rate staying in the 120-135 range.

However, I've worked hard this year to gain a level of fitness that allows me to recover quickly from hard efforts, to maintain much higher speeds for long periods of time than I could before, etc. I'd like to avoid losing that top end by spending three months doing 16-18 mph base work. For that reason, my question is what is the best way to work on my aerobic system and develop a better base but prevent the loss of the top end speed I've developed. I don't want to spend three months next spring trying to get back to where I am now. Is one interval session a week (perhaps 2 sets of 3 two minute intervals up in Zone 4 or 5) enough to preserve some of that top end? What would you suggest?

Tripp Goldsberry
Sacramento, California, USA

Eddie Monnier replies:

First, awesome to hear that you're back on the road to good health. Second, as an advocate of structured training I have to say that when I first changed to a structured approach myself, I actually enjoyed my time on the bike more because every ride had a purpose, I was more efficient with my training and so spent less time at it, and I got better results. So don't presume structured training isn't 'fun'. End of commercial!

You expressed two major concerns: (a) Losing weight and (b) Not losing your current fitness level. You will note in my response that these two objectives can be at odds, but likely for reasons other than you'd expect.

I don't know on what your heart rate training zones are based or what percentages of the anchor they represent, but if your general goal is to lose weight, you quite simply have to burn more calories than you take in so you can reduce your caloric intake, increase your caloric expenditure, or a combination thereof. There's a common misconception that one needs to exercise at a lower intensity to burn fat when trying to lose calories. While it is true that at lower intensities fat contributes a larger relative percentage of the energy used, exercising at higher intensities will burn more total calories at the same duration. The reason why it doesn't make sense to just go out and ride as hard as possible all the time when trying to lose weight is because it is neither physically nor psychologically sustainable. You'll need to mix easier and harder days.

As for not wanting to lose your current level of fitness, it is generally best to allow the body to detrain and mind to relax somewhat so you can take it to a higher level next season. Think of it as three steps forward, two steps back, and three steps forward again. In other words, the goal is to get you past the level of fitness you attained this season (obviously, we cannot improve endlessly so at some point you will reach your capability limits). The risk of not easing up over the winter is you end up flying in November and December ("Christmas Stars") but are nowhere in May and June (when it matters).

That doesn't mean you get to sit on the coach munching junk food while you repeatedly watch Tyler win LBL. But I do advocate a transition period where you stay off the bike (eg, 2-4 weeks) where cross-training is optional, followed by a period of required cross-training (eg, 2-4 weeks) with some riding optional. Thereafter you need to focus on rebuilding the aerobic base which can be done both on the bike and through cross-training. The further along our fitness progresses, the more specificity is required in training (ie, you must ride).

So, on one hand, continuing to ride at reasonably high intensities and durations is optimal for maximizing your weight loss. While on the other hand, allowing yourself to detrain somewhat is likely to help you achieve higher levels next season. In your case, I would probably recommend fairly intensive cross-training (eg, run, hike, skate, NordicTrack, row, etc.) to achieve the best of both worlds. You'll have plenty of time in late Base to start layering in intervals. And you'll be blowing by the Christmas stars when it matters.

Georg Ladig replies:

Congratulations on the improvements you have made! If you go for short intervals once or twice a week that will do it. Make sure, that you place the intervals at the beginning of your microcycles when you are fully recovered. You can also combine long endurance rides with intervals - just place the intervals at the beginning of a longer ride when you are fresh (after a proper warm up). I would suggest one set of 2 or 3 intervals per ride. Don't get trapped into the intensity deadlock over the winter. Intensity must be built on some base. A weekly schedule could be:

Tuesday: short ride with some intervals
Wednesday: base endurance
Thursday: off
Friday: base endurance + intervals at the beginning
Saturday/Sunday: longer base endurance rides
Monday: off

Foot pain

I have just read your response to the gentleman regarding foot pain while cycling. I have also experienced foot pain on the bike. Mine starts around the ball of the foot, near the contact point of the pedals. I believe that the condition is caused by excessive heat combined with constant pedal force. It usually occurs for me only in the summer months, however, it can get bad enough that it travels halfway up my leg, and I cannot put any power at all into the pedals without agony. I have tried changing shoes, pedals, insole, custom insoles, and position changes. Nothing works. Any suggestions?

Jason Karew

Georg Ladig replies:

Since you have tried many things already, my list is rather short:

Most often the pain you describe originates from socks or shoes that are too small and therefore push your big toe inward which over time causes the pain. Another possibility would be that the canting is not right, meaning the shoe is not held over the pedal axle horizontally. I myself use a thin aluminum wedge in between the shoe and the cleat to correct this.

I can't think of anything else right now, but keep in mind that our feet were made to walk and not to push a pedal... My earlier advice to strengthen the feet by (ideally) running barefoot on the beach will certainly contribute to ease the pain as your feet get stronger.

Good luck and let me please know how it goes.

Missed workouts

I am a 25 year old self-coached male Cat 3 road racer and soon start my first cyclo-cross season to maintain fitness and hopefully develop better technical skills, my goal for next season being to get to Cat 2. I come from a triathlon background (4 competitive seasons) and this past season was the first time I strictly focused on cycling going from Cat 5 to 3, then burning out in August. I raced a variety of road, circuit and crit races from about March to early August but hopefully I'll go to September next year with a few adjustments. I work full-time with some overtime here and there. As with most amateur athletes there are times when our workouts need to be put off for the day for various reasons. How would you suggest adjusting weekly training to compensate for the time missed? My training typically looks something like this outside my base period and with a few variations pending on my racing schedule.

Monday: recovery ride or day off
Tuesday: Sprints
Wednesday: Middle intensity intervals 80-85 percent of MHR 10-20 minutes X 3-5 or local training race
Thursday: Endurance Ride
Friday: If racing on the weekend recovery ride or if not racing and I feel good a short sprint workout
Saturday: again pending racing, if not a workout similar to Wednesday
Sunday: Pending race, if not racing endurance ride.

For example, if you missed your sprint day and the following day is a middle intensity interval session how do you go about adjusting the workouts? Do you just cut your losses and leave out your sprint day and continue with your schedule as previously planned?

Jonathan Ring
Seekonk, Massachusetts

Eddie Monnier replies:

It's always a drag when life interferes with our hobbies, isn't it? ;-) Seriously, missing workouts from time to time is bound to happen. First, note that any single missed workout will not break your season. It's regularly missing workouts that wreaks havoc with your fitness. As for what to do about the missed workout, that depends on the workout missed, where you are in your training phases, and what your most immediate 'limiter' is. Basically, the 'key' workouts are those that address your most immediate limiter for that particular phase you're in. For example, while you're in the early phases of your training plan, an endurance workout may be key as you're still seeking to develop your endurance base. However, later as you're fine-tuning your race fitness, it's likely to be an interval workout or a sprint session (though it could still be an endurance workout if that's a limiter for you). If you miss a non-key workout, I'd say continue with your schedule. If you miss a key workout, then swap it out for a non-key workout, bearing in mind that you may have to adjust additional days to make the whole week work.

Georg Ladig replies:

You face the typical problem all amateur athletes experience: how to deal with training interruptions and how to build the training around your life. First of all I would give you the advice that you shouldn't stick to the weekly structured training content as described - with sprints on one day and other training content on others. Successful training is about periodization and specialization. Periodization structures volume and intensity on the long run (very important) and also within the microcycles (second priority) - probably you know this. Specialization means that you should focus your training to develop real strength. You want to become a better sprinter? Well, then you should shift your focus to the sprint for a couple of weeks to see real progress. The same is true for climbing, TT training etc. Your racing needs a focus as well. You can't be in top shape from March till September. You should rather build you training around 2 or 3 peak competitions and slow down between the peaks. That's the way to avoid burn-outs.

Cut the losses? It's not that easy. Sometimes it's better to shift training content. When your 'batteries' are full and you missed the hard workout and intensity is the motto of your micro-cycle then you should do the intense work instead of the originally planned endurance ride on the following day. It totally depends from the whole picture. The general advice is: Follow your goals.

Of course, I think the easy way to follow your goals and to live your life is to train with 2PEAK. Our numerical approach to training takes everything into account you have done in the past (volume and intensity), your individual ability of regeneration and also never forgets your future goal - the peak competition. That means, that you training will be adjusted daily to keep you on the track to peak performance. We call this Dynamic Training, a training plan, which adjusts to changes day by day, no matter what happens.

I wish you the best for the next season.

Junior criteriums

I'm a 15yr old crit racer and I want to know how to train properly for 30-45 min criteriums and short road races. Right now I ride 15-45 miles per day and ride 4-5 days per week. What about intensity?

Dave Palese replies:

This is pretty open ended question so my answer will be pretty general. For the short criteriums you are talking about, your longest training ride needs on be about an hour. You should focus your energies on the abilities that will help you to be competitive in and give you more cards to play in your target events.

At 15 years old, it is tough for me to prescribe any specific training workouts for you. Your training should be very general for the next year or so and you should avoid too many structured short interval sessions. Instead, focus your training on Endurance riding (65 percent of Max Heart Rate) and intensity up to long intervals (10-30 minutes) at your cruising or time-trial pace.

Focus on developing solid group riding and paceline skills, as well as understanding race strategies and tactics. Understand when and why to go hard and when to sit in. When to attack and when to save your energy. And pay attention to bunch etiquette. It's too early in your career to make enemies.

Find a respected rider in your area and ask him or her to show your some of the ropes. Most masters and vets riders are more than happy to offer help and advice.

And if you want to do well in crits, work on your sprint. Most events end in a sprint, either from a small group or the bunch.

If you have any other questions, let me know. Have fun and good luck!

HR during Intervals vs. Group Rides

I'm a male cyclist, age 34, 6ft and 184 lbs, about 10 percent body fat. Max HR is 193, with LTHR about 170bpm. I do plan to do my first race later in 2003, and plan to do more in 2004. I usually average about 140-150 miles per week, which includes mostly endurance miles, but also interval miles.

I would like to get some feedback on this scenario: During my Lactate Threshold 'cris-cross' interval days, which I usually perform twice per week, I normally try and maintain a heart-rate which is either about 5 beats above or below my LTHR, for the work session. I find that doing these intervals is tough, especially after the second or third in a session. However, during my Tuesday evening club ride, I can cruise along at a heart-rate 8-10 beats higher than my LTHR and not feel as much stress as I do during my intervals. I can also maintain this higher HR for an even longer period also. This is not sitting on, but doing my share of work on front. Is there such a thing as 'competition enhanced heart-rate', meaning, is my HR naturally higher because of the excitement of competition and riding in a group. Or, am I not pushing myself hard enough during my LTHR intervals?

Jeff Blackston

Brett Aitken replies:

This is a good question and something which many riders face I'm sure. Without a doubt the higher heartrates in the group rides compared to your LTHR sessions is very much to do with Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE). The perceived rate of exertion is commonly much lower in group ride or race situations where the focus of the mind is on other things rather than solely on heartrate and the pain associated with specific LTHR training.

Also in group rides (even when you're sitting in) you have more than likely already been under a little stress meaning your heartrate has probably been working in the range of 60 to 80 percent of max. So it is not much of a shock to the system when you suddenly hit the front and tip this over the edge of your Threshold.

This is in comparison to doing specific efforts at LTHR which many riders do on indoor trainers. Usually they are ticking along at a modest 50 to 60 percent hr before pounding into the effort which may take the heartrate a while to respond as well as being a massive change in load on the muscle fibres. The sudden change in intensity often creates a much higher PRE.

Last of all, if the efforts are done on an indoor trainer then it usually negates the need for using the arms (more muscle groups) and thereby requiring a lower heartrate as well.

Heart rate training for weight loss

I am a very fit 49 year old male, cycling 100 miles per week on the road, coupled with regular walking and badminton. I have exercised regularly throughout my life. I am 13 stone in weight and 5ft 10in tall. I intend to buy a heart monitor but am confused as to my training rate required for further weight loss and extended fitness level.

According to the calculation '220 minus age' {171) if I operate at 65 percent activity my pulse rate should be 111. I have used a friend's monitor and find that with even very light activity my rate exceeds this easily. In essence I find it difficult to maintain this modest figure and feel as if I should slow to a snails pace which I do not find enjoyable, am I doing something wrong as I would like to drop to 12.5 stone and further increase my fitness. I would welcome your advice on this matter and thank you for your time.

Richard Phelps

Eddie Monnier replies:

First, the '220 minus your age' guideline for estimating maximum heart rate may work reasonably well for large samples of the population, but it can be off very materially for any individual. I generally don't like to base training zones off Max HR since it generally does not respond to training, and if anything, it may decrease slightly after an untrained person has trained. Furthermore, a true Max HR is difficult to achieve.

Second, if your primary goal is weight loss than you need to burn more calories than you take in so you can reduce your caloric intake, increase your caloric expenditure, or a combination thereof. There's a common misconception that one needs to exercise at a lower intensity to burn fat when trying to lose weight. While it is true that at lower intensities fat contributes a larger relative percentage of the energy used, exercising at higher intensities will burn more total calories at the same duration. The reason why it doesn't make sense to just go out and ride as hard as possible all the time when trying to lose weight is because it is neither physically nor psychologically sustainable. You'll need to mix easier and harder days. The dual benefit will be greater calories burned (vs. riding same duration at lower intensity) and an increase in your general fitness.

Brett Aitken replies:

As Eddie has already mentioned, '220 minus your age' is not a very good calculation for maximum heartrate and shouldn't be used to determine a heartrate training zone. I'd like to point out as well though, that weight loss success is as much about re-programming your metabolism (off the bike) as it is working to specific heartrates on the bike.

Therefore even though 65 percent of Max HR is often prescribed for fat loss, it doesn't increase your metabolism after training anywhere near as much as an intense workout (intervals up to 95 percent of Max HR.) So not only do you burn more total calories at higher intensities but you also burn more after you finish training as well. The key to weight loss is to find a good balance between the two training intensities which complement each other while giving you enough recovery as well.

Georg Ladig replies:

Using a heartrate monitor makes a lot of sense, especially if you intend to lose weight. The rule of thumb '220 minus age' does not work for all of us. Your personal heartrate may vary by as much as 20 bpm. If you know your maximum heartrate (from a competitive group ride for instance) you could define your target zone for base endurance more precisely: go for 70-85 percent of the maximum heartrate. Fat-burning works better towards the lower end of the base endurance zone. A realistic burn rate at your weight is 25g fat/hour at low intensities (75 percent of heartrate max). If you ride 7 hours a week at this pace that would result in a loss of 0,7 kilogram fat per month from the purely caloric point of view. BUT: As you see from the example, this is a slow process. Your nutrition plays a far bigger role then you mileage. You won't lose any weight if you eat the wrong stuff. But you will almost automatically lose weight when you improve the quality of your nutrition. Cycling works rather as a catalyst and helps to establish a healthier lifestyle. So, if you want to enjoy cycling and lose weight there is a need for a nutrition plan as a supplement to your training plan.

Proper tire pressure

I would like to hear everybody's opinion on proper tire pressure for maximum energy efficiency. I like to race at 140psi but my friend says I'd be just as fast at 110. Isn't there less rolling resistance on a tire with more air in it? Please clear this up.

Mark A.

Brett Aitken replies:

I'd be interested to know how you stay upright around corners racing at 140psi. This is a very dangerous pressure to be racing on the road. The standard for safety and grip without compromising rolling efficiency too much or having big tyre blow outs is usually in the range of 100 and 120psi.

It's true that higher tyre pressures reduce rolling resistance which is why track riders can sometimes have up to 240psi in their track specific tyres. On the road though the added elements such as rocks, potholes, corners, wet roads and a braking system means we have to reduce this pressure dramatically to increase safety and reduce blowouts or punctures.

However if you're on a good road going in a straight line (such as a time trial) then by all means raise the pressure but try and keep it within the tyres recommended pressure.

Cyclingnews tech editor John Stevenson adds:

Rolling resistance does indeed go down as tyre pressure goes up, but with good quality tyres at road racing speeds, over-coming rolling resistance is a fairly small part of the work you do. Increases in tyre pressure therefore provide minimal benefit above 110-120psi or so. The downside, as Brett points out is reduced grip, and increased risk of tyre failure.

It's therefore a matter of balancing advantages and disadvantages. You might go nuts with the track pump before a straight time trial, knowing that you won't be turning any corners to speak of and that every tiny advantage you can gain is worth having. But for a criterium, where lack of grip will make you a hazard to yourself and others, you'll drop the pressure to something more normal - and drop it even more if it's raining.

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