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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. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

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 January 24, 2005

Triple to compact
Brain hemispheres
Valgus forefoot
Over-training and recovery
New forks for old bike
Shims wedges
Dealing with illness
Bone density concerns
More strength training
Shoulder surgery
Gag reflex
Nutrition and weight loss
Pre-ride eating

Triple to compact

I currently use a Campag Record triple on one bike and a Centaur triple on the other; I am keen to change to compact chainsets, and wondered if the alteration could cause any physical problems given that the bottom bracket for the triple set up is wider than that for a compact. I am 59 and don't want to change if it's going to cause me any discomfort. Your view would be appreciated.

Tony Freeth

Newcastle upon Tyne, England

Scott Saifer replies


For the vast majority of riders small changes in bottom-bracket width make no difference whatsoever. For a tiny minority the Q-factor actually matters. So far as I know the only way to tell which group you are in is to try the switch and see what happens, unless you have some history that makes you suspect you might have a problem.

If you do have a problem you may still be able to make the switch by fiddling with the pedals and cleats, such as by putting thin washers between the pedals and cranks, moving the cleats to the inside edge of the shoe etc.

Brain hemispheres


I was doing some reading on some of your fit suggestions, and in the July 18 2005 Q&A came across this as part of a response to a question about Hip Pain and ITB Tightness:
"The least likely reason, though I see more than a few, is that your left brain hemisphere is so dominant relative to the right, that asymmetric postural changes are the fallout."

The answer related to the issue of asymmetrical function. As a fit professional, I find this concept intriguing at least and fascinating at best. Can you elaborate?

Wesley Best

Roanoke, VA USA

Steve Hogg replies


Yeah, it is both. It is not a fact though but a theory. I am reminded that someone whose name I can't recall once said something along the lines of "for every problem, there is a simple, plausible, sensible answer that accounts for all that is observed but is totally wrong".
Here is why I tend to think that it is correct though.
Everyone favours one side on a bike. The degree can be anything from all but imperceptible to very obvious. This usually takes the form of a hip drop and/or rotation forward with every pedal downstroke to a degree not present on the other side. There are a few potential reasons for this; limb length discrepancies, asymmetric patterns of function, development or tightness etc, etc. However, over time I have seen a number of people that when all of this is accounted for (and by this I mean that with professional guidance they have spent a period, usually a long one, achieving well above average symmetry in a functional sense off the bike) do not change one iota on the bike.

Why do I think that this is evidence of brain hemispheric dominance?
A number of reasons. Firstly, the great majority of people who favour one side favour the right side. Fair enough you may say - we live in a right handed world. However, my experience is that left-handed people are just as likely to favour their right side on a bike as right handed people. (As far as handedness goes there are gradations, it is not as simple as people are right and left handed, but that's another story).
So I discount handedness as a reason. My thinking goes like this. Most males tend to be left brain types to a greater degree than they are right brain types (and most bike riders are male). Modern society rewards left brain people because method and analysis will take you a long way in most jobs and this is characteristic of left brain thinking.

Moreover, riding a bike is a left brain activity according to a neurologist acquaintance of mine. So the story goes that most of us tend to be left brain to some degree and in some people this is very pronounced and that the left brain controls the right side of the body. I had observed all this for some years and was running it past a couple of neurologists that I know when I happened across a Carrick Institute trained functional neurologist by accident who turned out to have an interesting take on this.

The second reason is that after this and to test him out, I sent him a number of the most intractable cases that I had seen. These were people that I could help to varying degrees but not to my or their satisfaction. All of them had done the rounds and seen chiropractors, osteopaths, physios, myofascial therapists, masseurs etc ad infinitum. One in particular had made it THE priority in his life to become more even and pain free with little success. After a course of treatment by the Carrick guy lasting several months, these people are now square or nearly so on the bike. The treatment methods are unusual, not invasive, and are intended to wake up the right side of the brain. They don't involve any stretching or manipulation.

All I can say is that this has worked at least in the cases of these riders. Nothing else had. I probably see a skewed sample of humanity. Most people that come to me have a problem and have often done the rounds. It may be that I am more likely to come across people like this than some.

I get any amount of debate from health professionals that I know about this. My answer to them is that I am happy to send them similar people and they can try their luck with them. When they have had enough, I will send them to the Carrick bloke and they can later see the results. I don't particularly care about what someone calls themselves or what they believe, only the results that they achieve.

I am starting to believe that our structural function is the product of our brains organisation filtered through accidents of birth or development and life experience. Most people can sort themselves out by getting the right advice and doing the work, whether it be stretching, core strength, manipulation, massage or whatever to straighten themselves out. For some though, it seems that it all starts with how their brains work. I am happy to be wrong about this but that is my experience to date.

Valgus forefoot

I have read all the numerous questions and corresponding responses regarding what appears to be some of the same "problems" I have been experiencing.

I am 40 years old. I am 6'4" and 195 lbs. I am split between road and mtb, but solely race mtb. I am confused on some of the issues I am having relative to some of the solutions as outlined on your previous suggestions to other posts.

I have discomfort on my right side, mainly knee but sometimes lower right back and right foot. I appear to be twisted out to the right and get the feeling of reaching with my right leg when I pedal. I have the right cleat all the way back on my shoe.

All of the other posts indicate that a reaching with the foot (right or left) with the heel rotating away from the frame may be linked to a varus in the forefoot. I measured with the Lemond device many times and found that my right forefoot is measuring 5 VALGUS. In addition to that, my right tibia measures about 5mm shorter than my left. My left forefoot measures pretty straight, but may go slightly varus.

Could a valgus measurement be pushing out my right heel and would a shim on the outside of the foot, along with a couple inverted to correct the leg differences, potentially correct that?

Barron Gira

Steve Hogg replies


You are basically on the right track. Forget Lemond wedges for mtb applications. I have found them to be largely a waste of time. An mtb cleat with 2 fixing bolts close together needs the protrusions or serrations on the bottom of the cleat to bite into the sole of the cycling shoe to stay put. If something is interposed, they tend to come loose. I have found that Lemond mtb wedges are prone to this. Either that or the amount of tightening required to keep them in place chews up the wedges and minimises any help they may have been. Lemond road wedges are another story as most road cleats are held on with 3 widely separated bolts in a triangular pattern and if tightened correctly, rarely present problems.

Make a paper fitting and tape it the underside of your cycling shoe. Do so like this: Get a sheet of A4 paper. Fold it along the short axis 4 times in total until you are left with a strip approximately 20mm wide x 210mm long. Get some packing tape and stick this along the inside edge of your right shoe insole starting at the heel. It must reach at least as far as the front of the first MTP joint (ball of the foot). If your feet are really large, which given your height is possible, you may need to add a smaller extension. Stick this to the underside of the insole well with packing tape.

Fit this to your shoe and lower your seat to the point where the right leg feels smooth and controlled through the entire pedal stroke. You may need to experiment with the amount of paper 'wedging' under your insole until it feels really solid and stable. If you need to add more, get another sheet of A4 and do as before but only fold it over 3 times. This will leave you with a strip 40mm wide x 210mm long. Starting at the heel, place the paper over the first piece but make sure that you do not go past the centreline of the insole at the heel. Almost certainly you will need to trim some width of the paper at the rear of the insole (heel end). Once done, use more tape to secure it over the first piece. I would be surprised if you need more than this but it is possible.

Don't expect your right heel to necessarily come all the way back in. The pattern of tightness you probably have in the right side hip / lower back may not be totally resolved with one or more wedges of paper under your right foot. You will probably need to start some sort of self improvement regime of stretching with or without professional guidance.

Once you have found a seat height that your right leg copes with well and the number of wedges that seems to be correct, raise your seat back to where it was. Add whatever the difference was between the newer height and the old height to the underside of your right shoe in the form of a shim inside or outside your cycling shoe.

This can be a bit of a problem with mtbs as I mentioned before. An Axo Spud Spacer will give you up to 4mm with good reliability in the sense of the cleat staying put. If you need more than that, you will have to build up the insole of the right shoe. If you do this and start to run out of room in the toe box, you will need to cut off the build up forward of the metatarsal heads to allow the toes some room.
The paper will stand up ok if well taped even in the wet. Over time and with repeated dousing it will compress and so needs to be changed from time to time. If you have any problems with this, get back to me.

Over-training and recovery


I'm currently a collegiate road-racer (male, 19 years old) in my first year of riding. Our first races are a few weeks off, with targeted races not happening for about a month and then continuing until early April. Most of the literature I've seen is about how NOT to overtrain, but, being a first-year rider, I've already passed that threshold. I haven't hit a mental block yet, but I know something's wrong because I just can't get comfortable on the bike, and just about everyday is a lesson in feeling TIRED off the bike. Over the winter, I did a lot of low-intensity (mostly in or below zone 2 with a few tempo and interval workouts thrown in), high-volume work. For example, my peek week was 22 hours, riding 3 2-hour days and 4 4-hour days (during finals week, at that), but most of the weeks were between 12-18. I'd been told to "keep it easy" during the winter, and felt that's what I was doing. Obviously, however, I didn't give myself enough rest time in between workouts to fully recover. Anyway, my question is: once you've deduced that you're over-trained, what's the best way to recover? Should one just get off the bike for a few days and do no training whatsoever? Spend the next week spinning for an hour or so and just generally take it easy? Or is it necessary to really re-evaluate the next months (and therefore season) training cycle?

Max Haines-Stiles


Scott Saifer replies


For 95% of riders in their first year, 15, 18 or 22 hour weeks are too much in the sense that after such a large week of training, one would need several weeks of low-volume recovery. If a first-year rider continues to train at that same volume week after week, deeper and deeper fatigue sets it.

Technically if you are truly overtrained, you will need one to several months of very low volume and low intensity to recover, which means that you would not be ready for the collegiate season. If you are tired and staying tired you are still not necessarily overtrained however. You may simply be over-reached, which is a fancy way of saying that you need a shorter period of recovery time, perhaps a few days to a few weeks. If you've been over-reached and continue to train heavily, that's when overtraining becomes an issue. You haven't mentioned how long you've been feeling tired, so I don't know whether you are overtrained or over-reached. The best way to find out is to take some recovery time and note how long it takes you to come around.

If you take recovery 100% off the bike, you'll rapidly detrain and need a long period of training to be ready to race again, so the trick here is to pick a level of activity which will prevent detraining but allow recovery. Not knowing you other than what you've shared here, I'd suggest 60 minutes per day of gentle spinning with a heart rate below 70% of maximum for a week or until you start to feel better. Continue with the easy days until you have felt really good for two days, and then return to heavier training, preferably under the guidance of an experienced coach who will help you to avoid getting in trouble again. If you start to feel good in three weeks or less, there's a good chance that you will end up feeling very good and being very strong. This would mean that you had benefited from the hard training and just needed to recover fully to express it. If it takes much over three weeks to get your spunk back, you're probably going to need some extensive reconstructive training to get you up to race-season fitness. Good luck.

New forks for old bike

Hi, I have an older Trek 1500 Aluminium 58 cm frame that I bought second hand. I've had it for nearly three years and the previous owners had it set up for them and as you would expect cut the fork steerer height to suit. My problem is that it's about an inch too short for me and seems to be the cause of my shoulder pain (bike was professionally set up and matches requirements posted on this site previously). Can you recommend a fork that would fit the Trek frame, that would allow me to set up the bike anew a hopefully eliminate my shoulder pain.

Carl Hogg

Scott Saifer replies


Forks are fairly interchangeable. The obvious choice would be to get an uncut Trek fork, but any other brand with the same steer tube diameter should work. A fork with different rake (the offset of the dropouts from a line drawn through the centre of the steerer tube) will affect the handling, but it's just as likely to be an improvement to make things worse since your current bike was not custom made for you anyway. However, you could save a lot of money by simply getting an up-angled stem and keeping your existing fork, unless there is something else wrong with it.

Shims wedges

Hello, I have been told I need a combination of Lemond wedges on my left leg by my local bicycle fit professional. However, I use Time MTB pedals and I have been unable to make the combination of SPD style shims work with this pedal system. The shims get caught up on the cleat and pedal engagement system, causing inconsistent performance from the pedal, as well as sloppy and sometimes "sticky" feelings from the pedalling platform.

I need four wedges (shims), which causes another issue - rocking from side to side, or sloppy cleat to pedal interaction due to the stack height. I have addressed this with the man who fit me and he only offered one solution; trim the wedges. Are you aware of a similar product that use shims specific to time MTB pedals/cleats? Please help.

Don Galligher

Fort Wayne, IN

Steve Hogg replies


I am not a fan of the SPD style wedges because my experience is they just plain do not work. They don't let the cleat bite into the sole of the shoe which means that too often they come loose as well as the problems you describe. If you were told to use 4 wedges and that is correct, do this instead.

If they are being used in counter stacked fashion to give a shim, build up the underside of your insole instead.

If they are being used as a wedge, do the following:

Get 2 sheets of A4 paper. Fold them in half along the short axis. Fold on 3 times and the other 4 times. Using packing tape, stick them on atop the other on the inside length of your shoe insole. Make sure that the narrower piece [4x folded] is along the inner edge and the wider piece covers it but does not extend past the longitudinal mid point of the heel. You will almost certainly need to trim the wider piece at the heel. Use plenty of tape and you have a wedge that will not move around but will need periodic replacement.

The pressure of your foot in shoe will prevent them taking in too much water in the wet. If your toes feel a bit crowded, cut the paper so that it does not extend towards the toe further than the heads of the metatarsophalangeal joints.

Don then responded:

I appreciate your response; unfortunately it has taken me a while to get back to this. Before I try this I just wanted to clarify a few points. Just to make sure I am interpreting your instruction correctly, when I am making the folds are each fold in half of itself? Or am I to fold on another line or is the width of the fold not important? Also does the number of folds include the first fold of each sheet of paper "Fold them in half along the short axis"?

Once again thanks for your help, I have been struggling with this issue (over pronation) for some time. I could never get my left leg to "feel right". I see a chiropractor, for routine maintenance, for an issue of my left hip rolling forward. The adjustments seem to help that, but despite my efforts of stretching, technique drills such as isolated leg drills, pedalling, and others, I have been unable to get the powerful smooth feeling stroke I have with my right leg. Once the issue was diagnosed getting the correct fix will be a relief. I have tried custom insoles, professional fit, Specialized body geometry shoes. I have spent hours reading your column on Cyclingnews and find the overall picture of biomechanics that you and your staff provide to be very insightful. Thanks for your work in this area! Cycling needs more talented specialists helping the athletes develop.

Steve Hogg replies


In relation to the paper wedging - get your A4 sheets and sit them so that the greater length faces away from you. I will call the top north, the bottom south and the left and right sides west and east respectively.

Fold the paper so that you are folding along the 'equator' of West to East. Keep folding in half each time until you have the desired number of folds. After 3 folds your paper should be 210 mm long by 38 - 40 mm wide. After 4 folds it should be 210mm long by 19 - 20 mm wide. Let me know what happens.

Don then responded:

I got the paper "shim" installed, and rode rollers yesterday, felt pretty good, much more solid than before. How long should I allow for acclimation in regards to power out put, muscle soreness from the position of the leg firing, etc?

Don Galligher

Steve Hogg replies


Normally I suggest to clients that they ride at low intensity for three weeks post fitting and stay away from steep hills. The body adapts to changes far better at low intensities than at hight ones. Try and keep your heart rate below 75% of max and perhaps 85% if you have to ride up an unavoidable hill. If you do this you should have little or no problems adjusting to the change.
Also, that paper 'orthotic' for want of a better word will probably need changing every couple of months or so as they tend to compress when drying out after wet rides.

Dealing with illness


This is general questions regarding recovery from the common cold. I have been feeling general fatigue, sinus pain, congested nose and ears (kind-of), and wake up in the middle of the night and morning with a slightly sore throat. From what I understand, the general rule is if it is above the neck you are OK to go, but a bit lower intensity/volume. The thing is I am feeling so fatigued, not enough to be on the couch all day or napping, but I cannot seem to muster up any motivation to train. I took about four days off the bike and made a deal with myself that if I did get any better then I would try moving to see how my body reacted. I was able to lift some weights one day and ran and rode the other with no avail; I am feeling the same and slightly a bit worse at days end. What are my next steps? Should I completely rest until this cold goes away or should I try pushing through it? Thank you very much.

Shaun Riebl

Colorado Springs, CO

Scott Saifer replies


Here's a general article on what to do for any level of illness from the slightest sniffle to full-blown flu and any duration from a day to weeks or longer...

I got sick. Now what should I do? (From Wenzel Coaching and Scott Saifer)

It is normal for athletes to get sick with a cold or flu once or twice per year, just like anybody else. How you deal with being sick will determine whether it keeps you out of training for a few days or ruins your season. When you are ill the highest priority should be getting well again quickly, not sticking to your training plan. Training too much while you are ill will make you stay ill or get worse. Returning to training too soon can cause a relapse. It is better to miss a few days of training voluntarily than a few weeks due to a more serious illness. The questions are how much to back off, for how long, and how to come back to full training. The answers to all these questions depend on how sick you are.

How sick are you? Illnesses divide into two categories as far as training is concerned. Do you have a little sniffle, or something worse? If you have a little sniffle, continue to do recovery pace sessions up to half the length of your longest recent training sessions. You can continue to lift weights provided that you quit if you start to feel worse. If you have a sniffle, continue the lighter workouts until you feel well and for one more day. Then return to your full training.

How long to take off? If you have chest congestion, fever, body aches, deep fatigue or nausea, you are too sick to train. Do not train (including lifting) while you have these symptoms. Start to train again when you feel close to fully recovered. If you feel sick for a day or two, take a day or two off. If you feel sick for a week, take a week off. If you are very sick or are not recovering for a full week, it is also time to consult a doctor.

How to come back? If you miss 1 - 3 days of training, just take one easy day and rejoin the schedule. An easy day is done low in your endurance zone (zone 2) for not more than half of the time of your longest recent session. If you feel weak on the easy day, take another easy day. Continue taking easy days or days off until you have a good day. You should always have four symptom free days between an illness and any hard training or racing. If your schedule calls for hard training or racing in the first four days after you return from an illness, just do long endurance sessions instead. Don't try to make up the missing days. If you missed something important like a test, talk to your coach about how to reschedule.

If you miss 4-7 days, you will need six days to return to full training. The first two days of training, aerobic train or lift, whichever is on your schedule. If you aerobic train, do 1/4 the length of your longest recent session and do it at a recovery pace. If you lift, do 1/2 your normal sets and 1/2 your normal weights. On days three and four of your return, if you train aerobically do 1/2 your long session at an endurance pace (dropping to recovery if you get tired). If you lift do your normal weights but only half the normal sets. On days 5 and 6, you can do 3/4 your normal long session at an endurance pace or your full normal lifting routine.
If you miss more than seven days of training, talk to your coach about how best to schedule your return. After a longer break it may be best to delay the remainder of your schedule or do some testing to see how much you have really lost.

When will I be strong again? It is our experience that after even a mild cold athletes are not able to race or train at their best for at least two and often as much as three weeks. After an illness don't be discouraged if you cannot race well immediately after your symptoms clear up.

Bone density concerns

I recently read a disturbing article concerning loss of bone density in cyclists. The thrust of the article was that due to the non-weight bearing nature of the sport contributed to a stark reduction in bone mass. Additionally, the article suggested that since cyclist may train for longer periods, that extra calcium may be "leached" from the bones and out through extra sweating. While most of the cyclists they studied were elite level athletes, I got the impression that I still have alot to be concerned about.

My own background: 35-year-old male, 6', 165 lbs, cat 3 racer, cycling up to 10 hours a week on average. I came from higher impact sports in my youth such as basketball and running, but quit in my early 20s due to injury and subsequently took up cycling as my primary form of exercise. My job is very sedentary which causes me extra concern. I'm considering a bone scan and possibly continuing a weight training programme throughout the year instead of just the off-season, though I know coaches usually advise against 'heavy' year round weight training. Any additional suggestions or thought would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance.

William Freeman

Pam Hinton replies


Reports of low bone density in cyclists are more than just disturbing, they are accurate. The latest research, however, is not all bad news, especially for people who are accustomed to improving things by just working harder-just like, for instance, cyclists. Unfortunately, we don't really know the prevalence of the problem. Just a couple of weeks ago, one of my hometown racers, a very fit guy about your age, was asking me about getting a bone density test. He'd read the same studies that you have and was concerned that maybe he was at risk. I suggested that he ask his physician for a dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) test, which measures the bone mineral density (BMD) of the whole body, hip and spine. The results of the test showed some sobering results. My friend has osteopenia, which is hip BMD 1 standard deviation (~10-12% of BMD) below the average for young adult males. Osteoporosis, more serious bone loss, is BMD 2.5 standard deviations below the norm. Low BMD is associated with increased risk of fracture; each standard deviation below the mean increases the chances of fracture by 1.5-2.5 fold.

This association between bone mineral density, technically the mass of the bone mineral per bone area (g/cm2), and fracture risk is why BMD gets so much attention. When it comes to preventing fractures, the primary concern is bone strength--the ability of bone to resist forces exerted on it. Bone can be compressed, bent, or twisted and its resistance to these forces depends on more than total bone mass. Small changes in BMD have disproportionately large affects on bone strength. For example, increasing BMD by 5% produced a much larger improvement of 65% in bone strength. This is because bone geometry affects bone strength. Tubing used to make bike frames makes a great analogy for understanding this concept. Frame builders can increase frame strength by increasing the diameter of the tubing. The same principal applies to bone--adding or subtracting bone mass from the outer surface of the bone, effectively changing the diameter, produces large increases or decreases in bone strength.

In a healthy individual, bone will adapt to its environment, increasing strength in response to external forces. The importance of mechanical stress on bone health is evident in studies of weightlessness. Spaceflight of 1 and 6 months reduced BMD by 2.5% and 5%, respectively. Four months of bed rest reduced bone mass by 3% in the spine and 4% in the hip. In both cases, the loss of bone mass was greatest in bones that are most stressed by gravity. Important for bone strength, loss of bone mass during weightlessness occurs at the outer surface of the bone. So how does bone sense external forces, such as the gravitational force of body weight, and respond by depositing additional bone mineral? Answering this question requires a brief look at bone biology. Bone consists of a mineral matrix that is deposited on a protein framework. Bone cells (osteocytes), responsible for synthesis of new bone, are located within fluid-filled spaces (lacunae) within the mineral matrix. The lacunae are interconnected by tiny channels (canaliculi) that also are filled with fluid. The movement of fluid within the lacunae and canaliculi creates shear stress (fluid movement) at the surface of the bone cells. This shear stress is how external forces exerted on the skeleton stimulate bone growth.

Larger shear forces (flow rate) have a greater anabolic effect. Understanding this signalling process explains why bone responds differently to different types of mechanical loading, and thus, to different types of exercise. In order for fluid shifts to occur, the loading must be dynamic, i.e., the skeleton must be moving when loaded. Static (stationary) loading does not create fluid movement. To understand the importance of dynamic loading, imagine what happens when you are riding in a car and the driver brakes unexpectedly, suddenly stopping the car. You, and everything else that is not secured, lurches forward and then slams backwards. In this example, you represent the fluid in bone. Stopping of the forward motion produces sudden shifts. Now consider what happens when the driver stomps on the brake when the car is parked. Nothing. This situation is analogous to the sheer stress that occurs with static loading of bone.

The difference between weight-bearing and non-weight bearing sports also can be understood from this analogy. If the driver of the car is going 50 miles per hour and suddenly slams into a brick wall, your movement (remember, you represent the fluid) will be much greater than if the driver was going slower or had time to brake normally. Coming to a sudden stop is analogous to the ground stopping the downward motion of your body weight. Travelling at faster speeds upon collision with an immovable object represents the difference between low- and high-impact weight-bearing activities. For example, both walking and jumping are weight-bearing activities, but the impact forces on the bones of the legs and feet are much greater with jumping than walking. To study the forces exerted by different activities, researchers implanted devices to measure force into the tibias (shin bones) of six healthy volunteers and then compared the effects of walking, performing a leg press, stair-stepping, running, and bicycling. Running induced shear forces that were twice that of walking and nearly eight-times that of cycling. To put the effects of cycling in perspective, the sheer forces induced by walking have a minimal effect on bone mass. Cycling does not generate the shear forces required to cause bone growth. Therefore, the risk of low BMD associated with cycling is proportional to the time spent in the saddle.

Cyclists also are at risk for low BMD because of increased calcium losses via sweat. Although the concentration of calcium in sweat is low (12-80 mg Ca per litre of sweat), cyclists may have higher sweat volumes than athletes in other sports. Simply, this is because cyclists spend more time training than athletes in other sports. Environmental conditions that increase sweating rates also will increase calcium losses. As an example of potential calcium loss, assume an average sweat concentration of 40 mg per litre and a sweat rate of 1.5 litres per hour, a 4 hour ride would result in a loss of 240 mg. An additional 300 mg of calcium are lost in the urine and faeces per day. To replace the losses, assuming that only 30% of dietary calcium is absorbed from the intestine, 1800 mg of calcium is required. This is considerably higher than the current recommended intake of 1000 mg per day for adults.

Obviously, sweat calcium losses are dependent on the concentration of calcium in sweat, sweat rate, and duration of the ride. As a result, calcium requirements will vary considerably between individuals. If dietary calcium is inadequate to replenish the calcium lost in sweat, calcium will be released from the bone to maintain blood levels. This calcium imbalance causes loss of bone mass over time. Aim for 1000-2000 mg of calcium per day, depending on your training. Do not exceed 2500 mg of calcium per day. Dairy products contain about 300 mg of calcium per serving. Calcium-fortified orange juice, soy milk, and tofu also contain significant amounts of calcium (100-200 mg) per serving. If you do not eat dairy products, you probably will need a calcium supplement. The best types of calcium to take are calcium carbonate or calcium citrate, which can be found in chewable tablets or soft chews. Some chewable antacid tablets contain calcium carbonate and are cheaper than most other calcium supplements. Make sure the antacid contains calcium by reading the label.

Low BMD in cyclists is not inevitable. You can minimize bone loss by consuming adequate calcium and by incorporating high-impact activities into your training program. Thankfully, when it comes to maximizing the bone-building effects of high-impact exercise it turns out that short, frequent training is best. This is because the response of bone to external forces requires adequate rest between loading sessions. Bone cells rapidly become desensitized to fluid shear stress. Animal studies have shown that bone cells stop responding after 50-100 loading cycles per session. Eight hours of rest is required to completely restore sensitivity of the bone cells to mechanical stress. Moreover, short recovery periods (10-15 seconds) between loading cycles, results in a greater increase in bone mineral than no recovery time. The most effective exercise program to increase bone mass would consist of jumping, e.g., squat, tuck or box jumps, or other plyometric exercises, e.g., bounding, single leg hopping, performed with short rest intervals between cycles and eight hours of rest between sessions. Also, young bone, particularly growing bone, is more responsive to external loading than older bone. Although the phrase, "better late than never," certainly applies to high-impact exercise training, don't wait until middle age to start high-impact exercise training.

By adhering to some of these regimens, the hometown racer friend I mentioned earlier can expect to recover some of his lost bone strength and significantly reduce his future risk of bone fracture. Based on studies done in pre- and postmenopausal women, my friend can expect to increase his BMD by 2-3% after six months of training at least 3 times per week. High-impact exercise increases BMD as much as the drugs used to treat osteoporosis. Although this seems like a negligible improvement, remember that small changes in BMD translate into much larger changes in bone strength. For example, in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis, a 1% increase in BMD reduces the chances of fracture by 4-5%. When it comes to increasing bone strength, a little bit of preventive maintenance goes a long way. And you can take it from one who knows that bone fracture is one of life's lessons you definitely want to avoid. It seriously puts a damper on your training, your racing and your quality of life. Good luck.

More strength training

Against Ric Stern's advice, I have incorporated a substantial weight lifting program to my off-season training. My goal has been to develop the meanest sprint that a 137 pound (now 140 because of the gym) climber can have. I train on the bike 15-25 hours a week and lift twice a week for about four hours total. My weight room program includes leg press, hack squats, squats, lunges, and hamstring curls. Since September I have seen about a 35-40% increase in strength on each of the exercises.

I have followed a periodized training plan in the gym and am about to begin a power phase of lifting. I also want to incorporate plyometrics into my strength training.

My questions are:

1) How do I set up a programme of power lifting and plyometrics? Obviously I don't want to be doing four strength workouts in a week.
2) What plyometric exercises would be most beneficial to developing explosive cycling power? 3) At what point should I abandon my strength training regimen in order to be fresh for the season which begins at the end of February?

M Hardman

Andrew Bloomer replies

Ric would have no objections to incorporating strength training into a programme to develop your sprint; it's using strength training to increase endurance where the contention lies

In answer to your questions:

1) I've recently observed strength and conditioning coaches demonstrating such a programme whereby they carried out a set of back squats using a heavy weight (around 6-8 reps) followed by a set of cleans with a lighter weight (10-12 reps) then going straight into a set of plyometric jumps (10 reps) all straight after each other. They mentioned that this method ensures the greatest amount of muscle fibre recruitment. For more information, visit

2) At a guess I would say simple squat jumps as they replicate the movement most closely found during sprinting

3) I wouldn't abandon it completely but would maintain it throughout the season.

Shoulder surgery


Following not recovering from a crash back in September my specialist has told me I need to have an Arthroscopic Subacromial Decompression operation on my shoulder, to clean a bone spur which is prodding a tendon in my shoulder. Any idea (ish) how long after the operation I can get back on bike? If it's going to be two months or more will I lose all of my current fitness levels or will training right up to the op be 'money in the bank' so to speak?

Jon Moore

Kelby Bethards replies


I will have to defer to your orthopedic surgeon on this, but a lot of cyclists are able to get on the trainer within a few weeks. Again, speak with your surgeon about riding a stationary bicycle, because the last thing he/she wants you do to is fall on that shoulder.

Gag reflex

I'm a 33 year old male cyclist, just got into road racing last season after years of other types of riding, including three winters as a courier here in Toronto. I'm a featherweight - 5'9", 130lbs.

A recurring problem I've had when training in colder weather seems to be triggered by post-nasal drip. I'm 15 minutes into it when down comes the phlegm, I hork it away, but that starts to trigger this gag reflex which triggers more phlegm, this time seemingly from below, as though I'm getting heartburn. It becomes bad enough that I have to stop riding as I feel like I'm choking on what's in the back of my throat.

I used to get heartburn semi-regularly as a teenager, when I ate something without drinking water or some other drink first, but since then I've been fine. I generally find that drinking water once this problem starts does help somewhat, and I wonder if I drank enough before its onset, would this not happen. Also, do you think it's a function of being in less than good shape? Or breathing the cold air through the mouth instead of the nose?

Any help would be appreciated,



Kelby Bethards replies


I have seen a couple of people for similar problems. Certainly riding in cold air can trigger rhinitis (runny nose). And, yes, it can get to the point where people "gag" on it. I have had some luck with prescribing riders nasal antihistamine sprays and nasal steroids. It helps moderate the amount of vasomotor rhinitis that cyclists tend to get.

Nutrition and weight loss

Hi guys,

I'm going to ask a couple of questions which are probably far below the level of expertise this group is used to, but I wanted to try. I'm a 27-year-old graduate student with two kids who is trying to fix his lifestyle. I'm a big cycling fan, but until recently have been the kind of fan who cheers the OLN coverage while holding a bag of Doritos. I'm 5'11, and now weigh 240 lbs. I've lost 15 pounds in 3 weeks using a new bike (Trek 2100) and a fluid trainer (I live in Iowa - no outside riding now) along with a restricted calorie diet (1700-2000 cal/day). I use a scale to get portions correct, so I'm pretty confident about those numbers. Also, based on these few weeks of counting, I'm going to estimate that my previous daily calorie consumption was 3500-4000, so these first 15 pounds are probably my body saying, "Thank God, I couldn't take much more of that!"

My problem is that I'm getting very tired. Part of that is coming from the fact that I'm taking away a little bit of sleep to get my riding done, but I'm guessing that my diet is also part of the problem. I get 6-8 hours of sleep a night, which historically has been enough, even when I was in shape six years ago. I need basic nutritional info as it pertains to my weight loss. I'm riding first thing in the morning, after I down some water, but no food. I'm only riding right now for 30 minutes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I'm riding at what feels like a tough pace for me, but I don't have a HRM or anything right now, and have spent most of my budget on the bike, the trainer and a pair of shorts. Basically, how can I get the most bang for my buck, calorie-wise, in terms of recovery? When do I want to be eating? Are there good rules in terms of what quantities to eat when? Also, from what I've described, is there anything you can glean that indicates I'm doing something fundamentally wrong? Is my body just getting used to this schedule, and will it take a while?

Kurt Lewis

Iowa City, Iowa

Scott Saifer replies


90% chance your problem stems from your rate of weight loss and not from the timing of your eating or what you are eating. In order to lose 15 pounds in thee weeks you have been shorting yourself so many calories that you are not restoring your glycogen supplies. I have extensive experience with racers losing weight, though not so much with 30 minute four times per week riders. Among folks who are training extensively, the maximum rate of weight loss that can be sustained for more than a few weeks without energy loss is generally around 2 pounds for those with a lot to lose (5'11" and 240 puts you in this category), and as little as 1/2 pound per week as the final ounces are stripped away to reach a good race weight (5'11" and 145-165 pounds if you're wondering).

With regard to exercising as a way to lose weight, remember that any calories expended as carbohydrate have to be replaced before you can exercise extensively again, while calories expended as fat do not need to be replaced and can be thought of as weight truly lost. That means that while higher intensity riding uses more total calories during the ride, higher intensity riding also means that you have to eat more afterwards to maintain your energy long term. The ideal would be to ride far enough below AT to be expending substantial calories from fat, but as hard as you can without ending up extra hungry in the day after the ride, or deeply fatigued in a way that would require a big dose of carbohydrate to repair.

Pre-ride eating


An hour before a ride you should eat 1gm carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight and 2gms two hours before and 3gms three hours before and 40-60gm carb per hour while riding. Obviously the more time you have to eat before your ride the more you can stock up the Glycogen stores.

If you are doing a 5hr ride/race and only have an hour or less to eat before the ride do you only eat 1gm or is there benefit to eating 3gm? Or is this excess eating?

How do you adjust your on the bike eating quantity during a 5hr ride if you only eat 1gm one hour before and don't have the opportunity to stock up on another 1 or 2gms per kg of bodyweight before the ride? Should you be eating 60-100gm carbohydrate per hour and how do ensure that your system has enough energy stores to get through the last hour of your ride?

Keith Litten

Scott Saifer replies


The key variable here is the rate at which you can absorb the food. Three grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight translates to four Powerbars or three bagels, which sounds to me like a lot of belly-filler to clear in an hour. I would suggest that you experiment - how much can you actually eat and not feel unpleasantly full as you begin to ride.

Same applies to during ride eating: Eat as much as you can eat without feeling unpleasantly full at the end of the long ride. If you come home hungry, you didn't eat enough. If you come home bloated, you ate too much. 60-100gm of carbs per hour while riding is not a bad target, but may be too much for less experienced athletes and smaller athletes. Some people will be able to eat a bit more.

Remember that even 100 grams of carbohydrate provides only a fraction of the energy that a strong rider will expend in an hour. It's only decreasing the rate of glycogen depletion, not really maintaining your stores. Thus stopping at 100 grams because someone told you that is the target number would be foolish if you can actually eat and absorb more. Again the key word is absorb. There's little question that you can swallow more.


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