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How beneficial is a constant weight training programme for a competitive 45-year-old racing cyclist? I recently started weight training last fall when the cycling season ended. I have been consistent throughout the winter and have mixed the weights with running and commuting to work o the bike.
With the new season fast approaching, the majority of my training will be on the bike; is it worth keeping up at least one session a week during the season?
I have not noticed any benefit as yet except to say mixed with the running, which I do every winter anyway I have noticed a improvement in my core body strength.
Finally, the primary reason I took up weights was to try and maintain strength and or slightly improve my performance particularly in time trials. I have read various articles on the subject - I feel during the season one spends enough time dedicated to the bike and really want to get an opinion as to whether adding in weights will make any difference.
Dave Fleckenstein says
While weight lifting has not been shown to directly improve cycling performance, there is compelling research indicating that, particularly as we age, weight training should be a consistent part of our routine.
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass that occurs with detraining and as a result of normal aging. At younger ages, we have a specific assay of proteins and enzymes that encourage muscular growth and repair. As we age, the presence of these 'pro-growth' substances fades.
To quote from one study "Prior to the exercise training, the transcriptome profile showed a dramatic enrichment of genes associated with mitochondrial function with age. However, following exercise training the transcriptional signature of aging was markedly reversed back to that of younger levels for most genes that were affected by both age and exercise."
Thus, weight training prevents age-related changes even at the gene expression level. This is pretty impressive, and should be inspiring to all to continue or initiate weight training.
I tend to think that most of the people reading this column are in cycling for the long-term. It only makes sense that regular weight training should be a part of a long-term program. The key for many is gently introducing the stimulus of lifting over a 6 - 12 week period. Most start too aggressively and cause injury. Additionally, tapering of the training can be performed around specific events.
Scott Saifer says
The short answer to your question is "no". Strength training in the non-racing season has some benefits, but once the racing season rolls around, it's time to put away the strength training equipment and ride the bike.
The exception is that some riders benefit from a core strength routine maintained year round, and we sometimes use continued strength training to delay a peak, or give a rider something from which to taper when they need a particularly good performance.
Brian then responded:
Thank you for the reply, much appreciated.
It was becoming a drag tying to fit in the gym once a week with the season around the corner.
I thought because I was getting older I might need to do a constant weights programme. I am an avid runner in the off season and have often run the Dublin and NY marathons back to back, so I know I was getting load bearing cross training in which I know is of benefit to my bones.
Anyway I haven't noticed any great improvement in performance since I started a weight programme last fall, except to say I feel stronger, from a core strength perspective. Every year I say I will stop racing but I keep going. Regardless of my age I still ride 1st/2nd cat races.
Our cycling federation has changed the rules for what they call 'super vets', so in order to fall back a few categories I would have to take a year out and get no results or points. Still, in all I am grateful to have the health to still compete at that level, so I cannot complain.
Scott Saifer says
It's good that you are thinking about maintaining muscle mass, but I've not seen anything to suggest that you need to lift year round to maintain adequate muscle mass. The muscles you use for pedaling will be getting plenty of workout when you ride races.
You don't want the others to disappear of course, but they don't just disappear the day you stop lifting. They begin to dwindle slowly. So long as they are getting a bit of action in your daily life, they'll still be there, ready to start lifting again after the season.
Just so you know, so long as you are lifting, you should not expect to feel much benefit from lifting to your bike riding. That comes a few weeks after you taper or cease lifting for the season and recover fully so you can express the strength you've gained in on-bike activities.
Lower right hip pain
Dear fitness experts,
I am an experienced masters racer. I converted to the mid foot cleat position last year (12 months ago). I have no observable flaws while riding. I sit balanced and centered on the saddle. I have a smooth pedaling style and can spin easily at 100+ rpm for extended periods.
I can remove my hands from the drops while riding without losing control or balance (as prescribed by your column for saddle and stem positioning). I can pedal up hills with no hands without losing control of the bike. I feel comfortable while riding.
However, I do notice a tightening of my right hip during rides that exceed two hours which leads to a penetrating ache that worsens as the ride continues. I can relieve some of the ache by sitting upright with no hands and pedaling.
The location is the sacroiliac joint and I believe the muscles that are tight include the quadratus lumborum and the iliocostalis lumborum. There may be more muscles involved. I am only going by what I can view from the pictures in my stretch book (The anatomy of stretching).
When I first get off the bike I am bent over and twisted to the left at the hip and shoulder. My wife says that my lower spine also bends to the right just above the hip level like a sideways 'U' shape. It appears as though the right hip muscles are so tight that they are pulling the spine to the right.
Within a few minutes off the bike I am able to loosen the tightness and stand upright. The spine also corrects itself. The hip ache problem occurs more quickly when I ride in the drops pushing big gears. It seems to be getting worse. So I thought I should address it now. Do you have any suggestions?
Steve Hogg says
The most common reason for right side SIJ pain and increased right side QL tightness is the left hip moving forward and down on each LH pedal stroke. Doing so places posterior pressure on the right SIJ and the right side QL has to brace against the uncontrolled movement of the left hip. The most common reason for this is tight left psoas with or without a shorter leg.
The less common reason for what you describe is a shorter and/or tighter right leg, hip and lower back. The simplest way to find out is enlist the help of someone with good observations skills, mount your bike on an indoor trainer and work up to a reasonably high level of resistance but not so high as to compromise pedaling technique. It can help the observer if you place a marker pen dot on each SIJ. This makes any extraneous movement more obvious.
What I need you to get back to me with is information from your observer as to which hip is dropping on that side pedal down stroke and which hip sits further forward than the other. Your observer will need to stand on a chair or a stool behind and above you to determine this. Let me know what happens.
Winter cross training
A question related to winter cross training for cycling. I am 39, male, an average cat 5/sport road/MTB racer, a goal would be to move up a category in each this summer.
I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada so we get a "real" winter - reasonable amount of snow and temperatures way below freezing point; it's currenly minus 19C outside and this is not unusual. I do commute to/from work by on my cross bike year round, including winter, an approximately 13km round trip.
Indoor trainers and XC skiing are common forms of winter training. However, I don't have the desire to sit inside for any length of time. I also ride a lot from April - November so I think a break is probably a good thing. XC skiing doesn't work for me either for various logistical reasons. I have not seen much info on the value and use of running and ice skating as effective forms of cross training for cycling. Are you able to provide any insight or suggestions?
With running, I have done marathons in the past and am aware the medium-to-long distance type running doesn't directly use the same muscles as cycling (though is good for general cardio). However, what about sprints (200 - 1600m) and hill/stair repeats? I know my legs are shot after these efforts but am less sure if this will translate into power and strength on the bike.
Ice skating does seem to have more in common with cycling in that the quads and glutes are directly utilised. Would be interested to hear your perspective on both explosive interval/sprint types of workouts (i.e., hockey) and long distance steady pace workouts (we have a nice big lake loop readily accessible).
Scott Saifer says
As you already understand, there are two different kinds of training: there's sort of "general fitness" training and then there's sport specific training. The goals of general fitness training include preventing winter weight gain, maintaining the habit of regular training, and maintenance of cardiac fitness.
The choice of cross training mode is also influenced by the desire not to do anything that will detract from your main sport, by causing you to gain bulky but not cycling specific muscle, for instance. For those purposes aerobic running, XC-skiing and long-distance ice skating are all similarly useful. They are pretty similar in terms of their effects and I would recommend you do whichever one is most appealing to you.
Harder work should be done on the bike as much as possible. If bike performance is really the main goal, avoid doing sprints other than on the bike. Just work on aerobic base in the winter.
To maintain some bike-specific fitness, ride the bike on the trainer at least once per week for a few hours on top of your commute schedule. Rides of 1/2 hour or less are physiologically more practice for warming up than practice riding while warmed up. As the racing season approaches, add bike hours and taper non-bike hours. I usually suggest ending all cross training six weeks before the first race to allow full recovery, and tapering to no more than two cross training days per week at 10 weeks before racing.
This past July I switched from a Selle Flite Gel Flow to a Specialized Toupe (143mm) to help alleviate my hips rocking (I believe that this was causing tightness in my QL's). I believe that using this saddle has been beneficial in two respects:
1. It has reduced/eliminated my hips rocking
2. It encourages (enforces?) a forward rotation of my pelvis which also benefits my lower back.
My question is, are there other saddles, like the Specialized, that have a flatter profile that supports the sitz bones? My old Selle may have measured as wide as the Specialized but it's sides near the back drop off dramatically offering little to no support for my sitz bones. I'm thinking that I would like to try other saddles with a bit more padding than the Specialized and that offer similar support.
Steve Hogg says
Have a look at the Selle SMP Glider and Lite 209 models.
Low protein diets and muscle repair
I am a 41-year-old male track bike racer. I used to use weight training as cross training and muscle/strength building during the winter months, and had gotten out of the habit. I also used to eat high-protein foods to build/repair the muscles after my workouts.
I now am trying to get back into the old regimen but I have IGA nephropathy (a kidney disorder in which an autoimmunity protein attaches itself to the kidneys and limits its function) and am currently at 55 percent kidney functionality. Because of this, I am on a low-protein diet. I am looking for a muscle repairing food that isn't high in protein. Is there even such a thing? Much of the literature I have read is that proteins are the only way to go. Any ideas?
Scott Saifer says
I hope the doctors and nutrition experts on the panel will chime in, but how low protein do you need to eat to deal with your kidney disorder? I ask because protein is definitely needed for muscle growth and repair, but the amounts are not large compared to what many athletes eat.
Depending on the study, numbers around 1/4 to 2/3 gram of protein per day per pound of body weight seem to come up as being adequate to support health and performance. Most athletes get far more than that even without supplementation.
If you need to eat less protein than that, you may be able to benefit from consuming isolated essential amino acids. Proteins are assembled from roughly 20 amino acids. The essential amino acids are the ones that your body cannot make on its own. The others your body can make or absorb from food.
By eating only the essential amino acids, you can end up having all the amino acids needed for muscle repair with a smaller total amount of protein eaten and less work for your kidneys. If you decide to go that way, you should work with a doctor or nutritionist to figure out the correct amount and balance of essential amino acids to consume.
Kelby Bethards says
Well the doctor on this panel would say talk to your nephrologist. The saying in medicine is that the dumbest kidney is still smarter than the smartest kidney doctor. That being said, I think it will be prudent to discuss your training desires and riding goals with them.
As you alluded to, a lot of protein is not necessarily good for the kidney, nor is the lack thereof. But some balance because of your activities will be necessary... I believe your kidney doctor SHOULD be able to give you guidance on this and be able to refer you to a nutritionist that will be helpful.
Milk products and position alignment
I remember reading a fitness response from Steve Hogg several years ago regarding an "unproven" diagnosis in which milk products caused poor bike position and pain. I referred to all the archive fitness articles but could not find what I was looking for.
Can he elaborate on this topic for me? My cycling coach has heard of this also but had no scientific evidence of this correlation (milk/bike position/pain).
Steve Hogg says
I have got no unchallengeable evidence either, but I do occasionally see a correlation between the intake of milk products and pelvic asymmetries and other issues.
If I am confronted with a client with hard to resolve issues and am not finding the usual reasons for what I am observing, then one of the suggestions that can work for a positive improvement is to have the rider eliminate all dairy products for a minimum of eight weeks. Even for the minority of riders that this helps, most notice no real difference in the first six weeks, hence the eight-week recommendation. If there is no improvement after eight weeks, then dairy products are not the problem.
For a minority of people, eliminating dairy food can make a positive change in matters relating to on bike back pain, foot numbness and tingling as well as general on bike pelvic symmetry.
Many of the people that I've seen who have found this change in diet to be beneficial had a known intolerance to milk products but had ignored it. Just as many had none of the usual symptoms like bloating or excessive mucous production. I can guess at the reasons for all of this but don't know for sure. I hope this helps.