Topics: Hyperventilating, Resistance Training, Form Management, Concussion, Salt build-up, Crank Length, Resting HR.
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I am a 53-year-old Masters racer, with 3 serious years of training behind me. However, I have been active all my life -- soccer, tennis, fitness cycling, running -- and had a pretty good base. All my regular doctor's check-ups are sterling, my EKG, cholesterol, etc.
My resting pulse is around 41 bpm, my max HR is 180. I work with an experienced coach and follow a periodized training plan. My preferred races are hilly or rolling road courses; I do some crits and circuits, mostly for the training effect.
Here is the issue: extreme bursts of hard effort can induce the onset of tingling and weakness along my shoulders, running down the forearm and into my hands. This is disconcerting to say the least and the weakness and tingling in my arms and hands can make handling the bike difficult. Needless to say, I am also breathing very heavily.
Most recently, I experienced this while doing a set of 6 reps of 20 seconds all-out, followed by 10 seconds recovery. The first time, I felt it only at the end of the entire set, but the next week, after I had mastered the technique and gearing and was putting out a lot more power per rep, it struck in rep 4. I had to suspend the drills. Both times I rode home with no problem and was no worse for wear, except a little residual soreness in the shoulders.
During these sets, my heart rate averaged around 91% of my max, with an upper level of 93-94%.
I have also experienced these sensations at times on one of the local club training rides, during a furious chase up a steady hill of 5-6 percent and lasting several minutes. However, I do not have the heart rate data from those episodes to hand.
Each time, the sensations subside shortly after I let up. In both cases -- the structured sprints and the hill attacks -- I was starting out from a moderate, steady-state heart rate. In each instance, however, I was well warmed-up with at least 60 minutes of riding time preceding the episodes.
Last weekend, I did the same hill with a different group of racers. The speed on the climb was still high but there was no sudden explosion of pace, as in the earlier cases, and I stayed with the front group without symptoms.
Interestingly, I have yet to experience this problem in a race. By way of comparison, I hit higher average and higher maximum heart rates in a recent road race than during the drills, peaking at almost 94%. In a crit two weeks before, I hit 98% of maximum HR and recorded a 2-minutes level at 94.4% In that same crit, I rode 10 minutes between 91-92% of my maximum HR, about the same average as I experienced during the structured drills that induced the symptoms. This leads me to suspect the suddenness of the effort in the drills or the hill attacks, versus the more fluid but even harder efforts in a race.
Informal consultation with a former physician/racer points toward "hyperventilation syndrome," in which rapid breathing blows off carbon dioxide, changes neural signals, and can cause parenthesis -- the numbness and tingling in the hands and arms. I gather this has been associated with high-level interval work and even high-level steady state work, especially at altitude. I live and race in the mid-Atlantic region of the States, so altitude is not an issue. Training rides in the high mountains, such as the Rockies of the Cascades, however, have so far not been a problem.
The little I have been able to find about this condition and high-level endurance athletes suggest I may be able to address it, or at least mitigate it, through a change in breathing technique. I have long suspected that I tend to breath too much through my mouth. As an experiment, I did the most recent set of drills with a nasal strip, in the hopes that opening up my nasal passages would help regulate my breathing better and prevent carbon dioxide build-up. No luck.
As I noted above, this problem has not yet occurred in competition. However, I expect that it will increasingly act as a limiting factor down the road, particularly as I get stronger and faster and able to perform at very levels of effort for longer and longer periods.
I would be grateful for any thoughts you may have on the above, as well as any suggestions for training or otherwise addressing this problem. Thank you.
Scott Saifer says:
The obvious question if you think you might be experiencing hyperventilation syndrome is whether you are hyperventilating. So, are you? Hyperventilation doesn't have much to do with breathing through your mouth. It means ventilating (moving air in and out of your lungs) more than is needed for your activity level. There are at least two interesting behaviors that are called hyperventilation. The one we run into more often is rapid, shallow breathing. In this condition, a rider is not exchanging oxygen and carbon-dioxide deep in the lungs since the new air only gets part way down before it is pushed out again, and the old air gets pushed part way out before it is sucked back in again. The result is that the rider doesn't get enough oxygen or blow off enough carbon-dioxide. They feel like they are suffocating despite breathing hard. The cure for that type of hyperventilation is deliberately taking slower, deeper breaths. Sometimes chest stretching can help in this situation, as can blowing out against pursed lips, which triggers a reflex to make the next breath deeper.
If your problem stems from blowing off too much carbon dioxide, you'd be doing the second form of hyperventilation which is more like when kids breath very fast to try to see stars or get dizzy. You'd be breathing more rapidly and deeply than necessary. It seems you'd know if you were doing this, but maybe you've gotten in the habit and not noticed it? In any case, the cure for this type of hyperventilation would be to slow down your breathing rate. One way to do that is to deliberately hold your breath for a few seconds after each inhalation. Give that a try on your next few interval sessions and see if it changes anything. If you slow down your breathing and still have the numbness and tingling, talk to your doctor about other possible problems and interventions.
Building resistance to changes of pace in racing
I’m 47 and have been cycling for about 2 years, doing a few sportives, and been able to cover 80-100 miles on long rides.
I have had a good winter of base riding.
Recently I have entered a couple of road races of between 1-2 hours duration, where I have been dropped from the bunch - generally because I've struggled to be able to react to rapid pace changes.
My training usually is about 200 miles a week, 10-12 hrs worth.
- A mix, 80, 60, 40, 30, miles on average
- Mix of hills flat, and group/solo rides.
- Mostly steady, average 18mph ish.
Am I doing too much mileage?
Should i do interval work? And any recommendations for training plans?
I've also read about tapering, how many days before a race should I start to ease off?
I quite often feel like my legs are tired, and wipped out after a long ride.
Thanks for any advice.
Scott Saifer says:
There are many, many possible reasons for your being unable to keep up in races. You haven't said what category race you are entering. 10-12 hours and 200 miles per week should be just about the right amount to allow you to start keeping up in a Masters beginner category race. You are certainly not doing too much mileage in any absolute sense. Many riders do far more and don't get dropped. Here are some possibilities to consider:
1) You may be doing too much volume or intensity compared to how much rest you are getting. How often to do you ride feeling fresh and energetic and how many times do you ride feeling tired or like you have to push yourself to maintain the pace? If you are often riding tired, decreasing ride intensity or volume will make you faster. If you are going above base pace for more than a few minutes more than 2 days per week, back off the intensity. Any time you feel other than excellent, take a short, easy-pace recovery day. Long rides should be at an endurance pace (no heavy breathing, below 80 per cent of maximum heart rate if you are using a heart rate monitor).
2) Do you draft as closely as anyone else in the field? Do you draft to the side (echelon) when the wind is from the side? No matter how strong you are, you have to suck wheels tightly to do well in bike races. In fact, riders with inferior aerobic and anaerobic power can win bike races against stronger riders if they are super efficient about drafting.
3) What cadence do you favor? You mentioned not being able to keep up with the changes of pace. That could be a matter of trying to push too big a gear so you have to make very large forces against the pedals to accelerate. If you routinely pedal 90 rpm or higher, this is not your problem. If you are below 90 much of the time, working on your spin may be the key to better race results.
4) Might be a taper issue. In general it's smart to avoid intensity in the four days before a race, other than a little bit of leg-opening work the day before. Take the day two days before the race entirely off. Three days before and four days before can be longer, but at an endurance pace. Five days before and more can be harder, but don't bury yourself completely.
5) There are lots of other possibilities: Health issues, rubbing brakes, hydration, nutrition, aerodynamics, poor bike fit, negative self talk or other psychological issues.
Hope this helps!
Form management: hitting it and maintaining it
I was wondering what causes the magical period where high intensity riding feels effortless and you seem to take a big step up in performance.
Secondly, when form arrives what is the best thing to do, keep your training schedule and intensity the same and milk it for as long as possible or hit it hard and push the ceiling on personal performance? Once form has gone should you dial back the intensity on training until it returns or continue at the same intensity?
Thanks very much
Scott Saifer says:
You've asked a simple question with a complicated answer. Simplifying too much, form comes when you've been training each of the energy systems you'll need for your sport a lot, and then you back off training enough to let fatigue clear up so you can really perform. Since recovery from different types of workout needs different amounts of time, and different types of workouts need to be continued for different amounts of time to optimize their effects, bringing on form is a matter of training a lot and then tapering, but the structure of the training and tapering can be quite complicated, and the most effective strategy for bringing on form can differ from athlete to athlete.
When form arrives, you want to switch from training up mode to maintenance mode. Continuing to train hard once form arrives mostly means being tired when you want to be fresh for racing. Again there is an art to figuring out what works for any individual, but in general it doesn't take much intensity to keep that part of form, and the more base you can get without compromising race performance the better. Riders who are leaders of their fields and can do races without spending more than a few minutes above LT can stay in race-winning shape for many months at a time. Riders who are in the red for many minutes in each race will peak for a shorter time, 6-10 weeks being common.
Once form is gone, it's time to start a new cycle with some weeks or months of base training and a new gradual transition to intensity.
What’s the right sort of rehabilitation to riding after a concussion?
I was out doing a training ride about a week ago with a couple of friends when I crashed and received a concussion. I went down at about 24mph, and thoroughly cracked my helmet. After a trip to the ER, I was told I had a concussion and to not exercise a week after receiving the concussion, and wait another week to get back on the bike once all of my concussion symptoms disappeared. It has taken about a full week for my symptoms to disappear, and now I'm trying to figure out my schedule for getting back out to doing group training rides.
A lot of the articles I have read online about concussions indicate that you should get back into normal workouts extremely slowly. I was wondering if you guys had any recommendations for a timetable to follow. I've seen advice saying do one week on the trainer to stay in a controlled, safe setting, followed by a week of short, low-intensity rides close to home, followed by a week of ramping workouts back to pre-injury levels. This is in contrast to other articles that say just take two solid weeks off then you can get back to high-intensity after just a couple of days.
Thanks for any input!
Chapel Hill, NC
Dave Fleckenstein says:
Recovery from a concussion is not as simple as taking ‘two solid weeks off’. Depending on the severity of the concussion, there can be a significant injury that requires times of reduced activity and a cautious return to activity. Recent changes in the NFL and recognition of the profound effects of concussion have highlighted the importance of early and appropriate management of concussions. I highly recommend any of our riders who have sustained a concussion to seek guidance from a physician with specific training in the management of athletes with concussion. The physicians that I work with closely use ImPACT testing (www.impacttest.com) and guidelines to help determine an appropriate return. The risk is that with an early return to high level activity and a significant concussion, there can be neurocognitive changes that, while subtle, have a profound effect on long term resolution. Additionally, if a second concussion is sustained during a vulnerable period, there can be a marked cumulative effect.
Salt build-up after a ride a bad thing?
Should i be concerned about salt deposits on my helmet straps during and after rides of about 2-3 hours? Is my performance and/or recovery suffering significantly?
My riding partners/teammates tend to give me a hard time about them. In general, i think i stay sufficiently hydrated, and have a balanced diet. I'm a Cat4 racer. I average one bottle every 20 miles (every hour) or so. I'll do a 45 mile ride with two bottles. More than that and i'll bring a third bottle in my pocket. More than 60 miles then i'll have two bottles and stop for a re-fill along the way. I generally drink diluted Gatorade, or a similar electrolyte drink, and additionally take some gels and bars. I don't have issues with cramping nor bonking.
Thanks for the help.
Scott Saifer says:
It sounds like you are we refer to as a 'salty sweater'. The amount of salt in sweat varies with hydration (the more you dehydrate, the more salt your body dumps with the water you sweat out), but also varies from person to person. If you are doing a good job of staying hydrated (your urine is generally about as dark as lemonade rather than apple juice), then you are probably one of those people who just dump a lot of salt with their sweat. If your urine tends to be dark, drink more.
Being a salty sweater in no way compromises competitive ability so long as you replace the salt you are sweating out. If you get light headed on standing or after long rides that would be a sign that you are not getting enough salt that you might notice before cramping or bonking. If you are getting light headed upon standing, try salting your food more on a routine basis. (And of course if you are getting light headed on standing and eating more salt doesn't fix it in a few days, talk to your doctor).
Longer versus shorter crank arms – is there a performance difference?
I'm a fairly tall rider at 6'2" and I ride 175mm cranks. Lately I've been reading articles about longer crank arms and the related benefits. I was curious to see if you or your staff had any thoughts on the matter. Would I really benefit by a 220 mm crank arm length?
Steve Hogg says:
The short answer is I don't know. The longer answer is that if you are going to increase your crank length by 45mm, it is very likely that you will have to drop your seat post 45mm further into your frame to maintain the same seat height as measured from pedal to seat. In turn that will mean that your knee will rise 90mm higher than it does now at the top of the pedal stroke.
A much more bent knee means an increase in shearing forces on the knee joint. A shearing force in this case means that your femur is trying to push forward over your tibia. Whether this results in injury you will only find out by trying it.
Other issues that potentially arise are:
1. A longer crank means more leverage for the part of the pedal stroke you can apply it, but often less ability to apply leverage through as many degrees of crank arc as with the shorter crank. In short, the crank arm will have to move further past top dead centre before you can apply any given degree of mechanical advantage to it because of the increased bend in your knee at the top of the pedal stroke.
2. You will reduce toe of shoe / front wheel clearance (if you have any) by 45mm or increase toe overlap by the same amount. Whether this is a concern is a personal thing.
3. Unless you have a custom frame built, you won't be pedalling through many corners.
4. A seat drop of 45mm relative to the frame means that the seat will move forward by approximately 15mm. This may have other effects on your position on the bike that are not necessarily easily predictable. In a static sense your weight will be further forward but with pressure on the pedals with the further forward pedal (45mm further forward) and will offset that to some degree. Again, only experimentation will determine this.
5. The practical issue of how to try before you buy. There are adjustable cranks available in lengths of up to 220mm from High Sierra Cycles and Zinn Cycles sell cranks in a range of lengths of up to that size as well.
6. Will you benefit?
Who knows. We don't know what you do on a bike, how you do it or what your goals are. I would be personally surprised if they are of benefit for performance riding, unless you are freakishly proportioned, but I'm happy to be wrong about this. Only you can make the final decision. If it helps, have a look at this.
Scott Saifer adds:
I agree with everything Steve has said here but would like to share a method of testing the concept before you buy, and an anecdote. As Steve notes, longer cranks mean more knee bend at the top of the stroke and make it a challenge to apply power over the top of the stroke. In extreme cases, too much knee bend makes it impossible to be smooth over the top. As Steve also noted, adding 45 mm to your crank length is going to bring the top of the pedal stroke 90 mm closer to your saddle, so to see if it's going to be possible to pedal smoothly over the top of the stroke, try dropping your saddle 90 mm and pedaling a bit. Of course the bottom of the stroke is going to be messed up, but pay attention to the top. If you feel jammed up, or your knees start getting sore, the 225 mm cranks aren't going to work for you.
Just because you are tall doesn't mean you can efficiently use long cranks. I have a client who is quite tall at 6'4" (194 cm) with proportionally long legs, but he can't pedal effectively even with 177mm cranks. With 172.5s, he's smooth as you could ask for. As it happens, despite his height he wears size 39 shoes and is not terribly flexible. One or the other of those probably explains his inability to pedal smoothly on what are rather short cranks proportional to his height.
RE: Resting Heart rate and performance
OK - I know that one should not compare your resting heart rate to another's. I also know it's a relative value. But the Scott Saifer had this to say in the June 8th Fitness Q&A:
"There is no strong connection between resting heart rate and competitive ability though, once you are down in the healthy athlete range (Say, below 54 bpm, just to pick a random number). I don't expect to find anyone with a resting heart rate in the high 60s winning races (write me if you know one)"
My resting heart rate is close to 80 bpm. In fact, I've never seen my heart rate in my life go below 65.
I'm 42 years old, 5'8" and 165 lbs and have been riding for over a decade, so it's not like I'm morbidly obese or out of shape. I did a century on Saturday with a fast group.
Is my high resting heart rate in some way a liability? Is it the limiter on my performance? I race cross, but I feel like I’m a step below the faster guys. It could also be that I don’t have a cyclists body (short legs, long torso, wide hips and shoulders), or the fact that I’m battling a herniated disc. But maybe my high resting heart rate indicates I’ll never be competitive with the fastest riders?
Scott Saifer says:
Thanks for providing the counter example. 80 is the highest resting heart rate I've heard of for a rider who can ride a fast century so you've corrected my prejudice. If you can ride a fast century with a resting heart rate of 80, there's no reason you couldn't win races with that as well.
Still, a resting heart rate of 80 is very unusual in a well trained cyclist, so I'd want to further investigate your situation to see if we can figure out why your heart beats unusually fast. First, we should match definitions of resting heart rate. When I say that, I mean your heart rate when you are lying calmly in bed in the morning after a good night's sleep and with an empty bladder. Is that where you are seeing 80 bpm?
One of the more benign causes of a high resting heart rate is fatigue. When was the last time you took a whole week of easy days, and did your resting heart rate decline during that break?
Another cause of high resting heart rate is stress. If you are anxious when you test your heart rate, it will be higher than if you are calm. Do you tend to be very anxious?
Recovering period after a crash
My question is related to an accident I had while riding 4 weeks ago. I crashed and separated my shoulder, fractured 4 ribs and punctured a lung. I spent the night in the hospital with a chest tube in. My surgeon and my orthopedic surgeon tell me it will take 6 weeks to be healed but I can get back on the bike. Now over the last week I have been riding but my excerise tolerance is decreased a lot and now my breathing and my heart rate increase with any effort. This has been very frustrating because I was in great shape before the accident now I can't walk across the parking lot without being short of breath. In your experience how long will it take before I will be able to start training after this type of injury?
Kelly Bethards says:
I will give you an over simplified rule of thumb.
You can get back on the bike and ride, but expect to be tired, and at a lower level of fitness. Generally (no two humans are the same), I tell people it'll take just as long as you were sick (or kept out of training because of injury) to get back to that fitness. So, in your case, I would expect it to take 4 weeks.
When you are healing, a lot of small and large physiologic processes are occurring and helping you mend. These all take energy and deplete resources normally used in training.
Beta-Alanine as an alternative to Creatine supplements
In the last Fitness Q&A, your answered a question about using Creatine as a supplement. I see some riders around me using Beta-Alanine. What about this? Does it have the same effects than Creatine and is it good for endurance training?
Pamela Hinton says:
ß-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, which means that it does not need to obtained in the diet because it can be made in the liver.
Unlike most amino acids, ß-alanine is not incorporated into structural proteins. Rather, one of the functions of ß-alanine is synthesis of carnosine in skeletal muscle. Carnosine, which is alanine linked with the amino acid histidine, acts as an intra-muscular buffer by neutralizing excess acid (hydrogen ion) production. Although carnosine accounts for only 10-15% of the total buffering capacity of skeletal muscle, it is possible to increase carnosine muscle content via dietary manipulation. As mentioned above, carnosine is made in skeletal muscle from the two amino acids histidine and ß-alanine, and the rate of carnosine production is determined by the availability of ß-alanine, i.e., its concentration in blood. Thus, the rationale behind supplementation with ß-alanine to improve performance is that by increasing skeletal muscle carnosine content, the fatigue associated with acidosis will be reduced. It is important to point out that this rationale applies only to very high-intensity exercise that results in an accumulation of hydrogen ions in skeletal muscle--it is not relevant to endurance activity.
There is evidence that ß-alanine supplementation can increase the concentration of carnosine in skeletal muscle; however, the evidence that ß-alanine supplementation improves performance is equivocal.
Although ß-alanine supplementation does not improve muscular strength or maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) or endurance performance, there is limited evidence that exogenous ß-alanine might increase work capacity during supra-maximal efforts, e.g., sprinting or cycling above maximal power. In particular, the existing literature suggests that ß-alanine affects performance during multiple very-high-intensity bouts or single bout lasting longer than 60 seconds.
ß-alanine supplementation has negative side effects. ß-alanine at doses of >20 mg /kg of body weight cause intense and unpleasant paresthesia (numbness, burning, prickling of skin). Thus, the maximal tolerable dose is 800 mg consumed at one time. Because ß-alanine has a relatively short half-life, multiple doses can be taken when consumed at 3-hour intervals for up to 3200 mg ß-alanine per day.
Another potential undesirable consequence of ß-alanine supplementation is a reduction in the intracellular amino acid taurine because ß-alanine and taurine are taken up into cells using the same transporter. Taurine regulates cellular fluid balance and is an intracelluar antioxidant; therefore, long-term depletion of cellular taurine might negatively affect muscle cell function. ß-alanine is abundant in protein-rich foods and supplemental ß-alanine is not required to achieve intakes associated with increased muscle carnosine content, i.e., 3200 mg per day. For example, four ounces of meat, 1 cup of milk or yogurt and 1 egg each provide 1000-1500 mg of ß-alanine.
In summary, while ß-alanine supplementation increases muscle carnosine content, potential performance benefits are limited to very-high-intensity activity. Although ß-alanine supplementation is apparently safe, it causes temporary paresthesia at high doses.