Fitness questions and answers for August 16, 2004

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at...

Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding.

Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com) is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.

Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Michael Smartt (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Altitude training
Altitude and nutrition
Training zones
Cyclo-cross
Indoor vs outdoor training
Knee pain
Seating
Power to weight
ACL surgery and hamstring pain
Fixed wheel training
Sore feet
Stretching
Big chainring size
Knee over spindle
Cramps
Time trial training
Pre-race warm ups
Road shoe fit
Microcycles and mesocycles
Commuting miles
Tapering
Low intensity and cadence
Muscle mass

Altitude training

I have a question regarding altitude training and its benefits. I spent most of my life living at 5000ft. elevation (riding at 5000-10000ft), and moved to Phoenix (1200ft elevation) a few years ago. I've recently taken a few trips back to my hometown (pre-riding some courses for racing next summer), and noticed that my strength is greatly diminished on the 8000-10000ft elevation courses. Especially on climbs, I would find my legs immediately feeling "starved" of oxygen, becoming very heavy, and my HR would jump above LT. I could usually recover somewhat in the middle of the climb, but still did not feel great. Even after a full week of training at altitude, I did not feel much better. It was a little discouraging, considering the lap times I used to clock when I lived in the area years ago.

My questions are as follows. What are your suggestions for training, if your races will primarily be at high altitude? what is the frequency or severity of time needed at elevation to become acclimated or gain benefit from the training? How long does the benefit last once you return to lower elevation? does it last days, weeks, months? Are there other ways to train for high altitude races, besides being at high altitude?

Although I won't be doing the high altitude races until early next summer, I want to be as prepared as possible, and seek your advice.

I'm a 32 year-old NORBA/MTB Expert racer. I ride 3-4 times a week, interval and endurance training, both road and MTB, about 100-150 miles per week.

Rob Topol
Phoenix, Arizona

Eddie Monnier replies:

Based on studies of elite runners, you would expect a decrease of roughly 15-20% in VO2max at an altitude of 8K-10K feet (Bassett et al, Comparing Cycling World Hour Records, 1967-1996: Modeling with Empirical Data. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 31:1665-76, 1999).

You need to spend several weeks at altitude to acclimatize materially. This is rarely feasible, even for the Elite athlete. So unless you can spend three or more weeks at altitude before your event, you're generally better off arriving as close to your event as possible.

For athletes living closer to sea level such as yourself, hypoxic tents may level the playing field with your altitude dwelling competitors. The "live high, train low" approach has proven effective for acclimatizing but like actual altitude, generally requires several weeks before adaptation is material. And four to six weeks is more realistic for many. Most of the studies I've reviewed have demonstrated that an altitude of 7,500 feet or higher is required for a daily exposure of 8-10 hours. Realize, too, that individual responses to altitude -- and thus adaptations -- will vary. Some people may adapt quickly and materially while others may adapt slowly and immaterially. Room-sized tents typically cost $5K or more but some of the companies are now offering leasing programs (see Colorado Altitude Training at www.altitudetraining.com and Hypoxico at www.hypoxico.com).

Altitude and nutrition

I currently live, train, etc., at an elevation of between 500 and 1200 ft. If I want to do some races next summer in Colorado but will only be able to arrive a few days before the race, is there anything I could do to simulate altitude at home? Would one of those snorkel-looking breathing thingies help? What if I drove to the highest nearby mountain with an elevation of 2500 ft. and used the simulator on a trainer - would that be worth while? And I don't have the means to get one of those tent rigs.

Another question, are there any nutritional approaches to help me acclimate to the higher altitude more quickly, such as iron rich foods?

John A. Ehinger Jr.

Pam Hinton replies:

At altitude we are more susceptible to dehydration, so be sure to stay well hydrated. The risk for dehydration is greater at altitude because of increased water losses and decreased fluid intake. Exposure to the lower relative oxygen concentration at altitude causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Secondary to these adaptations, the kidney excretes more water, and there is a net loss of body water during the first few days at altitude. In addition, more water is from the lungs via evaporation because of the decreased humidity and increased respiration rate at altitude compared to sea level. Appetite and thirst are often reduced during acclimation to altitude, so fluid intake may be inadequate.

If you live at altitude for several weeks, your body adapts to the relative lack of oxygen by producing more red blood cells (RBCs), which increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. As a result, the blood is able to deliver more oxygen to the rest of the body. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-binding protein in RBCs, but iron itself is not a stimulus for RBC production. To get the benefit of training or living at altitude, you must have enough iron available to make hemoglobin. So, before going to the trouble of regularly training at altitude or shelling out big bucks for a hypoxic tent rig, you should be sure that you are not iron deficient. This will require a blood test for hemoglobin and ferritin.

A low hemoglobin concentration is usually indicative of iron-deficiency anemia. This means that your body’s ability to make hemoglobin is already compromised because of insufficient iron. You definitely do not want to train at altitude if you are anemic. Ferritin is an iron storage protein found in the liver and the concentration of ferritin in blood reflects your iron stores. When your body makes hemoglobin it will draw on the iron stored in your liver, as well as dietary iron. If your ferritin is low, then you may not have enough iron available to make hemoglobin and I recommend that you take an iron supplement for 4-6 weeks. Supplements differ in the chemical form and in the amount of elemental iron they contain. Ferrous sulfate and ferrous gluconate are the most common forms of supplemental iron because they are the most readily absorbed and cause fewer gastrointestinal symptoms (constipation, cramping). Iron from supplements will be best absorbed if taken with citrus juice. Also, avoid taking the supplement with dairy products or tea, both of which will decrease iron absorption. Unlike most other minerals, our bodies cannot get rid of excess iron. This makes the potential for iron-toxicity high and it is possible to “overdose” on iron supplements. For this reason, don’t take more than 18 mg of iron per day and have your physician monitor your ferritin levels.

Training zones

I'm a male masters road racer aged 40. I started racing again after a 10 year layoff (still rode just didn't race). I had a subpar year and realized that I lacked training structure. I am setting up a program for next year and I am confused. I just completed my state time trial 40k. My time was 1:02 and my average heart rate was 194. How do I use this information to set up training zones? Also, I have 10 hours per week to train.

Jeff Bass
Springfield, Mo

Dave Palese replies:

You'll probably get different answers from each panelist here, so here is mine.

You can assume that 194 is a pretty good estimation of your Anaerobic Threshold.

Going on that assumption, I would use the following training levels for a client of mine with the same average HR from a 40k ITT.

Estimated Anaerobic Threshold Heart Rate=194

Recovery (Up to 79% EST. ATHR): >154
Training Type: Active rest, recovery

Endurance (80-88% EST. ATHR): 156-171
Training Type: Basic endurance, aerobic capacity

Tempo (89-93% EST. ATHR): 173-181
Training Type: Aerobic capacity

Threshold (94-102% EST. ATHR): 183-198
Training Type: Anaerobic Threshold Power

Submax (105% EST. ATHR +): 204+
Training Type: Anaerobic capacity

Max (Maximum effort): No HR Assigned
Training Type: Sprints

Cyclo-cross

After a successful road racing season I have been contemplating racing a few cross events this winter to add life to the dullness of training inside during our harsh New England winters. I will only be competing as a Cat 4 and was wondering, since I'm completely new to the sport, what equipment I need to have a chance. Will my Giant NRS with slick tires suffice? Thanks a bunch and I am ever grateful for your awesome tips,

Brandon Baker

Dave Palese replies:

Cross is a great way to break up the winter, and have a fun workout during your weekly schedule. It will also help to improve your bike handling.

As far as equipment goes, your Giant NRS, although you could do a cross race using this bike, would not be your best bet. The bike's weight and rear suspension would make your racing very inefficient.

Luckily cross bikes are pretty cheap! Redline makes a pretty cheap rig, the "Conquest", that will be great for what you want to do in the sport.

Another great bike is the LeMond "Poprad". Not as inexpensive as the Redline, the Poprad is a great rig, in my humble opinion.

As far as training, spend a good chunk of time working on skills, mounts and dismounts. Skills in cross make or break your cross experience.

Indoor vs outdoor training

I am a 41 y/o female cyclist, road and mtn bike riding and racing for fun and fitness. I have a fairly organized training plan I've been following for the last 2 years, and have seen wonderful progress in my performance/fitness levels. However, becoming a single parent recently, mom to 2 young children, my days of long weekend rides every week with the gang are pretty much gone for a while.

I have purchased a Computrainer to help keep me sharp when I can't be outdoors.

What do you suggest as far as building a training schedule around indoor cycling? I have 2 long, hard races left in the season, one 36 mile climb from 0-10,005 ft, and the other a 112 miler.

My former schedule was M=easy spin; T=sprints (hills and flats), weights; W=endurance; Th=20 min A/T intervals; F=easy spin; Sat=shorter group ride; Sun=long, hard group ride or race

Can I maintain that schedule with the Computrainer? Are there certain things I should or shouldn't do indoors that I do outdoors?

Kate

Dave Palese replies:

It is possible to maintain the schedule you describe using the Computrainer. It may be boring at times, but using the SpinScan, power data, programmable workouts as distractions, it may not be so bad.

Your group riding session on the weekends will be tough to simulate, so get out for those if you can. Doing so will also help keep you skills sharp, and help to recharge your mental batteries after weekdays on the trainer.

The only workouts that may be challenging on the trainer are sprints. Sprinting on a trainer is always awkward at best. I have found that when I have riders doing sprints on the trainer, say through the winter months here in New England, I prescribe them as seated sprints, where the athlete remains seated from start to finish. This removes the element of standing being so strange on the trainer, and it can help to emphasize acceleration from the hips, which is very important for a strong sprint.

Knee pain

I'm a 32-year old road and MTB racer, average 150 miles/wk road, plus at least one MTB ride/wk. Height, 5-5; Weight, 150. This year I've been plagued with pain under and around the bottom of my left knee cap. MRI showed all is okay. Cortisone, shot and oral, ineffective. I've used Look pedals for a decade, but on a desperate lark I changed over my Crank Bros pedals to my road bike. Voila! Knee pain now almost a non-factor, happily hammering away. So I tried putting Crank Bros cleats on my road shoes, micro-measured, etc, and the new cleats make my knee hurt, while the old cleats do not! What ever could be going on here?

Ted Zuhlsdorf
Boulder, Colorado

Steve Hogg replies:

The simple answer is I don't know what is going on either, but I can give you some possibilities to work through. I'm not surprised that the MRI showed nothing of concern because knee pain on a bike is rarely caused by an issue intrinsic to the knee. Usually the causes in a general sense are:

1. Problems with cleat placement.
2. Misalignment and / or dysfunction of the foot and / or ankle at one end; and
3. Problems with the hip and / or lower back at the other end.

Given that your problem arose this year and that you don't mention any previous history of left knee niggles, why is it only the left knee that is hurting?

Could something have changed, ie, new bike, shoes or seat?

Have you had a heavy fall or other big impact?

Has your training load increased markedly?

Do you feel that one leg is working harder than the other?

As to why your MTB shoe with Crank Bros cleats almost alleviate the problem but new cleats of the same type don't on the road shoe could possibly be explained by:

1. Differences in the sole stiffness or last shape between the shoes
2. The more worn cleat has a greater 'slop' factor and that this is relieving pressure on the knee
3. Despite the time you have taken over measuring cleat position on the MTB shoes and transferring that position to the road shoes, you may have not got it right.

Here is what I would do in your shoes. Firstly, find a positioning expert with experience and a track record with knee and related problems. From what I understand from Aussies I know who race in the U.S., Boulder is a bit of a cycling hot bed and there should be a few people of this type to choose from. Secondly, I would find an appropriate health professional to have a look at whether there are any marked asymmetries of pelvic function. For instance, if there are and you are not sitting square on the seat, the effects of this flow towards the periphery with the knees along that chain. Knees only want to work in a single plane, and either your left one is not, or it is being prevented from working in the correct plane.

Seating

I am a 40yr old cyclist who rides about 150-200 miles per week. Over the past year and a half, I noticed that while riding I developed a habit of moving toward the left of the seat slightly and when looking at me from behind it looks like I am shifted on the left cheek and facing the right at an angle. I am not sure how this developed since I have been riding a bike since the age of 7. It could be old age! I recently got the bike refitted and my cleat alignment was pretty good, seat height fine but when they did measurement my left hammie was tighter than the right leg and the quad musculature is more pronounced in the left leg. This might be due to the weight lifting and the machine I am using. Also, my pedal analysis showed that my left leg is stronger than the right. I feel the seating arrangement is correct but could it be a hip problem? Also, leg size are the same? Just need a second opinion or idea about the next step, thanks

Howard

Steve Hogg replies:

what you describe is relatively common and though there are several reasons that can cause you to hang to the left, the one that is most likely, and that fits the pattern of function that you display is caused by overly tight hip flexors on the left side. Basically, what is likely to be happening is that the tight left hip flexors are pulling your pelvis down and probably forward on the left side. This would explain the 'weaker' right leg. It is only weaker because it is having to reach further to the pedal than the left side. Tight hip flexors also neurologically inhibit the glutes whose primary job on a bike is to extend the hip, ie, push the upper leg down.

With the glute not working properly, the left side quads and hammies are under increased load. The quads because their job is to extend the knee, ie, straighten the lower leg. Because you have a pedal to push against and a glute that is not working properly, the action of straightening the lower leg will generate movement at the hip, but without necessarily full glute involvement. This of course means that the quads are more heavily loaded as they are doing more than their share of the work. There is an element of double jeopardy in this, in that the centre quad, the rectus femoris works as both a hip flexor and a quadricep. This increased load on the quads can add to the tightness of the hip flexors as the 5 hip flexors are functionally linked. The tighter left hammie is explained by the fact that hamstrings both assist the glute and oppose the quads. With the glute not working fully the hammie is under more pressure because it is doing more work in a pelvic stability sense and with the increased strain on the quads, the hammie is working harder in eccentric contraction.

If this is you, and it is likely, there are various band aid positional solutions but the best advice is to consult a good physiotherapist who will perform a psoas release and show you some effective hip flexor stretches. This should solve your problem.

[Howard then asked about stretching - Ed]

A good stretching routine will solve the problem over time if done properly. A good physiotherapist [and for that matter a good chiropractor] should be able to perform a psoas release, which in conjunction with a well designed stretching program should make a big difference. Bear in mind that our performance on the bike is closely related to the degree of function that we possess structurally. Ideally, our main athletic interest should be maintaining and improving function; in our case cycling is what we choose to do with that function. A terrific self help book is Stretching and Flexibility by Kit Laughlin and published by Simon and Schuster.

We all want to perform better on our bikes. Generally speaking, we concentrate too much on developing a big engine and not enough time in making sure that the chassis we house it in is working properly.

Power to weight

I've heard so much about how important your power to weight ratio is, but how do I figure out what ratio is best? I'm female, 5'9", 126 pounds , but I don't know what my body fat percentage is. Am I at a good weight or should I slim down? What is my optimal power to weight ratio? I just started biking seriously this year, but I run a lot, so I think both my biking and running would benefit from knowing my power to weight ratio and then improving it.

Cate

Dave Palese replies:

A good Power-to-Weight ratio ranges from 4.0-6.0 and up for senior women (this according to The Cyclist's Training Bible).

It would seem to me that for your height, I wouldn't make weight loss a priority. Focus on workouts and training that will increase your m power output, and you'll raise your P-W.

Remember to that P-W is just a number, and is only part of the equation. Don't neglect developing skills, techniques and good strategies and tactics.

Dario Fredrick replies:

Power to weight (P/W) ratio can be best determined by taking your maximal steady state (MSS) power ( 30 min max sustained effort) and dividing it by your body weight in kilograms. P/W ratio gives us an idea about one's potential for climbing performance.

To compare yourself with competitive P/W ratios in US women's road cycling categories, here are ranges developed from MSS testing and power meter data:

Category -- Power to Weight Ratio (watts/kg)
Cat 5 2.6 - 2.9
Cat 4 3.0 - 3.3
Cat 3 3.4 - 3.7
Cat 2 3.8 - 4.1
Cat 1 4.2 - 4.5
Nat'l Pro 4.6 - 5.3
World class 5.4 - 6.2

Regarding your weight, your body mass index puts you at the very low end of what is considered "normal weight," which suggests that you are probably already quite slim. If you feel healthy and experience good energy levels given your current diet and exercise behavior, there is no reason to seek a change in your body weight.

Unless your goal is to be competitive on sustained climbs in a given racing category, there is not necessarily an optimal P/W ratio to strive for. If you maximize your fitness, muscular endurance, efficiency and power, you'll probably achieve your optimal P/W ratio, whatever that may be. Keep in mind also that if you improve your P/W ratio by increasing your power rather than by losing weight, not only will you climb better, but you will be able to ride faster on flat terrain as well.

ACL surgery and hamstring pain

I am a 49 year old road rider, and average about 450 annual hours of training, generally in the Colorado mountains. About 18 months ago I had ACL surgery, with a left hamstring tendon graft in the left knee. I am still building up the leg, and when I race or train hard (up hills in particular) I have a significant cramping and pain in my upper left hamstring (just below the glutes) - I never had this problem before surgery. A PT said that my flexibility is very good on both legs. Any suggestions on how to get rid of this pain?

Rick Mull

Steve Hogg replies:

Cramping in the upper hammie just below the glutes is almost always caused by seat height being slightly too high. It only makes its presence felt on hard and/or hilly rides because under high load conditions, all but a few drop their heels to a greater degree, relative to their natural technique, than under lesser load conditions. This causes greater extension of the leg and the high torque, lower rpm pedalling usually used to climb exacerbates the problem.

You mention that this has only occurred post surgery and that you are still building up the leg. It may be that if the left leg musculature hasn't returned yet to normal size and strength, that you are having to work the left leg relatively harder, because of reduced strength, than the right. The quick and easy solution is to drop you seat 3 -5 mm. This should make an appreciable difference and you could raise the seat in increments back to your normal height as your recovery continues. It is also possible that you are unconsciously favouring your [currently] stronger right leg and are not sitting square on the seat as a result. It could also be that you don't yet have the same range of motion in the left knee as you did pre surgery and that this is the cause of the increased load on the left hamstring. If dropping the seat doesn't do the trick, it would be worth finding someone who is knowledgeable about bike positioning and who has experience with post knee surgery riders to have a look at you.

Fixed wheel training

I've been using my beloved fixie for the past couple of months to past the time during my base training in the wet and windy climes of Perth. I am finding that riding the fixie regularly has corresponded with a more efficient pedal stroke and the feeling of being stronger on the road bike. My question is this, Are there any studies that have proven the benefit of fixed wheel training and also any benefits of using a fixie over training on a normal freewheel road bike?. Is it an aspect of my training that should be a mainstay throughout the season or is it something to ride when I am a bit stale on the road bike?. Any ideas on what gear ratios I should be using for different aspects of my training (for sprints, hills, etc)?

I am currently running a 48-16.

Byron Davy
Perth, Australia

Eddie Monnier replies:

There are a lot of coaches and athletes who swear by fixed gear training on the road. However, even though I am a big proponent of track racing, I am not generally a fan of riding fixed gear bikes on the road for several reasons. First, there are no studies of which I am aware that show a durable benefit to ones pedal stroke (that's not to say there isn't, just not any conclusive scientific evidence). Interestingly, of the one study of which I am aware that compared pedal strokes, trackies were the biggest mashers when compared to roadies and MTB'ers, the latter being the smoothest because the application of even force is important to maintain traction on loose dirt climbs.

Secondly, few people live in an area flat enough to make it both safe and beneficial. In anything but flat terrain, most people will either be over- or undergeared. In fact, I've seen guys almost bounced off their bike because they were turning 140+ rpm on a decline on their fixie. That's not conducive to smoothing ones pedal stroke. And it can be downright dangerous on group rides. Personally, I like to have my athletes use rollers to work on pedal stroke exercises.

And lastly, don't assume that a smooth pedal stroke is necessarily the desired outcome. You want to put out as much power as possible, and some people will do better to "mash" rather than "spin." In fact, in a study by Coyle et al (Physiological and biomechanical factors associated with elite endurance cycling performance, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol. 23, p. 93-107, 1991), one of the observations when comparing performance between Elite and State class cyclists is the Elite cyclists put out higher peak propulsive torque during the downstroke than the State class cyclists; that is, they mashed more.

Now, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get an inbox full of all sorts of personal anecdotes from people who swear by riding their fixie on the road. If it works for you and you enjoy it, so be it. Just be careful and try to keep it on relatively flat terrain.

Sore feet

I am a 39 year old male and Cat 4 level rider. On rides longer than 75 miles and ones that include significant climbing my feet are becoming very sore on the bottom outside areas of both feet. They almost feel bruised and take a day or two to recover from that soreness. I have fairly flat feet and ride Sidi Genius 4 shoes with the non-carbon soles and speed play pedals. Would I be better served to have custom footbeds made for my shoes?

Eric Thompson
Salt Lake City, UT

Steve Hogg replies:

Assuming that there is no issues with the sizing or width of the shoe, the short answer is yes. What is likely to be happening is that your foot needs everting [raising the inside edge up ] to better spread the load. What is also possible but far less likely is that the foot needs inverting inside the shoe. A podiatrist with experience in cycling related problems will be able to determine which and prescribe a solution. One other thing to consider is lateral placement of the cleat. The Speedplay cleats mounted on the Look adaptor base plates that I assume you are using, can be moved across the shoe. Once you have seen the podiatrist, if the problem is diminished, but still present to some degree, moving the cleats towards the centre line of the shoe can limit the tendency to roll the foot to the outside if the problems is indeed lack of eversion.

Stretching

I really enjoy the information provided by all. In the latest article Steve Hogg mentions stretching being 1/3 of cycling. I am fuzzy on this stretching area. I am 48 started riding 3-4 times a week about a year ago. Grew up with baseball, football etc and at that time little or no stretching. Therefore I am not a all flexible. Any hope for us old guys?

Rich Brew
Jacksonville, Fl

Steve Hogg replies:

I didn't mean to imply that stretching should take up 1/3 of your available training time, although for some people that proportion would be a great idea. People come to see me for two basic reasons. A substantial minority because someone has told them that they will perform better after being positioned but the majority because they have a problem. It may be anything from a persistent niggle to a chronic injury that is either caused or aggravated by cycling.

Sometimes their problems stem from a poor bike position, but always lack of function plays its part. What I was implying is that the biggest problem, in a general sense, that I see is that most of us don't function particularly well. A combination of poor posture, lack of flexibility and left / right asymmetries is at the root of most of the issues that I see. I make my living coming up with bike positions that allow those people to ride as hard as they like and not be further aggravated by their structural shortcomings. Though there are limits.

The best advice that I can give anyone ,is that the better our level of function, the better we are able to perform and the less injuries we are likely to experience. Muscles work most efficiently in the middle of their range of motion. The greater that range of motion, the larger that middle range.

I am by no means an expert on stretching, but 3 books that have been good self help manuals for many people that I know are: Pilates For Dummies by Ellie Herman and Overcome Neck and Back Pain; and Stretching and Flexibility both by Kit Laughlin.

Big chainring size

Hi I am a 100 mile a week sometimes racer, 34 yr old. A couple years ago I replaced my big ring from what seems to be the standard 53 to a 52. I was doing a crit with a little rise in the circuit and with the smaller front I was able to keep it in the big ring for the entire race. I still have the 52 on and never seem to need any more, even with a 12 on the back. I have been in race situations were the speed was up to 38mph on flats and still did not feel like I had spun the gears out. (no descents recently) My question is, is it more efficient, the same, or less efficient to pedal at the same rpm with a 52 as apposed to a 53. Is 53 the standard because it gives you the most efficient power at speed in the high gears. Does this make sense?

Brian Stinson
USA

Scott Saifer replies:

There is no appreciable difference in efficiency between the two choices. If you ever do a race with an extended downhill where you are just feeling spun-out, you might wish you had that extra tooth, but most of the time the 52 will be fine. What you've done is not particularly extreme. I used to place well in US Category 3 criteriums by riding a 44 in front for the whole race and shifting to a 53 for the last lap or two, and of course track racers will add or subtract a chainring tooth depending on the event, the competition and the chosen strategy for each race.

Knee over spindle

In my experience, 99.9% of riders are much happier with a neutral knee-over-spindle alignment. If you are behind this, it will tear your crotch up, and if you are in front of this it will tear your knees up. Cautiously I add, these are 2 of the only "truths" that I have found to cycle positioning.

Todd M. Carver
Biomechanics Laboratory
Boulder Center for Sports Medicine

Steve Hogg replies:

f this is your experience, it is hard to argue that this is not your experience. However what you say runs counter to my own experience to such a degree that I could not agree less. To take one example; grab a group of people with the same leg lengths and proportions of upper leg to lower leg. You will find that there is a variation in foot size and depending on the size of the group, it may well be a substantial difference. Additionally, there will be differences within each shoe size as to where the 1st metatarsal joint is relative to foot length. If we posit that they all place their cleats in the same relative relationship of foot over pedal, for instance, pick ball of foot over the pedal axle centre or any other relationship that you choose, we are left with the following situation.

If we position their seats to give the relationship you suggest of knee over pedal axle, then the larger footed of the group are forced to sit further forward relative to the shorter footed people to achieve this, leaving us with totally different relative angles between foot and lower limb at one end and upper and lower limb where they meet at the knee. Where now is the magic of knee over pedal axle?

Of this group of with the same leg proportions but different foot lengths, the only relationship that is the same is this and only when static, every other relationship differs.

Now let's complicate things in two ways. Firstly we will eliminate the only proportional variable by giving the group the same foot size and proportion. So no we have a group with identical upper leg lengths, lower leg lengths and identical feet. The second complication we can introduce by actually getting them to pedal under load. You will find in this large group with the same legs and feet that there is a variety of pedalling techniques. A large portion will have a middle of the road technique, but at one end of the scale you will find the big heel droppers and at the other end there will be toe dippers. What that means is that while they have identical seat positions fore and aft to allow your preferred knee over pedal axle, there are a wide variety of positions of knee over pedal axle DYNAMICALLY. And cycling is a dynamic activity, so I ask again where is the magic of knee over pedal axle?

Now let's stop hypothesizing and move into the real world where amongst cyclists there is a massive range of sizes, shapes, proportions and techniques. You are saying that your experience is that ideally, everyone of these should be set up with an arbitrary static relationship of knee to pedal no matter what other substantial and most importantly, dynamic differences they may display.

Please tell me why.

Cramps

I am male 49yo and just before Xmas 2004 ruptured my left Achilles tendon. This required a full repair and as an aid to rehab I started cycling.

After 3months or so I joined our local vets cycling association and have well and truly caught the bug. I now race each week and commute to work each day (18ks each way).

My only problem is that I regularly suffer from cramp in my left (repaired) calf muscle when competing - after 20-30ks I can start to feel it coming on-never enough to make me stop-but it is of some concern especially at times when an extra effort is required. Any advice?

Nathan Graham
Hobart Tasmania

Steve Hogg replies:

What you describe is a common experience after Achilles tendon injuries. The key is to limit ankle movement to a range where you have really good control. The best way to do this is to set cleat position fore and aft as per the 'Cleat Position 1 & 2 ' posts on this page for July 26. Once this is done your problem should diminish to a large degree. If you are still feeling the cramps to some degree once you have changed cleat position, fit a 3mm spacer under your left cleat so that the left leg does not have to reach quite as far.

If you are a really tough one and after that the problem still is present at some level, you may have to move the left cleat another 2mm further back again. Don't go further back than that as if there is too much foot over the pedal, the ankle movement can be limited to too great a degree with the result being a ballistic stretch of the Achilles each pedal stroke. This is to be avoided.

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

I would certainly agree with Steve that in the short term, changing your cleat alignment may reduce some of the stress. However, I would rather see you regain normal mobility through your Achilles and calf musculature (gastrocnemius and soleus) as your lack of mobility is the root problem and riding just happens to be that activity that yields the symptoms.

An important idea to consider is that muscles and their associated tendons can have variable flexibility within the musculotendinous unit. For example, your repair may be fibrotic and somewhat limited in mobility, thus causing the muscular portion to be overstressed, resulting in your cramps. The most effective way that I have seen to address this is with a low load, prolonged duration stretch. My Achilles patients begin with a six minute stretch and progress to a 15 minutes stretch performed once a day. It is extremely important that this be a minimal, gentle stretch. I have an adjustable angle board at the clinic that our patients use, but it would be equally effective to stand with your heels on the ground and balls of your feet on a 1-2 inch board or book, and progress the height as flexibility allows. Again, you should feel a mild stretch! Within 6 weeks even the most restricted tendons gain significant length. Once you have reestablished normal length in your Achilles, it would be appropriate to increase strengthening - I like jumping rope as a gentle way to stress the tendon and muscle without exceeding the limits.

By following this, you would most likely need Steve's help for a normal setup rather than an adapted setup.

Time trial training

I'd like to break an hour in a 40km time trial before I get too old, but I don't have the time to ride tons of miles like my road friends. I've read where some time trial specialists train only on Computrainers and get all the intensity they need without wasting time on unnecessary miles. Is this truly possible?

Dave Palese replies:

It is possible to get all the intensity you need for any type of training without doing 'unnecessary' miles. This is what a structured, thoughtful training system is all about. It maximizes the benefits of your time on the bike, letting you get the most for your time spent on the bike.

Pre-race warm ups

This is my first year of racing. For a couple of races I've borrowed a fellow club member's trainer for pre-race warm ups. But for about half my races I've just spun around the parking lot or staging area because I couldn't borrow the trainer. Is there a preferred type of trainer for pre-race warm ups? I've looked at the fluid, magnetic and wind trainers. Is it better to have externally adjusted vs. progressive resistance (or vice versa) for pre-race warm ups? I could be wrong, but I thought it looked like Lance was using a Mag+ trainer before the final ITT this year.

Eric Davis

Eddie Monnier replies:

I would make any decision regarding the purchase of a trainer on factors such as road-like feel, noise, price, portability, etc. The advantage of a mag trainer is it is relatively quiet, which can be useful for training indoors if you live in an apartment, condo, or have others in the house. The disadvantage is they usually don't have as much of a road-like feel as a fluid trainer. Personally, I like to use rollers to warm up on before a race but they are less useful for hard indoor sessions than a regular trainer.

Road shoe fit

I just bought my first paid of road shoes and I'm not sure the fit is right. I bought them at TrekBikes.com and figured since I wear a 7 in every other kind of shoe (mountain shoe, high heel, tennis shoe, etc) that a 7 should do it for these as well. They feel SMALL. But I can't really tell until I ride in them - Right? But if I ride in them I can't send them back. Not sure what to do so I thought I'd ask. Please help.

Laura R. Fitzgerald
Manassas, Virginia

Steve Hogg replies:

Because you are a 7 in walking shoes, don't automatically assume that you are a 7 in cycling shoes. I find that my nominal size varies from brand to brand. Additionally the sizing system can make a difference. I am an English size 9 but a US size 10 for instance.

Typically a cycling shoe should feel about half a size smaller than an athletic shoe. It should be snug around the heel and instep but allow toe wiggling room. There should be no sensation of lateral compression in the forefoot and the toes should not contact the toe of the shoe with any pressure. If unsure, what I would do is spend 5 to 6 hours one evening wearing them on carpet while you watch TV, have dinner or whatever. If they are still comfortable after that period of time, they are likely to be fine on the bike. If not, send them back and try another size.

Because shoe fit is so important, next time you are in the market buy them from a shop where you can try them on rather than over the net. The net only works well if you know exactly what size you are in a particular brand.

Microcycles and mesocycles

I'm an 18 year old Cat. 3 road biker who began racing this year, but am looking to upgrade shortly so I want to hone my training. I was wondering what the most constructive way to spend my days riding are given that I have up to about 16 hours to train per week. I understand the concept of periodization on a macrocycle (a month for me) scale, but still have yet to master how to train each day of the week and how to link macrocycles (not microcycles) together in the build to create the mesocycles and how specificity of training plays into that.

Patrick McGlynn

Dave Palese replies:

This is a big question. You could write a book on the subject. Lucky for you, many already have. If you haven't already, I would suggest that you read Joe Friel's book, The Cyclist's Training Bible. He does a great job of laying all this stuff out and explaining it well, if you take the time to read it.

The best solution though, is for you to get in with a coach, preferably in your area, but over the internet can work well too. A coach will not only explain the principles of training and periodization to you, but will show you first hand how to put them into practice, and guide you through the practice.

Commuting miles

I am a 36 year old male and ride approximately 400k total per week. about half of this mileage is commuting to work three days a week while the remainder is at a much more aggressive pace on weekend group rides and climbing intervals. On my commute days I get in 25 miles each way. Half is flat and half is rolling. I try not to get to sweaty riding in since facilities are limited, which means I'm riding at about a 65% H.R.. I have a few questions about commuting miles. First, although I might get in 50 miles in a day, what is the effect of splitting the mileage between the morning and the afternoon? Does this diminish the effectiveness of my training? Second, do you have any suggestions as to better utilize this time on the bike during the week? My average speed riding in is ± 19 mph, while riding home it might be 21-22 mph.

Jeff
San Clemente

Dave Palese replies:

The miles you are doing to and from work are not, or do not have to be, "junk miles".

Since you have to stay neat in the morning going to work, I suggest keeping the intensity low as you have been. This 1 hour plus can serve as active rest as well as a nice low intensity session focused on the low aerobic system.

In the afternoon, when you can get more sweaty you might want to throw in a few middle intensity efforts, like Tempo (20-40 minutes) at 80% (+/-) of your Max Working Heart Rate. or maybe do Threshold intervals (10-15 minutes) at 85-90% of your Max Working Heart Rate.

Cadence during both types, while training in-season, should be moderate, 90-100 rpm.

Tapering

I am interested in your views of how to plan a taper for 300k race: Melbourne to Warnambool. I am particularly interested in length, decrease in volume, rest days of the taper as well as timing, duration, and degree of intensity work.

I am a 41 yo cyclist.

My training up to this point has been periodised spending one day with up to 8 hrs on bike and up to another 8 including a race and a interval session for the rest of week with rest/easy in between. I am including rest weeks where I half my volume . I cannot include more time on bike.

Andrew Gannon
Greensbrough, Australia

Dave Palese replies:

Without more info about you, your schedule and your training as a whole, I can't get into specifics about how you should taper for this event.

Here are few points to guide you:

1.) The purpose of a taper is ensure that you arrive at the start on race day well rested and ready to give your best effort.

2.) By the time you get to 2 weeks out from your target event, you have done all the training that will likely result in adaptation by race day. The general rule, and this is general, is that one usually doesn't see the adaptations from a given session for 10-14 days.

3.) It is always better to error on the side of too much rest during a taper than too much target intensity training. So when in doubt, rest.

Low intensity and cadence

I recently read a lot, some of it at the cyclingnews.com and linked cycling sites such as 53x12, some in cycling magazines and online forums, on the benefits of high pedalling cadence. As I understand it, the two main benefits of high cadence may be the decreased amount of muscle (and joint) damage, and the ability to recruit more slow-twitch fibers, translating, in general, into better day-to-day recovery and, by implication, maybe even a longer cycling career.

I am 37, a recreational cyclist who typically rides 3 times a week for 1-1.5 hours, sometimes on pavements, sometimes on dirt roads, and once every two weeks for 4-6 hrs, mostly on dirt roads. I also do a lot of hiking and climbing as well as regular resistance exercise (4-5 times a week). I used to run ultramarathons, but I rarely run any more, since I find cycling both more enjoyable and easier on my joints.

In terms of cycling, I am not interested in competing either in road or MTB races, my main interest is touring. Once every couple of months I go on a road trip, bring my bike, and try to ride for several hours -- typically 3-4, but sometimes up to 8 hours every day for a week or so. This involves very low intensity efforts, my HR staying mostly at around 50% of my reserve HR (125-130)and only very rarely, if I hit a really nasty hill, getting to my lactate threshold (165-170).

My main challenge on these trips is to recover quickly from one day's ride to another. In addition to usual recovery and restorative techniques (nutrition, sleep, massage), I wonder whether increasing my pedalling cadence would be beneficial. I notice that on long rides my cadence tends to be lower than what I can maintain on 1 hr training rides, 60-70 (depending on terrain) as compared to 80-85. Given the low intensity of effort, is it likely that if I train to increase my cadence all the way to, say, 90-95, I will see any significant benefits in terms of recovery? Or are the benefits of higher cadence reserved mostly for the higher levels of intensity?

Misha Petrovic
Seattle, WA

Dave Palese replies:

For the type of riding it sounds like you are doing, and plan to do, I would suggest you ride at whatever cadence is comfortable for you.

Doing so is the best way to lower your risk of injury and keep you cycling career long and happy.

Muscle mass

Does muscle mass influence heart rate? It seems that, keep all other variables equal (heart size, lung size, etc) muscle mass, or height would make a difference on heart rate. For example, my training partner is 6'3" 165lbs, and always has a lower heart rate then me (6'3" 205lbs), no matter who's faster.

Jason Kilmer

Eddie Monnier replies:

You really cannot compare absolute heart rates across individuals as there are many physiological adaptations (respiratory, circulatory and muscular) that contribute to improvements in performance. Your training buddy's lower heart rate at the same speed doesn't really tell us anything in particular other than he has a lower heart rate (at that moment).

For yourself, however, you should see a decrease in HR at a given submaximal intensity with increased fitness (eg, "off season" relative to "in season). While cardiac output (HR x stroke volume) at submaximal levels stays relatively constant with changes in fitness, HR decreases as you become more fit because stroke volume increases. Of course, HR is subject to both internal and external factors, so at any particular point this may not hold true.

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