Fitness questions and answers for December 5, 2006

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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

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.

Beating a training parter
Child racing issues
Energy cost of excess body fat
Knee problems after time off
Time trial to road bike fit
Bike posture imbalances
Osteoporosis

Beating a training partner

I'm a male rider 35 years old, 72kg and 169cm tall. I have taken up cycling 5 months ago and was already reasonably fit from running. I have been training with a good mate who has been riding for a lot longer (6 years) and am doing 250 - 300kms per week over a variety of terrain. We both push each other hard on our training rides. My training partner weighs the same and is slightly taller - about 180cm.

When going for a ‘win’ on our rides he always pips me at the post on flat sprints and hill climbs. I know we are both at our limits and that he really is giving it everything, as am I.

My question is - if we are always training together on the same rides how can I improve more than him? Will I need to sneak out after we finish and do more riding behind his back?

I want to beat him - badly and consistently. How can I increase my fitness to overtake him or get the edge? I haven't incorporated weights into my training (neither has he), is this something to explore? Should I drop more weight?

Looking forward to your response so I can kick some ass for a change.

Andrew

Scott Saifer replies:

If you want to beat your buddy on hills, you'll almost certainly have to drop some weight. As a very rough estimate, you have to weight the same as him minus one kilo for each cm that you are shorter than him. This assumes that your fundamental genetic talent is similar.

If you want to beat your buddy on long rides that include hills, you'll probably have to drop weight as well, since if you dig deep over the hills while he cruises, you won't have much left for the sprint.

If you really train the same as him, and that is good training and not excessive for you, the differences in your ability will gradually dwindle. The period of rapid improvement in fitness for a new rider lasts 2-3 years, so in 1.5-2.5 years, he won't be much stronger than he is now and you will be much stronger than you are now, assuming you both maintain your training. Now if matching his training is keeping you tired and leaving him fresh, he'll still be making more progress than you as you slide towards over-training, so be careful that you are taking easy days whenever you feel less than excellent.

Losing weight probably won't help you on flat rides that finish flat. This brings up another question: Do you want to beat him by matching him pedal stroke for pedal stroke, or do you just want to beat him? If the former, you're not going to be a bike racer any time soon. If the latter, it's time to take advantage of him tactically.

Let him take longer pulls and tell him how strong he is, that you can't come around because he is just going too fast. You lead in the tail winds and let him lead in the head winds. Do anything you can to make him do more work and you less before the final sprint. I raced for years against a guy who couldn't come within minutes of me in a TT, but routinely beat me in flat races because he could draft and sprint really well, proving that aerobic talent is not required for amateur bike racing.

Richard Stern replies:

As you are both the same mass, you both need to generate the same power to ride side by side (presuming that you have the same aero drag -- which you won't. It's likely your buddy's drag is higher due to him being taller). If your buddy is therefore beating you on the ride, then barring any mechanical differences in bikes (and you'd have to have a wreck of a bike, and your buddy would have to have the best bike, or you use a knobbly tyre MTB and your friend has a nice slick road bike) your friend simply generates more power than you both aerobically (e.g. uphill) or non-aerobically (e.g. sprints).

It is likely that if you are both training the same and riding to beat each other, then the training is not specific or tailored for either one of you. Training should be specific to your goals.

If you lose fat mass, then you will go up the hills quicker than you currently do (presuming your power stays the same). However, as we don't know whether you have fat to lose or not, this isn't something that we can safely advise you to do. It could be that you are very lean and are simply more muscular than your friend.

To increase your fitness you'll need to look at what specifically limits you. This will include increasing your sustainable power output as well as your maximal aerobic power (MAP or VO2max) as well as increasing your neuromuscular power for sprinting. Just blindly following your buddy in his training routine won't cut it for you.

As regards weight training, it's highly unlikely you'd be strength limited; you're most likely best to concentrate on your biking to increasing your biking skill.

If you're unsure where to start with training ideas (there's some on this site) then one of the coaching groups in the Fitness Q&A at Cyclingnews will be able to help you.

Child racing issues

I am the father of a keen 8 year-old daughter who participates in a cycling clinic. As well as your excellent answers, postings/sites that are relevant would be great:

How much of one sport is healthy for children up to mid teens? Total sport in a week? Are there absolutes in terms of the age a child specialises?

What are the most important fit issues for children as they are growing? Are there any particulars for track bike fitting?

Andrew Gannon

Scott Saifer replies:

First, pick up a copy of ‘From Childhood to Champion Athlete’ by Tudor Bompa.

Chances are pretty good that a child who takes up bike racing seriously at 8 years old won't be a bike racer in her mid or late teens. As long as she chooses how much to ride and you are there to support her but not push her in competition or training, she is not doing too much. You or a coach can explain to her the importance of consistency in training once or twice, but then get out of the way and let her decide how much to train.

The main reason, I think, that child athletes don't turn into teen athletes is that they win too much. 99% of the time, your eight year old will either be racing against the big girls or the boys, with her ego 100% safe since she knows she is not expected to beat them, or she will be alone in her category or with just a few others so she'll be top-three and getting prizes in every race even at the national level. Then suddenly when she is 16 or 18 she starts racing in large fields against riders that she does have to beat to win, and she has no experience of having to really try to win and losing anyway. Very few riders make it over this hump.

There are two fit issues that are really important for the kids. One is that the bike should simply be scaled to her so she can control it and get on and off. That may mean that you have to find a pretty odd track bike, like maybe one with 24 inch wheels. The most important fitting issue then is saddle height since too low or two high a saddle combined with hard riding can leave her with lifelong knee or hamstring problems.

If she is growing rapidly, she'll need the saddle height reset or at least checked monthly. Stems too long or too short or too high or too low will be awkward, but won't cause long lasting problems until after they are uncomfortable enough that your daughter will have told you about it.

Energy cost of excess body fat

Have there been any studies done on the impact that excess body fat has on human performance? I'm not talking about excess weight which can be quantified through physics calculations, I want to know if anyone has studied changes in the efficiency of the human body while performing a given workload at various body fat levels.

How much does fat affect the body’s functioning? Do the fat cells rob the muscles of energy or oxygen while exercising? What other impact might there be?

Thanks

Alex Pond

Scott Saifer replies:

The study you are proposing would be extremely difficult to carry out. Other than by liposuction, how would you have subjects change body fat percentage without changing anything else that would affect efficiency? Why do you want the answer? If you are happy with how fast you ride, maintain your current training and body composition. If you want to climb faster and you have fat to lose, lose it.

The question is kind of like one we received a few years ago about how much impact smoking has on performance. Why would anyone who cares about performance smoke or carry any fat they could shed?

I'm not aware of any studies that precisely examine the question you have posed. Fat tissue is minimally metabolic. It takes very little energy to maintain a mass of fat compared to a similar mass of muscle. There's no reason to think that fat simply by virtue of being fat would affect efficiency. Fat does several things that affect efficiency though: it adds weight without adding power so that slows you down. If the fat is on the legs, you have to move the fat to move the pedals.

There's nothing special about fat here though. If you added heavy water-filled pants you'd get the same effects. That's the ‘physics calculations’ you referred to. The other thing fat does, at least in the case of subcutaneous fat, is add a layer of insulation. If that allows you to raise your core temperature to the optimal range on a very cold day, it might improve efficiency.

Most of the time for most cyclists excessive insulation is more of a problem than insufficient insulation, so subcutaneous fat is a hindrance. Finally if a rider is so fat in the abdomen that the legs can't move in the proper patterns for pedaling, that will have a negative impact.

Knee problems after time off

I read with great interest the answer given in the ‘knee problems after time off’ question posted on November 22. This seems to be a bit similar to the situation I am in, except my knee problem occurred after three weeks off rather than many months.

I have been riding for 15 years and average around 8,000 - 10,000 miles per year. After the three-week break at the end of the 2006 season I returned to the bike and developed a pain in my right knee. The problem probably developed from doing too much too soon. I took the break not because of any pain or injury but, ironically, to let my body rest and try to prevent any overuse injuries.

Would Mr. Saifer or anyone else on the panel be able to give some general guidelines as to how long to wait before returning to the bike? How does one know how much time to refrain from riding since the knee is not painful off of the bike? What is the general healing time for such a problem? What about walking or other exercises to keep the muscles from becoming any weaker or less supple?

I normally avoid taking anti-inflammatories or other medication, but should I consider it during the healing process or once I begin riding? Are there any supplements I ought to consider or nutritional advice over the next weeks of letting the knee heal?

Thanks for your advice,

Rob Weiss

Scott Saifer replies:

If the knee doesn't hurt off the bike, you are already ready to start riding. However, start with a very short ride at very low intensity.

Start with 15 minutes with no significant pressure on the pedals, just turning them over. If that makes your knee hurt, you have a bike fit, cleat adjustment or medical problem that needs some attention before you ride more. If the 15 minute session goes well, then you are ready to build up slowly again.

You might well be able to handle more, but a reasonable rate of build up could be starting by riding every other day and adding 15 minutes per session until you are up to 90 minute rides. All these rides are at less than 80% of maximum heart rate, or are simply very easy if you are not using a monitor. Cadence should be high, spinning and not pushing until at least three weeks back on the bike. If you have any knee pain during this period, you have a bike fit, cleat or medical issue. Figure it out before you build up more or ride harder.

If you make it to 90 minute rides three days per week with no pain, you are ready for the usual uninjured rider's rules on build up: Add a day per week if you like. Add no more than 15 minutes to the length of the longest ride. Once you are up to your maximum days per week, add no more than 10% to total volume for the week. Avoid hard work until you have several months of base, things like that.

Time trial to road bike fit

I've been reading your forum, and have picked up a significant amount of information on a number of topics. I do have, what I hope, is a unique question relating to a recent move from a ‘triathlon’ forward position to a conventional road bike.

Are there any common mistakes in positioning that are made with this type of transition? Most articles focus on how to make the move to a steep set up from a more slack position, not the other way around. I have also read there are benefits to training in both positions. Do you find this to be true?

I came to cycling by way of long course triathlon, so I don't have a lot of experience with a conventional bike position. I've purchased a Trek 5.9, and I'm trying to adapt to the new feeling of the slack seat-tube angle. The initial sensation was that of sitting on the back tire, and catching too much wind.

I'm 5'11 165lbs. 35 years old with average ability, and reasonable flexibility. My 30" inseam is very short, so needless to say I have a very long torso. Add to the mix, size 12US feet. (Yes, God must have a sense of humor.) My Litespeed is 57" large by most standards, but given my long upper body, its works. My Trek is a 56" with a 100mm stem, all the spacers removed, no real comfort issues at this point.

Is it logical that I would have the sense my cleats are too far forward on the road bike versus my time-trail bike? Given 5 years on the steep bike ('02 Litespeed Blade), should I try to utilize a slightly forward position on a road bike? I ride with a Powertap, and have found that I can produce more power at a lower perceived effort on the road bike in comparison with the TT bike, but my average speed is down somewhat. How do you best determine a balance between watts and aerodynamics?

Thanks for your time,

Andrew Bowman

Steve Hogg replies:

You describe a fairly common scenario. There can be a couple of problems with the transition you speak of, from a steep seat tube angled triathlon bike to a more relaxed seat tube angled road bike. Generally people making this transition take a while to adapt, sometimes months. Why?

Usually the ex-triathlon guy is quite tight. This is a legacy of 10 - 14 training sessions a week with a large running component and generally results in poor flexibility. Time constraints tend to make stretching properly and often, a kind of afterthought. You say you have reasonable flexibility. What does that description mean to you?

The other problem too, can be the difference in muscular enlistment between the two types of bike and this takes time. You have to unlearn a way of doing things that you are familiar with and learn another way that you are unfamiliar with. Along the way, muscles that you are used to using heavily will be used less, and muscles that you are not used to using will be used more, hence the time it takes to adjust.

Your increased power output is a positive sign and will translate into increased performance as you get the hang of things. Any performance drop for the time being probably has as much to do with changed muscle enlistment patterns as it does with aerodynamics.

What I would do is try and have the best of both worlds; keep the higher power output and improve your flexibility to the point where you can have an aerodynamic position as well. That said, are you comparing your average speeds as triathlon bike with aero bars versus road bike without aero bars? If so, and you may not be, that is not a fair comparison. A pair of well set up aero bars will make a large difference to average speeds.

Re the cleat position, absolutely. Have a look at this post and also this one.

Addtionally, there is a fair bit of positioning related info in the archives if you look. A lot of it is between July and December 2004 but there is plenty after that.

Bike posture imbalances

I have written in to the forum before, but as I'm a little farther along in my quest for a balanced posture on the bike, I'm here with an update.

Short summary to date: 24yr old male, been riding competitively for 6years. Problems began with knee tendonitis 3+ years ago, progressed to fairly severe back pain this year. My self diagnosis was that I drop my right hip when pedaling under load, left leg pedals smooth- right leg sloppy, right knee locks back further than left when standing up straight, and left hip is higher when standing and looking in the mirror. I am a mechanical engineer, so my job consists of mostly sitting at a desk.

For the past two months I have been seeing a local chiropractor, and have made some improvements. During this time I have kept riding, but with a reduced workload and only low intensities. His diagnosis is that my right hip was twisted (can't remember internal or external), and the angle of the L5 vertebrae was too large (too much arch in lower back). Also, right hamstring is much tighter than left, but no leg length discrepancy (which I had suspected). He also did a muscle strength test, and found that my left leg was weaker in almost every direction of motion (surprising to me), and I have weak hip flexors both sides. His treatment has consisted of several adjustments and recently the prescription of a set of exercises to build strength in the weak areas and lengthen the tight muscles.

My bike is set up now according to Steve Hogg's recommendations for cleats, saddle setback/height, etc. I have two Lemond wedges stacked on each shoe thick side toward ball of foot, which has helped ease my discomfort to some degree since I used to pedal with my knees very close to the top tube. Everything else on the bike is set the same left to right currently. In the past I have tried different shims and footbeds, but none seemed to help. I am reluctant to shim either side now, since my chiropractor has showed me the X-rays which show no noticeable discrepancy.

At this point, I feel that I am making progress to even out the imbalances. The problem is that I feel worse on the bike! I'm not sure if it's a case of it must get worse to get better, and all the compensatory mechanisms must be reduced or eliminated before I can build balanced strength on the bike, I don’t know. My question comes down to this: is there anything that I can do while I receive treatment to ease the discomfort I encounter?

Any help is much appreciated,

Chris Barker
Sacramento, CA

Steve Hogg replies:

A common story. Rider seeks treatment and becomes a better functioning version of who they are but feels worse on the bike. Answer? Positional changes to reflect the structural improvements you have made.

What I need from you is more specifics. You include no info about what feels good or bad on the bike. If you ask a more specific question(s) I will try to advise.

Osteoporosis

I'm a 48yo male cyclist racing A grade with Vets and B grade with the kids. I just went along to have bone densitometry and the result was unexpectedly bad. I ran most nights from 15 to 42 yeas of age and changed to cycling 6 years ago after an Achilles tendon injury that took forever to heal.

My exercise now is exclusively cycling and I'm time poor. Racing on Saturday, long hard ride on Sunday and heavy interval work (5 or 3 minute or 35second intervals) on a wind trainer for about 40 minutes each week night. No other health issues but cramps are bad. I take Magnesium tablets before the weekend rides and they help the cramps. Diet is excellent (except for the highly refined garbage I eat & drink when riding) and I always have lots of dairy products.

So what to do about my osteporotic bones? Calcium/vitamin D supplements? How much? Just before exercise sessions or any time? See and Endocrinologist? What is the most effective weight bearing routine for a time poor cyclist?

I've read Pam Hinton's excellent article on this issue but I don't quite understand her exercise recommendations (‘loading cycles’ and recovery periods between). Can I expect to re-mineralise bone or just slow an inevitable deterioration with age?

I really want to get a program going that will work because I would hate to work hard on my bones and find things were even worse when I go back for another scan in 2 years.

Thanks

David Dickson

Pamela Hinton replies:

I realize that the results of your recent bone density test feel like “bad news”, but it really is better to know your health status, so you can do something about it. It won't help your bone density, but it may benefit your morale to know that you are not the only male cyclist with low bone density.

We recently completed a study comparing bone density of adult male cyclists to that of runners and triathletes. Our subjects were competitive at the regional level, ranging in age from 18-60 years. The cyclists, as a group, had lower bone density of the whole body, leg, and spine compared to the runners and triathletes.

Additionally, a greater percentage had osteopenia, i.e., bone mineral density less than one standard deviation below the mean for young adult males. The two groups of athletes did not differ in age, body composition, training load or diet. My point is that low bone mineral density among cyclists is probably much more prevalent than we know.

So, what can be done about it? You need adequate dietary calcium (1000-1500mg/day) and vitamin D (5 micrograms). Beyond that, dynamic, weight-bearing exercise stimulates bone mineralization. By dynamic, I mean activities that involve movement of the skeleton as it is being loaded. For example, plyometric training or sports like basketball and volleyball are dynamic activities. For activities that involve jumping, the ‘load’ is the gravitational force exerted upon landing.

Check out this website for some of these exercises. Research has shown that the bone becomes densitized to loading stress rather quickly. After approximately 100 jumps (loading cycles), there is no additional benefit to be gained by performing more jumps. The bone needs to "rest" before it can respond to loading; after 8 hours most of the responsiveness is regained.

You can expect to see an increase in bone mineral density if you regularly engage (2-3 times per week) in these types of activities. Because bone mineral density changes slowly, it will take at least 6 months to get a detectable increase in bone mineral density.

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