Fitness questions and answers for February 25, 2009

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. 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.

Jon Heidemann (www.peaktopeaktraining.com) is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.

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. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions.

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.

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.wholeathlete.com) is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete™. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.

Earl Zimmermann (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has over 12 years of racing experience and is a USA Cycling Level II Coach. He brings a wealth of personal competitive experience to his clients. He coaches athletes from beginner to elite in various disciplines including road and track cycling, running and triathlon.

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.

Training over 80 percent
Training with threshold power
Unusual lactate values
Post-cycling depression
Stationary bike advice

Training over 80 percent

Last year (Jan 16) Scott and Carrie helped me out with a HR issue where I couldn't go hard enough on the flats to reach high HR that I do on the hills. The advice was great and it turned out to be psychological ( I also saw later in the year one bloke wrote in with the opposite problem - could max out in a TT but died on the climbs). Scott warned me not to go too hard testing under what conditions I could achieve high HR 193-195.

I promptly went flat out for two weeks hitting over 95 percent max HR on almost every ride under all riding conditions because I could. I then became gradually more sluggish and completely unmotivated for about six months.

Seeing Scott's response to Luc Presseau on training strictly below 80 percent MHR for 3-6weeks I am ready to pay attention. I've been at the same fitness level for year. The only problem is is my rides are very hilly and it is difficult to stay below 80 percentI have tried to stay below 80 percent since seeing the advice but I often go just bit over. Previously I would hit 91-95 percent on every steep hill (6 per day) unless I was very tired. So because I may be in the overtrained state, I want to try the 80 percent rule

My questions:

If on average I seem to go a few BPM over 80 percent for 3 mins/hour, is the workout shot?
Should I just drop the effort down to about 60 percent for a few minutes when I accidently overshoot?
Is a few BPM for under 30 seconds of no consequence, and should I just go on as if nothing happened?
If I really want to maximise the effectiveness of the base training, what range should I be in (Resting HR of 37 - Max HR of 195)?

After a week it seems I can go harder with lower HR already.

James Hall
Melbourne, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

I'm glad you found our advice useful with regard to making power on the flat. You would be overtrained if you experimented with your new ability on every ride.

The answer to your question is that a few seconds now and then over 80% of maximum heart rate won't hurt you. Sustained efforts over 80% are tiring. In fact, 80 percent will be too high for higher-volume riders. I've been communicating recently with a Tour Pro who characterizes his base rides as "just chilling" and ends up around 65-70 percent of max for most of his rides. That doesn't mean that you should aim to be under 70 percent all the time, but that you should aim to 'chill' on base rides: If you feel like you are pushing, digging, trying to keep the heart rate up or to go faster, you are trying too hard on a base ride.

I've had a few clients though who switched from training on hills all the time to training flat most of the time with maybe one day per week of hills and who got faster on both flats and hills within a few weeks as a result, even if training on flat meant finding the one flat stretch in the neighbourhood and doing laps.

Training with threshold power

I'm a 31-year-old 160lb racer, and by everything I've seen so far, my threshold power pegs me as a strong cat 4, weak cat 3 racer boy, which by my experience is pretty spot on. Cross is my primary discipline and I am interested in time trials as well. I am trying to raise my threshold power from 245W to about 300W. So from about 3.3W/k to 4W/k. I have some nice workouts that seem appropriate, but I have a few questions.

I have arrived at my threshold power by conducting the CycleOps power test. It is the sub-maximal test that is found on the Saris website. Is this test giving me an adequate baseline for my workouts? Is this test approximating FTP for an hour?

Now for building FTP, everyone recommends working within given percentages based on this Threshold. So if these workouts are raising my FTP, my intensity will eventually fall out of the desired range for maximum effect, correct? I know it will vary, but how quickly does FTP usually increase, and more importantly, How often do I need to retest to keep my workouts calibrated?

How reasonable is it to expect to see this 20 percent gain by May?

Ryan Cate
Madison, WI, USA

Dario Fredrick replies

Excellent questions. The best way for you to validate your results would be to do a 20-30 min hillclimb TT, measuring your average power and Heart Rate (HR). While the 3 min stages in the Saris protocol are long enough to allow HR to adjust to the changes in power each stage, 30 W increments are large and can jump over your threshold when you get to the harder part of the test. Nonetheless, it should provide a reasonable (+/- 15 W) estimation of your 30 min threshold power.

I don't agree with training at fixed percentages of threshold power for the very reason you stated - they change as you adapt to training and they don't necessarily reflect the training load on the body (cardio-vascular & nervous system load). Instead, if you calculate HR zones based on your threshold HR, and compare your power output to the HR response, you can see power changes at a given HR over time.

In most trained adults, HR zones do not change much, if at all. Thus, I use HR as the standard of relative intensity and adjust power accordingly. I would recommend that you keep your workouts calibrated often by comparing power to HR, rather than retesting often. On some days, for example, you may be able to produce less power for the same relative level of intensity and still receive similar physiological benefits despite a lower workload.

As to your other questions, threshold power can increase with proper training, but the rate at which it changes and the amount vary considerably among cyclists. So it's difficult to predict how quickly it will change for you. For some, raising threshold power can take many months of training, and perhaps an entire season.

For most amateur cyclists in their 30s, a five percent increase would be significant, particularly in only a few months, and 10% would be a dramatic change. To be honest, a 20 percent increase would be unlikely. Nonetheless, there are other ways that you can improve your performance in cyclo-cross. Technique in transitions is fundamental to performing well in cross, and you can increase your speed simply by training technique. Also, supra-threshold power (short-duration about 1-3 min), and your ability to recover quickly from these efforts and repeat are often more important than threshold power in cyclo-cross. Best of luck.

Dave Palese replies

Your questions are good ones.

1) The CycleOps power test (CPT). The short answer is, Yes, the test is adequate to estimate your Threshold power for training purposes. The only flaws in the CPT is that it has quite a bit of subjectivity built into the test. The results of the test are dependent on what intensity you rate as hard. The question I have for you is," Did you have a friend with you during the test, recording the rating of the effort and observing your outward signs of intensity (i.e. respiration, sweating, encouragement)?" The results of this test can be made more accurate with a friend around to administer the test.

2) How quickly does FTP usually increase? That varies greatly from athlete to athlete, and is affected by your training history, and where you are in your development. The more trained you are, the slower and less pronounced the increase. So it is hard to say.

3) and more importantly, How often do I need to retest to keep my workouts calibrated? Retesting about every 6-8 weeks is usually good.

2) How reasonable is it to expect to see this 20 percent gain by May? Without knowing you at all, it is really hard to say. What I will say is that a true increase in FTP of 20 percent, even for untrained athletes (who usually see the greatest increases) is a lot. In my trained athletes, I find an increase of 5-8 percent is reasonable. I see higher increases when I first start working with some with less of a training history, but I can often attribute part of the increase to the athlete getting better at testing and also redefining what "hard" is to them.

So those are my thoughts. Hope they help... have fun!

Unusual lactate values

I had a lactate test with my own device and recorded an unusual result. Six weeks before I had the same test with similar results.

The protocol was: On a stationary bike with a powermeter, ride in a seated position and maintain a cadence around 90/min. Do a 10-minute easy warm up (100-150w), then increase by 30 Watts every four minutes, starting from 180W.

The results were:

180W: 0.9mmol - 125BPM
210W: 0.9mmol - 134BPM
240W: 0.7mmol - 146BPM
270W: 1.2mmoll - 154BPM
300W: 1.7mmol - 164BPM
330W: 3.4mmol - 173BPM

I'm 40 years old, weigh 70Kg, with 9 percent fat. I have a five amateur triathlon background, I'm vegetarian and have a healthy lifestyle. I was well rested before the test, normally carbo loaded, and I ate three hours before the test plus drink normally. The room temperature was 20C, with ventilation.

I felt the test getting really hard after 270W, and 330W was nearly the maximum. I was able to finish the last step. I was motivated doing this test. My max cycling HR is around 177 (measured in a short race last July).

What do you think? Why did my lactate values not go up normally? Is that good, normal, or something wrong? The lactate meter was working correctly, and was tested by a test solution. It can measure higher levels because we measured my friend till 8.9mmol/l.

Jan,
Hungary

Dario Fredrick replies

There is nothing particularly abnormal about your lactate values in the test. Blood lactate appearance during incremental testing can vary considerably from one person to the next, much like heart rate values can be significantly different between two people at the same relative level of intensity. Also, similar to HR, an absolute lactate value does not predict your performance or determine your ability. So if you see 1.7 mmol and your friend sees 4.5 mmol, that doesn't tell us anything about your power or fitness, or the difference between you two in cycling performance.

However, since lactate is an important fuel during exercise - metabolised aerobically, you could compare your own lactate values from one test to the next, and if you see a drop in the lactate value at a given power output, that suggests improved aerobic conditioning as you are likely metabolizing more lactate to produce energy and releasing less into the blood. For more information about lactate, check out this article

Post-cycling depression

I have recently "retired" from a two-year "career" racing for an elite/espoir amateur team in the Benelux. During the winter I felt I no longer had the motivation to continue 700km a week training (winter is harsh here) and at 29 I felt I needed to concentrate on developing a career, earning some money and enjoying a slightly different lifestyle to 4 hour training rides and bed at 10pm.

The first weeks after hanging the bike up were great. The "normal" life of those who haven't given up years to training and racing was alarmingly new to me, and just going for drinks with friends or a day at the office was novel and fun.

However since then my happiness has declined considerably. I feel guilt at not training in such a disciplined manner, I fear the loss of fitness, weight gain, and the absence of both the adrenalin of racing and the alternating sense of frustration or pride in performance has left me feeling rather empty and bored. I also miss the status of being a "racer" and the company of like minded individuals in the peloton. My perception of how others see me is also troubling. In my eyes the "account manager" doesn't hold the same status as "the cyclist". Sometimes I struggle not to find excitement at the bottom of a bottle.

I read a great deal online about athletes struggling to adapt when they have stopped training, and I am curious to understand this and take some control over the way I feel. Obviously within our sport there have been some high profile tragedies among those who fail to adapt to a "normal" lifestyle, and at present the world's most famous cyclist has apparently also struggled to find an outlet for his energy.

A question I would have for a sports doctor is whether the constant adrenalin, hormonal balance fluctuations and exercise endorphin release, combined with psychological factors that athletes impose on themselves (stick and carrot/suffer and reward) over a long period of time can actually contribute to an athlete going into a sort of physical "withdrawal" after their career has ended. I notice clearly that if I go running every day I feel positive and physically stronger after my run, but on days when I cannot exercise my mood is bleaker and I feel tired and not motivated.

It is difficult to really formulate this mail into a series of questions, but I am basically wondering if those of you involved in the training and care of cyclists and other athletes have experience of difficult times that we face after hanging up the bike, and ways that can help us to adapt.

James

Carrie Cheadle replies:

Transition out of competitive sports can be very difficult. If retiring from sport was easy, we wouldn't see so many athletes come out of retirement. If you leave your sport when you're feeling some burnout, usually the 1st few weeks are great. You take advantage of the time that you have to do things that you couldn't do while you were a competitive athlete. Then after some time you start to miss the things that you enjoyed about being a competitive athlete. You miss the training, you miss the status, you miss the camaraderie and the culture, etc.

For some athletes - what they actually needed was not to quit their sport - but permission to take a break. After some time off, they are recharged and ready to go. For others, it is the right time to transition out of sport and there is a natural "mourning" period to what feels like the loss of your athletic identity. Especially when you are a competitive or professional athlete, you're now faced with the question of "Who am I if I'm not a cyclist?"

In addition to all of this, your body is not getting those feel good endorphins that it is used to getting, and that can impact mood as well. Endorphin release levels are different for each person. The change in hormones can be attributed to some feelings of depressed mood, but that is not the whole picture.

Feeling guilt and fear are totally normal. You're swinging on a pendulum and eventually you will find your way back to the middle. And Scott is absolutely right, feeling better on days that you workout isn't unique to just athletes, but anyone that is exercising on a regular basis. What you are faced with now is redefining your relationship to competition and cycling and you need to find another outlet for exercise. I think sometimes when athletes transition out of their sport; they feel like they can no longer call themselves an athlete.

You are still an athlete; you are just choosing a different outlet and a different intensity. Sometimes the biggest hurdle to this is our own ego. We know that we could be better if we were training, but we've made the choice not to and part of the transition is to coming to accept that choice.

Like Scott said, part of adapting to the change is just time. But some other ways to smooth out the transition are to take up other interests that you didn't have the opportunity to do while in competitive cycling, and to maintain exercise through finding another outlet. I've seen cyclists move on to many different sports - running, cyclo-cross, triathlon, rowing, skiing, even basketball! Pick something that you enjoy that you didn't have the opportunity to do while cycling.

Scott Saifer replies:

Your experience is not atypical of recent ex-racers, and feeling much better after exercising than on days when you don't exercise is actually common even among more casual athletes. My first bit of advice is accept that the intense feeling of guilt and deprivation will pass. It typically takes 2-3 years. In the meantime, don't lose yourself in drink. You don't have to quit exercising cold turkey.

Since you get an emotional boost from exercise, I'd suggest adopting an exercise plan targeted on maintaining health and emotional stability rather than competitive fitness. If you do no training, you will certainly lose your fitness and probably end up fat and crippled like any other sedentary person who likes to eat. The scientists say that about an hour per day of exercise is enough to keep you healthy and prevent weight gain, so take that as your goal. You won't be fit enough to race, but you will be far fitter than the vast majority of the population and ready to take on new challenges whenever you are tempted to do so.

With regard to the ego value of being a cyclist versus an account manager, that's just part of growing up. Some people can't be happy if they're not winning races or being the CEO. Some can. I'm more an advocate for being happy with who you are wherever you are in life, but if that turns out not to be possible for you, try applying your competitive drive to your advancement at work.

Here's one more possibility for you: Since it sounds like it's the winter that really got you down, you could decide not to give up racing after all and just move to somewhere warmer to train. Spain? The American South West? Australia in the northern hemisphere winter?

Stationary bike advice

I just wanted to pass on some knowledge that I got from helping my wife get comfortable on a recumbent last spring.

My wife is an above knee amputee on one side, who had similar goals to the woman whose letter was published last week. The prosthetic she wears has no ankle movement and reduced range of motion in the knee.

In order to come up with a fit that worked we (in conjunction with the folks at Hostel Shoppe in Stevens Point, WI) used a variety of products produced by Hase (www.hasebikes.com). These included the "pendulum pedal" (reduces the effective length of one crank arm), adjustable platform pedal (since she couldn't clip in with the prosthetic foot this pedal used velcro to positively connect the foot to the pedal), and pedal spacers (to move this pedal out from the crank (increase the Q-Factor).

All of this has allowed her to comfortably use the bike with the prosthetic leg, and produce some power with the muscles connecting the thigh to the hip on that side. I hope this may be useful to your reader.

Doug MacDonald

Back to top