Form & Fitness Q & A
Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
I have a question I'm sure you get a lot, but I never see the answer.
How do you dope on the professional level of cycling and not get caught? Are they taking levels of growth hormones, EPO, testerone and reintroducing their own blood at lower does than the tests can detect? How do they do it? Somebody must know how because it is happening. Example: Ulrich is alleged to have doped in the Giro this year, but he won a stage and the tests showed no signs of doping?
John M. Spidaliere
Scott Saifer replies:
This is an interesting question. I don't know the real answer, but I'll throw some discussion at you: A rider only gets caught if he does something the doping folks know to test for. Thus a trick is to be one step ahead. For instance, for a good while, they've known how to tell if a rider had red cells from two different people, so you could get caught doping by using someone else's blood but not your own, and there was no test for EPO, so you couldn't get caught for that. Now they can identify someone who has taken a boost of his own blood or EPO.
For many years athletes used steroids without getting caught, then steroid tests came along, so for a few years athletes used masking agents that would fool the tests, until the masking agents were banned. We don't know if athletes have found more masking agents or stopped using steroids. How could we? The problem is that the rules and the enforcement methods are not exactly matched.
The rules, very roughly paraphrased, say you are cheating if you use a performance enhancing substance. The enforcement method is to analyze blood and urine for a very long but necessarily not comprehensive list of substances. Since all performance enhancing substances other than foods are banned, but many possible performance enhancing substances are not yet discovered and still being discovered, the testing will always be a step behind and unscrupulous riders, teams and doctors will be a pedal stroke ahead.
This is why it is so important that the rider's samples are stored for at least a few years. The hope is that someone will spill the beans within a few years of the introduction of a new method of cheating, a new test will be developed for the recently popular method of doping, and then the old samples will be retested identifying the cheaters of the earlier years. That is supposed to intimidate the current riders.
The number of riders still getting caught suggests to me that the intimidation is not working.
I am a 5'10" 160lb Cat 3 / Expert Mtb racer. In these two articles (www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/?id=2006/letters07-03, www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/?id=2006/letters07-10) you address race weight for specific examples, but I'm interested in understanding optimal race weights across various rider heights. My strengths are long and hard road and mountain bike races. I enjoy breakaways, time trials, and short power climbs. I'm not a pure climber but can usually be found dangling with the leaders on the big finesse grinders. I can mix it up in the sprints but usually don't win a whole lot of them. In general, regardless of crit, road race, or mountain bike race, I can be found in the top 1/4 percentile of my categories, rarely on the podium. I am wondering if I need to be more diligent about my diet and shedding more weight, or if I need to continue to put more emphasis on training. Or both.
Ric Stern replies:
There's no real ideal mass for various heights of riders. People tend to fall into a range that is normal, irrespective of fitness (e.g., i know sedentary people who weigh less than me, and others who are heavier. Also, i know elite athletes who weight less and more than me, all the same height as me).
There's absolutely no point suggesting that to be successful at bike racing that there's some formula for ideal mass, based on height. We know from your description that you are either heavier than other riders and produce similar power or you are lighter and produce much less power than them.
If you want to ascertain your ideal weight, or more specifically, what weight it may be possible to get down to, then you need to find a qualified person (e.g. sports scientist) who can estimate your body composition. The three ideal ways to do this are DEXA scans (expensive), hydrostatic weighing, or skinfold assessment (if the person testing you uses plastic calipers the results will be useless). The most cost effective way to be tested is skinfold measurements. From the measurements and by using equations the person testing you can estimate (there's only one way to actually ascertain your body fat, and it ain't too useful for athletes and most people) your body fat percentage. From that they can then suggest an ideal weight range based on your physical characteristics (e.g., whether you're muscley person or not). It may be that you don't have any (or much weight too lose).
For the majority of cyclists, a bigger performance effect will occur with a change in training and increased power (unless you happen to be significantly overweight).
Thank you for the explanation, this is useful. Your response begs the question: what would an optimal body fat percentage be for a guy like me in my racing categories? It is not very easy for me at my weight right now to lose incremental pounds, but I do know that I have some added 'fluff' that could go away with a very concerted effort. Is it better for me to focus on shedding fat or building power? I get the sense it's the latter.
Ric Stern replies:
The optimal body fat % would be the one that allows you to perform well, without holding you back. In general most racing cyclists are likely going to be between 8 and 15% body fat (for males, females would be significantly different to this). Under 8% and you're going to be very lean -- a few athletes will be in this range.
By and large, for most racers it's going to be about building power over the duration that you race at (etc). It's generally easier (in the sense that you don't have to deprive yourself), potentially easier to gain power, and most importantly it will have more affect on your performance than losing a kilo or two. As a side effect of better training you may find yourself losing a little fat mass.
Scott Saifer replies:
I agree with Ric that there is a pretty wide range of weights at which any given rider can race bikes successfully. I have accumulated the heights and weights of a large number of riders who win stuff at the world elite level, and the range of weights for each height is about 20 pounds (9 kg). Of course the guys at the high end of the range don't win a lot of hilly races, and the guys at the low end the range don't sprint well. At 5'10" and 160 pounds, you are as heavy as the heaviest pros your height winning European classics, National Championships and similar top-level events. You are much heavier than the guys who are winning hilly road races and MTB races. They come it at 140-150 pounds roughly.
If you are looking to "improve" your climbing, Ric is right that you will see faster gains from improving your training than from losing weight, assuming your training has room for improvement. If you want to optimize your body for climbing you will need to optimize both body weight and training. Since you are already hanging with the leaders on climbs despite being quite a bit heavier than many of them, I'll guess that your training and aerobic power are already pretty good, though there is almost always room for improvement.
Before you try to adjust your weight, consider your goals though. If you just want to win whatever you can, Ric is right that you should find out your approximate body fat percentage and then what you would weight if you kept essential fat (5-8% for men) and lost any excess. Use that lean weight as you target. If you are set on winning hillier races though, you will have to get your weight into the range where guys who win those sorts of races reside, which may mean losing excess muscle if you would be overweight even when lean, or gaining muscle if you would be underweight when lean. Losing muscle is challenging and takes longer than losing fat if you want to do it in way that maintains performance, but it can be done. The problem is that you have to be close to starving to lose muscle mass rapidly, unless the muscle is immobilized, and neither immobilization nor starvation is good for your training. Losing ten pounds of muscle without sacrificing training is the sort of thing you attempt to do for next season, not within a season.
Ric should have distinguished between two types of plastic callipers. Some are large, heavy, stiff and work just fine. Others are small, light, flimsy, don't create a reproducible measurement and are much less useful.
Optimal race weight #2
I'm 29 and an intermediate cyclist who might like to race at some point in the future. I've seen several posts on "target" weights for different size people, but none are really close to my size. Is there a general formula to estimate a target weight? Do these include bone structure/chest size etc? I know I have some weight to lose but am unsure how much to aim for.
I'm currently 6'3.5" and around 198 lbs. Inseam as measured without shoes for bike fit is 36.5". Chest size is around 41".
Scott Saifer replies:
The graph linked from the thumbnail on the right shows the heights and weights of successful professional riders, both men and women. Each Men point represents a rider who either won a classic, grand tour or world championship. The women and Saturn men rode for a domestic or international professional team. As you can see, the great majority of riders are within about ten pounds one way or the other of the average weight for their height, and none are more than 20 pounds either way from the average. The range for riders your height is roughly 170-190 pounds. That doesn't mean that you have to be in this range to enjoy racing bikes, unless you equate enjoyment and winning at the elite world level. If you are willing to be satisfied with keeping up or competing in flatter races, your current weight is fine. I've had a client 6'2" and 235 pounds win a reasonably well attended category 1 and 2 criterium, though he couldn't go uphill with the fours to save his life or ego.
I have my road cleats set up as advised on the cyclingnews posts. For my mountain shoes, however, the cleats are hard to set back. The shoes are Sidi Dominators, with cleats for Crank Brother Candy pedals. The cleats just won't move back far enough to put the ball of my foot back a smidgen over the spindle. Is this a cleat issue, a shoe issue, or an adjustment issue?
Steve Hogg replies:
In my experience, it is almost unknown to NOT be able to get an MTB cleat in the position that I would recommend on an Mtb shoe. As to why, the possibilities are:
1. Your Sidi shoes have sliding threaded fittings in the sole that the cleats attach too. Could you be using the front holes rather than the rear most holes?
2. If you are using a shoe that is a size too large in length, this could explain your problem. This is likely if you have very wide feet. Many wide footed riders erroneously buy a shoe one size (length) larger than they should, just to get width. Better to seek out extra wide shoes. Sidi, amongst others, make extra width shoes in some models
I am a 45 year old male who does triathlon and has been doing so since 1989 doing mostly long distance events in the last 20 years. My maximum heart rate these days seems to be around the 160 mark. Does this seem unusually low to you for a 45 year old? I have training partners that regularly hit the 170's when training. I think I'd be dead if I ever got to that! Any opinion would be appreciated.
Scott Saifer replies:
A maximum heart rate of 160 is low, and a bit out of the common range. That in itself is not reason for concern, so long as you are reasonably fast at the heart rates you do hit. I'm attaching an article about the range of maximum heart rates. It's common for maximum heart rate to decrease by 6-10 beats when you go from untrained or weekend-warrior status to well trained. Other than that, any sudden decrease of maximum heart rate (sudden being more than two beats per year) is reason for concern about either overtraining or heart disease.
Hi, I am experiencing some pain behind my right knee where my calf muscle meets the hamstring towards the left side of the back of the knee. It hurts right at the bottom of the pedal stroke and I can feel it about half an hour into a ride. I am a 15 yr old male and race on the weekends. I have Shimano SPD-SL pedals. Could you please give me some advice to get rid of the pain? (moving cleats, saddle height, etc.) Also, I find that at the end of a hard ride, my quads (in particular the muscle just above the knee, to the inside of the leg) gets really sore and my hamstrings and other leg muscles don't feel fatigued at all.
Steve Hogg replies:
Overextension is your problem. Drop your seat 5mm.
That muscle on the inside of your knee is the vastus medialis obiquis or VMO which is as well as being a quadricep and helping to extend the knee, also plays a part on laterally stabilising the knee. So either you have footplant on pedal issues or some other factor is askew.
Why right side only?
1. Generally tighter on the right side
2. Seat a touch too high causes you to favour the left side resulting in the right side over reaching. This is possible but not common. More often than not this scenario would be the other way around.
3. Seat too far forward.
4.Cleats too far forward on shoe
and a host of other possibilities.
I am not a betting man but the most likely possibility is that your seat is too high and possible too far forward.
I am a 46 year old male, 70Kg. Raced 20 years ago and returned to cycling for health and pleasure 12 months ago. I have a let of set back on my bike, which is my preferred arrangement, and I 'ankle' a lot so seat height is lower rather than higher. However, to achieve sufficient set back (I use a FSA seat post with maximum set back) my previous seat was set a long way back. Due to where I sit, this broke the rails on the saddle through use, though it was very comfortable (before it broke). I now have a Selle Italia Filante, which was recommended on the basis of its long rails so that I could get close to a decent set back. (I purchased my current bike second hand and its seat tube is too steep for me so it is all compromise.)
I am now experiencing significant perineum pain on one side which is constant. I am experimenting with having the saddle lower, level, pointing up slightly, and so on. I have also read what I could find in the forums here (thank you). I will probably need to purchase a new seat, and what I would like to ask is, if possible, what sorts of qualities in my position and in saddle design that contribute to not sitting on my sit bones? I realise this is different for every person, but what I am wondering if there are general rules of thumb that can be used, such as (as an example) that if have perineum pain then my weight is too far forward so things that make you sit back (back more on the saddle, higher on the bike, tilting the seat up?) would help alleviate such problems?
Steve Hogg replies:
Saddles are a wretched subject in the sense of trying to recommend one to someone of whom I have no knowledge. Even if I had more knowledge there is no foolproof method that I have developed or come across and I have tried plenty of things. That assumes you have a seat problem rather than a seat placement problem.
The question that begs asking is why one side only?
The likely answer is that you are not perfectly symmetrical on the seat. The other thing that can be an influence on males is which side of the seat does your genitalia tend to sit over to. Sometimes moving the wedding tackle to the other side makes a significant difference.
It may be that the seat is still not back far enough; it may be that the width at the back forces you further forward than you would like; it may be that the angle of the seat relative to horizontal needs to be up or down at the nose a degree. And I literally mean a degree though the nose may appear to be higher than this with a rule and dial protractor if there is a channel through the middle.
Is your Filante the one with the hole in the middle?
If not, that could be something to try.
Do you have any feeling of the seat being too wide through the mid section of its length?
That can be an issue for many.
Assuming that the seat that you were comfortable on was fitted to your existing bike, you could do worse than get another or alternately a seat of similar shape and profile.
I really enjoy the column and often find there is excellent information in questions that I would not think relate to my circumstances.
I am a Cat 4 rider who trains 6-12 hours per week, with time dependent on work and family commitments. A lot of my training is based around commuting to/from work, especially when the light allows more time to do longer rides on the way home. I am currently living in Paris where the residents are very considerate to bike riders and the air is pretty clean.
In a couple of weeks I am moving to Shanghai. One of the by-products of China's growth is heavy pollution, with Shanghai having 3-5 days per month where the sky can be seen instead of the grey haze. In addition, the vehicles there do not appear to be as concerned with regular maintenance and add there fair share to the pollution. I am keen to keep cycling when I move but have some concerns that it may do more harm than good.
As a multi-threaded question;
What is the short and long term effect of exercising in polluted environments?
Does the type of exercise make any difference (i.e. high versus low intensity or cycling versus swimming)
Is there any way to counter the effects of smog/pollution? I.e. cycling on the turbo inside a room with a good a/c system or other any ideas you can offer or just cycling on weekends when out of the city?
Do the face masks that some cycle couriers wear work and if so are there any particular type you should use?
Thanks for any thoughts you can offer,
Cyclingnews tech editor John Stevenson replies:
I can help with the last question because, many years ago, the magazine I worked on at the time got one of our guys to look into this. The short answer is yes, absorbent face masks do reduce the pollutants in the air you inhale. As with many things though, there are caveats:
Activated charcoal-based systems work better than simple paper filters.
They must fit well or hard breathing will suck air round rather than through them.
Breathing hard through a well-fitting mask is difficult.
If the filter or charcoal is not replaced regularly the mask can become counter-productive as it can desorb pollutants back into the air you're breathing.