Form & Fitness Q & A
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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.
[After the discussion a couple of weeks ago on strength and weight training, Cyclingnews editor Jeff Jones threw this question about sprinting into the mix, and got some lively discussion going among our coaches -Ed]
This may seem like a naive question, but what are the limiting factors in sprinting, which is arguably the most important discipline when it comes to actually winning the majority of mass start races? Why do people who are born with all those fast twitch muscles sprint much faster than aerobic diesel engines, like Lance Armstrong? Lance must obviously have one of the best aerobic engines in the game, but when it comes to a four man sprint on the flat, he'll nearly always finish fourth.
I know you have to be fit enough to finish a race in order to win it, but there are plenty of sprinters who can benefit from the advantages of drafting to survive in a bunch. Then at the end, they're the ones who get the flowers.
Dave Palese replies:
Sprinting is as much about training as it is about muscle fiber types.
It is true that some will have a natural ability for sprinting due to genetics, but every rider can improve their sprint.
Like every abilty in cycling, improving your sprint has three aspects that need to be developed in training and practice: the physical (strength or force application and leg speed); the technical (using good sprint form to achieve optimal aerodynamics, power transfer, and control over the bike); and mental (develop good sprint strategies and tactics).
The physical side of sprinting can be addressed in training and can be addressed all year-round. Sprinting combines two physical abilities: strength and speed (leg speed). These two combine to procuce high power outputs.
When a sprint begins a rider needs to be able to apply a substantial amount of force the pedals (strength) and get that gear going very quickly (efficient muscle recruitment). This is the jump, and can be the deciding factor in a sprints outcome. Once the rider reaches top speed, the amount of force that needs to be applied to the pedals is greatly reduced, but he or she now needs to keep that gear going until they cross the line (leg speed).
During early winter training athletes can improve leg speed and pedaling efficiency by including high cadence, light resistance training.
To start, try doing High Cadence Intervals. Start by pedaling at a brisk cadence (100-105 rpm) in an easy gear (39/42x21-17). Over a 30 second period, increase your cadence to the point where you start to bounce in the saddle. Then back off the cadence just enough so that you settle into the saddle. Maintain that cadence for 90-150 seconds. Spin easy for 3 minutes and repeat 3 times. When you are pedaling more efficiently it will feel like you are pulling yourself down into your saddle. Focus on engaging your hip flexors to get your leg over the top of your pedal stroke.
To train quick muscle recruitment, try High Cadence Sprints. From a slow roll, and in a light gear (39x42 x 21-17), accelerate quickly to your maximum sustainable cadence while remaining seated. Maintain your cadence for 8-10 seconds and then spin easy. Rest for 3 mintues between sprints and repeat 8-10 times in a workout.
Maintaing a higher cadence during endurance riding also helps promote good leg speed and muscle suppleness. Try focusing on riding at a brisk cadence of 95-105 rpm during your long endurance rides.
To develop strength, athletes can train in the gym initially (but not lifting as bodybuilders or powerlifters do), or (even better) this strength can be developed on the bike doing low cadence, high resistence work. Ride for 3-30 minutes in a large gear that produces a low cadence (50-60 rpm) and a controlable heart rate (AT -10 bpm). Focus on pedaling from the hips and relaxing the upperbody. Maintain smooth circles, applying force to the pedals all the way around the pedal stroke. Rest for 5-10 minutes between intervals, with easy spinning in your easiest gear.
As the competition phase nears and training becomes more specific, sprint specific training can begin. I usually start riders doing Standing Starts. These are done from a near standstill in a big gear and the athlete accelerated as quickly as possible trying to get up to maximum cadence as quick as possible. Standing Starts last about 10 seconds, and most can start by including 6-8 Starts in a workout. Rest for 5 minutes between Starts.
Later, Hill Sprints continue the path towards more specific training. Find a hill that you can come into with good speed (usually a hill that is opposed by another that you can roll down and into your sprint hill). The hill should be of a significant grade, but not such that you will get bogged down.
Come into the hill at good speed and in a gear that will allow you to get on top of it in 2-4 seconds. Sprint hard from the bottom and continue for 8-10 seconds. As you go up the hill, the resistence will increase and you have to work hard to keep the cadence high. Again, start with 6-8 sprints in a workout, with 5 minutes easy spinning between sprints.
When the athlete enters the Specialization period, group sprint sessions can be a great training mode to polish things off. These session can take many forms, short sprints (3-5 riders sprinting for 300-200 meters from a rolling start, every rider leads out), or longer sprints (3-8 riders, winding up the pace over a 2k run-up and then sprinting for 200-500 meters). Whatever form these sessions take, be sure the venue is safe and that the activity between sprints is easy spinning for 5 minutes or so, allowing for good recovery so each riders gets the most out of each sprint.
During all of the above workouts, attention should be paid to good sprint form, even at the expense of speed at first. Concentrate on keeping your weight back and centered over the bike. The bike should move under you, while your upper body maintains a straight line towards the finish. Always sprint with your hands in the drops of the handlebars. In this position you are the most aerodynamic, have the best power transfer and have the most control overy your bike in the event of contact with another rider. Keep your head up and eyes looking ahead of you. Don't ignore working on good form when sprinting. Nothing kills your chances of winning more than a crash because of erratic riding.
Sprint tactics is a book in itself so I won't really talk too much to that point here. Just remember, the closer you get to the line, more of a disadvantage you have to those in front of you. So always be asking yourself, "Do I have enough time between here and the line to come around these 2... 3... 4... riders in front of me (considering my and their abilities in a sprint)?
Oh, and by the way, if Lance really wanted to win sprints, he would be able to beat just about anybody. The guy is gifted, plain and simple. He just needs to set a goal, and he's there.
Ric Stern replies:
I'm not sure that sprinting is the most important discipline for winning the majority of RRs, be those pro or amateur. If this was the case i think we'd see more sprinters win more races. That said, the ability to sprint at the end of a race is or can be quite important.
Certainly, the importance of drafting can't be overlooked, and there's data to show that finishing one of the TdF stages in the lead group required a power output of 98 W. You'd be hard pushed to find anyone who regularly rides a bike unable to maintain that power output. However, the ability to tightly hold a wheel and avoid the front, may not be quite as easy. Of course, if all that you can do is average 98 W, then when the race heads uphill, into a TT, an echelon forms or similar then you're going to be in trouble and as you'll require way more power than that.
The ability to sprint, is governed in part by the peak force that you can generate, inasmuch as peak force at zero or low velocity is proportional to muscle cross sectional area. However, many people that race can generate power outputs that are similar to, or even exceed the pros (when matched for mass, age, and gender), and of course sprinting (on the road) rarely starts from zero (i can think of two possible episodes in vaguely recent history where it did -- i think Liege from '87 with Roche and Criquelion who may have tried match sprinting in the last couple hundred metres, until Argentin flew past, and the womens' British National Champs in maybe the early 90's where the leading two competitors crash about 100m from the line). Top class (male) road sprinters (not track riders) are likely to be able to sprint at 1200 to 1600 W.
Dave's suggestions in general (with the exception of the low cadence work, as it doesn't improve strength, and isn't related to sprint - this is aerobic training) will help improve sprinting ability. Sprints from stationary or near stationary (seated in a low gear), sprints from a good speed ( 40 km/hr) in a big gear out of the saddle and other similar ideas are all good. There's no reason why anyone can't improve at sprinting. i also generally recommend a much longer recovery period between sprints (10 to 20-mins) as you want to completely recharge your muscles energy stores, and the idea of sprint training is to increase your peak power (highest that you can hit).
Additionally, tactics, and skill are extremely important for sprinting and can be practised with training partners, making sure that the road conditions (e.g. traffic) is safe to do so.
I don't believe that Lance and many other GC riders would be good any good at sprinting, no matter how much they trained. They might be good at going from a long way out and doing a protracted 'sprint', but that's not quite the same thing. In a proper sprint head to head Zabel, Cipo, Pettachi, etc are going to beat the GC riders by a long way. If you put the GC riders against *proper* sprinters (Hoy, Maclean, Eadie, etc) they'd be even further behind.
Jeff Jones adds:
Thanks for the responses. I asked the question out of pure interest and relevance to the recent debate on cyclingnews, as well as the fact that I am also a "non-sprinter" who has had many second and third places.
Ric expressed doubt that sprinting was important. I was generalising of course, but if you look at the top of the victory list last year you'll see sprinters: Petacchi with 28 wins, Zabel with 14, Kirsipuu and McEwen with 12, Cooke with 10, Valverde with 9 (although he can climb too). Of the non-sprinters, the best is Vinokourov with 11 wins, then Simoni with 10, Mayo and Rich with 8 etc. Lance Armstrong is a fair way down the list with 5 wins, although one of them was a big one ;-) . This is just grouping riders into "pure sprinters" and "everyone else". I dare say if you looked closely at the "everyone else" list you would find a lot of riders who had a very handy sprint too.
In my experience in all sorts of racing, solo wins are very rare, while small to large groups contesting the finish are not. Obviously the better sprinters in the group are going to end up as gaining most of the placings. Also during a race such as a crit, the ability to sprint is crucial if it's a technical circuit and/or there are a lot of attacks. I you can't sprint out of a corner as quick as the person in front of you, then gaps will invariably open up, causing many problems! It's tough closing them down at 50-55 km/h. Same thing applies to following an attack - if you can get the attacker's wheel straight away, you're a lot better off.
Ric also pointed out the important of drafting. Of course, this is why people of widely varying abilities can hang onto a fast, but flat bunch ride. The hills sort things out fast, as the front riders will probably be putting out more power (e.g. 250W on the flat up to 350W on the climb) but the people sitting on will have to nearly double theirs relative to what they were putting out before (e.g. 170W on the flat to 330W on the climb). Depending on steepness, effectiveness of the draft etc.
The issue of peak wattage is what I was getting at in my question. I think my peak power was around 1100W on a good day. I have lost an unbelieveable number of sprints in the jump (as Dave noted it's one of *the* crucial aspects of sprinting), even though once I wind up, I end up at the same speed as the others. And the slower the starting velocity, the worse for me [yes, I've tried starting in a lower gear, which helps slightly]. I've won sprints whenever I've been able to get a good lead out i.e. not being gapped off the wheel when the sprint starts, and drafting until 150m to go, waiting for everyone else to hit their peak speed, before coming round. So I'm not a completely hopeless case ;-)
My current sprint training consists of trying to win the bunch sprint along the Schelde whenever I go out with the boys in the morning. This is never a tactical sprint - it's more of a classic leadout, where the speed starts to lift in the final two km and if I pick a good wheel I can time it right to "win". I find it good practice, but it doesn't address the weakness of the jump. The Schelde sprints are perfect for tactical practice, apart from the occasional rider coming the other way - I'll pull up if this is the case.
I'm sure Lance could improve his sprint a bit if he wanted, but he's really a pure GC rider now and that's one of the reasons why he'll have a hard time winning another classic. There are slightly different characteristics required to win either. And I'd say winning the Tour ranks a lot higher than winning any number of other races for him.
Thanks for the response/discussion though. I was definitely interested in the physical limiting factors in sprinting, rather than the mental (which are important of course). It's interesting to note that nearly all the top road sprinters don't have huge legs, but I guess this is because they have to be aerobically fit enough to get to the end - always a compromise. Track is another story :-)
Brett Aitken replies:
In addition to Ric and Dave's comments I think the term 'sprinters' is often overused. If we looked at the sprinters in the pro peloton their percentage muscle fibre makeup is probably around 60% slow twitch to 40% fast twitch compared to true track sprinters who are likely to be above 80% fast twitch. Also the power output of an elite track sprinter often peaks over 2000 Watts compared to the pro peloton sprinter of 1200-1600W as mentioned before.
Therefore it's only in relative terms to the average pro cyclist that we call certain riders in the peloton a sprinter but if they were up against the true track sprinters they wouldn't even come close.
In regards to the limiting factors of a sprinter in endurance cycling races though since that seems to be the key question, my opinion is that the real limiting factor is an ability for a rider to position themselves in the right spot. Position is everything in endurance cycling race finishes. Even if you have limited sprinting power if you can fight off everyone and place yourself behind a key sprinter and draft off them you should be able to run a place in the consideration that they do as well.
Of course this is in the case that you are already at high speed and there is no need for a great acceleration such as jumping out of a corner. Another attribute of the "endurance sprinters" is a good anaerobic capacity where they can hold a high power (500W +) for around 1 to 2 minutes. This enables them to get the position they need in the first place in those final kilometres before the actual sprint. Finally a great aerobic system is needed as well to just be there for the finish after all the hard kilometres which precedes it. Essentially the road sprinters we see in the pro peloton are the true all rounders.
Ric Stern replies:
I think there's probably plenty of races where there's small groups coming together, and the riders that win aren't road sprinters, they're just more practiced at the skill and technique of sprinting (see Brett's reply). However, that said, there's also going to be a difference in actual sprint ability as well (i.e., peak power). This can be trained on the bike with the correct training. Additionally, there's always going to be certain people limited in certain abilities because they chose their parents badly. however, that doesn't mean they can't improve it my just mean that they can't excel at a particular aspect.
During a crit, kermesse, RR, etc., the repeated accelerations that occur coming out of a corner are in part to do with positioning (further down the bunch, the harder life is). however, the ability to recover from these accelerations is *entirely* dependent upon aerobic metabolism and is therefore a function of LT and VO2max.
As for specific training techniques, try *seated* starts in a low gear from (almost) stationary, staying seated for 10-secs, recover, ride easy for 10+ mins and repeat. also, practice sprints from speed for say 40 km/hr. try to practice these away from everyone else. This will force you to concentrate on the actual effort and fitness for them, whereas doing them in a group situation *may* mean that you become more interested in beating your training partners, but not putting in 100% training effort (e.g., you sit on until the last seconds). Additionally, to get the skill aspect you should also try the group/skill work as that shouldn't be underestimated.
Eddie Monnier replies:
I echo Brett's emphasis on the importance of positioning and usually tell my athletes that there are two races. The first is to a certain point (e.g., the last corner in a criterium) and the second is to the finish line. Without "placing" well in the first finish, you cannot really compete for the actual finish. Placing in the first finish has a lot to do with mental attitude (the 'tude in what I call The TMT of Sprinting, which can be read at www.velo-fit.com/articles.htm), which explains why some formerly successful bunch sprinters eventually lose their bunch sprint prowess after experiencing a nasty crash.
Additionally, I would add that many people focus on peak power in a sprint when it's actually the average over the distance that matters. Given two riders of the same size, if rider A peaks at 1300 watts but averages 1000W over the sprint distance while rider B peaks at 1200 watts and averages 1050W, rider B gets to take home the victory flowers. The peak power is only for a small fraction of the total sprint.
Finally, if you have a power meter, you can learn a lot about your sprint characteristics and the resulting best tactics. For example, you may find that you can generate a big burst of power that falls off very quickly. If so, you'd generally be best to stay on somebody's wheel until inside the last 100 meters before going for it. Conversely, you may not have a high peak, but may be able to sustain a high average over a relatively long sprint. This type of sprinter does best leading it out and hopes the bursty sprinter isn't on his or her wheel (use a teammate as a sweeper to help mitigate this).
Jeff Jones sums up:
Thanks for your response. As I said to Ric, I could probably define a sprinter as "anyone who sprints faster than me" ;-) . But seriously, your point is well taken that it's a big sliding scale from track sprinters down to club C grade sprinters, This is why I initially stated (and still believe) that "sprinting" is is arguably the most important discipline when it comes to actually winning the majority of mass start races. But that wasn't the real point of the question anyway and I don't want to digress.
I agree with you that positioning is crucial in a sprint, and can often be the most important limiting factor. I guess that's why I phrased my question "limiting forces" to refer to just the physical aspects of sprinting. i.e. what is it in your own body that prevents you from going faster? All those extra fast twitch fibres that "sprinters" seem to have must be a big factor in giving them that ability to produce a large peak power and high average power over the course of a sprint. Then there's the aerobic conditioning required to get yourself in the right place at the end and be able to hold it - this is probably why I've never seen a pure track sprinter like Sean Eadie finish a crit [I'm sure it happens].
To summarise then, I guess we can pick out the following key *physical* points for sprinting
1 Ability to generate a large peak power + efficient muscle recruitment
2 High average power over the distance of the sprint
3 Good leg speed
4 Knowing your own sprinting style (good jump, good sustaining ability etc.]
5 Having good form = aerodynamics, control, power transfer
Thanks everyone for their input!
I'm 19 yrs old, cat 3 racer, but have a major problem. My left leg is shorter than my right. I know this because I have taken measurements by professional bike fitters. Throughout my whole cycling career I've always had a problem with my left leg because I couldn't deliver the same power to the pedal as my right leg could. Is there anything I could do to compensate? So far I've been wearing three socks on my left leg just so that it feels normal when I pedal. Please help and thanks in advance for your help.
Eddie Monnier replies:
It's not uncommon to have a functional leg length discrepancy (LLD). I write "functional" LLD because the only way to know for certain if you truly have a bone leg length discrepancy is to have x-rays done. Nevertheless, clues that you may have an LLD (functional or bone) include persistent lower back discomfort when you ride and/or recurring or chronic saddle sores on the same side.
What you want to know is where your shorter leg is functionally shorter. It can be in the femur (hip to knee), tibia (knee to ankle), or both. Because we pedal in circles, you correct less than 100% of the discrepancy. If the femur is shorter, I follow Paul Swift's (co-developer of the LeMond Fit bike fitting system)) recommendation of correcting 1/4 to 1/3 of the difference, whereas we correct 1/2 of the difference for the shortage attributable to the tibia.
The correction can be made by using a simple platform under the cleat. I use LeWedge by LeMond Fitness which also enable putting the athletes foot in a neutral position relative to the pedal platform vs. a forefoot varus (the vast majority of the population exhibits a forefoot that is angled outward such that the little toe is a few degrees lower than the big toe when the rear foot is in a neutral position) or forefoot valgus (forefoot is angled inward).
Hopefully, you have an expert fitter in your area who can help you correct this difference. If you don't know of one, check with your local cycling clubs for recommendations.
I'm a 30 year old rider who was pretty good for a little while. Good enough even to be offered spots on Div 3 teams. I raced and trained pretty well for a number of years, but probably never made enough sacrifices to reach my potential (I've never really been able to keep my weight down low enough to where I'm truly fast in all situations and for no other reason that I love to eat). I don't think so much about going pro on the road anymore though I still have it in the back of my mind I'd like to earn my mtb pro license (I'm semi-pro and again do pretty well) - its just for me to have the satisfaction of earning it, not for any other reason. On one hand, I've worked on it for a long time and know that I can do it - I basically had it the last time I raced a full season.
But, I can't seem to stay focused on training any more. I make excuses that I don't have time, but I probably do if I manage it correctly. A big problem is that I don't really have any goals any more. I feel a bit silly about the whole wanting to reach pro mtb thing, but I can't wrap myself around local stuff, especially short lame crits and road races and get much of any motivation out of it. I've tried to refocus on things like masters championships and what not, but its not really working - I can't seem to want that badly enough.
I didn't ride much at all last year and though I intended to get back into it this season it hasn't really happened. First I injured myself and had to take 6 weeks off and though I still enjoy riding my bike and I still enjoy participating in races when I go, I don't seem to have the motivation to do the training I know I need to do to perform well. I'm not even riding my bike because I'm not really training. I don't think I'm burnt out, but I'm having difficulty in finding reasons to keep riding and racing. Am I being ridiculous? I'm just not making the adjustment to being okay with being a local rider.
Now, on top of that, I feel I should really start over with base training for at least a month before doing tempo and then harder work. Should I just hang it up, sell my stuff, and find something else or do I buck up and quit being a big baby and train like I know I can?
Scott Saifer replies:
I'd suggest getting a bunch of cycling magazines, and books about Lemond, Armstrong, Indurain, Taylor etc and reading them for a few weeks. If after that you don't feel like training, you're done. Sell your stuff except for a couple of bikes for having fun. If you do get inspired, get some training books for new ideas or hook up with a coach.
The space you are in now is not doing you or anyone else any good. You have to have goals that you value or you won't work for them. Set your sights a lot higher or give it up. If you can believe that you might make it to a level high enough to get excited, do it. If not, this might be a good time to start thinking about "giving back" as a way to stay involved in cycling. Mentor a junior, share your knowledge with some beginners, make positive use of all you've learned in your years of cycling. If that doesn't inspire you, it's time to leave the sport.
For the 99% of cyclists who never go to the Tour, cycling is all about learning about oneself and the limits of one's ability to realize one's desire. Cycling is about self-creation. When you are no longer excited about making yourself a better cyclist, it's time to hang up the wheels.
[One thing I have watched quite a few former top-class mountain bikers do when they decide life gets in the way of training is take up racing single-speeds. The shorter races and technical challenge of the bike means you can still be competitive without slogging out vast training miles. Tattoos and copious beer consumption are apparently optional - Ed]
I recently got a bike fit to fix a nagging pain in my shoulder. The shorter stem cured the problem, but the raised seatpost is causing discomfort in my right knee, right hip and both my Achilles tendon. The seat was raised by at least half an inch (can't really tell exactly... the fitter just eyeballed it). After talking to a few people, a sports doctor told me that such a drastic change in riding position, even though it might be the right position, can cause problems. He stated that the body needs to adjust to the position bit by bit, and that I should have raised my seat about an eight of an inch every week until I reach the right height. On the other hand, a respectable trainer told me that it doesn't matter how drastic the change... if the position is right, there's no need for the body to adjust. I'm quite confused as to who to believe. Can you shed some light?
San Diego, CA
Scott Saifer replies:
I believe that both of your sources are correct, but that there are at least two types of bike fit. One type of bike fit can be done looking only at your skeleton: the lengths of your bones and the angles they make at various points in the pedal stroke. This type of fit could be achieved by say, getting a knee angle between 25 and 35 degrees at the bottom of the pedal stroke and the knee 2cm behind the pedal spindle. With this type of fit, you look right on the bike, at least while holding still, and it can be a great fit for both comfort and power. If you have normal flexibility and muscle elasticity, this fit works well and it is safe to move immediately to the "good" position. If for any reason the ideal fit based on your skeletal structure is not the ideal fit based on your ligaments, tendons or other soft tissues, the "good" position could cause you terrible pain and injury.
The second type of bike fit takes account of flexibility and other issues, must include watching you pedal, may include measurements or eye-balling and could put you in a somewhat non-standard position if you have a somewhat non-standard body. In general if the fit takes account of soft-tissue as well as bony constraints, it should be safe to make large changes.
Since you are currently experiencing pain that seems to be related to your changed riding position, I'd suggest keeping the changed stem but putting the other aspects of the bike back how they were, or at least closer to how they were. Once the injuries heal and you are pain free for a few weeks, consider getting a new fit.
One additional point and an anecdote to stimulate more thinking: The point: If you are currently experiencing pain, it is certainly okay to make large adjustments to the particular aspect of the bike that seems to be causing the pain (stem length in your case).
Anecdote: A friend and I did a tour consisting of several 150 mile days. He rode an unfamiliar bike and had terrible Achilles tendon pain after the first day. We first suspected bike fit, but after some sleuthing, it turned out that he was in a position very, similar to that on his usual bike, but that a change of shoes had caused the problem. The mountain-bike shoes he was using for the tour had a high back, which pressed into his Achilles tendon when he pedaled with his toes somewhat down at the bottom of the stroke. The identical bike position and amount of toes down caused no trouble when he wore his road shoes. Cutting some of the padding from the back of the shoe fixed the problem.
Dave Fleckenstein replies:
The real issue here is how body tissues successfully adapt to stress - in a rapid or slow manner. Research indicates that the tissues of the body take time to respond to stress, be it muscle, bone, or other connective tissue. It is an issue of stimulus and response. If a small stimulus is placed on the body, it will adapt while generally maintaining health, provided that the stimulus is healthy. But the body has limits to the point at which it can adapt and repair, and instead breaks down. Training provides an excellent analogy. If we perform intervals and give adequate recovery, we become stronger. If however we perform excessive workouts without allowing accommodation, we will break down. Soft tissue responds much the same, With a gentle change, the tissues of the body will respond elastically - like a rubber band - lengthening in response. With drastic changes the body will respond plastically - like a rope - and will probably lead to break down. Making drastic changes (and a 1/2" change to your saddle height counts as drastic in my book), particularly to something that is repetitive and to which your body has developed very specific neuromuscular patterns, is a recipe for disaster. We have an "expert" bike fitter here in town who thinks nothing of adding 2 cm (!) to somebody's stem length while adding 1 inch(!) of height to their saddle all at one time, and these people inevitably make it into the clinic. Even when the ultimate position is a good position, the body will never adapt to that large of a change that quickly. I would highly encourage anybody interested in this topic to examine research by Dr. Savio Woo.
The second consideration is how to alter a repetitive, engrained neuromuscular pattern and still maintain healthy motion. One millimeter changes allow the body to adapt and essentially maintain the normal motion. One centimeter does not. If you take any cyclist that has been logging miles consistently and alter their saddle height by two millimeters, they will notice it, the system is that sensitive.
There are two exceptions to the rule. The first depends on how much the rider has been riding. I will make some fairly large changes to someone's alignment if they have not been riding for an extended period (i.e. over winter) provided that they show normal flexibility. The body has not adapted to any position and thus the "change" is not really a change to the body - simply getting back on the bike is the change!
The second exception is when someone has a gross error in their bike fit that is creating pathology. A rider with extremely tight hamstrings, back pain and Jan Ullrich's TT position as their normal bike alignment (and trust me, they are out there!), will be quickly brought back to a more neutral position to prevent additional injury.
I will make large changes to a riders position, but I will do it in millimeters, over time. Thus, I would say that your doctor is right, and I would challenge your trainer for the science that he bases his assumption on.
I'm 26 year old male cyclist in Melbourne Australia. I weigh about 60kg, have 9% body fat, and am about 172cm tall. I'm what you might call a serious recreational rider but I haven't started racing yet. I took up cycling regularly a bit over a year ago and I love it. I commute to work and cycle on the weekends. About 8 months ago I switched from just cycling for fun to also trying to improve my fitness. I was regularly cycling 8-9 hours/150-200km per week. I try to spread the training out and have rest days. Also, I try to eat reasonably well. I eat plenty of carbohydrates, protein, and fats (the good ones where possible). I could probably eat more fresh fruit and vegetables (couldn't we all though) but I never eat junk food. Plus, daily I take a multi-vitamin supplement. The problem is I keep getting sick. I did let myself get worn out in December and for that I suffered a chest infection requiring antibiotics. Since then whenever I get close to full fitness and start training fully again I get a cold or something. It is very discouraging and hampering my progress as a cyclist. I was wondering what recommendations you could make to help me keep my immune system strong. Thanks.
Dario Fredrick replies:
What you're experiencing is not uncommon and there are certainly ways to address the problem. Given that our autonomic (automatic) nervous system has two main parts, sympathetic (stress response) and parasympathetic (resting and recovery), if we over-stimulate sympathetic drive, immune system function can become compromised. Moderate to intense exercise stimulates this stress response in the body, as can mental stress in our daily lives.
So even moderate intensity exercise can challenge immune function, while high-intensity certainly does. You mentioned that you spread your training out and take rest days, but of your weekly hours, what percentage of your riding is high intensity? If it is more than 40% or on multiple consecutive days, that could be challenging your immune function. It sounds like your nutrition is good, but how about hydration? Are you consuming sufficient fluids both on and off the bike? Proper hydration can play a role in immune function as well.
We gain improvements from training during recovery from exercise, not during the workouts (which literally break us down). The quality of your recovery should be on par with the quality of your training. Mental calmness is also part of optimal recovery, since the stress response can be stimulated by mentally stressful experiences at work, school, home or otherwise. This area of recovery is often neglected. Other ways to stimulate the counterpart to the stress response (parasympathetic system), promoting healing and recovery are through restorative yoga and meditation. A very simple example of a restorative yoga pose would be to lie on your back with your legs up a wall for a period of 2-5 minutes at a time. An example of meditation would be to set aside a short amount of time each day (5-10min), and sit quietly in a comfotable position with your eyes closed focusing on smooth breathing. If you would like more information about yoga for strong immunity, feel free to contact me.
Finally, be sure that your are 100% healthy before doing any high-intensity training. Otherwise, if the body is still working to heal itself, then adding high stress exercise will compromise immune funtion further.
I was just reading the March 15 letters and had a question and a comment. I am a physician, not specifically trained in sports physiology, but I do have an interest in it as an amateur athlete. As regards breakfast, clearly one will have more strength (oops, I am using "strength" in a generic colloquial sense) for most training if one has prepared nutritionally for the training in a similar fashion to which one would prepare a pre-race meal. I was wondering, though, I believe that Andy Hampsten (and I am sure many others) used to advocate doing long distance zone 2 type aerobic endurance rides BEFORE eating breakfast, because they believed that such lower intensity riding without the recent consumption of carbohydrate promoted fat burning and the development of those particular energy systems for endurance riding as opposed to using primarily muscle glycogen. Any more recent literature from scientific studies on such a concept?
Keep up the great work. Useful advice and fascinating reading. I appreciate the fact that Cycling News has this set up so as to present a variety of opinions from multiple expert in regards to each question!
Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA
Ric Stern replies:
I don't think there's *any* research supporting such an idea, and indeed, I can't see why such an idea would be useful. In all but very low intensity exercise (e.g., recovery work) a good proportion of the energy is from oxidised carbohydrates. as the intensity of exercise increases so does the relative and actual contribution of carbohydrates.
As an athlete gets fitter (increase in LT, VO2max), more of the energy is derived from fat oxidation at a given workload. however, even endurance training requires a substantial amount of carbohydrate oxidation, and without carbs the intensity of the ride will decrease, making the ride less beneficial (i.e., at low intensity, there's little or no training adaptations).
During more intense work (compared to low intensity recovery, riding around) even though the relative contribution of fat oxidation may decrease, the absolute amount of fat oxidised is likely to be much higher than at lower intensity (and relatively higher contributions).
I'm training for this year's l'etape du Tour. Obviously, I'm trying to ride as much as possible, but work/family/weather sometimes gets in the way. Until now, I've spent part of my gym time running, occasionally on steep inclines, thiinking that this might be a useful addition to my programme. However, I have now heard some people say that it's wrong to combine running and riding, arguing that the muscular benefits of each are incompatible. Do you have any opinions on this?
Ric Stern replies:
Because in part adaptations occur at the specific joint angle and velocity at which they're trained and because running uses muscles differently to cycling there maybe little or no crossover, depending on your fitness.
Additionally, any other exercise modality is unlikely to improve cycling as well as cycling improves cycling in trained riders. However, if the option is to do gym exercise or no exercise, then gym (or any exercise modality) wins hands down.
If you have time to train, then no matter how short that time is, your best benefits would come from riding a bike. If say mid-week, you are time limited due to other constraints and the bad weather then an indoor trainer (generally termed a "turbo trainer" in the UK) would be the way to go. You can do some amazingly good sessions on one of these in quite a short space of time (e.g., up to an hour). These sessions would be very beneficial to your goals.
Please feel free to contact me further with any queries or one of the other coaches on the list
Georg Ladig replies:
It is possible to combine running and cycling - look at triathletes or crossers. The main focus of endurance training is aerobic training. Running trains the aerobic system as well as cycling. It is true, that you won't develop any big cycling punch through running, but running can help you to save time and to develop aerobic capacities faster. Another downside of running is, that running needs more recovery time due to the passive muscle stress when you hit the road with every step.
Conclusion: You need to time running and cycling right and to keep the running volume and intensities low enough to have the power left to do the right workouts on the bike, which are necessary to develop the cycling specific muscular capacities. Gym time: it might also be useful to continue some weight training throughout the season.
At 2PEAK we help you with our Multisport approach: we do calculate the stress of running and cycling workouts and the associated recovery times. Then we mix intensities in a way, which supports people like you, who have to be very efficient with their time. Towards the competition the training should become of course more and more specific. But with prolonged daylight time this is a quite natural schedule.
Good luck with l'etape!
I'm 49 years old, weight 73kg, and height 1.8m. I'm a very active cyclist, involved in daily commuting and fast weekend club rides averaging 100km. I was recently involved in a car/bike accident, fortunately leaving me with no broken bones, but my right leg and knee were severely bruised and swollen. The knee is now filled with fluid and very stiff. My question is two-fold: how long should I expect the fluid to remain, and are there any therapy modalities that might encourage the fluid dissipation? It's killing me to be sitting around when the spring time weather is calling me! Thank you.
Dave Fleckenstein replies:
If you have unresolved on continued fluid production in your knee, that is a sign that there is active inflammation (and thus injury) present. Depending on the nature of your injury and the time span through which you have had unresolved swelling, I would question if you haven't had a more serious injury to the joint (meniscus, ligament, etc...). While there are certainly modalities effective at reducing inflammation, if you have active pathology at the joint, it will continue until the offending culprit has healed.
I would highly suggest having a qualified orthopedic specialist examine your knee and refer you accordingly.
I am 38, male and I race on the road and track. I am officially a 3; I race the masters 30+ and pro123 categories. I have also gone to Belgium the last 3 years and plan to race there again this year.
I read your q&a on the acl tear with great interest. I tore my acl (50%) in Nov and had a fair amount of pain then instability but I was able to ride my bike. I took it easy at first as I did not know what was the matter. Fortunately the racing season began before I found out that it was indeed torn, so that I knew I could race on it.
MY doc said, no surgery. He is a pro football coach and I trust his judgement, but I was a bit freaked out. However, he has been 100% right so far. He helped me with a broken femur, a separated collarbone, bursitis and last year he repaired my long-ago-sprained ankle. So far it has not been a problem but yesterday I tweaked it big time. I did the masters 30+race and it was fine and in the pro 123 race it started hurting like the dickens. However, by pedalling differently I was able to finish the race pain free(although everything else was hurting!!)
(I have also raced on the track once this year and again it was no problem)
I am definitely willing to go thru with the surgery--it is getting to be old hat--but again I trust my doc. He set my mind at ease about a meniscal tear, too. Still, it has always been my goal to run a fast marathon. I was running quite a bit when this injury occurred with the intention of running a quick one this year but this injury rules that out.
Dave Fleckenstein replies:
You certainly could have maintained some stability in your knee with the tear that you sustained. If your main sport is cycling, I do not have any major concerns long term. If you are considering a lot of running and are having pain, you might consider having a second opinion to explore options. It is quite possible that your pain is not due to the ACL, but something else occurring at your knee. With regards to your altered pedal stroke - was it different due to your ankle repair or your knee? If it was because of your knee, you should have it looked at. If it was because of your ankle, and you had a tendon transfer repair, I would consider being examined for orthotics, as your foot and ankle now have different structure and function.