Fitness questions and answers for September 16, 2008

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Form & Fitness Q & A

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

Getting started
Hand positioning on a road bike
Switching to a shorter crank arm
Headaches after riding long rides
Recovery ride cadence
Training in the last week before a race
Chest pains
Saddle issues
Sore upper back

Getting started

I'm 14 years old and have just fallen in love with cycling - to help with other sports I play. Right now everything seems a little overwhelming; types of rides, cadence, distance and training... It's all a little over my head right now. I ride on a regular basis - about 24 miles every two or three days. What does a cyclist my age need to know and what type of 'training' or riding should I be doing to be a better rider? I would eventually like to compete. Tips for riding or nutrition?

Blaine Headley

Scott Saifer replies:

I'm glad you've discovered the joys of cycling. Since you're 14 and your main goal is build fitness for other sports, you really don't need much advice. Ride the bike exactly as much as you enjoy riding it. Don't push yourself to ride unless you feel pretty energetic and ready to ride. Make a point of eating and drinking on your rides. You can survive a 24 mile ride without food or drink, but you'll feel better and go faster if you have a couple of bottles of water or exercise drink and a bagel, a banana or a few fig bars while you ride.

More tips: riding should not hurt other than tired muscles. If anything else hurts, find out why and fix it. Find other people to ride with. They'll show you new routes and challenge you to go farther. Experienced riders will also know all kinds of stuff that will help you be a better rider, if you listen.

Big tip: As a wide-eyed kid looking for advice, you'll find lots of clowns who think they have something to teach you, so any advice you get, ponder it carefully before you follow it, and run it past other riders if it sounds too strange.

Hand positioning on a road bike

I am 62 and this is my first year on a road bike. For the past 12 years or so I have been riding a mountain bike, but I wanted to enhance my biking experiences, so I bought a top flight and well-fitted road bike. However, 1,500 miles or so later, I thought I should ask about hand positioning, since my hands and wrists are killing me. This has never been a problem for me in the past, and I just never seem to be able to get comfortable.

I try relaxing my hands and gripping the bar in such a way as to reduce the pressure on my thumb, wrists and middle palm and place more of the weight on the fleshy part of my outer palm. This seems to help, but surely there has got to be a better way. I spend about equal time on both bikes but I put in a lot more miles on the road bike.

Even though I am 62, I am in good shape and have good core and upper body strength, since I work out daily and do power yoga on a regular basis, but I have runner's legs and a large upper body, and I am wondering that I might be putting too much upper body weight on my arms. It doesn't feel like it, but this is why I am writing.

Reuben Ryder
Cornwall, NY

Steve Hogg replies:

If you weren't bearing significant weight on your hands and wrists, they wouldn't be hurting. The key to this is seat position, though handlebar and cleat position are also important. What you need to do is have your seat the minimum distance behind the bottom bracket that allows you to largely unweight your upper body. Even if the seat is where it needs to be, poor cleat position or handlebars that are too low or too far out will compromise your ability to ride comfortably. If you have a look in the Cyclingnews fitness archives from the second half of 2004 there should be quite a bit of info that will help you.

Switching to a shorter crank arm

I am a Cat. 2 racer, participating primarily in crits, with a sprinkling of road races when they are available and convenient. I am 5'10" tall but am more torso than leg, and thus have proportionately short legs. After quite a bit of research and twiddling my thumbs, I have decided to switch from 172.5 mm cranks (which I have been riding since I took to the bike simply because they came in my first gruppo) to 170mm. I was wondering if after making the shift I should compensate directly by raising my saddle height the exact difference of the disparity, or if there is some sort of derived formula used to accont for the change.

Casey Weaver

Steve Hogg replies:

No, no formula. Raise your seat the 2.5 mm and if possible, raise the bars by the same amount. Raising both seat and bar that amount will move them back less than 1mm. That's a negligible change and you should adapt to it quickly, if you notice it at all. I understand your predicament and long-torsoed riders who bend well and also have good ability to extend their spines often have to ride shortish cranks to prevent their upper thighs contacting their rib cages when they ride with hands in the drops.

The benefit you will get from the crank length change of 2mm is that your knee will be 5mm lower at top dead centre. At the contact point or potential point for any interference between upper leg and thigh, the benefit will be noticeably less, but possibly enough to make it worth your while, assuming that's the problem

Headaches after riding long rides

I'm a 33 year old male that averages 20-21 mph on rolling 80-mile group rides on the weekends. Over the summer on these long rides, I've started developing headaches between three and five hours after I finish riding for the day. The temperatures are easily in the high 80s to low 90s here in North Carolina with very high humidity, so I'm wondering if these headaches are most likely caused by dehydration. I'm averaging a minimum of a bottle an hour of Gatorade or Cytomax and usually come home weighing about 3-4 pounds lighter. The headaches start like clockwork after long rides, but usually never on a ride shorter than 30 miles. Are the headaches caused by heat, dehydration, or mineral imbalances? What's the best way to prevent them?

I also train for international distance triathlons so I'm out six days a week exercising.

Jason Turner
Cary, NC

Scott Saifer replies:

It sounds very likely that your headaches are due to dehydration and/or electrolyte issues. You could get a bunch of expensive medical tests to rule out other scarier possibilites, or just try drinking more on your next few long rides. Ideally you'd drink enough that you finish your rides weighing about a pound less than when you start. Note that actually gaining water weight on a ride is dangerous, so you don't want to just drink 'more'.

It sounds like you are losing a bit less than one pound per hour on roughly four hour rides, so you need to drink more by a about 12 ounces per hour if the weather stays the same and your effort stays the same as what you've been dealing with. Continue to use an exercise drink for most of that fluid consumption. The Cytomax and Gatorade you've been using are fine so long as they agree with your stomach. In hot weather, also be generous with the salt you apply to your food (unless you have high blood pressure, in which case talk to your doctor about how much salt to consume).

If drinking more on the rides is enough that you lose about one pound on your rides but it doesn't fix the headache problems, the next thing to address is neck tension due to bike fit issues. If correcting hydration and bike fit don't fix your headaches, it would then be time to talk to your physician.

Recovery ride cadence

What is the optimum, best, ideal cadence for a 1hr recovery ride at less than 60 per cent of my maximum heart rate on rollers or an indoor trainer?


Ric Stern replies

I'd suggest that the 'optimum' cadence would be different for everyone, and that the best is simply linked to the effort that you're doing; it should very easy - like walking, but on the bike!

Training in the last week before a race

I am a 20-year-old amateur racer and I am very confused about the training in the last week before the race. Some older co-cyclists give me very opposing advice about it. Consequently I am totaly confused about what is right and what is wrong.

How hard should I train a week before the race? When should I do the last hard intentsity training, etc?

Blaž Zoubek

Earl Zimmerman replies

I am not surprised about the conflicting information that you are being told about tapering, because it's a very individual aspect of training. When you first start racing it's a good idea to have a structured taper. You ask ten different cyclists a question about tapering and you are bound to get ten different answers.

I bring this up because when new clients ask me a similar question, invariably I will say, "it depends" and in your case the answer is the same. You are way ahead of the game by asking others and then trying to validate one theory or the another. An athlete in their 20's will have a different taper than one in their 30's or 40's. So what might work best for the 'older' and more experienced cyclist, may not work as well for you.

At your age you probably recover from hard efforts faster than your elders. I know of a Cat 3 junior road racer, who has raced at least 30 times in the past year and has continued improving in every aspect of racing skills and placing throughout this time. He only tapered twice for two targeted events in May and Sept.

Here are some general guidelines on what has worked for our athletes. If you have raced less than five consecutive races, continue doing your existing workouts leading up to your race, there is no need to taper. You are still going through the physiological adaptation process to get your muscles, mind and aerobic system prepared for racing. During these five races you would have tested various aspects of racing such as attacking a climb, bridging a gap, and doing a solo breakaway and now you have a better idea of where you excel. Your muscles and aerobic engine are better prepared for the demands of competing in a race.

As you have heard there are many ways to "properly" taper for a one-day event on the weekend. The following is a taper that has been used successfully for many athletes over the years as they prepare for routine weekend races. Please do a 20-minute warm up and at least a 15-minute cool down for each workout. Four days prior to your race you should do a focus workout on a weakness area such as sprinting, but not enough repeats to get really tired. Three days until your race you should do an endurance workout 45-60 minutes longer than your race, hopefully you have already built up your endurance to this level.

With two days remaining take a day off. The day before the race do a short workout, less than 60 minutes with one five minute interval at 90% of your max HR and a long recovery to get your legs primed for your race the next day. This could this be used for an Omnium or Stage Race probably, but it depends. This isn't set in stone, try it for a few months and see how it works for you and then make necessary subtle changes.

At 20 years old, I would rather see you focus on performance (how you race) as opposed to outcome (how you place). If you always focus on outcomes such as a podium finish or placing in the top five you could get easily discouraged. Instead, focus on how you race - are you efficient with your position and gearing? Are you eating and drinking well, drafting or moving around in the pack? In short, are you racing well independent of the outcome? Good luck with your taper and enjoy your next race.

Chest pains

I have been racing and riding for nine years. I completed three races this year and my highest finish was third place. After my last race I took a week off and rode again exactly seven days from the race. I rode 18 miles and I felt really good and fast so I decided to do a few sprints. I completed four short sprints, ten seconds each and I only recovered for a minute in between.

I got home and ate supper, grilled chicken and pasta. I then went outside and kicked the soccer ball around with my son. I sit down and felt this burning sensation in my chest and both arms and my wife said I looked pale. I drank some water and that made it worse. The pain was like I had strained really hard to pick something up and the muscles were exhausted.

My wife checked my blood pressure and it was high. Of course I went to the hospital and was admitted. I'm 38, probably in the best shape of my life, or so I thought. My resting heart rate was 47 bpm last year. I never had any trouble before. After two days in the hospital, they said I had a great heart - no blockages - although they did find the enzyme in my blood that is produced during a heart attack but there was no damage to my heart.

I also found that my resting heart rate is now in the 30s. The nurses kept waking me up every time I went to sleep because of it. The only thing is I didn't get an answer as to what happened. Did I have a major bonk, or what? Did I not fuel right before my ride? Did I not allow enough recovery time in between sprints? I can't be having heart trouble, my family has no history of it. Now I'm afraid to ride hard, although I have rode a few times since, just at a lot slower pace. I plan on scheduling an appointment with my regular doctor and hopefully I can get referred to a specialist to find out what is wrong.


Scott Saifer replies:

Well, it sure sounds like you had a heart attack: just the right kind of chest pain, just the right enzymes in the blood... did they mention that you could have had something floating around that temporarily blocked blood flow to part of your heart before it broke up?

Some of the enzymes released into the bloodstream after a heart attack are actually not heart-specific: they are released from any damaged muscle and might be high after a hard set of sprints. Other enzymes and proteins that would be in the blood after a heart attack would only be present after a heart attack. Since you didn't mention what enzymes were measured, there's a miniscule chance that you had really bad indigestion, but I doubt that.

Do keep talking to your doctor, get that specialist referral and find out what happened. If you had no muscle damage this time, you're lucky.

Saddle issues

I use leather saddles on my two bikes. I have noticed that on both of them the left part is more deformed than the right part of the saddle, as if the left crank was longer. What should I do? Should I lower the saddle or position the nose more to the left? Or leave it as it is and apreciate the fact that leather adapts to my cycling?

Ranieri Casalini

Steve Hogg replies:

Are you experiencing pain, discomfort or poor performance?

If the answer to that is no, I would accept that you aren't perfect but don't try and fix what isn't broken.

However, if your answer is yes, I would find out why you load the left side of the seat more and work to resolve or minimise whatever asymmetries you find.

Sore upper back

I am a 42-year-old male rider (18-19 mph guy over mixed terrain). Recently, I have developed post ride soreness in the muscles in the centre of the back between the shoulder blades. I don't have any neck discomfort. There has been no change in my equipment or position on the bike. It is not debilitating in any way but uncomfortable. Any thoughts? Have others reported such a problem?

John Tracy Mehr
New York, NY

Steve Hogg replies:

The discomfort you describe usually occurs when the rider bears more weight than they should on their arms and tends to let their upper torso sag between their shoulder blades. Go into the archives and look at the various positioning posts in the second half of 2004 and early 2005 and you should be able to find the info necessary to solve your problem.

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