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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - April 8, 2010

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Of course, there's the usual Body Geometry footbed.

Of course, there's the usual Body Geometry footbed. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Team Valdarno training for the season's start

Team Valdarno training for the season's start (Image credit: Team Valdarno)
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Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo) claps his hands with joy at his victory.

Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo) claps his hands with joy at his victory. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to Emails may be edited for length or clarity, but we try to publish both questions and answers in their entirety.

Building fitness with limited time

I am a 37-year-old male that cycles between 150 and 250km weekly, as yet uncompetitively. I primarily focus on sportif-style rides of mixed distances and so far haven't had too many training issues for these. I am also considering competitive cycling locally this year.

My training involves a mix of climbing repeats, intervals (some climbing and some speed orientated), group rides at effort, easier recovery rides, and a long ride once weekly. Every week has a rest day and every fourth week is an easy week. I try not to concentrate on improving more than one aspect for each month and that being said, I don't feel as though my schedule is out of the realms of common sense.

Where I do find myself running into trouble however are the actual length of these said 'weeks'.

I work what is commonly referred to as a seven-day panel roster, with a 50 percent mix of 12.75-hour day and night shifts, generally two or three-on two-off. A work day (or night) therefore begins at 4:30 and finishes at around 8:00.

What this basically means is that there is no time for riding (anything longer than 30 minutes in the dark at four o'clock in the morning) on the day shifts, and little time on the night shifts after sleeping is taken into account. This leaves big holes in any schedule and sometimes stretches 'weeks' out to 10 and 11days in duration.

How long does it take for you to lose any advantage gained because of lapses in a cycle? For example, if I am building up my distance in the weekly long ride (say 10 percent each time), how long do I have before it becomes imperative that I do another before I have 'lost' the gain of the previous distance?

Or if I am concentrating on increasing my climbing repeats by one a week, how long before do I have before I run the risk of overloading by trying to increase on a gain that was last made ten days ago?

Damien Tydd

Scott Saifer says


This is a very interesting question. As you can imagine, there are not that many serious cyclists who work a seven-day panel roster. (In the US we refer that as "shift work"). I have had a few clients do it though so I can tell you it is possible to do a rotating work schedule, including long shifts, and still progress in your fitness to a fairly high level.

Different elements of fitness regress at different rates when you lay off. The heart stroke volume begins to shrink after about 48 hours without training. Muscles that have been trained to the point of not getting sore from high-force exercise will get sore again if they aren't used in high force exercise for six days or more. A well developed spin will make a rider more efficient and faster than beginning riders even several years after the last serious training.

A highly trained cyclist might take as much as two weeks of extremely light training before a major event in order to bring on peak fitness. I've had clients do that many times and end up winning important events. Light training here is defined as an hour per day in zone 1 (60-70 percent of maximum heart rate), so clearly rather than losing all, taking two weeks easy can lead to gains in performance.

Now to your precise question: if you are trying to add distance each time you ride, or building up numbers of intervals or minutes in a certain zone, how long can you go before you need to maintain or back off rather than adding?

I've seen many riders prosper on one gradually longer ride per week, or doing hard training just once per week. When that cycle gets dragged out to two weeks, good results become rare. The threshold must be somewhere in between. I do know that 45-60 minutes of spinning daily does a great deal to maintain the gains already made, so you should aim to get that even when you can't do a longer ride.

Groin strain complications


I am a 47-year-old touring cyclist preparing for a ride in the French Alps in September. I do one ride of 4-5 hours at the weekend and twice mid week for two hours - all quite low intensity.

My right side ilium is twisted forward and inwards (anterior superior internal rotation) and my left side outwards (posterior inferior external). I have suffered with a number of positioning issues with a sore left side SIJ recently being the most persisitent. Finally, I use toe clips and straps.

I recently bought your DVD and after taping my own position, it became clear that I was dropping my right hip. As per the DVD I decided to try twisting the sadlle slightly to the right. This had the immediate effect of relieving the left side SIJ soreness.

However my right groin area became mildly sore and aching. I saw my chiro shortly afterwards and she wasn't keen on solving one problem by creating another. Therefore I moved the saddle back to it's original straight position and tried two Bike Fit ITS wedges in my right shoe (on top of each other thin to thick for the height not for varus/valgus) and this also relieved the left side SIJ problem.

However four weeks on I am still left with the right side groin strain and on today's ride whilst climbing a short hill albeit in a low gear, the left side groin also became sore. Also, I have been moving my saddle rearwards 3mm a week as I bear too much weight on my hands and wonder as I have moved the saddle back 12mm over the last four weeks whether this is also contributing to the groin issue?

I wonder whether I now need to work on stretching and strengthening the groin area or whether there is a positional approach to releiving the problem.

Many thanks.

Rob Newton,

Steve Hogg says


The ideal situation would be for your chiro to manipulate your pelvis into something approaching symmetry. Also, while I don't think having a seat pointing to the right is a 'solution', I can't understand your chiro's issue with it if the measure reduces pain, strain and discomfort.

When you say 'groin strain', I assume you mean your adductors. If they are being strained, then you are moving quite a bit on the seat. As the left side strain occurred in a low gear on a short hill, I'm assuming that you were protecting the already strained right side by dropping the right hip and that this challenge to pelvic symmetry has caused the left side strain.

Have you tried dropping your seat height?

Also, as you move your seat back 3mm at a time, you are effectively increasing your seat height by 1mm for every 3mm increment in setback. In addition, once the seat has moved back any substantial distance, you will be using your hamstrings more heavily, which means that your seat height may have to drop a touch again.

If you are convinced that your seat height is okay (and ideally you should be able to ride up a moderate grade while forcing the gear with no sensation of overextending in any way), have you tried increasing the size of the shim under the right foot?

I ask because under load, any existing asymmetries tend to be magnified and given that you weren't going hard when you strained your groin on the left side, it is likely that you were dropping your right hip more than usual and that is what caused the left side issue.

'Hands off' test

I've been using the 'hands off' test recently to try to - finally - get my fore/aft position dialed in. One thing I began wondering about: how should this be performed in conjunction with the saddle height?

The height or hands off (fore/aft) first? I know adjusting one can affect the other. For some reason, I seem to come up with something different every week or two when I try this.

Paul Kossa

Steve Hogg says


As you raise the seat, it moves 1mm further back for every 3mm it goes up. The converse is true as it is lowered. Ideal seat height is when a rider can ride up a moderate grade hill, forcing the gear a bit (say 1 tooth smaller cog than is ideal) and still feel like both legs are reaching through the bottom of the pedal stroke with equal or near equal fluency.

Once you have found that seat height, then set seat setback by the "balance test". A couple of caveats:

1. Unless of superior functionally, ideal seat setback should have you teetering a bit, with some measure of control, when you take your hands off. But without you having to arch your back or swing your arms off to pass.

2. To pass the balance test well, even with ideal seat setback, requires a degree of functionality that many riders never achieve. If you are not particularly flexible, or are notably asymmetrical in your pattern of flexibility, then settle for not having much weight on the hands when riding in the drops at a solid pace for sustained periods.

Once you have set your seat setback where you think it needs to be; if that required a marked movement fore or aft, then raise or lower the seat 1mm for every 3mm you moved the seat back or moved it forward. If you moved the seat back a long way, you may have to lower it slightly more than that again, as increased seat setback means increased hamstring involvement.

The belly of the hamstrings contracts while the hammies extend as a whole and this places a practical limit on seat height relative to set back.

Training for hills on flats

I am from the flat lands of South Carolina, US, and am 39 years old. I'm 6'1" and about 165lbs, and have been riding on the road for several years recreationally. I am going this summer (early August) to the Adirondacks of upstate New York, where I have ridden a few times in the past.

It's a treat for me, because it presents the opportunity to ride in the mountains. The hills there (at least, where I am going), are fairly short (i.e. 15-20 minutes climbing), but quite steep.

I am seeking some basic training advice, since I have no local hills that even approximate what I'll see up there. I have ridden in the mountains enough to know what to expect in terms of pacing, target heart rate, etc.; what I'm looking for is specific training advice to acclimate my body to the particular demands of extended climbing (especially given the steep gradients I'll face). I'll basically need to mimic hill climbing in some way on fairly flat to rolling terrain.

Thanks for any thoughts you might have.

Steve Hall

Scott Saifer says


I've seen riders train 100 percent on flat roads and then ride very well on climbs. Since I love controversy, I'll just throw out a quote people can quibble with. Scott Saifer says: "there is no need to train on hills to get to be strong on hills." I've seen guys from Florida and Texas dominate hour-long climbs in New Mexico.

Lest there be any misunderstanding though, there is no substitute for riding downhill at high speed if you want to learn how to ride well downhill at high speed, so be careful when you get to the descents in the Adirondacks.

How can it be that you don't need to train on climbs to be good on climbs? Simply put, when we train we are modifying muscle recruitment patters and muscle enzymes and other things that don't know if the front wheel of the bike is higher than the back.

Muscles get trained in ways that are specific to the movement speed, pattern and force, but not the position in space so long as that position is not too far off. Thus training for hills requires matching the leg speed, movement patter and force you'll be applying when you climb.

If you'll be strong enough and have low enough gears to sit and spin over all the climbs you'll encounter, you don't need to do any special training at all. Since I haven't seen you on the cover of VeloNews, in the Adirondacks you'll probably find some hills where your cadence drops and you need to stand. I'd suggest taking one day per week to do low-cadence work and very low cadence work.

Here's a sample workout for "hill training" without hills: Warm up thoroughly spinning on the flats. After the warm up, this whole ride is done in the Endurance and Moderate zones (mostly zone 2, some zone 3 for a few minutes here and there, or all below 96 percent of LT if you know it).

Pick a gear that lets you cruise at 70 rpm seated for about five minutes in your target heart rate zone. After five minutes, shift to a gear that puts you at 40-50 rpm for three minutes and stand. Then spin 90+ rpm for five minutes to recover and repeat the five minutes at 70 rpm and three minutes at 40-50 rpm intervals. Keep going until your legs get tired, you run out of time or you've ridden as long as your vacation rides are likely to be.

Hemorrhoids problems

I've been diagnosed with internal hemorrhoids - finally saw a doctor about after months of symptoms, but no pain. It's at the point where riding (especially on a typical road saddle) is not a comfortable proposition.

My question is: should I give up totally on riding for a good while until my symptoms go away and just concentrate on eating more fibre, or should I spend $250 on a Selle Italia SLC and keep trying to train for the upcoming season?

I'm an M2 road and 'cross racer, more into 'cross than road, 37 years old. Instinct tells me I should just back off totally - just sell off my bikes to make myself stop for a few months and buy somthing new later on with the money.


Kelby Bethards says


So, my guess based on your description is that you now have external hemorrhoids also in addition to internal. Internal hemorrhoids as you mentioned do not hurt. However, external hemorrhoids general do hurt and itch and burn etc. I would recommend you go back to your doctor and check on a treatment.

It is possible that you may be back riding quite soon and you won't need to sell your bikes.

That being said, YES continue the fibre. You don't want these to return.

Foot numbness


Wonder if you can help me with this problem I have.

I have been cycling at an average level for over eight years and in the past two years I have started to suffer with pains in my feet whilst cycling.

I have changed my shoes and also pedals in the past few years. I now ride with Speedplay pedals X2 and have used these for over four years due to knee pain. They work great. I am now using Specialized BG S Works shoes with a blue inner as I had a body fit and the blue inner was recommended on my feet pattern.

My old shoes were the Shimano 150B with three crossover straps but even then I had to keep releasing them.

The problem I have is when I place my shoes on they are great and comfy but after I start to cycle I get a pain starting under the ball of my foot and then my feet start to go numb from the little toe first and then eventually I can't feel them. It's as if my feet start to swell too much.

Even if I loosen the boa system whilst riding, this helps a bit, but then the shoes come too loose and I get hot foot under the ball of the foot too much.

I have put this down to the fact that I have, according to my wife, terribly veined feet where lots of big veins cross over the top of my foot exactly where the shoes tighten up.

I have the cleats as far forward as possible on the sole and this has been confirmed by BG Body fit by the shop as correct setting.

Can you suggest a cure at all?

Mick Such

Steve Hogg says


This is probably a simple one. The four standout things you mention are that:

1. You have had knee pain in the past and that changing pedals to X series Speedplays helped.
2. Your foot pain initially starts under the small toe.
3. Then the ball of the foot loads up and
4. Your cleats are as far forward as possible.

Taking those four collectively, here's the most likely scenario. Like probably 98 percent of the planet, ideally you need to pedal with your foot inverted, that is the inside edge of the foot raised, to ensure ideal knee tracking.

The way to do this is with either a properly prescribed cycling specific orthotic (a rare thing) or by wedging the foot. You haven't mentioned either. Depending on your foot morphology, the lack of those corrective measures will load the knee rotationally or laterally and that is why the X series Speedplays helped. They allowed your knees to oscillate freely because your feet weren't locked into position.

So great, knee issues resolved but that still leaves the issue of the original culprit, the feet. As I said, the huge majority should ideally be pedaling with some degree of foot inversion and in many cases our autonomic self protection mechanism causes a rider to try and do this inside a cycling shoe, hence the load on the small toe.

But forcing this, even at a level below conscious thinking is fatiguing and once tired, you load the ball of the foot (base of the large toe) because your foot plant on pedal is not corrected. What you describe is fairly common.

Lastly your cleat placement. Unless I'm mistaken and someone correct me if I am, the BG fit method of determining cleat placement fore and aft is to position the ball of the foot over the pedal axle. I would suggest moving your cleats back 10mm.

Once done, drop your seat 3 - 4 mm to allow for the increase leg extension that the more rearward cleat position will cause. When the cleats are too far forward, the plantar fascia has to work very hard and as it attaches to the metatarsal heads, the constant tension on the fascia is a common contributor to the type of pain you are experiencing.

Maintaining motivation

Hi all,

After years of charity rides, I decided I want to get competitive on the endurance side of our sport. I love riding, but the 8-5 makes it hard at times with everything else that life throws at you. Unfortunately, my wife won't let me quit my job to train. Drag!

As part of my goals, I have also decided to lose some pounds. At the ripe old age of 30, I'm 6' and 195 lbs, and hope to be 175-180 by time my main event comes around in July. My nutrition is pretty good, and I have already dropped a few pounds, but what I am really seeing is that need to train more.

I'm planning on starting a few mornings a week, and then increase when I can, and also look into throwing in a few nights a week, while still riding on the weekends, and making sure I have some rest time too. Besides the motivation of my own goals (lose weight, be competitive in the 12 hour event, etc) which isn't always enough from stopping me from hitting the snooze button, do you have any other tricks to getting out of bed for morning work outs before heading to work?


Scott Saifer says


The number one best thing you can do to help yourself get out of bed in the morning is to get to bed early enough that you get enough sleep before the time you plan to wake up. As a clue, if you are falling asleep within a few minutes of getting into bed, you need more sleep than you've been getting. Most athletes need 8-9 hours per night and do better with a bit more.

Assuming you are getting enough sleep, there are a few other tricks to get you out the door. One powerful one is to have arranged to meet someone for a ride since that makes it much harder to skip the ride. A other is to commute by bike so that you have to get out the door, and get some 'free' time since you'd be driving anyway.

Carrie Cheadle says


You are absolutely right when you mention the motivation of your own goals and their influence on whether or not you get up in the morning to get your ride in. That's the first place to start.

When you wake up in the morning, you want the decision of whether or not to get up and train to come from the place of what you really want. At that moment, holding onto the thought: 'Which decision here will get me closer to my goal?' You can't do this unless you have really clear goals.

Scott is absolutely right in making sure you evaluate whether or not you are getting enough sleep, and being honest with yourself about whether or not you are getting enough sleep! So if you consistently find that you can't get up early enough to get your ride in, then you need to come up with a game plan for getting more sleep.

Arranging to meet a friend to ride with is a great trick. You are much less likely to skip your ride when it means you will be flaking on a friend as well. Another trick is to just commit to putting on your cycling gear. From your bike shorts to your bike shoes, when you wake up in the morning get fully decked out in your bike gear.

When you wake up, you're not thinking about whether or not you want to go out and ride, you're only thinking: 'I've committed to put on my bike gear'. Then if you still want to go back to bed - your body is telling you that you need to sleep. However, 99 percent of the time once you have your kit on, you're going out for your ride. Sometimes it just takes that one little step to overcome inertia and get your workout in. Good luck getting with your goals!

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers since 1986, 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.

Scott Saifer ( is head coach, CEO of Wenzel and has been coaching cyclists professionally for 18 years. He combines a master's degree in Exercise Physiology with experience in 20 years of touring and racing and over 300 road, track and MTB races to deliver training plans and advice that are both rigorously scientific and compatible with the real world of bike racing.

Scott has helped clients to turn pro as well as to win medals at US Masters National and World Championship events. He has worked with hundreds of beginning riders and racers and particularly enjoys working with the special or challenging rider. Scott is co-author of Bike Racing 101 with Kendra Wenzel and his monthly column appears in ROAD Magazine.

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.

Pam 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 associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of energy balance on bone health. She has published on the effects of cycling and multi-day stage racing on bone density and turnover.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is a three-time Missouri State Road Champion.

David Fleckenstein, MPT, OCS ( is a physical therapist practicing in Eagle, ID and the president of Physiotherapy, PA, an outpatient orthopedic clinic focusing in orthopedics, spine, and sportsmedicine care.

His clients have included World and US champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his Masters degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University and is currently completing his doctorate at Regis University.

He is a board certified orthopedic specialist focusing in manual medicine and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilisation musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

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.

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.

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.