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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - August 10, 2011

Johnny Hoogerland's legs are heavily bandaged, but he continues in the polka dot jersey

Johnny Hoogerland's legs are heavily bandaged, but he continues in the polka dot jersey (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Topics: Hill training simulation, Scott comes clean RE: shaving your legs, Rebuilding endurance after a Laryngectomee, ITB syndrome

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To find advice that relates to you more easily:

Hill training simulation

Scott comes clean RE: shaving your legs

Building endurance again after a Laryngectomee

ITB syndrome

Hill training simulation


I‘ve recently caught the competitive bug and quite intend on being a racer in the near future. As a means to get serious, I read Joe Friel’s The cyclist training bible. In the book, Friel recommended the general to specific approach to training. In the force or strength area, Friel’s recommendation was to train with weights then proceed to riding in progressively harder hills.

Considering I live in a flat area and the only significant hill is 50km away, it is simply impractical to incorporate that in to my training. I’ve read here and there that grinding a big gear can be an equivalent to training in the hills. In fact, in my Garmin device there is a list of template workouts and one of the workouts is hill simulation which basically calls for big gear grinding intervals. Is there any validity to this approach? If it is a valid way to substitute hills, what should I know before I do this kind of workouts? What would a typical hill-sim workout look like?



Scott Saifer says:

Yes, low cadence/high force riding is acceptable as a substitute for climbing practice and will indeed help you prepare physically for climbing in races about as well as climbing in training. You should probably make the 50km trek to the hills a few times to boost your confidence and familiarity with hill climbing. Also, there is nothing you can do on the flat that is adequate preparation for twisty descending, so for safety sake, be sure to work some descending practice into your program before doing any races that include challenging descents.

As far as what to look for in using big gear riding as a substitute for climbing: Don't do big-gear work until you are sure you have your position dialed in and are riding pain free for long rides in light gears. Big gear work in a position that is already bothering your knees or back may cause some serious harm. After you've been training by spinning for 6 hours or more per week for a month or more, add some rides where you pedal along at 70 rpm in your usual endurance heart rate or power zone for an hour or more at a time. That's a good power builder in itself. Once you've been doing that few weeks without problems, it's time to do some real on-bike strength training. There are many ways to do that. One of my favorites is the Big Gear-Little Gear exercise: Warm up for a while at an easy pace and then start switching back and forth every 5 minutes between a gear that gives you 90 rpm on the flat and a gear that gives you 50-rpm on the flat, but keep switching between those same two gears no matter where you are in the ride, so you might switch to the big gear while climbing a steep hill some times. Stay seated and grind it out always in your endurance zone.

Another less intense version of the same exercise is to switch back and forth every 3 minutes between 50 and 90 rpm in your endurance zone.

If you have any knee pain or your muscles get sore, go back to spinning an easy gear for the rest of the day.

RE: Shaving your legs, Scott comes clean

Dear Mr Saifer,

Thank you for your reply.

But I must say I do not understand the benefits. I frequently receive professional massages at the sports club that I am a member of. The masseuse always covers my body with a towel and the massage is done through the towel so I don't think shaving the legs would make any difference. Also, are the legs the only part of the professional bodies that receive massages?

I apply a lot of sunscreen to my legs, arms, face (I have a beard) and the hair does not present any problems. Again, if applying sunscreen to shaved skin is somehow more effective, why don't pros and amateur riders shave their arms as well as their legs?

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Brian,

Okay, I have to tell you the real reason pros shave their legs. It's because pros shave their legs. There are lots of reasons to do it, but ultimately they do it because all the other riders do it. I've heard that pros shave so that it they crash and have to have bandages, the bandages won't stick to the hair, but I don't believe that most pros plan to crash so while that is a reason to shave, I don't believe that's why they do it. I've heard that hair sticks to asphalt and makes road rash worse as bigger chunks of skin get pulled off, but again, I don't think that's why they shave.

I'm not familiar with through the towel massage. I'm sure it can be done, though I suspect that it detracts from the experience when the masseur can't see what he or she is working on and there is no skin-to-skin contact. With shaved legs one can do a bit of massage anytime, anywhere without a towel or lubricant. I'm sure pros could arrange to have towels and lubricant present so again, the ability to get a massage doesn't adequately justify shaving.

It's been said that smooth legs might decrease aerodynamic drag and improve competitiveness. It's also been said that a bit of hair could act like the turbulators on airplane wings, actually deceasing wind resistance by disrupting laminar flow and easing the separation of the air from the leg. Since smooth legs being faster makes intuitive sense, aerodynamics could explain shaving. Some pros do shave their arms as well.

Some riders say they shave because "chicks dig it". Many riders say that the first few days after shaving for the first time sliding between clean sheets is an awesome experience. Maybe some pros are closet sensualists.

Bottom line though is that riders shave because pros shave, and pros shave because pros shave. There are lots of arguable reasons but I don't think individual riders necessarily have reasons in that way. On the other hand, show up at a racing club ride in a new town with hairy legs and see how you are received. You'll be accepted much more readily if your legs are smooth.

Building endurance again after a Laryngectomee


I'm a 63-year-old Laryngectomee who used to be a very active recreational cyclist - 4,000-5000 miles a year, including some back-to-back centuries. In the FWIW department, in 1998 I created - my idea with a lot of help from a group of cycling buddies - a week long supported summer ride under the auspices of the Cascade Bicycle Club, called Ride Around Washington.

I quit smoking and drink/drugging in the late '80s but a few years ago I was diagnosed with laryngeal (voice box) cancer, and now breathe through one of those holes (tracheostoma) in my neck. After fully recovering from a third surgery in as many years (to allow me to eat), I am just beginning to get back on my bike.

My first ride was a whopping 26 flat miles last weekend, and I didn't know if my quads or seat were sorer at the end. Even though it was a very flat route, however, I found myself sometimes breathing heavily. Also, as I live in Puget Sound, there are not that many flat miles around (that don't have good sized ridges in between), and I live on top of a hill. I am fearful that when I hit a hill, I'm simply not going to be able to get enough air. Will a slow, steady growth in cycling miles, progressively working in small to larger hills, get me back to being comfortable on any terrain? What sort of gym exercises might I do to build cardio-pulmonary endurance?



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Marshall,

Congratulations on quitting smoking etc and on having the drive to get back on the bike after what must have been a terrible experience.

You bit off a big chunk riding 26 miles your first day back on. I would have had you go out for 20-30 minutes a few times to get started, maybe adding 20 minutes to your longest ride each week, so you'd be going 26 miles after a month or more.

It's no surprise you'd be breathing heavily or that you'd end up sore with such a big first ride after a long time off. Yes, building up gradually will have you back to decent fitness in a few months, with speed coming gradually after that. The first few months should be mostly easy spinning. Since you don't have flat roads available, you might start with your bike on a trainer and cardio machines in the gym for the first month. By then you should be able to ride slowly up moderate hills without getting sore or out of breath.

Good luck.

ITB syndrome

Hi guys,

I also develop the same symptoms when walking on the beach with the slopping shoreline doesn't seem to matter which leg is on the "high side" but it is always the left ITB that tightens.

I'm 36, 5'6 65kg have been riding for 10years and normally ride about 500km a week. I use Look Keo pedals, LG shoes, 175mm cranks on my TT bike (170mm on road bike)

Any help would be appreciated.


Steve Hogg says:

Hey Adam,

The most common reason for left ITB pain on a bike is that the rider is not sitting squarely and is dropping the right hip. This challenges the plane of movement of the left hip with experiences similar to yours as the result.

Why your TT bike and not your road bike?

Because the lower torso position is more of a challenge to your pelvic symmetry. It may be that your bars are too low, or are too far away or that your seat is too high. It also maybe a latent issue even on the road bike, but that the road bike position is kinder to you, so you feel no ill effects. Conceivably too, you may have a shorter left leg. Has anyone ever mentioned that in the past?

In simple terms you have two choices -

1. Raise your bars until the problem disappears
2. Diagnose the structural problem that your beach walking experience suggests you have and do what you have to do to fix it.

Better still, do both.

There is info in these posts that will probably be useful.

The Right Side Bias
TT Rider



The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

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.

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. He can be reached at:

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.

James Hibbard progressed from the junior to the professional ranks as a rider and has over 15 years of competitive cycling experience. He is a former Collegiate All-American track cyclist, trained as a resident athlete at the United States Olympic Training Center, earned international medals as part of the U.S. National Team, and was a member of the powerhouse Shaklee and HealthNet Professional road cycling teams.

He has earned 13 National Track Championship medals, as well as numerous junior, U-23 and elite California State championships on both the road and track. Since retiring from full-time racing in 2005, James has focused on his development as a coach.

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.

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