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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - August 6, 2010

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.

Crash complications

Hi there,

I am 39 years old and have been racing at elite level for a number of years. I had two crashes one at the beginning of March and another one two weeks later; I went down quite hard in both, the second one I banged my head and had quite bad whip lash plush a lot of abrasions to both hips back and left ankle.

I had quite a few big races coming up so carried on - the following weekend doing a 100km race on the Saturday and a 130km race on the Sunday.

Since all this I have been struggling with various niggles... I have had physios and osteopaths working on me but still struggling.

I have a very sort left hammy which gets aggrevated at the insertion into my butt, also a real sore right hip flexor which goes down into my quad when under pressure, the quad then loses power and almost feels like it wants to seize up. Now my lower back is starting to get sore.

I am going to Holland in 10 days where I will be racing for a team for six weeks; I have been doing a lot of sprint training and hill sprints plus racing - racing is where I seem to have the most problems - I can't seem to handle too much power through the pedal before my right hip and quad start hurting and left hammy starts pulling.

Do you think you can help?

One more thing: I had to put new cleats on after my last crash. I had been riding with them further back but now can't seem to handle that either. Bike set up is still all the same, not sure what else to try.


Steve Hogg says:


Sorry to hear of your problems. It is hard to give you a definite answer but based on experience, what is probably happening is that your right side psoas is super tight post crashes. I've noticed that some people after a crash develop a really tight psoas on one or both sides and it is hypertonic at all points in the pedal stroke; even on the down stroke.

If this is what is happening with your right psoas , then because the psoas crosses the hip and attaches to the front of the lumbar spine as well as T12, it will pull your right side forward and down on each right side pedal stroke.

When this happens and if it is what's happening in your case, then the right leg will underextend and feel powerless and from what you are saying, the rectus femoris is also involved as well "really sore right hip flexor which goes down into my quad". The rectus femoris is both a quadricep and a flexor of the hip and to some extent is functionally linked to the psoas.

If what I am describing is what is happening, then you will be dropping and/or rotating your right hip forward and down on each RH pedal down stroke which in turn will force the left leg to over extend and place a lot of pressure on the left hamstring, causing the hamstring pain that you are getting. I'm surprised you are not getting lower back pain from this asymmetric functional pedaling pattern.

Can I help? Certainly with advice. In person? Maybe.

The problem is that you don't mention having problems until these crashes happened so I am assuming that the shunts you have had have knocked you out of alignment and that is the basic issue. By attempting to maintain intense training, you are not giving your body time to relearn how to be well aligned again after the physio and osteo attempt put you back together.

I can certainly change your position and probably for the better, but I can't change how you function. The whole thrust of your mail is that you have functional problems since the two crashes. A change of position may moderate the symptoms (I say cautiously) but it isn't going to make those functional issues go away.

The best advice I have is to back training right off, accept that you are better off going to Holland underdone but functionally fine than attempting to go at peak fitness but getting further injured before you go, which is what you are doing at the moment. I would be putting as much time into physiotherapy and osteopathic treatment and other rehab as possible, because regaining normal function is the 100 percent fix for your problem.

Maintaining fitness


After moving to Northern California (all the amazing hills) and getting a proper bike fit I am coming off the best form of my life. In the past I would either get an over-use or bike fit injury which would force me off the bike for weeks at some point during the season.

Since moving here last August I pretty much have only taken a few weeks off sporadically. In the past snow would force me off for the winter and give me a good solid rest period. I don't race and am only a recreational cyclist but ride between 100 and 150 miles a week.

I am getting married this month and will be off the bike the entire month for sure. My question is how do I not lose the form I have gotten over the last few months while still taking that month off. I know I need a break both physically and mentally, but I will still be hiking and walking during that month just to get out of my apartment after work.

My real questions are:

* How much time should I take off during August doing absolutely no cross-training (true rest)?
* When I get back on my back in September how do I start riding base mileage carefully as not to get an over-use injury?
* There is a hill climb series that starts in October that I want to ride, will taking off August ruin my chances of doing well?

That's a lot of info, but hopefully it makes sense. Thanks for your help!

Stanford, CA

Scott Saifer says:


Go ahead and take 3-4 weeks 100 percent off if you like. Just do low-intensity activity as you want to for fun. One of the defining characteristics of the annual rest period is that you don't give yourself stress about training. Invest the time in your marriage and your new spouse. That will pay off later when you want to go for long rides.

When you get back on after a month, you'll find that your fitness is much lower than it was before the break, but if you take an intelligent approach to rebuilding base, you'll be back where you were fitness wise in about six weeks, and then shoot past that level.

Take the first two months or so post-rest to ride base only (less than 80 percent of maximum heart rate, or at least 8 beats below LT, which is LOWER). Start with about 1/2 - 2/3 the volume you are doing before the break and add an hour per week until you are filling your available time. When you are filling available time for a month, it's time to add tempo work a day or two per week (two days if you were riding 10+ hours per week).

Tackling La Marmotte


I've been reading your fitness Q & A for the past few months and have read some great advice, so I wondered if you could advise me.

I am 17 years old (18 in october) and ride six to eight hours a week, with either a 70-80 mile ride with a cafe stop or a lone non-stop 60-mile ride at weekends. I am 6'3" and approximately 71kg.

Next July I would love to complete La Marmotte 'super sportive'. I understand it would take a lot of training and commitment, but do you think this is realistic for me?

If yes, could you please give me some advice with regards to training for the event as I have very little knowledge in that area.

Your help is very much appreciated.


Scott Saifer says:


La Marmotte is similar in distance and climbing to "The Markleeville Death Ride", also known as "The Tour of the California Alps". I mention this because I have trained several hundred people to participate in that event, and essentially everyone who has made time to do the training has completed the event so, assuming your are healthy and can make the time to train, you should be confident that you can complete La Marmotte.

There are many possible training plans of course, but here's a rough outline of the one that has worked for my riders:

Continue as you have been through November, after which it will be time to increase the commitment. After that you ride 1-2 hours at least three weekdays. One weekend day you add about 30 minutes per week to the long ride until you are routinely riding 160 kilometres (100 miles) once a week.

The other weekend day creeps up from one-hour rides to consistent three-hour rides. By the time you are ready to go to your event, you'll be riding 7-9 hour per week PLUS the long ride, so a total of maybe 15-18 hours per week.

Most of the riding throughout the plan will be at a mellow, all-day riding pace. After a few months, if you want to add in some sub-LT, long intervals on hills you can, one or two days per week. Do most of the riding at a spinning cadence, but after a month, if your knees are good, you can add in one day per week of 70 rpm pushing as well. Good luck.

Stem length and weight distribution

I have a question about stem length, bike fit, weight distribution and how this affects power output. Generally, I ride a 56cm specialized with a 120mm stem. For a guy who is 5"10" this allows me to stretch out my lower back quite a bit, but when I get out of the saddle for a climb or sprint, I wonder if I have too much body weight over my front wheel.

Have you encountered any research that observes stem length, weight distribution and how power output might be affected? It seems to me, that if power is generated from the rear wheel, one might want to keep as much weight off of the front end of the bike as possible. Any thoughts?


Steve Hogg says:


I haven't encountered any research of the type you mention, but I haven't gone looking for it either. Do you have an issue with your performance when riding off the seat or is this just something you have wondered about?

When you grip the drops and get off the seat to sprint, does your rear wheel skip because contact with the ground is intermittently lost?

If the answer is no, then it is unlikely that you have a problem because if rear tyre contact with the road is constant, then any power you produce is making it to the rear wheel. If the answer is yes, then there is a problem of some sort.

I'm assuming the answer is no because you haven't mentioned it directly. The only other thing that may be applicable is that if you feel that you have to hold back a bit when off the seat because of your weight distribution in this position. If this is the case, it might be time to consider a custom frame with a longer front centre.

Whether you achieve the longer front centre by using a longer top tube with a shorter stem or by using the same top tube length and stem length but with reduced head tube angle and a matching increased fork offset doesn't really matter unless you go for an extreme design.

Maintaining weight

I've recently managed to drop my body fat percentage to a personal best of 5%. I've found that, whilst losing the weight, my recovery has suffered due to the restricted caloric intake.

I've somehow managed to get past this due to work commitments and not being able to cycle every day, recovery wasn't as much of an issue.

I'm currently looking at increasing mileage/intensity/frequency of my rides but would like to maintain my body fat percentage between 5% - 7%.

The real dilemma I'm facing is how many calories I should consume for adequate recovery without regaining unwanted weight. Also, how accurate are measurements such as Heart Rate Monitors and Basal Metabolism Rate at gauging actual caloric expenditure.


Scott Saifer says:


Heart rate monitors and websites that claim to tell you how many Calories you are expending are lousy at that job. The problem is that movements that don't affect heart rate can use very significant numbers of Calories over the course of a day.

For instance, simply squatting down to pick something off the floor uses roughly 1/2-1 Calorie depending on how big you are and how far down you squat. Waving your arms when you talk, shifting around in your seat while you work, pacing while on the phone and other "energetic" sorts of behaviour can use several hundred calories per day more than calmer behaviour, even while you are doing the "same" activities of chatting, working at a desk and using the telephone.

You probably don't do exactly the same amount of hand waving, pacing and shifting each day, so trying to exactly match Caloric input and output on daily basis is nearly impossible. Luckily you don't need to do that to maintain weight or body fat percentage.

Since you have apparently found a diet that works well for you both in terms of helping you be lean and helping you recover adequately with your current training load, use that as a starting place. Add Calories to roughly balance the extra you think you might be using when you increase volume: If your energy for training remains good, you are getting enough. If you gain weight or fat you are getting too much.

If your recovery suffers even though you are gaining weight, you have to look at your training load and the way you have increased it.

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.

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.

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