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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - December 14, 2010

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Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) climbing up Chilkoot Hill

Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) climbing up Chilkoot Hill (Image credit: Matthew E. Moses)
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A rider on the trails in Adelaide, Australia.

A rider on the trails in Adelaide, Australia. (Image credit: Kona)
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David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) is apparently only interested in a few pieces of key information while racing time trials - and notice that heart rate is included twice.

David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) is apparently only interested in a few pieces of key information while racing time trials - and notice that heart rate is included twice. (Image credit: James Huang)

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.

Climbing out of the saddle

Hi all,

Most posts on the fitness forum relate to rider position and bike-fit when seated in the saddle. I'm interested in your thoughts on body position when out of the saddle climbing.

I have heard a number of things such as: limit the weight on your hands, your head should not protrude beyond the hub of the front wheel, etc, etc... I would be interested to know your thoughts on posture (e.g. back straight, head up) and weight distribution (e.g. hip position) to maximise energy transfer to the BB.

Any other tricks to efficient 'out of the saddle' climbing would also be appreciated.

I look forward to your reply,

Steve Hogg says:


I don't think I know any tricks to climbing when off the seat. I'm a fan of letting your body work out the best way to perform an action. Under any kind of serious load or high heart rate, that's what happens anyway, so my view is to accept what comes naturally and refine it by practising a lot.

If you want to improve your off the seat climbing, make it a training drill. Don't pay any attention to keeping your head behind the front hub as your ability to do that will be at least in part determined by the gradient you are on.

As to posture; extend your spine as much as is comfortable and natural and keep your neck extended as well. This will give you the best chance to expand your lungs to their greatest capacity as well as minimising any need for postural changes to accommodate poor head carriage.

One thing to watch out for is brake hood position. Many people spend most of their time on the brake hoods when riding and often have the hoods quite high. This can be okay on flat to undulating terrain, but cause the rider to bend their wrist back unnecessarily when off the seat.

In turn this can cause the rider to bear their weight further back than would come naturally and lessen spinal extension and breathing. A compromise brake hood position may be necessary.

Changes in heart rate


Until my early thirties I raced and trained regularly. I could race at about 170bpm for hour+ time trials, peaking at 175 for short hills, etc. Eighteen months ago I returned to the sport after a 15-year break (virtually no cycling or fitness work at all).

Although my strength and fitness are slowly returning I was shocked to discover I "hit a wall" when my heart rate reaches 150, which seems a low threshold for someone of 47 years! I have club mates of a similar age who can still hit 170bpm. To my knowledge I have no medical issues, my questions are as follows:

1) Is this something I should be worried about?
2) Will my threshold decrease even further?
3) Is there anything I can do to increase the threshold?

Further information:

During the last 18 months I have increased the quantity and intensity of my training. Last summer I rode a few short distance time trials and have done intervals and hilly workouts in a bid to improve the situation. Currently I do about 150 miles per week, half of which is at or around my threshold, yet still no change!


Scott Saifer says:



It's recommended that anyone over 40 visit their doctor and get a stress test before starting or restarting an exercise program, so I'll say you should do that, but it seems more likely that it is a problem with your training than a health problem that is holding you back.


There are two possible problems:

1) Excessive training near or above LT suppresses LT heart rate and power. By training roughy 75 miles per week near LT, you are making sure that your LT will never rise. Put in a few months of base training before you start riding hard again, and then restrict the hard riding to one or two days per week in general.

2) You may have been overtrained in the old days. Riding near and above threshold makes it easy to ride above threshold heart rate even as it reduces threshold power, so when you used to race at 170 you may have been over threshold, especially if you also used to train hard much of the time as you do now.

It is normal for maximum heart rate to come down about 1/2-1 beat per year in people who are not training, so you maximum heart rate could well be 10 or so beats lower than it used to be.


Re-discovering motivation to ride

I started riding a mountainbike when I was in my mid-forties. I was slightly overweight, and I had smoked, drank heavily, and abused drugs my whole life though I was clean and sober at the time I began riding.

I quickly took to the sport and became a freakin' beast in a few short years. When I was in my early fifties the whole freeride thing erupted, and riding became exponentially more dangerous in just a few short years as all the trails became game for amateur trail builders to try out their skill(?) at fabricating the crazy junk they had seen in a video, magazine, or pipe dream.

Of course I had to try to keep up with the young studs, but I didn't like it, and I was always too aware of the injury possibilities, and fear is always the harbinger of injury. Well, of course I got hurt. I went flying off of a stunt built deep in the forest and crashed into a tree with my upper leg bone. Luckily I broke neither, but I was seriously hurt with a massive hematoma: my leg was black, green, pruple and SWOLLEN from my hip to the tips of my toes.

The doc treated me with an unusual regimine: Takes lots of vicodin! That's it. Take drugs and chill. I knew how to do that, so I added Corona to the prescription, and my "recovery" was a predictable disaster. Now, eight years later, I have grown old, fat, and scared and scarred. I've mostly abandoned off-road riding because I have no confidence at all on the trails.

I can ride intermediate stuff, but when the going gets tough, I cannot respond. So I have bought a road bike, but riding on the highway amongst the trucks and crazies bores me. Still, I love the bike and the lifestyle, but I've gained 17 pounds and I eat any junk food I can.

I hate myself for my failure, but I have not given up - my life depends on my success, and I know I can do it. I want to ride, to hammer out of the saddle, and to show the young(er) bucks that being old is OK, but I'm struggling. Toss me a line!


Carrie Cheadle says:

Take a deep breath.
Stop hating yourself.
Go take a skills clinic.
Pick trails that work for you.
Don't compare yourself to others.

Now... about 15 years ago I went to the doctor because I thought I had exercise induced asthma. Turns out I just wasn't fit! The doctor told me maybe I should just accept the fact that I couldn't keep up with the boys.

I decided that she clearly didn't know what the hell she was talking about and left her office and continued to be pissed off that I couldn't keep up with the boys. I was looking for an answer instead of looking at the problem. The problem was that I was comparing myself to other people. I was gauging my success based on how I was doing compared to everyone else, instead of setting my own goals and focusing on that.

Take a deep breath - don't worry about the past. Where are you at right now and where do you want to be tomorrow?

This is where you start. If you think about where you are now and where you wish you were - it can feel overwhelming and end up paralysing you to the point of inaction. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are athletes. Stop hating yourself - if you feel like your life depends on your success, you need to be smart about how you define success.

What do you want to get out of riding? When you get down to the very core of why you ride, what is there? What we forget sometimes is that the intrinsic motivation that gets us out on our bikes has nothing to do with what anyone else is doing. That's our ego stepping into the mix.

My ego was the one that sent me to the doctor's office. When I finally removed my ego from the situation, accepted where I was with my fitness and set goals to improve it - that was when I started eventually keeping up with everyone else.

Accepting where you are right now can be especially challenging when you have been riding at a higher level in the past. It can be hard on our egos to get started again because we tend to compare how we are doing now with how we used to ride. Again, you have to start where you are now.

It's just like that game Chutes and Ladders. If you go sliding down a chute back to the beginning - you roll the dice and move forward from there. Wishing you were back at the top of the board doesn't change anything. That's when you'll see kids playing the game either quit, or pick up the dice and keep going. If they quit, it's because they are focused on where they were. If they roll the dice, it's because they are focused on where they want to go. Or they are just having fun playing the game.

Picking trails that work for you and taking a skills clinic will help feed your confidence and that's what you want to do right now. Work on smaller goals that you can succeed at that build up your confidence and go to a clinic to refine your bike handling skills and you will be ready to tackle the trails again.

If you have some specific goals you would like to work towards, you can send them in and the panel might be able to get you started on that path.

Happy riding!

Pedalling style and power


I recently picked up a Garmin Edge with the HRM and cadence bundle. I'm 46 now and haven't used a HRM since my 20s. I used to be a Cat. II road racer until I quit racing in my early thirties. I haven't really "trained" since then, but I still push on weekday rides and ride with the racer groups on the weekends.

I've read older riders who were ex-racers could handle bigger loads and have that "extra." I've also been told by older riders (ex Olympians, world champs, national champs) and read that as you get older you can hold a HR closer to your AT.

From my experience both of these appear to be true. I seem to ride significantly less and be stronger than most riders in my age group. Based on the HR zones I can ride with my HR in upper zone 4 and lower zone 5 for a long time and still have some for a couple of attacks when we're climbing.

My question is what should the HR zones be for older riders and how does past experience factor in? I typically see z1: <60, z2: 60-70, z3: 70-80, z4: 80-90, z5: 90-100. But does this generic approach to zones really make sense? For example, should an older rider like myself have a bigger zone 4 range than 10 percent, and/or be shifted up?


San Jose, CA

Scott Saifer says:


As a guy who used to race a lot and probably trained a lot back when, you have still have some of the benefits of your old-days training. In particular, you probably still have an efficient spin.

That may not sound important right off, but it turns out to be vital. A mid-sized male rider can make somewhere around 150 watts simply by getting the leg-weight off the back pedal and dropping the weight of the leg on the front pedal at 90 rpm.

Only when he wants to make more than 150 watts does he need to begin actually engaging muscle to push down on the pedals. It takes months if not years to master that kind of pedaling. You no-doubt had it if you were racing cat II and you still have it. Guys who don't have that figured out have to make a real effort to get to the same power that you get effortlessly.

If you've been riding those weekend rides consistently, then you've also maintained some physiological fitness, though not any more than someone else who rides as much as you do now. Those effects of high-volume training fades within a few years.

Now, even though you can hold a higher power output than your less experienced buddies, that doesn't mean you won't become overtrained just as quickly if you hang out in zones 4 and 5 a lot. More experienced athletes can typically ride closer to LT than less experienced. I have not seen a particular connection to age except in the sense of number of years of being an athlete. The fact that you can ride there doesn't mean you should train there all the time, it just gives an advantage when you go to compete.

Set up your zones like this:
Zone 0, Rest: <60 percent of maximum heart rate
Zone 1, Recovery or Active Rest: 60-70 percent of maximum
Zone 2, Aerobic Endurance or Base (most of your riding is in this zone): 70-80 percent of maximum (but 70-75 percent of maximum if you are training more than 15 hours per week, have a high stress job, or get tired a lot)
Zone 3, Tempo or Moderate: 92-96 percent of LT
Zone 4, Hard or LT: 98-102 percent of LT
Zone 5: All out, heart rate may be higher or lower depending on length of the session but would go to max in a long enough effort.

Managing a breakaway

I have had one of my best seasons ever with many good races and good performances. However the problem is that I end up with a bunch of just out of the podium finishes like fourth or fifth... I never win races!

I ride aggressively and initiate breaks and am normally strong in the break. But when it comes to the sprint in the breakaway group I am almost always beaten fairly easily, it seems.

The area where I live and race is fairly flat so the fact that I am a strong climber is something I cannot benefit from very often. If I have to I would gladly sacrifice some of my climbing skills for a better sprint. My training is normally two four-or five-hour rides on the weekend or racing. During the week I normally do two or three shorter high intensity training and sometimes also a TT. So in total it adds up to about 12-15 hours a week.

To improve my sprinting capabilities I have for this off season started weight lifting to add some more leg strength and my plan is to follow up with more on the bike sprint specific training during the season. Is the weight lifting a smart move or would I benefit more from only on the bike sprint training also during the autumn and winter? If so any tip on exercises on the bike to enhance my sprinting skills?



Scott Saifer says:


Including some strength training is probably good, but the two bigger things you need to do is to improve your tactics and your in-season training. If you are aggressive in your breaks, you are using up your "matches" before the sprint.

Initiating breaks is great, but once they form if you are doing more work than your companions, they're going to have more sprint left than you in the finale. If you can shake riders out of the break, you reduce the number of people who can finish in front of you, but doing that shaking is also assuring that you will come in last in the break or close to it. Something to think about.

In racing season, it sounds like you are also leaving your sprint out on the road between races. Separate your training season and your racing season. In training season, you do up to two intense days routinely per week. In racing season, the races provide the intensity and the rest of your training is recovery and maintenance.

Put simply, only one-two days per week in season do you spend more than a few minutes above 80 percent of maximum heart rate if you want to win races, and if one of those days is a race, it's the only day up there for the week.

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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