Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - February 18, 2011

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.

Improvements with limited time

I am a cat 5 completing my first racing season this year. Obviously I want to improve results for next year but like many cat 5's training time is limited. Well I guess that's why we are cat 5's.

So I have about 8-9 hours per week that is realistic for me to train indoors. If I happen to catch a decent weekend where I can get outside for a good 3-4 hour ride I'll do that but its not likely to come for a couple more months.

I have read that if you have less time to train you have to ride harder. Makes sense but I also cant see riding hard every time and so Im trying to figure out what zones to spend my time in. don't have a power meter so having to rely on heart rate for zones. my HR tends to run high for a 37 yr old.

Resting HR is 52 but my max is 203 and my LT (average as measured in a 20-minute all out TT) is 192. Here is what my time looks like so far:

Mon - 90 minutes in zone 2 keeping workload HR at about 165
Tues - 60 min - interval day so maxing out
Wed - 90 min - Zone 3 tempo workload HR in the mid 170's
Thurs - 90 min - interval day - maxing out
Fri - off
Sat - 120 min - zone 2 trying to stay between 150-160
Sun - 90 min - active recovery staying below 150

Should I spend more or less time hard... more or less time base?


Scott Saifer says:


First, a correction: a 20 minute all out TT is a lousy way to measure LT.

Then, the fundamental rule for establishing how hard you should train is that you should pick intensities that let you make good use of all available training time. You should be coming back from rides a little tired, but never tired enough that you don't feel great the next time you have an opportunity to train.

How hard you can train and still follow this rule varies tremendously from person to person as some people (a tiny minority) have phenomenal recovery ability and can pretty much hammer day after day without getting tired, while the vast majority of riders need to do the vast majority of their hours in zone 1 and 2 to avoid overtraining.

The idea that if you have less time, you need to train harder makes sense, but please refer to the fundamental rule above. Most people who have limited training time have limited training time because they have busy work or home lives and are already compromising on relaxation and sleep hours. That means that they often can't handle riding harder than zone 2 without compromising recovery and decreasing training quality.

So while it's true that those who train fewer hours would need to train harder to get equivalent fitness gains, that doesn't mean that those who have fewer hours available can train harder consistently enough to get those gains.

The program you'e outlined is far too hard for most time-limited riders. The real question though is how it is working for you. If you feel energetic and enthusiastic on pretty much every ride and you are getting faster from week to week, it's working for you. If you have heavy legs, lack enthusiasm, you have to work to get your heart rate over 70 percent of max or find yourself taking frequent rest days or are failing to improve your speed, it is too hard.

Bike fit and saddle height

I have been riding for about three years and I have always had slight issues with my bike fit. I have been fit four times in three years, the last of which was a Retul fit.

Every fitter I have gone to raises my saddle height. I have tried riding at the height they put me at but I always feel like I'm rocking on the saddle. I also feel a dead spot or disconnection with the pedal at the bottom of my pedal stroke.

The saddle height the fitters use are all within a few millimeters of each other. I have a 80cm inseams and their calculations are between 70-71cm - I feel much more comfortable at 69cm. Am I losing power with a lower saddle height?

Ted J Kupsick

Steve Hogg says:


Based on what you've said, you are right and the bike fitters are wrong. You say "their calculations are between 70 - 71 cm". I assume you mean that phrase literally. If so, it appears that your fitters are using either:

1. A formula to deduce seat height


2. A general recommendation range for included knee angle at the bottom of the stroke that in turn is determined by a goniometer.

My experience is that neither of these methods is particularly accurate and bike fitters of any competence should know this. These methods aren't accurate because they rely on 'averages' and who's to say that you are average.

The best visual cue is the velocity of extension of the back of the knee under reasonable load, which should be a constant. If knee extension velocity accelerates at or near the bottom of the pedal stroke, then the rider is losing control of the motion and is sitting too high. If available, torque analysis can be used to confirm the changes.

As to your question of whether you are losing power sitting at your comfortable seat height; almost certainly not. Torque is the pressure you generate on the pedals times the crank length. Power is torque times rpm. You have better ability to sustain power at a seat height that allows you better coordination of movement that you will at a higher seat height that does not.

And lastly, you didn't have a Retul fit. Retul is a tool and a good one, but like any quality tool, it is only as good as the person using it. It is like saying "I had an SRM fit because the fitter had SRM's fitted to their adjustable fitting bike.

Good fitter + Retul = good fit. Poor fitter + Retul = poor fit. Retul would be the first to agree with this.

Achilles tendonitis


I am having issues after riding even for an hour or two; when I get off the bike my left Achilles is quite sore. I have been riding for 10 years and starting to feel the pain really in the last 6-9 months. I am working hard on calf stretching but not sure if this is a cleat/crank-related issue.

Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated

Dave Fleckenstein says:

Stuart ,

It is helpful to start with some clarification of your condition. Tendinitis is typically an acute irritation of the tendon that involves the actual presence of inflammatory cells in the tendon. However, in most repetitive use Achilles injuries (particular one like yours that is 6-9 months old) the term tendinosis is more accurate, and in this case, there is oddly no presence of inflammatory cells.

Why so picky? Well, this can greatly influence how we treat the injury. To start, anti-inflammatory medications will not have much effect on the long term prognosis of this injury, as there is no acute inflammatory response to moderate. Additionally, with tendinosis there is tendon degeneration, in which there is breakdown of collagen fibers and resulting loss of tendon extensibility.

Thus, treatment in a case such as yours must focus on restoring the tendon to a more normal, flexible state. Whatever your actual injury, all Achilles conditions can be classified under the term tendinopathy.

Research indicates that eccentric strengthening of the calf complex is the most effective way to remodel and improve collagen (and thus Achilles) integrity. My clients typically perform this exercise as a 'calf lowering' or 'heel drop' exercise.

Standing on the edge of a stair, they perform a calf raise using both legs and then slowly lower using only the involved leg (typically to a count of 5). This is performed both with the knee bent and straight to address the soleus and gastrocnemius, respectively. This is performed 10 times, 2-3 times per day. Mild amounts of discomfort are acceptable with this exercise, but I limit repetitions to avoid significant pain.

The second treatment that we utilise at our clinic is instrumented soft tissue mobilisation. This involves use of a shaped instrument to mobilise the Achilles, alter collagen alignment, and instigate new healing. Graston and ASTYM are the two common 'brands' but both perform similar functions. My clinic uses Graston Technique with good success.

One thing that I would caution is that some clinicians are exceptionally heavy handed with these techniques and, while they will cause some soreness and mild bruising, severe bruising and pain is not an effective use of this modality.

Other treatment options include specific gastroc and soleus stretching, mobilisation of the foot and ankle to normalise mechanics and possible use of orthotics. Some providers routinely give heel lifts to unload the Achilles. While I feel that this is appropriate in highly irritated Achilles injuries, this can have the effect of further shortening the Achilles, making it even less extensible (the exact opposite of our goal).

Finally, from a cycling specific standpoint, moving the cleat further back will reduce the loading of the Achilles, and I will refer you to numerous posts that Steve had made regarding how to specifically adjust your fit as you make these changes.

Training and nutrition


I think this is a great column and I enjoy reading it. The information you share is amazing and has helped with many issues I may or may not have had over the years. Here is my question, but first a little history.

As a child and a teen I was always overweight (max 240 pounds at 15 yrs old), however I was also always involved with sport and played football, cricket, BMX etc. I am a naturally big person; however I have always loved riding my bike the most and have stuck with it throughout. Ten years ago (at 26) I switched to road biking from mountain biking, primarily because of the lack of trails in my area and also for social reasons as there is a larger road bike club here.

Somehow I discovered racing and trained hard to get better. I even stopped working and trained morning and evening on a structured program. My racing weight was 215 pounds and I was going okay. Later in the season I got into a crash and physiologically it took me over a year to recover and to get back on my bike.

Unfortunately during that year I put on 15 pounds. In February this year I started back going for morning rides and rediscovered the joys of training. I felt that I improved very quickly. Unfortunately I have not lost any weight as result and I still weigh 230 pounds.

The difference now is that surprisingly I can ride for longer (four-hour weekend rides) and not feel absolutely spent at the end, and I can enjoy my day a whole lot more after riding for four hours than ever, but in my opinion I look fat.

I would really like to loose the flab and get back to my old size but it’s really difficult because I don’t want to feel weak like how I used to before. Any suggestions?


Scott Saifer says:


You need to focus on diet and proper nutrition if you want to lose weight without being weakened in the process.

Many dieting riders mistakenly blame being too light for their weakness when in fact that are still over-weight but malnourished in the sense of not having the necessary nutrients to maintain their strength. You haven't said how tall you are, but unless you are around two metres (6'8"), you can certainly go well below 230 pounds without losing your cycling power.

The keys to successfully losing weight while maintaining cycling ability for most riders include:

1) Eat enough low and moderate glycemic index carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) to replenish you glycogen supplies between rides, while

2) Minimising the high-glycemic index carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, refined starches) that replenish or add to fat. Only use sweets while actually riding and not for recovery or between ride snacks.

3) Eat lots of fruit and non-starchy vegetables.

4) Limit meat to a few small servings per day or eliminate it.

5) Try not to lose more than 1kg (2 pounds) per week while you are grossly overweight, and slow down to about half that when you are within 5kg (10 lbs) of your racing weight.

There are lots more tricks for losing weight, but most riders who are ale to follow these rules lean out and end up at a good racing weight. It can take many months or even several years depending on how much weight is to be lost.

Training zone clarification

Hi guys,

I was a bit confused,recently, when I read a Scott Saifer reply to hear rate training zones with different values.

Zones 0, 1 and 2 were defined in percentage of maximum heart rate. Then comes the confusion,as zones 4 and 5 were defined in percentage of LT. Could somebody please explain what LT is in percentahe of max heart rate?

How about a solid definition of how ones LT can be determined, especially while using a HRM, since I don't have a power meter.

Thanks for your time,

Scott Saifer says:


In the vast majority of healthy athletes, LT heart rate is between 83% and 96% of max. That is typically a span of 20-25 beats depending on the maximum heart rate, so if you are going to train in zones that are supposed to be "near LT" or "below LT" you really have to determine your own LT rather than rely on a formula or percentage of maximum.

There are a wide variety of tests for LT, some of which require highly specialized equipment and some of which rely more on the athletes self-awareness as a substitute for the fancy equipment. The two most common low-tech approaches to determining LT are the Conconi test and the by-feel test.

The by feel test is simply to ride gradually faster until your breathing becomes rapid enough to make chatting uncomfortable and your legs begin to feel some burn, then back off until those feelings clear. By going up and down in effort a few times near that transition, a self-aware rider can determine LT heart rate to within a few beats.

If the rider is healthy and not overtrained, the by-feel test gives the same result as a Conconi test or a test involving lactate measurement or gas-exchange measurement.

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.

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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