Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - February 2, 2011

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Training when tired


I've read different ideas about training with fatigue (not overtraining, or over-reaching, just general non-freshness). On some accounts I've read people state that if you're not 100 percent to just wait until you are, otherwise the workout isn't worth it (this seems to mostly be with sprints, neuromuscular stuff, or anaerobic work)

On the other hand, it seems cycling training is typically based off blocks of overload followed by recovery (like three weeks hard, then one week easy). Is the latter more of a guideline to aerobic/base work? If the former is true, is there a guide to what kind of workouts should only be done at the beginning of a training block?

Wouldn't this make the build phases of training useless except for the first week? Intuitively it would seem that when you're worn down a bit the biggest gains could be made. If Any comments or ideas on this?

Thank you,

Scott Saifer says:


This is a great question but unfortunately the only honest answer is that we don't really know yet in the sense of a consensus supported by rigorous scientific study. Here are a few things we do know that might help you decide.

The professional racers I've spoken with consistently talk about the importance of knowing your body and when it is ready for training and when it is ready for rest. One tour pro you've heard of describes all his base training as "chilling on the bike" and says that if his legs are at all tired, he takes an easy day.

He ends up with average heart rates around 65 percent of max for long, base rides. None of my professional rider contacts have mentioned pushing through, finishing a training block despite fatigue or anything else to suggest they'd train when already tired.

Studies that have looked at the effect of training and how it depends on glycogen stores have shown more aerobic development in response to training done with glycogen stores about 30 percent depleted than with full stores, but as with studies of higher and lower intensities, these studies are done on riders with significant headroom for improvement, rather than already very fit individuals.

I routinely teach my riders not to train through any noticeable fatigue. If you are at all tired, I say, take a recovery day. If you're not sure but you might be tired, take a recovery day. A recovery day is whatever volume you have time for, but at below 70 percent of maximum heart rate.

This is a hard lesson for many riders to learn. They are used to pushing through, believing more is better, no pain-no gain etc. Very consistently though, when they do finally get it, their performance makes a big jump, so I believe that one should not train above a recovery pace when already tired.

Flexibility issues

This is a question I haven't seen - when I pedal seated in a larger gear that I am not spinning in (probably below 80rpm) my lower back area (maybe hips) will hurt on the sides, both or either side.

I am a small adult male; 5'5", 116 lbs. This happens on my road or mountain bike, especially during races or hard efforts. This pain will stay with me on any hard effort throughout the ride sometimes so much I have to climb standing. Any ideas?

Scott Schekman

Steve Hogg says:


Any ideas? Yeah, but only one; how flexible are you?

If the answer is "Not very" or " I don't know" then what may be happening is that you are alternately dropping each hip. If you are then anywhere from the lower back to any muscle group influenced by hip movement can protest. It may not be a flexibility issue alone; with a seat height that is too high being a possibility as well, assuming that my assumption is correct.

Under heavy load, which is what you are describing (sub 80 rpm), all riders will drop their heels more, relative to their normal pedaling technique at lower loads. Dropping the heels more equals more leg extension and ideal seat height needs to be set at high load conditions. Unfortunately it is uncommon for this to be the case.

So, if you are not very flexible, start stretching. A good self help book is Flexibility for Cyclists by Fred and Kele McDaniel and is available online. In the meantime, drop your seat 5mm and reassess. If the pain is lessened but still present, drop the seat some more.

Track differences


I have a question regarding the comparing of times set on a wooden track vs. times set on a concrete track.

Assuming rider and equipment will be the same for both tracks, as well the tracks being indoor at 250m per lap and at sea level with other enviromental condition being equal (temperature, humidity, Barometric pressure, etc)

What correction factor can be applied to compare times between the two surfaces (wooden versus concrete) in order for the effort to be comparable? I think it's fair to say a concrete track is slower in such conditions compared to a wooden track, but by how much?

There's a debate raging here to try understand the international times set on track like Melbourne and Manchester versus tracks like ours in Cape Town, South Africa (indoor concrete).

Would be good to get a trusted expert's take on things if possible.


James Hibbard says:

Hi James,

I have raced on concrete, asphalt, wood and even grass velodromes, so I certainly agree with you that the surface of a velodrome has a dramatic effect.

Your question, about how to compare times for 'like' velodromes with different surfaces is fundamentally a question of the relative rolling resistance of concrete and wood, and if the reduced rolling resistance of a wood track allows one to accurately translate one's time on a concrete track to a time on a wood track with some sort of quotient.

I'll divide my answer into a 'practical' answer and an theoretical portion.

On a theoretical level it would be possible to compare a wood and a concrete track and isolate for the variable of rolling resistance. While I am not certain from what studies these coefficients are derived, lists the rolling resistance coefficient for a smooth concrete surface as .002 and wood track as .001 and defines the coefficient of rolling resistance as the 'dimensionless parameter describing the retarding force of rolling divided by the weight of a rider.' (see

Let's take a one kilometre time trial as an example and ignore all of the other variables in order to see the effect of a change in the coefficient of rolling resistance. Using the model, if one rides a 1:07.1 kilometre on a smooth concrete track the exact same ride (meaning the same power profile, rider, conditions and velodrome design) would yield a 1:06.7 on a wood track.

With such nice numbers, you might ask why I now am going to go into the practical portion of my response. The short answer is that while one can say in most cases that a like wood track is going to be faster, it is very difficult to say by how much, and hard to think of any example where a concrete and wood track are similar enough to really compare apples to apples.

The variables are obviously never as controlled as they are in the models, and although the track surface matters, there are often other factors that in their totality matter more. Things such as the design of the track, weather conditions, and altitude can sometimes matter more than the track surface. While rolling resistance is a factor it is not so strong a factor as to render all of these others negligible.

A good example of a very fast concrete velodrome is the one at La Paz, Bolivia (which is at 3,658 metres) where because of the altitude numerous world records have been established in recent years.

In practice, you will usually have a coach or rider compare one specific track to another by feel with a comparison that runs something like 'Well, track X is about .4 faster for a kilo than track Y.' And although this sounds un-scientific, this sort of educated comparison by experienced riders actually tends to be very accurate as they are taking into account all of the idiosyncrasies that make a track either fast or slow.

Good luck!

Avoiding bad moments in a century ride

I rode my first century in 2004. In 2005, '06, and '07 I rode 2-3 centuries per year. In '08 I was injured so I didn't ride any and in 09 I rode one century on our tandem. On Saturday, 9/18, I completed my first century on my single since 2007, which included one of my hardest efforts ever at mile 10 that lasted probably a mile (I was going so hard that I didn't look).

It took me just under eight hours including rest stops, about 6.5 hours time on the bike. At mile 57 there was a long stop to both eat, wait for the ferry and a 20 minute crossing. In every century, I've had a hard time between roughly miles 60 and 80. I just feel like I'm dragging - but not a bonk.

During this recent century, I know I ate enough - maybe too much - and was careful to drink both water and HEED. I also had a gel with caffeine at the 57-mile rest stop. A Coke and energy bar completely revived me at mile 85 and I finished strong even attempting to chase down another rider. Does everyone have a section of a century where they hit the wall? And what do you suggest?

Kim Lamphier

Scott Saifer says:


No, not everyone has a bad moment in a century ride. Some people stay fed and hydrated and ride them hard and feeling good from start to finish.

There is a clue to what's going on with you in your description of the ride though. You are not taking in enough carbohydrate calories. If the coke and energy bar completely revived you at mile 85, your blood sugar must have been down just before you took them. If your blood sugar is in the good range, eating helps keep it there but doesn't affect your energy at that moment.

You haven't said how big you are so I can't give specific numbers, but you should be aiming to ingest somewhere between 200 (very small rider, <120 pounds) and 350 (very big rider, 180+ and strong) per hour, divided into at least three and preferable four chunks spread evenly over the hour.

The number of calories does not have to be precisely determined, but figure about where you are between 120 and 180 to figure out how many calories to take between 200 and 350. If you are currently eating less, or less often, try coming up to these numbers for your next century and see what happens. The right amount of food for a century is the maximum amount you can absorb.

That doesn't mean that you should stuff yourself, but that you eat as much as you can without developing a feeling of a full tummy.

Hearing loss

I have recently developed tinnitus, the cause of which was determined to be hearing loss after undergoing a hearing test. The most common cause of hearing loss is exposure to excessive noise. High volume, i.e, gunfire or rock and roll music for shorter periods will cause this.

Longer exposure to lower volumes can also be a cause. Is there any evidence that the wind noise experienced while cycling or has the volume in decibels of this noise been evaluated? I think if it were a problem we would have several deaf former pro cyclists.


Kelby Bethards says:


As best I can tell there have been no studies linking hearing loss to cycling and wind noise.

Anecdotally, I have been riding a bike more years of my life than not, and I have no hearing loss and maybe some mild tinnitus. I often get grief for hearing things I shouldn't. Also, I am not sure the noise level created by cycling has been measured (in db).

That being said, the closest thing I could find is motorcycle research. It HAS been noted that without proper head gear, hearing loss can occur on motorcyclists.

So, follow my skewed and somewhat ad hoc logic: Motorcycle, riding at 60 kph (one article said 30 mph, one said 40 mph), the noise created was 85-90 db. Ordinary conversation is about 60 db. Nightclub with a band 110 db. I think, in my estimation, you would need to be on the bike for quite a while at 35 mph to sustain hearing loss.

Disclaimer: I probably overlooked something.

Weights for racing


I have currently stepped back on the bike after a couple of years' break. Previously I was racing a high level of state and national competition and weighing in at around 67kg when I was 21.

During my time off the bike my weight has soared to 80 - 85kg due to training in the military. Once I decided to get back on the bike I started focusing my efforts in the gym as well as building my kilometre count back up to something race worthy.

Now I have started racing again I am finding my gym work almost deadening my legs to uselessness and not making any gains. I was doing two sessions a week of 100kg dead-lifts, 100kg squats, leg extensions, hamstring curls and calf raises - all at 5x5 with two minutes break between each set.

I have cut that back to once on Mondays but am still feeling tired and flat all week long. So my question is, is it possible to gym, train and race or do I have to pick and choose? My previous racing I lacked the top end horsepower, so building my strength was important to me. Thanks.

Andy C,
Brisbane, Australia

Scott Saifer says:


Where to start? No, you can't lift heavy and train on the bike and expect to race well in the same week.

When you are planning your lifting, or any other kind of training, divide your year into three big chunks: Racing season, recuperation, and training time.

During recuperation of course you do very little of any sort of training.

During training time you ride lots of kilometres, lift and perhaps do intervals, sprints, practice TTs, etc.

During racing season, you race, recover, and do only the sorts and amounts of training that will allow you to recover in time for the next race.

If races are many weeks apart, you may be able to do some real training between them. If you are racing weekly or more often, you'll do at most some base maintenance rides and recovery rides between races. This is because any training that is long and hard enough to make you stronger will make you tired first, and you won't race well while tired.

If the season is upon you and you are not fit enough to race effectively, rather than trying to race and train at the same time, train for a while without racing and then start racing again when you are more ready for it.

Now, looking specifically at how to lift to be a better bike racer: You need to lift at least twice per week to make progress, and three times is probably better. Short hard sets will give you bigger muscles and higher maximal force production, but longer sets with lighter weights will do more for your cycling ability, with less tendency to make your legs dead or make you keep excess muscle mass.

There are lots of different effective strength programs. I encourage people to work up to sets of 40 or more reps on the main power muscles, always with a weight that allows you to finish the set with the same rhythm with which you start, but just barely and only with intense focus. And of course, you don't do this sort of lifting during racing season. Good luck.

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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