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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - February 25, 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.

Training for alpine event

I am planning a week long tour of the French Alps in September. I am not aiming to break any records but I do want to increase my fitness so that I can minimise the suffering! I am 46 and have been a weekend (weakened) warrior for decades and realise that I do need to ride more often to prepare.

I have not actually "trained" for over 20 years and I do have a history of pelvic asymmetry that I am managing with a Chiro and core fitness work.

I can commit to a long week end ride (3-5 hours) and two midweek rides of say 2 hours max. I have already built up to one 2 hour low intensity mid week ride (adding no more than 10% to each ride) & plan to introduce the second mid week ride soon, again at low intensity.

Once I have got both mid week rides up to 2hours, would it sound sensible to then start doing some more intense work? I will need to be conservative in view of my previous injury history but I can use some steep hills (this is England!) to train on and I have a thought that I should be doing intervals but have no real idea about length/ recovery times? As the year progresses, I will also be aiming to do some hillier rides on my longer week end ride.

I deliberately started this training from what I think is a long way out (January) so that I can back off or modify any training if my body objects but any advice you can offer re training plans/blocks would be most welcome

Thanks for your help

Robert Newton
Ellesmere Port, UK

Scott Saifer says


Congratulations on your commitment to end your long wandering in the darkness of unfitness. You do have enough time between now and September to get fit for your tour and you're on the right track with the hours you plan to ride. I hope the mid-week rides can be Tuesday-Thursday as skipping one day between rides makes for much more effective training than skipping two or more days.

It makes sense to increase intensity on only one or two rides per week after you reach your maximum volume and have ridden it for a month or so. If your weekend rides are going to be hilly to the point where they will be more intense whether you like it or not, keep the mid-week rides lower intensity.

The twin keys to any endurance training plan are to train as much as you have time for, and to always train very easy (recovery, zone 1, below 70% of maximum heart rate) unless you feel fresh and energetic and really ready to go hard. Adjust the intensity of your training so that you use up the time without getting really tired.

Pain on the left side

I am a 43-year-old Cat. 2 racer and have been racing for over 15 years. I usually put in about 10,000 miles per year, and race most of the masters, seniors races in my area - 20-30 races per year.

This past year, I started having some problems with pain/discomfort in my lower back (outside hip, top of my butt) on the left side only. Not every ride, not every time. I have not changed my riding position significantly since 1999. I had not changed saddle or shoes or anything else before this started.

Since this has started, I have tried a little lower seat, and a shorter stem, with no help. It is not really pain as much as a feeling of fatigue on the left side. After only 40 miles, the left side (back and leg) would feel fatigued, like I had ridden 100 miles, while the right side feels great, fresh and ready to go. I did drop out of one race last year, and was not at full power for some of the other races, training rides, etc.

After 40-50 miles, my left side felt like I had done well over 100 miles. It only started this past year and has subsided a litle over time, for a couple of rides, but resurfaced again the next ride. Seems there is no real pattern, etc.

I have multiple bikes, wheels, shoes, pedals, etc. The problem does not discriminate. Several weeks ago, I tried putting a small shim under my left cleat, I think my left leg might be slightly shorter. Not sure if this really helps, though; it's still bothersome on most rides. Looking for an answer, some advice, etc. Maybe this is not cycling related but I think somehow it must be.

Eric Wallenburg
Marlton, NJ

Steve Hogg says


In general terms there is a challenge to your position. Either you are using the left side of your lower back to brace against unwanted movement on the right side or you are jammed up generally on the left side. The easiest way to determine what is going on is to have you mount your bike on an indoor trainer and warm up thoroughly with your shirt off. Once you are warm and while pedaling at a load high enough to work you hard but not so hard as to compromise technique, have an observer standing above and behind you.

What I need to know is:

1. Which hip sits further forward than the other?
2. Do you drop one hip under load?
3. Does either knee move laterally; out on the upstroke and in on the downstroke?
4. Do you perceive one leg as stronger or more fluent than the other?

Get back to me with those answers and I'll attempt to help further.

Omega 3 and recovery

Will consuming Omega 3 fatty acids improve recovery after riding?


Pamela Hinton says


Before I attempt to answer your specific question, I think a bit of background on dietary fatty acids might be useful. There are two categories of fatty acids that must be consumed in the diet because we cannot make them: omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated (many double bonds) fatty acids (PUFAs).

"Omega-3," which is synonymous with "n-3," is a chemical notation that designates the position of a double bond between carbon atoms (for those with an appreciation for organic chemistry, the 3 means this last double bond from the carboxyl group is three carbons from the methyl end of the fatty acid molecule); a-linolenic acid (ALA) is the "parent" n-3 PUFA from which other n-3 PUFAs can be made.

It is important to note that many of beneficial effects of the omega-3 fatty acids have been attributed to two other n-3 PUFAs--eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For example, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed a health claim that "consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease." This claim, however, cannot be made for ALA because there is insufficient evidence to support it.

ALA is the major n-3 PUFA in the diet, as it is abundant in vegetable oils such as soybean and canola oils. ALA is also found in a wide range of plant products, although most of these foods have relatively low levels (0.1%–0.7%). Because very little ALA is converted into EPA or DHA, adequate consumption of these fatty acids is also important. Fish and fish oils are the richest sources of EPA and DHA, with contents ranging from 30-50 percent for both fresh and saltwater fish.

The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids suggests that a "healthy intake" of ALA should make up at least 0.7% of total energy intake (i.e., ~2g for a 2500 kcal diet) and recommends EPA + DHA intakes of =500 mg/day. (For example, a 3-ounce cooked salmon filet will provide ~2g of total n-3 fatty acids and ~1000 mg of EPA + DHA. Other fish that are good sources of n-3 fatty acids include tuna, catfish, pollock, cod, scallops, shrimp, crab. See the following website for EPA+DHA content of other types of fish

It should be noted that there are potential negative consequences of excessive consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that the combined daily intakes of EPA and DHA not exceed 3g per day (with no more than 2g per day from dietary supplements), because of the possible adverse effects on the ability to control blood sugar, prolonged bleeding times, and increased LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

In addition to their cardio-protective effects, EPA and DHA also have anti-inflammatory properties; they reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins and inhibit activity of immune cells. Consequently, a considerable amount of research has been to done to examine the efficacy of dietary omega-3 fatty acids as a treatment for diseases that are characterized by chronic inflammation, e.g., rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

With that background, let me, finally, at long last, try to answer your question. Prolonged or high-intensity exercise results in damage to muscle cells that is associated with a short-lived inflammatory response, which includes increased production of acute-phase proteins, e.g., C-reactive protein, pro-inflammatory cytokines, e.g., interleukin-1 (IL-1) and IL-6, prostaglandins and reactive oxygen species.

Thus, some have advocated that athletes increase their consumption of fish-oil-based omega-3 fatty acids to 1-2 grams per day to reduce the inflammation associated with high-intensity exercise. However, only a handful of studies have actually examined the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in trained athletes.

A recent randomised, double-blind study by Nieman et al. published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (19:536-546, 2009) found that six weeks of omega-3 fatty acids (2.4 g/day) in trained cyclists had no effect on blood measures of inflammation after a 3-hour exercise trial (at about 60 percent of max power output) that included a 10km trial at the end of each hour. Another study (Toft et al., 2000) found that omega-3 supplementation (3.6 g/d) for six weeks did not reduce inflammation after running a marathon.

Athletes should consume the recommended intakes of ALA and DHA+EPA described above, (ALA can be found in nuts and vegetable oils, DHA+EPA in fatty fish). However, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in excess of the recommended intakes is unlikely to reduce exercise-associated muscle damage or to speed recovery.

Unfortunately, a decline in recovery time is an inevitable consequence of aging. That said you've taking a reasonable approach to minimizing the age-related decline. You might also be sure to consume a diet that is high in fresh fruits and vegetables. Although not proven to improve performance, there is some evidence that the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and, therefore, accelerate recovery.

I caution against using dietary antioxidant supplements, however, as they often provide nutrients far in excess of the recommended intakes. Somewhat surprisingly, nutrients that have anti-oxidant properties at physiological levels can become pro-oxidants when present in excessive amounts.

Omega 3 fatty acids are another nutrient that may be of some benefit. The omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to their lipid-lowering effects. However, because they are found only in select foods, e.g., fatty fish (salmon and trout) and some nuts (walnuts), many individuals do not consume optimal amounts of these fatty acids.

Motor pacing training

I´m considering doing some motor paced trainings and would like to know the intensity (heart rate/speed), volume (hours) and terrain (flats/hilly) best prescribed for this kind of drill.

Just a background, I´m a road cyclist. Race mostly crits, but also do some shorts TTs and road races during the year. The outcome I imagine with doing motor paced ridings is to get more confortable with the high speeds usually reached by the pack in races (like 30 nmiles/hour ).


Scott Saifer says


You're on the right track with your goal of using the scooter to simulate racing speed. Many people mistakenly think there's something magic about motor pacing, that it will let you do things that you won't be able to do without it.

They get this impression from the fact that some high-level pros motor pace, but think about it: if the fastest riders in the world want to be challenged, they're not going to get what they need pulling the local club ride, or even the local amateur race. They need something faster than they are to motivate them to ride faster than they can go on their own. The only thing faster than the fastest riders in the world would be something motorised. For everyone else, the local race or club ride provides plenty of speed training.

The fact that you are adding motor-pacing to your training routine doesn't mean that you should be changing your training plan. Rather you should use the motor bike to do the same training you would otherwise do, but at a higher speed. That way you get the sense of speed you were looking for, without compromising fitness.

Weight loss and time on flats

I'm wondering what difference losing weight will have on my cycling on flat road - i.e. - if I weighed 90kg, and my average cycle speed was 39km/h for a 60-minute ride, what do you think it would be if I lost weight, and got to 80kg? Average cycle speed that is?

Cameron Nicholls

Scott Saifer says


The answer to your question is not as simple as you might hope. Weight impacts flat speed several ways. Losing weight decreased rolling resistance and frontal area and improves heat dissipation.

Let's look at rolling resistance first: The impact of weight loss on flat speed due to rolling resistance is small, and depends on the quality of the pavement on which you ride. The smoother the pavement, the less weight matters. We can make some estimates though... we usually assume that rolling resistance accounts for about 10 percent of the power needed to drive a bike at high speed, and rolling resistance is roughly (not exactly) proportional to weight. You're talking about taking 11 percent off your weight, or 1.1 percent off the power you need to go the same speed.

The power that isn't going into overcoming rolling resistance can go into overcoming wind resistance. The power required to overcome wind resistance rises as the cube of the speed, so we'd expect about an 0.4 percent increase in speed with the weight loss. That's a trivial 0.15km/h for you, or an incredible 14 seconds saved over a one-hour TT if you like. On bumpier pavement the difference would be larger. On a glassy-smooth velodrome, it would be smaller.

Let's look next at frontal area. When you lose weight, your frontal area and wind resistance are going to decrease by some unpredictable amount. If the weight comes off your sides, the difference could be large. If it comes off your back or front, not so large. Wind resistance also depends on how efficiently shaped you are, and predicting the change in efficiency due to shape with weight loss is not even vaguely possible. (Engineers correct me if I'm wrong!)

If I have to guess, I'd say that an 11 percent decrease in weight would correspond to a 6 percent decrease in frontal area, and give your roughly a 2 percent increase in speed: 0.8 km per hour or 1 minute 12 seconds off your one hour TT. That's getting to be meaningful.

Finally, losing weight will increase your surface to volume ratio. If the weight is lost as subcutaneous (under the skin) fat, you'll also be losing a layer of insulation. That means you can dissipate waste heat more effectively. On warmer days, heat dissipation is a limiting factor to performance.

If you sweat a lot when riding, you are limited by your ability to dissipate heat and will benefit by losing weight. You know you are sweating even if you are not getting wet if you end up with salt on your skin or you lose more than a half kilo per hour of riding or have to drink to avoid losing more weight than that.

Recovery from ruptured disc

I'm after an opinion on how common it is for riders to get back to full racing capability after a ruptured disc and microdiscectomy. I was in decent racing nick till 2004 when I started getting savage back and leg pain - in hindsight, something that had been coming for a number of years - and finally succumbed to an op in 2006.

After the mandatory recovery period, I've been back on the bike but have never been able to get back to a normal position or crunch big gears comfortably - or do long rides. I don't have the same peaks of pain, but it's still there and gets pretty bad if I push it too much. Hence, I'm at about 80 percent of former fitness but can't get the extra 20 percent that will allow me to race properly.

In terms of recovery programmes, I followed the one I was put on for a while, but it actually seemed to make things worse not better. Are there any options out there or examples of others who've had a similar trajectory but managed to get over it? Another element in all this is to remind guys not to get carried away with a low position. If I had my time again, I would sacrifice a bit of aero advantage for longevity.


Steve Hogg says


I've seen a lot of people get back into racing after similar experiences without any problems. The first thing to understand that surgery will solve the immediate problem but does nothing to address the underlying reasons that caused you to develop the problem. They could have been a pelvic tilt with or without a short leg, congenital differences in various structures between left and right, being significantly tighter on one side than the other and so on ad infinitum.

What you need to do in general terms is develop an understanding of why this happened and address the cause. In general terms you need to develop the ability to stabilise the entire area before you worry about stretching it. A couple of books you probably should read are Low Back Disorders by Stuart McGill and Sport, Stability and Performance Movement by Joanne Elphinston.

What ever you garner from those books probably needs to be applied with a bit of professional guidance. So find a structural health professional who is interested in root causes and interested in your case.

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

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.

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.

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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