Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - July 13, 2011

An AIS physiotherapist

An AIS physiotherapist (Image credit: Gerard Knapp)

Topics: Base Training, Recovery techniques, Shoulder Pain, Another question on numb feet

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.

To find advice that relates to you more easily:

Base Training

Recovery techniques and the riders on the Tour de France

Shoulder Pain

Another question on numb feet

When to put in base training if you ride competitively throughout the year


I'm a 34 year old Australian cyclist who has been competing in road and criterium races for the last 3 years. I race B grade at club level and usually C grade at the open level and have competed in races up to 150k. Over this time most of my training has consisted of approximately a 50/50 split between bunch rides and solo rides and I would average somewhere around 300-350k per week. In an effort to improve my racing I've recently read Joe Friel's training bible and have tried to adopt a more structured approach.

My question is given that in Australia, it is possible to race virtually year round with crits over the summer and road mainly through Apr-Oct how do I apply the concept of a 4-5 month base/build period with little racing? I can understand in countries whereby the winter is so harsh that it is impossible to race but the summer crit season is one of the most enjoyable periods of the year for me.

However, I would like to be more competitive in some of the road races held in the middle of the year. So, should I be foregoing a crit season to build a large base in summer given that base building is to be done at relatively low intensity? The other problem I've discovered is that the Friel program is really based on 1 or 2 major peaks a year whereas I guess I'm aiming just to be strong and consistent throughout a road season.

My final question is regarding an off season. Since beginning racing I've had a short break of a couple of weeks around October and then launched back into training and then racing crits from around mid Nov onwards. Given that to me it seems to make sense to take advantage of the good weather over summer to get in as much riding as possible I'm a little bit reluctant to taper my training right back for a longer period to really only begin training in Jan-Feb if I was going to build towards a peak in the middle of the year.

Apologies if I sound a little confused but I guess I feel like if I'm to follow the Friel approach I'm going to have to radically change the way I go about my cycling and I think to some extent it would take away some of the things I enjoy most about the sport.

Thanks in advance,


Scott Saifer says:

There's no question that most riders can get stronger and race more competitively by adopting a periodized training plan that includes a few weeks or rest, a few months of base, a transition to intensity and then racing rather than just racing year round. The exception is that riders who are so aerobically powerful that they don't need to push up near LT for more than a few minutes to win a race can win races year round because they can build base while racing.

Your problem, having to choose racing and training periods is not unique to Australia. We have the same thing here in California, where if you are willing to race cyclocross and track, you can race at least twice and often as many as six days a week year round. The solution is simple but not easy: You do need to pick training and racing periods. If you train very well for 4-5 months and your races challenge you, it is possible to keep good form for 6-10 weeks, and then get another month of good racing if your are willing to do a month or two of rebuild. Thus you could do two extended periods of racing.

As you get stronger, the good form can last longer and longer.

At some point, before choosing racing and training periods you have to ask yourself about your priorities. If just doing races is the priority, don't worry about periodization. If you want to win, adjust your training. You can still ride lots in the good weather, just don't race all the time.

Recovery techniques and the Tour de France

Hey there team!

Looking through the Tour notes, I'm reading comments from riders and trainers that seem to suggest that some recovery methods are still in use that have been contradicted in the latest scientific data:

Lactic Acid: lots of talk about how to get rid of it during recovery (with compression tights, etc), how to ward it off during a race. However, recently there have been several studies that say that not only is lactic acid not to blame for muscle soreness or cramping, but that its presence actually helps a muscle continue to fire longer when it's at the point of exhaustion.

Ice for Swelling: lots of notes also on using ice and cold compresses to 'promote healing,' but recent literature also suggests that chilling an injury or even mere sore muscles may prevent the increase in blood flow that can accelerate healing.

Does all this mean that riders and support crew opt for the 'tried and true' over the latest science (something I have a hard time believing) or that there's more to these stories than meets the eye?


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Andrew,

We can always count on you for interesting questions. Thanks!

Question 1) Lactic Acid: You are entirely right that lactic acid is better thought of as a fuel than a poison. Lactic acid does not cause soreness or heavy legs or most of the other negative things that many athletes ignorantly ascribe to it. The things that cyclists do to "get rid of lactic acid", such as gentle massage, easy spins on the bike, compression tights and putting the legs up after a ride all help with recovery for reasons that have more to do with circulation or relaxation and nothing to do with clearing lactic acid. Let's say lactic acid is a superstition, but the rituals work.

Question 2) You are also right that cold compresses, ice massage and other forms of cryotherapy inhibit rather than enhance circulation when they are applied for a few minutes, so not much healing or refueling happens during the few minutes of cold application. On the other hand, cryotherapies of at least some sorts do reduce inflammation and next day muscle soreness, and accelerate the return of performance ability, so they are aiding recovery, just not by speeding healing during their application.

There have been many cases of scientists and athlete/coaches being at odds over particular training or competition questions. Generally this has been a result of the scientists needing to reframe the question appropriately. Science can only answer carefully framed questions. Science is good at making statements like, when we do X, Y results. It's not so good at answering questions like, what's the best way to X?

Many times, scientists have done good research to demonstrate that when we X, Y results, and others have come along to say that since we want Y, we should X and come to remarkably wrong conclusions that have taken decades to sort out. For instance, scientists have known for about a century that the most efficient cadence in terms of oxygen consumption is much lower than the cadences adopted by racing cyclists. Some have been foolish enough to suggest that the 60-80 rpm cadences that minimize oxygen consumption for a given power output should be adopted by racers. It turns out however that there is plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere and while oxygen uptake limits moment by moment performance, it is not the main limiter for bike racers. Muscle fatigue plays that role, and muscle fatigue is minimized when peak muscle tensions each stroke are minimized, which turns out to happen right in the 90-110 rpm range where cyclists actually race. (Surprise!) This is a case of we thought we wanted Y, but Z turns out to be more important.

Scientists also thoroughly proved that strength training does little to boost VO2-max or aerobic power in already trained athletes. Some coaches made the error of generalizing from there to say that endurance athletes should not strength train. After all, strength training causes weight gain and doesn't boost the two crucial variables of VO2-max and LT power, and yet many top cyclists continue strength training and continue to win. What's going on? We know that VO2-max and power at LT are important limiters in bike racing, but again they are not the only important ones. It turns out that strength training can increase endurance for very-intense work, for instance doubling the time one can continue to pedal at the power output that corresponds to V02-max in one study. That increase in high-intensity endurance can easily make the difference between making the winning break and getting spit out the back after a series of attacks, without affecting VO2-max or LT power.

So, when you hear that the best athletes are doing something and scientists are saying that the behavior can't help, take it with a grain of salt. Tour Riders have to be pretty darn close to doing everything right, or someone else would be taking their place on the team.

A question on shoulder pain


I have been racing/riding on the same setup for many months now, but recently developed shoulder pain on my left shoulder. It feels like some kind of rotator cuff impingement and it seems to only flare up after riding and when my arm is stretched out into the riding position. I've had a Retul fit done by a very reputable fitter so I trust the fit, but I was wondering if the shifter position could have an effect on this (in terms of inward/outward rotation). It got me wondering about the subject and I was wondering if there is a standard position for Sram shifters and also, if you had any other ideas of what could be causing the problem (too much reach perhaps?)

Steve Hogg says:

G'day Karsten,

Firstly, if your bike fitter is competent, he should be able to sort you out quickly. If that isn't an option, the first question to ask is why the left shoulder only?

Likely reasons are:

1. A flare up of a pre existing injury, known or unknown to you.

2. A factor of position or your own function that is destabilising you and causing you to overextend or bear more weight on the left arm and, or thrust the left shoulder further forward. If so, the most common reason for that is not sitting squarely on the seat with right hip forward / too high a seat height / too low or too extended a bar placement / poor brake hood placement or any combination of those

As a self diagnostic, when next you ride, place hands on brake hoods and after riding for a period at reasonable intensity, have a look and see if your left elbow is more locked than your right elbow. If it is, then in most cases you will find that your left shoulder is thrust further forward too and that this is the cause of your problem. As above, the most common reason for that is that you sit with right hip down or forward or both. This will explain more.

Whatever the result, get back to me and I'll try to advise further.

I'd also suggest talking to your bike fitter for advice as he / she already knows how you function.



Numb Feet


Just a quick question on the good old topic of numb feet.

When I started riding I was on Speedplay zero with mid range specialized shoes (comp). After two years they were falling apart so I upgraded. Sticking with Specialized on the basis that I never had any issues with them. One model up - the Comp Pro (I think) - same set up. All of a sudden I started getting numb feet. I changed the inner-sole to the old one - no fix. So I researched and decided to change the shoe - just in case. L Garneau - seemed to have fixed the issue but once I started putting more pressure on the pedals (training, racing, longer rides) - same issue. Ok, changed the pedals to Look. Same issue. Different shoes - Specialized Sworks. Much better but still after 1hr the issue prevails. Saddle height does not seem to make a difference either. Shifting of the cleats changes the timing of the numbness but neverthless after 1hr in the saddle it somehow starts again - with more or lesser intensity.

Would it be worth trying custom-made insoles? If so, do you know anyone in the Amsterdam region who provides this service?



Steve Hogg says:

G'day Max,

There are several possibilities. The first is that you do not have your cleats as far back relative too foot in shoe as you did on your original shoes that caused you no problems.

The second is that there has been incipient issue and that you have passed the threshold where it has become an nuisance and intrudes into your consciousness

If your cleat position is the problem, and a cleat position too far forward relative to foot in shoe is the most common (but not only) reason for foot numbness, then read this for information about how to set up your cleats. Any of these methods should solve or markedly decrease the severity of the problem.

Once you have worked your way through that, and if the foot numbness is still present, then the major remaining reason is lack of foot correction. There are 3 posts on that subject but these two contain the great majority of what you need to do.

Let me know how you get on.

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. He can be reached at:

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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