Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - July 20, 2011

Failing to dose your efforts properly in multi-stage races can often result in injury and physical stress that you may not notice over shorter distances.

Failing to dose your efforts properly in multi-stage races can often result in injury and physical stress that you may not notice over shorter distances. (Image credit: TransAlp)

Topics: Endurance Training, Preventing the post-weekend form backslide, Achilles problems, How do the pro's peak for a three week race?, Hamstring Soreness, Training intensity, finding the right balance, Adjusting your setup to a new road bike

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To find advice that relates to you more easily:

Endurance Training

Preventing the post-weekend form backslide

Achilles problems

How do the pro's peak for a three week race?

Hamstring Soreness

Training intensity, finding the right balance

Adjusting your setup to a new road bike

Endurance Training


I'm looking for some advice on the sort of training I might do to prepare me for a tour over about 5 days, through hilly country, doing between 4-6 hours a day on the bike (sealed roads all the way with little in the way of baggage, on my road bike). I plan to do this in about three months.

I am a 50 year old male in reasonable condition, doing regular rides of about one hour and light weight training sessions. I have problems with worn or slightly displaced vertebrae in spots including my neck and lower back, which have in the past caused problems with riding. Doing exercises advised by physios and maintaining general strength through gym work, I do not have any particular issue at the moment. I have been increasing the length of my rides recently and can comfortably do rides of up to four hours without problems. Obviously a multi-day ride may increase the likelihood of problems, due to accumulated fatigue etc. My question is, apart from the obvious approach of preparing by doing a couple of consecutive days at least of long rides, is there any preparation I could undertake that would reduce the chances of crocking at about day three?

Neville Worland

Brisbane, Australia

Scott Saifer says:

Hi Neville,

This sounds like two different questions rolled into one:

1) How should a mostly healthy 50 year old prepare for a 5-day tour of longish days and

2) How should a rider with known neck and lower back issues prepare for several days of hard riding.

I'm reluctant to write a detailed answer to the first question since I answered more or less the same question sometime in the last few months and you seem to be on the right track anyway: work up gradually to doing several days in a row of multi-hour rides, mostly at a very sustainable pace. When you can finish a six-hour ride feeling like you could do more, you'll be ready for your tour. There was as decent study a number of year ago that found that riders who trained 6 hours or more per week and 100 miles (160 kilometers) or more per week before a multi-day tour had far fewer injuries than those who trained much less than that. There'd be nothing wrong with working up to larger totals, but take that as your minimum target. Riding at least every other day, even if many of those rides are short, is far better than riding less frequently and skipping more days.

Since you are problem free as you ride currently, my main advice on the second question is to make sure you've got a great bike fit. If your position puts you close to the limit of what your back or neck can handle, it may not cause problems on a few hour ride, but may cause problems when you do multiple back to back long days. The problem for you getting a fitting, is that none of the "systems" for doing a fit really take into account your back situation, so you need to visit someone who actually understands biomechanics, or to educate yourself.

One way to test your current position is to challenge it. Can you ride the drops with your elbows significantly bent for an hour or so without pain or tightness? Check your back, neck, and saddle-contact patch. If that works okay, then your position should be fine for your tour. If you can't ride the drops for an hour without noticing it in your back or neck or saddle-contact area, you're likely to have problems on your long ride. If that is the case, write back for more advice.

Preventing the post-weekend form backslide


I'm a 36 year old and I currently do 500 miles a month. My rides are usually around the 40 mile mark, and consist of mixed terrain. (some flatish routes, some hilly/climbing routes). I tend to bunch my rides, due to work commitments, and a typical pattern for me would be 5/6 daily rides in the mornings with then 3 or 4 days off. What I have noticed is my fitness level seems considerably diminished after a few days off the bike. The first few days back riding I seem to have lost a lot of fitness and it feels although I'm out of condition. More than just a case of stiff legs, I really suffer. Is this normal and is there anything I can do to reduce this effect?

Thanks in advance,

Marc Evans

Scott Saifer says:

Hi Marc,

Your experience is normal for someone following a pattern of training like yours. What you are describing is a reduced version of the weekend warrior effect. In 3-4 days off, your cardiac stroke volume decreases substantially so you have to sustain a higher heart rate to deliver the same oxygen to your muscles and produce the same power. The solution is not to take 3-4 day blocks of days off.

Riding at least every other day prevents the back-sliding to some extent, and riding daily of course prevents it entirely. The extra days of riding you do to preserve your fitness don't need to be long or hard, just long enough for a good warm up and nothing more. If you can get on a trainer or on the road and spin for 30-40 minutes on what are now your days off, reducing actual off days to one per week or two but with a day or more of training in between, you'll not only avoid the first-day-back-on feeling but also get stronger overall.

Achilles Tendons

Dear Panel,

Last year I developed severe pain in both Achilles tendons during a three-day mountain bike race (very noticeable when walking, too severe to run or cycle for any distance). It went away after about 2 months, after rest and light physio, and I forgot all about it. However, It all came back during the same event this year. I did other similar events in between with no problems. I've rested and had physiotherapy but still have mild pain (it’s now been 2 months since the event) and have also suffered a massive loss of confidence.

Any advice would be appreciated,

Steve Hogg says:

G'day Glen,

I'd be suggesting cleat position and seat height as the two most likely candidates, with the strong possibility of overly tight calves as well. I'd guess that a 3 day mountain bike race is at the tougher end of the spectrum of your riding?

If so, then when the going gets tough, inadequacies of our position that aren't noticeable day to day, begin to make their presence felt. If your cleats are too far forward, your calves and Achilles tendons will have to work very hard. If your seat height is too high and you are forcing the pace during a 3 day race with the extra heel drop that forcing the pace always requires, then the calves and Achilles tendons (and probably the hamstrings) are being pressured.

If you don't stretch and have calves that are too tight, then you have less margin for error with both cleat position and seat height.

The info on these two links should get you started on the path to not having this happen again, but additionally, if you don't stretch, now is as good a time to start as any.

Peaking for the Tour; how to keep your strength over 3 weeks

Since to be able to peak you need some rest to get rid of fatigue - how do the pros peak for the Tour de France’s 3rd week when there is no rest and a lot of fatigue?


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Samuel,

This reminds me of the old joke about two backpackers who run into a bear in the woods. As the bear begins to charge towards them, one of the guys drops his pack and starts changing into running shoes while the other alternately looks at him and the charging bear. The guy who's standing with his pack on says, "What? Are you crazy? You can't outrun a bear!" and the other guy says, "I don't have to. I just have to outrun you!"

You are right, by the end of a 3-week Tour, all the riders are fatigued. The ones who are less fatigued appear to peak by comparison to those who are more fatigued. Oversimplifying, the ones who have been protected by their teams, who's aerobically sustainable speed is high enough that they could ride below lactate threshold more of the time, who have been able to ride more conservatively, not having to make their own bridges or chases, and who have the most toughness will be less fatigued than the others and will eventually ride away from them.

Hamstring soreness


I have been experiencing a lot of pain in the belly of my hamstring muscles. After a day or two of recovery from a hard threshold session they hurt less. When I do these threshold efforts I usually notice the burn the most in the hamstrings. I have had a bike fit done so my position is at least reasonable. Are my hamstrings weak or should I look into another bike fit. I do stretch, but could do more. Any help would be much appreciated. I feel like this is really holding me back from doing more workouts.



Steve Hogg says:

G'day Michael,

If the hamstrings are overloaded, either the seat is too high or too far back. Or possibly both. Normally, if having the seat too high is what causes the hamstrings to load up, discomfort is felt either very high in the hamstrings or very low, not in the belly. This is not a 100% occurrence but it is more likely that your seat setback is too great as more often than not, when this is the reason for hamstring problems, it is the belly of the muscle group that feels the pressure.

The info on these links will also help; Seat set back, Seat height.

Training Intensity

Dear Panel,

I have always stuck to the "no more than 20%" intensity rule for total training time. Using Heart rate as a barometer, I either train at 135bpm or just below LT at 162bpm, not much in between for any length of time. My question is, my whole life I have designated high intensity days which are shorter, i.e. 30 minutes running hill repeats or 1 hour of intervals on the bike on the same day, and then no more intensity for a few days. Can I just incorporate some high intensity into most of my workouts not exceeding the 20% rule?

In other words, for a two hour ride can I throw in three 4 minute LT hill repeats for all of my rides and not exceed 135bpm the rest of the time?

I ask because I started doing this 3 weeks ago and it is working a little "too well" and I'm afraid I am creating an unwanted peak and the wheels are going to fall off soon.



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Paul,

I'm afraid no one knows the answer to your question. We do know that too much intensity leaves people tired and decreases the quality of training so that going hard every day to the point of fatigue is undoubtedly detrimental. I suspect that a bit of intensity every day is probably okay, so long as you are coming home still pretty energetic after each ride, and that your rides still end up being long enough to maintain your base.

When people do too much intensity for long term gains, they generally get faster and faster for 3-4 weeks, and plateau for another few weeks before falling apart. So, either you are now about peaked, or you have discovered a new model of training. How about letting us know in a few more weeks?

Adjusting to a new road bike

G’Day Ladies and Gents,

I took up riding about 4 years ago on a suggestion from my physio following a second knee clean up, damaged from playing too much cricket, both indoor and outdoor and I did run alot. The same sport has damaged my ankles; I also have horrible arm extension as both my shoulders have suffered pretty serious structural damage. I guess you could say I am bull at a gate and do everything at 110% without really worrying about getting injured.

Set Height of 740mm above the Bottom Bracket Centre (peoples opinion on how to do this measurement seem to vary)
550mm Bar Centre to Saddle Tip,
90mm drop from Saddle Top to Bar Top (I don’t think this is particularly extreme but some people say I ride a really low bar height)
Saddle Tip 70mm behind bottom bracket (I set it back this far as I am a ‘Toe Dipper’ in my pedal stroke, I think as a result of my ankles not really flexing a lot, but I could be wrong)
I ride 172.5 mm cranks.
I ride a Prologo Nago Evo or Prologo Choice Saddle, both are semi-round and I have no trouble being comfortable on them for 3 hours or more.
I am a hair under 6 feet tall,
I have an 82.5cm inseam measurement,
I weigh 65kgs
I am not a big gear thumper, I spin a lot.

Any Help or Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Brenden,

Firstly, please confirm that the discomfort was equally distributed between legs [edit: pain was equally distributed]. Do you still have your old bike?

If so, you can use it as a control providing you are using the same seat. Seat shapes and proportions vary so much that placing two different seats at the same setback can have the riders backside anywhere from the same place to quite different places relative to the bottom bracket.

As far as measuring seat height and seat setback goes, the measurements should be independent of bottom bracket diameter unless you are using an unusual method of measurement. Try this:

Grab your old bike and fit it to an indoor trainer and lock it up. Use a carpenter's long level to ensure that the bike is levelled between front and rear axle centres. Use a steel rule to measure the flat section of the seat rail. Typically this is 75mm long but can vary quite a bit. Use a marker pen and mark the midpoint of the flat section of the seat rail. Place the steel rule lengthways along the top of your seat. If there is a centre channel in the seat, move the rule to the side of the seat nearest you away from the cut out. Now measure your seat height from centre of bottom bracket to the underside of the rule laid along the seat and make sure that the measuring edge of your tape passes through the mark you have made at the centre point of the seat rail. This is a repeatable way to measure seat height, providing you use the same kind of seat. Measure on the left hand side of the bike so that you can accurately find the bottom bracket centre. Some cranks, including Shimano, use a blind crank with no hole on the right hand side and so trying to find bottom bracket centre is a guess.

The above will sort out seat height. As to seat setback, if it is too little, I would expect the entire quad group to feel the pressure, not just the VL's (unless there has been a change in cleat position / rotational angle). Let me know what happens and get back to me if the problem continues.

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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