Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - March 8, 2012

The front of the peloton is a little dis-organised as they near the final lap.

The front of the peloton is a little dis-organised as they near the final lap. (Image credit: Shane Goss)

Topics: Leg and knee pain deriving from ITB/Sciata issues, Max HR and age, Benefits of Spin Classes, Pushing yourself “over the top” – pros and cons?, Knee Pain and Q-Factor, Scott Saifer versus Chris Carmichael, Differences in thigh sizes, Asthma affecting HR zones?, Disappointment with results

Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to fitness (at) Try and include as much relevant information as you can think of. Remember, the more details you can provide the better the panel can tailor their response to your question.

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:

Leg and knee pain deriving from ITB/Sciata issues

Max HR and age

Benefits of Spin Classes

Pushing yourself “over the top” – pros and cons?

Knee Pain and Q-Factor – a thorough response from Steve Hogg

Scott Saifer versus Chris Carmichael

Differences in thigh sizes

Asthma affecting HR zones?

Disappointment with results

Leg knee pain deriving from IT Band/Sciata issue?

Hi, I have a problem which is really limiting my riding and becomes very painful. Hope you can offer some advise with it.

I'm 35 and have been riding and racing over 20 years. I currently race at Cat3 level in the UK, just doing a handful of races a year.

All my riding over the winter has been and is quite steady state, about 60 to 70% Max HR.

About 3 weeks ago I was 2 hours in to a 3 hour ride, when I started getting a pain on the outside of my right knee.

Since that ride it has continued to be a problem, it's starts hurting once I get to about an hour, although the harder I push the sooner it starts hurting, by an hour and a half it is very painful and I literally can't ride any more. Today I crawled back at 10mph such was the discomfort.

I thought it might be IT band syndrome, but I think it's too far back, as in further around the side of the knee and into the very top/outside of the calf. It also kind of runs down my lower leg and down the outside/front of my shin.

It almost feels like what I imagine a sciatic pain would be like.

I've been to my usual physiotherapist twice and my chiropractor 3 times since it started. They both seemed to think it could be tight muscles. But no amount of massage, ice or stretching seems to help.

There was no injury or change in equipment before this painful niggle started.

I am desperate to train to get fit for racing, but am lost as to what to do to try and fix the situation. Any suggestions?


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Matt,

I'll say at the outset that I don't know exactly what is hurting. However, here's a 'To Do' list to check off. Firstly, check the condition of your cleats. If they are badly worn, or worse still, if a bevel has been worn on them (SPD SL, Look Keo or similar three bolt Look clones) then that may be enough to explain the onset of the problem. If so, replace the cleats.

Also check the condition of the pedal platform. Have any depressions been worn on the upper surface of either pedal where it is contacted by the cleat?

If so, on either pedal, replace the pedals. If they are worn to the point where your cleats are not contacting them squarely, again, this can cause sundry problems.

Has anything else changed? Equipment, diet, stress levels etc?

Has the weather been colder than usual causing you to wear more layers of knicks etc?

Let me know how you get on.

Max HR and age


I'm a 44 year old male who last raced/rode 15 years ago. At that time my maximum heart rate was 197 (I watched it go from 202 down to 197 over a 5 year period). From what I understand, MHR decreases by about 1 per year starting at about the age of 10. I was hit by a car last year and suffered some spinal compression fractures and started riding again this winter as part of my recovery (not really relevant). I'm not riding hard now and have been riding mostly below 145 bpm for the last 6 months. Based on the above formula, my maximum would be around 185 now.

A few weeks ago I ran into a group ride and rode with them for a few miles before I turned off. At one point someone went a little hard and I felt I may be going anaerobic so I glanced down thinking I'd see my HR in the low to mid 170s. I was surprised to see 180 as I was just starting to get that little burn (plus we were talking). I'm experienced in wearing the HRM and have a very good understanding of how my body feels based on RH. To get to my question, is there any way that my MHR is much above the estimated 185? If so, how is this possible? I'm almost willing to accept that adrenaline may have made it seem easy.

I'm going to be racing in June so I'll find out for sure, but I'm curious as I'm starting to build my racing fitness now.



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Michael,

The loss of one beat per year off maximum heart rate is a population average for fit people, sedentary people, sick people... everyone. Within that population there are people who lose more and people who lose fewer beats over the years. In particular, if you separate out people who train from everyone else, the loss is closer to 1/2 beat per year than a whole one. That means your maximum heart rate could now be around 188 and you'd still be "normal", and again, there are plenty of people whose maximum heart rates don't drop as quickly.

Benefits of Spin Classes

Hello Panel,

I've recently joined a spinning class and am wondering if anything I do in the class will make me a better recreational road cyclist. What I believe is somewhat unique about this class is that the entire 60 minute session is spent in the standing position - with a focus on the "pulling up" of the pedal and not the pedal stroke down. Most of the time the stationary bike has very little resistance and we spin at a high rate. It's also fairly straightfoward and not filled with dance moves or push-ups on the bike. It is a rather fast paced class and I find my HR to average in high Z4 territory (with 20-30 minutes in Z5) and I have reached a higher max HR than I ever have on a road bike. However, that specific burning sensation that comes with sprinting up a hill is nowhere to be found - which makes me wonder what exactly am I getting out of this? Is this intense activity a good use of my energy?


Scott Saifer says:

Hi David,

Whether this class is beneficial depends on how developed you are as a cyclist and how much you are doing it. If you have done very little riding, anything you do on a bike will make you stronger. If you have a lot of miles in your legs, training needs to be more specific to be beneficial. If that's your category, such a class might be beneficial once a week or so, but not all the time. The deal is that while the muscles that pull up on the pedals are important, and you can't help pushing down with the front leg if you are standing, the movement you are doing is not that similar to how you ride most of the time.

You won't get a burn if your cadence is high enough and resistance is low enough that you are using all low-force, high-endurance slow-twitch muscle fiber.

Pushing yourself “over the top” – pros and cons?


I'm wondering if there are training benefits to "over the top", hard rides.

I'm a reasonably fit 45+ rider who does some cyclocross racing and competitive rides during the rest of the year. I ride about 7-12 hours per week pretty consistently and I think I do a good job of mixing endurance with power and climbing for my cycling goals.

My question is in regard to those training rides where I find myself with a group of fitter racers and may end up in serious physical distress (pain and inability to turn legs any faster at best, vomiting or brief loss of vision at worst) while trying to hang in with the group on rides between 2 and 4 hours. I think most riders have been in this situation; over their heads on a hard ride and repeatetly going over the top of their fitness limit. I'm not talking here about dehydration or bonking - just over exertion. This type of situation happens to me about once a month. I do not sustain any injuries (i.e. joint of soft tissue problems) from this, but I will feel terrible after the ride and basically be unable to do anything productive until I eat and rest.

Here's the question - is there any training benefit to this? Or is this damaging and counterproductive?



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Matt,

Go til you blow! That's the ticket to short term fatigue and longer term growth. Going as hard as you can until you can't any more is a good way to improve your endurance for super hard efforts, and, since it challenges recovery, your recovery. It won't make you faster, but it will make you able to hold you 2-3 minute speed for a few more minutes. In that sense it is good. Now, if the guys you are riding with are not killing themselves the way you are, you will NEVER catch up with them physically if you are doing this sort of riding. If you are gasping while others are chatting, being able to gasp longer is not going to let you keep up with them. If you are in that position, you need more aerobic power first, and it is difficult though not impossible to improve aerobic power while draining yourself with anaerobic efforts. Doing the race-like group ride once per month actually sounds perfect if that is your situation.

If you are chatting as long as anyone else is chatting, and then breathing harder only when others are also starting to suffer, you could do one of these rides weekly to improve your ability to hang on and to recover. You do need weekly killer hard rides for 3-4 weeks to "get race legs".

Knee Pain and Q-Factor – a thorough response from Steve Hogg


Steve Hogg says [with David’s responses in italics]:

G'day David,

So moving from a triple crank to a double crank is the only thing that has changed lately?

Again, I ask because a change in foot separation distance in either direction can sometimes require a different rotational angle of cleat on one or both shoes. For info on how to determine cleat angle see this link

Steve concludes:

G'day David,

Thanks for the detail. So it seems like there are no variables other than the foot separation distance forced on you by the change in cranks. Off the top of my head, your older triple would have had a Q factor of 155mm or thereabouts while your new cranks have a Q factor of 147mm or thereabouts. So 4mm per side difference.

You also mention no problem on your tandem. Tandem cranks are usually a wider Q factor than standard road double chain ring cranks which probably confirms that you are sensitive to too narrow a foot separation distance.

What is the lateral position of your Speedplay cleats?

Speedplays have lateral adjustment potential across the shoe sole of approximately 7mm. If there is potential to move the cleats further inboard (to move the feet further out) on the shoe sole by 4mm per side, then do so and that should solve the problem. If your existing cleat lateral adjustment position doesn't allow you to do that, get hold of some Speedplay plus 1/8" or plus 1/4" pedal axles and fit those to the double chain ring bike and then adjust your cleats accordingly to give you the wider foot separation distance that you seem to need.

Scott Saifer on differences (or not) to Chris Carmichael’s training philosophy

Hey Scott,

"First, I'd never recommend a program that consists mostly of short but hard intervals." – Fitness Q&A 29 February, 2012

Scott seems consistently at odds w/ Chris Carmichael's training philosophy. i think a debate between the two of them would make a good read for the training geeks.



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Bret,

In the introduction to his book, The Ultimate Ride, Chris Carmichael ably explains his transition from a push-hard all the time coaching approach to a more moderated approach that looks to get maximum gain without risking burning out the athletes. He talks about how the programs he administered for the Olympic track team burned out lots of talented, committed riders and how he now focuses more on aerobic development, at least when working with road racers. My philosophy is not too far off from the one Chris expresses in those pages.

Differences in thigh sizes


Thanks for your very informative Fitness Q&A section, they’re a great read.

Following six months of structured training to prepare for a 250km single day road ride in the high country, I’ve noticed that visually my right thigh is significantly bigger than my left. A tape measure confirmed what my eyes were telling me and the circumference difference just below my glutes is 3cm. Is this unusual and should I be worried? Should I actively try to work the left leg more to compensate for the size (and presumably strength) difference?

During my hilly training rides (150km – 200km) with lots of seated climbing I had my right ITB flare up a couple of times towards the end of the ride causing some mild discomfort. It settled quickly on both occasions with some stretching and rolling of the legs. I completed the 250km ride without any ITB discomfort.

If it helps, I always clip out with my left foot when stopping at lights. I’ve been fitted by a cycling focussed physio who stated I have no leg length difference and had a BG Fit which suggested I had a minor (by a couple of mm) functionally shorter left leg. Both my Specialized road shoes have a 1.5mm varus insole wedge in addition to the 1mm varus sole of the shoe.


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Anthony,

A difference in leg size by itself is not something to worry about, but the ITB flares are since they have the potential to get worse and keep you off your bike. Any chance you are sitting off-center or twisted on the saddle? That could cause both issues over time. If you'll say which way you twist, Steve will probably be able to tell you your whole life story and what to do to get everything balanced out.

Steve Hogg adds:

G'day Anthony,

Is it that you have only recently noticed the disparity in thigh diameter, or do you think it is the product of your recent 6 month training block?

Either way, if you have right side ITB issues that are caused by riding the bike I can safely say that you are dropping the left hip while riding. ITB issues caused by riding a bike are always a product of the opposite hip being dropped. The question is why are you favouring the left side?

The possible answer is that functionally short left leg you mentioned. Have you addressed that difference in any way?

If not, you should. If you are dropping the left hip and almost certainly you are, you are reducing the pressure you can apply to the left pedal. Additionally, you are asking the right leg to reach further while the plane of movement of the right hip is constantly challenged. That is quite possibly enough to cause the disparity in size you have noted as well as the ITB problem.

What to do?

The very first thing I would be doing is checking your seat using the info here

By far the most common problem I find with fit clients is that a large majority have too high a seat height. If a rider sits too high, they won't equally overextend each leg. They will compensate asymmetrically because this is the nature of all cycling related compensations for less than ideal position. I don't know that this is your problem, but it is likely and worth checking out.

Perceived effort versus HR zone training for Asthmatics

Hi all,

I have a question regarding HR training for asthmatics.

I'm a 180 pound (and gradually shrinking - down from 220 a couple of years ago) 5'10", 31 year old male and have been training for the past couple of years for triathlons, road races, MTB races, and a few cyclocross races. I'm currently training for my first full IM distance triathlon (After having completed a half IM last October) so I thought I'd get a little more serious about training by heart rate. In the past, I have used a heart rate monitor but have still done most of my running and cycling at 'conversational pace' and relied on perceived exertion to set my effort. I recently used Joe Friel's method to find my Lactate Threshold HR (30 minute all out, average HR over last 20 minutes was 172 bpm on the run and 160 bpm on the bike) and was satisfied about my effort. I am an allergy induced asthmatic (I have poor peak flow and FEV1, on average, but only need a rescue inhaler 1-2x per year), and I have never experienced exercise induced asthma.

Something I have noticed since setting my zones, however, is that my Zone 2 'conversational pace' runs are by no means conversational - I could maybe utter some 2-3 word gasps, but that's about it. I am now running at a much higher effort on my endurance runs, but they've seemed manageable so far. My Zone 2 bike rides haven't changed at all (perceived exertion is on par with HR zone).

My questions are: is it typical for asthmatics to have a poorly calibrated perceived exertion scale on runs, but not bike rides? Is there any reason why asthmatics shouldn't be using Friel's HR zones? Are there other bits of conventional training wisdom that I should be wary about? Should I be trying to improve my lung capacity?



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Alex,

No one should use an all-out test to determine LT heart rate. Here's why. Riders who routinely train hard can develop the ability to ride heart rates well above LT for extended times. I had a client at one point who could ride a 45 minute race 40 beats above the LT heart rate we measured with a lactate monitor. His performance was poor of course, but his heart rate was up there. It is quite possible that your issue here has nothing to do with your asthma and everything to do with taking too high an estimate of lactate threshold heart rate. In any case, zone 2, conversational aerobic endurance etc rides should most certainly be conversational in pace for asthmatics as for anyone else. If your zone 2 has you out of breath, your zone is set too high.

Disappointment with results


Wondering if you could help me figure something out? Here is some basic information that may help:

62 years old
6'4" tall
215 pounds
Skinsuit, booties, Giro aero helmet
Cadence between 80-85 rpm
20+ years racing experience

Cannondale Slice
63 cm frame
Aero bars (factory)
Front wheel: American Classic Carbon 50mm with sew ups (140 psi)
Rear wheel: X-Lab disc with sew ups (150 psi)
22 pounds

10 miles TT (out and back mostly flat)
Asphalt road (rough)
Half-way 6% hill about 100 yards
~3 mph side wind
75% humidity (Overcast)

I don’t have a power meter or heartrate monitor on my race bike. My computrainer power threshold for a 10 mile TT is between 280-310 watts. During the race I started conservatively for the first 1.5 miles, then slowly ramped up the speed. Based on my threshold, I thought I should have had a much better result. I was wondering if you could help me figure out my average power output for the TT so that I could make adjustments. I think I started out much too slow.

Thank you,

Darryl Perry
Lihue, Hawaii

Scott Saifer says:

Hi Darryl,

No, we can't work backwards from the data you've provided to the power you produced, at least not with enough precision to be meaningful. One of the variables to be plugged into the equations would be your coefficient of drag, and there's no way to calculate that without having both speed and power to plug in. If you can get a few data points for speed and power in a no-wind, level ground situation with the same bike, position and kit, we can calculate a coefficient of drag and work back from time in the TT to average power.

One suggestion though: High pressure in your tires makes you faster on glassy-smooth tracks, but slower on rough asphalt. You've put a lot of money into your wheels, and then you are giving the time back with over-pressured tires.

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 five-time Missouri State Road Champion, racing for Dogfish Racing Team.

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.

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1