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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - May 4, 2010

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Sometimes food is more important than cleaning up.

Sometimes food is more important than cleaning up. (Image credit: Jim Snyder)
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I am just a fat kid

I am just a fat kid (Image credit: Cody Stevenson)
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The Alps offered a stunning scenery

The Alps offered a stunning scenery (Image credit: AFP)
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Carlos Lopez (Canels-turbo) looks up to see more climbing ahead.

Carlos Lopez (Canels-turbo) looks up to see more climbing ahead. (Image credit: Wenceslao Rodriguez/ WRS IMAGENES)

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.

Weight loss


I am a fairly serious cyclist. I commute to work every day which is about 25 miles. I do two 1.5 hour interval sessions a week and I go out for approximately 120km rides on the weekend averaging 30km/h. I am healthy during the week and on most weekend and I don't drink a lot.

I currently weigh 98kg and for some reason cannot drop anymore weight. I am quite muscular but still think I should be able to lose atleast 5kg of fat. I am starting to run more but I was wondering what is the best cycling to do to lose weight. What heart rate zones should I be in?


Scott Saifer says


Your volume of riding is adequate to support weight loss. You are right to focus on choosing an appropriate intensity. Many people erroneously assume that the more calories they can "burn" on the bike, the more weight they'll lose. The error comes from the fact that when we exercise hard (near LT) we metabolize almost exclusively carbohydrate and very little fat, while at lower intensity, the fuel mix includes a lot more fat.

Any carbohydrate you metabolize has to be replaced before you can ride strongly again, so hard rides do very little for weight loss. Fat metabolized during exercise does not need to be replaced, so riding at an intensity that actually uses fat is the way to go if you are using exercise for weight loss.

That means you want to ride relatively lower intensity to lose weight. Luckily for riders who want to be fast, the "fat burning zone" and the aerobic base development zone overlap a lot, so doing your base riding, combined with sensible diet, is a good way to lean out.

There's another common misconception related to exercise intensity and weight loss that comes from the sloppy way some research has been reported in the media: After an exercise session the body continues to metabolize more fat, even after you are no longer exercising, than it would if you had not exercised.

The research that showed this found that the exercise had to be "intense" to get the effect, but remember that when we are talking about sedentary research subjects, "intense exercise" might not be exactly what a trained cyclist would think of as intense. To provide this benefit, the exercise has to be intense enough to boost body temperature and mobilize fatty acids from fat tissue. Again, the aerobic base zone is quite adequate.

There are two dietary adjustments that seem to help a lot of riders lose weight: One is to cut out high-glycemic index foods other than while exercising, and only starting to use them 20 minutes or more into exercise sessions. High glycemic foods include your sugars, sweets, white bread and all athletic energy foods and drinks.

The other is increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. When you see a barrel shaped, soft all over man or woman walking down the street, you can be pretty sure you're looking at someone who doesn't like vegetables.

Racing after knee replacement


I'm a 44-year-old mountain bike racer who was told by my orthopedic doctor that soon I will need a total knee replacement in my left knee. The doctor told me after I get this knee replacement, I should quit cycling and just play golf.

Is it still possible to mtb race with a knee replacement without injuring the new knee? Do you know anyone who mtb races with a knee replacement?

Thanks for all your info,

Dave Fleckenstein says


I would highly encourage you to discuss this with a number of physicians. I have clients who have total knee (and total hip) replacements who return to cycling without any difficulty.

The current technology in many of these replacements has reduced much of the limitation that we previously associated with joint replacement, and our clients generally return to all of their previous activities ranging from hiking to skiing to cycling. I have many clients who use cycling as one of their main rehabilitation exercises.

Another reason that I think it worthwhile to have a second opinion is that I have also found that physicians differ significantly with regards to timing of the surgery. There is a balance between having it too late and having to deal with significant disuse atrophy and having it done too early.

Finally, I would state that it is worth having a bike fit to make sure that you are minimizing the rotational components of the pedal stroke in the knee.

Scott Saifer says


While your surgeon's advice is depressing, my first advice to riders dealing with medical situations is always, "listen to your doctor". That doesn't mean you have to listen to the first doctor you talk to, however.

Get one or two more opinions about your options for cycling after the surgery. If they all agree that riding on your fake knee will be a bad idea, it's probably a bad idea.

Training program

A group of four of us are heading to Italy and France for three weeks in late June/early July.

We have two days on arrival to unpack our bikes and acclimatise in Northern Italy and then our tour begins in earnest.

Our itinerary includes four days in the Dolomites (Sella Ronda area), three days in Bormio (Stelvio, Mortirolo and Gavia) and eight days at Bourg D'Oisans (Galibier, Telegraph, Alp D'Huez, Crox de Fer, Col de Madeleine) with the only rest day being the day we travel from Bormio to Bourg D'Oisans.

Looking at the profiles of our scheduled climbs we will need to do plenty of training in the next two months. Our plan is to restrict our rides to approximately 80km but most days look like including 30-40km of climbing.

Do you have suggestions for the sort of training we should be focusing on?

Would it preferable to focus 100km plus rides with a couple of climbs totalling say 20km at average gradients of 5 to 6 percent? It has been suggested to me that shorter rides but steeper climbs, say 70km with 35km of climbing at average gradients of 7 percent plus. Others have suggested that repeats of short but sharp climbs may do the trick.

I did a similar tour in France a couple of years ago and after four or five days really struggled with heavy legs. Are there any tricks to recovering and being ready for the next days climbs?

Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Rob Rigoni

Scott Saifer says


When training for back-to-back riding days, it's aerobic base that matters, plus the cadence at which it was developed. How many hills you climb and how steep in training really doesn't matter except for confidence building. You want to maximise hours of aerobic base riding, and include cadences throughout the range you'll need on your trip. I've seen riders who train flat parts of the USA turn in excellent competitive performances in mountainous stage races.

If you want to succeed in day-after-day riding in the mountains, feeling good each day, recovery is important, but not thrashing yourself is even more important. Learn to climb "within yourself", also known as safely below lactate threshold, and you'll find that you recover very quickly. Dig deep and you need more than a day to recover. If you want to climb faster, get a to a good racing weight and develop your aerobic power so you can climb quickly without digging deep.

To keep yourself strong from day to day, keep eating and drinking as you ride. Don't wait to be hungry or thirsty to eat and drink. Once you get off your bike, get off your feet. Avoid any more than minimal alcohol. Give yourself a gentle massage each day. If you tend to get sore, do the massage with ice. Otherwise, just a flushing massage is good. Good luck.

Another knee question

I'm a 49-year-old recreational road cyclist,and have been riding for about four years.The first year of riding was just getting use to riding, and using your columns info for basic setup. The second year, I went for a professional fitting. I walk with my feet pointed out quite a bit, so the fitter recommended Speedplay pedals.

Because I have had hot foot in the right foot, he recommended the adaptors to move the cleats back. My feet point out so much that my heels were striking the crankarms, so he installed 20mm pedal extenders. I wear Specialized Comp road shoes with the blue (medium arch) insole. Since the fitting I have always been comfortable on the bike, with the exception of my feet feeling like they are sliding to the outside of the shoe.

I average about 50-100 miles a week during riding season, but do no riding at all during the winter. On the last few rides of last season, I started having pain in my right knee. It starts as a warm feeling on the outside of my lower leg and eventually works its way up into the outside of my knee, where it turns into a soreness after a while.

It doesn't get painful, just sore. If I stop riding, it's not sore, even to walk around. After parking the bike for the winter, I was surprised that it returned on the first ride and bothers me every time I ride. The fitter doesn't know what the problem is and thinks I should check with a doctor. Any ideas?


Steve Hogg says


Yeah, a couple of ideas.

1. Are you using any cleat wedges?

If not, the lack of them may be the reason that your feet want to drift to the outside in the shoe and potentially a reason for the pain you experience. I use an average of close to 6 per fit (total for both feet) and of the last 451 people I have fitted, have found that over 99% need correction of one or both feet. What I'm saying is that it is very likely that you need to be using wedges. Maybe you are but haven't mentioned it. Let me know.

2. The 20mm pedal axle extenders; if you genuinely need them and some people do, and your feet are still pointing outwards because of tight external rotators of the hip, it is likely that you may not have enough rotational movement left in the cleats.

The simple test for this is get on your bike and go for a ride. Choose a gear and cadence where there is noticeable muscular effort, accelerate to a steady speed and then stop pedaling and coast with your right foot forward. In this position, move your heel inwards. Is there available movement? If the answer is no, then that is likely to be your problem.

Then repeat the procedure for the left foot. If the answer is yes on both feet, get back to me.

If the answer is no, then you need to come up with a method of achieving a position on the pedal that doesn't limit you. The long term solution is to fix the problem of poor flexiblity that gives rise to the situation, assuming that is the case. The short term solution is that Speedplay cleats can, with care, be modified to increase the range of rotational movement. If that is what is necessary, let me know and I'll advise on how to do it.

Simply, something is quite wrong if you feel pain in the knees when riding, immediately after a lay off.

Time trial training

I am looking for help to improve my TT performance. I usually do a 20km TT in my local area. I am limited to the amount of time I can train due to work and family obligations. I usually train about five to six hours per week. My training includes group rides on Tuesday and Saturdays. The rest of the time I use my rollers or trainer.

Once a week I do tempo riding for 20 minutes then a five-minute easy spinning followed by five four-minute repeats with one minute break in between. Any other specific work outs I can incorporate to improve my performance?


Scott Saifer says


Your current training volume is low enough that the single best thing you could do would be to increase it. There are huge performance gains when you increase volume from 5-6 hours per week to eight hours per week. Extra hours beyond eight are beneficial, but the incremental improvements get smaller.

Assuming you really are training the most that you can given your busy life, the next thing is to be sure that all rides are high quality. That doesn't mean always high speed or always pushing hard. It means that you only push hard if you are well recovered from previous rides.

If you ever start a ride tired, you make it an easy ride. That makes me wonder about your current schedule. Are the two group rides hard? Very few people can handle three hard days per week long term without becoming overtrained. If the group rides are hard are and you really like doing them, the best thing would be to make all your other rides endurance base rides, not doing other tempo stuff or hard intervals but just cruising comfortably on the TT bike.

There's a common misunderstanding that people who train few hours should train harder. That's not really right in most cases. The ability to recover is improved with training volume so those who train at low volume usually can't handle higher intensity in higher volumes without compromising quality.

Rod then responded:

Thanks you so much for your response. This information is really helpful. I would have to agree that I do feel like I have to make each of my rides hard because I don't have that much time to train. I feel like I should make the most of what I can with the time I have.

The two group rides that I do tend to be nothing but pain (high tempo pace line and who can get to the top of the hill first kind of stuff)

I will try to increase my time on the bike. How about interval training? Most people tell me I should be doing one-minute and four-minute repeats at least once a week. Should I include interval when I am also doing two group rides per week?

Scott Saifer says

If you really want to be good at TTs, I'd have you skip the group rides and REPLACE them with intervals done on the TT bike, not add intervals to a schedule that already has two hard days.

All out one minute repeats are particularly valuable for massed start racers who need to be able to go flat out for a few seconds to a minute at a time. They are less valuable for time trialists. Four minutes flat out will help somewhat with the sort of fitness that lets you finish a TT hard, but you'd still do better to focus on the aerobic development that will give you a higher speed for more of the race.

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.