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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - November 13, 2009

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Ok, I'm not a very good skier and spent the winter following a long way behind

Ok, I'm not a very good skier and spent the winter following a long way behind (Image credit: Tory Thomas)
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The Elite RealPower CT trainer is a good choice for cyclists who normally can't stand riding indoors

The Elite RealPower CT trainer is a good choice for cyclists who normally can't stand riding indoors (Image credit: James Huang)
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Laura Van Gilder demonstrates her power on the climb.

Laura Van Gilder demonstrates her power on the climb. (Image credit: Paul Weiss)

Winter training tips

Hello Cyclingnews,

Glad to have the fitness Q & A back. I am a category 2 cyclist looking to plan my training year. My question is in regards to developing a solid base through a REAL winter.

For the first time I will not be able to ride outdoors all winter long, and like many cyclists will be relegated to the dank basement or garage until mid-March. Most training plans seem designed for cyclists who live in temperate climates and advocate building hours/miles on the road, but the reality of "trainer time" dictates shorter workouts.

My question is this: How to develop a base over the winter with a maximum of 7-8 hours a week on the trainer? I have additional time to cross-country ski and lift weights, and have access to indoor workouts led by competitive cyclists. I am not looking for a compromised training plan, but a practical and rigorous way to prepare for a racing season that begins in mid-April.

I am used to riding 15-20 hours a week by the end of February. What can I do to replicate or improve upon this?


Dave Palese says


You sound really motivated and that's good.

The reality is, unless you go to a warmer climate (e.g., Tucsan, AZ), you aren't going to be able to replicate training 15-20 hours a week outside where you are currently living. But you don't have to. You just need to find different ways maintain and build your aerobic engine.

The great thing is that the aerobic system could care less how you rev it up. If you run, cross-country ski (my favourite), hike or what not, getting the heart rate up is all that matters.

The only piece of the puzzle missing is the neuromuscular aspect that you get from riding your bike. This can be maintained and improved with 2-3 sessions per week either on the trainer in the classes that you mention, or maybe one long session outside on the weekend, weather permitting.

As you get closer the competitive season you'll have put more trainer time in if your target events demand it and riding outside just isn't possible. But for now keep length of the trainer sessions to a minimum and use other modalities to rev up the aerobic engine for extensive, long sessions. Even combine modes for longer sessions.

I live in Maine so I know what you are talking about here. I nordic ski from December through March. Right now, one of my long sessions each week is a combination of ski walking on trails, rollersking, and dryland speed and strength work. The workouts are targeted at preparing my body for skiing, but I also get in three hours of moderate to high aerobic work.

From now through till March I'll also be riding the trainer for 60-90mins 2-3 days a week. If the weather cooperates on occasion I do a long ride outside just to mix it up and keep the distance in my legs. I hope some of this helps.

Tight IT band and hot foot

Hi Cyclingnews Fitness Gurus,

The masseuse working on me last summer while getting a post-charity ride massage commented that my IT band was tight. A few weeks after that I got a bike fit performed and discovered that my right leg was shorter than my left.

Then last month a chiropractor assessed my back and hips and noticed that my flexibility wasn’t what it should have been and that my right leg being shorter was connected to my tight IT band and not to having one leg being shorter. This, she theorised, was why my left lumbar area was showing stress because of it compensating for the tightness on my right side.

Now I’ve been involved in two crashes, both of which I landed on my right side, the one that happened in 2008 was worse, no bruising or broken bones mind you (in either crash), just a lot of soreness, especially the most recent. So my question is: can a tight IT band and one leg being shorter cause my left foot to experience hot foot on rides longer than 60 miles?

Generally what happens is close to, or just past, the 60-mile mark I have to start adjusting the two Velcro straps on my shoes. I use Sidi Genius 5.5 Carbon Composite with Specialized body fit shoe beds and Speedplay pedals (which were adjusted during the fit including swapping one spindle out for a shorter one). And sometimes standing and putting pressure on it seems to help.

Usually after a few strap adjustments my foot seems to have some relief. Now I know the simple solution is to not crank the straps down, but I have tried that. I never have this problem with my right foot; could this imbalance be causing the hot foot? And if so aside from seeing a chiropractor or massage therapist what can I do on my own? Are there specific books on stretching, would yoga help?

Center Barnstead, NH

Steve Hogg says


The answer to your question "can a tight IT band and one leg being shorter cause my left foot to experience hot foot on rides longer than 60 miles?" is yes, in some circumstances.

If you are dropping your right hip, and it is likely that you are with a measurably or functionally shorter right leg, then in some cases, this causes the left leg to overextend. One coping mechanism for that is to push very hard early in the pedal stroke and 'coast' through the bottom of the LH pedal stroke and this can cause hot foot on the left side.

The problem is that there are many other possible causes, even combinations of causes, and it isn't possible to rule them out with the information you have give.

Knowledge is power and you need to gain some. Firstly, find out definitively whether your right leg is shorter. Scan, x-ray or similar. Secondly, that you need differing length pedal axles suggests that you don't sit squarely on the seat. Is the longer axle on the left side?

I ask, because it if is, it is even more likely that you are dropping your right hip. In many cases, dropping the right hip causes the left knee to sit further from the top tube than the right. Check your knicks and seat and see if one side of your seat or knicks is more worn. If they are, then what I've suggested above is likely.

Lastly, regarding stretching. I received a book recently called Flexiblity For Cyclists that came with a handy strap with multiple loops for grasping it. I'm a regular stretcher and have used this book for two weeks as a change from my usual routine.

The stretches in it are well thought out in the sense that they target all the major muscle groups that shorten when cycling or sitting at desks. It is ring bound so that it will lay open flat beside you while you stretch. The pics and instructions are concise and clear. The book and strap can be sourced from Make sure that you get the strap as well as it is very handy if you are tight.

Drop in threshold power output

This past summer (early July) I was sick with what I thought to be the flu (turns out it was mono) and I was laid up in bed for a little more than a week. After the illness I found I had dropped from 148 to 142 pounds (lighter before re-introducing solid food and a lot of orange juice) and my body fat, measured before the illness at about 6.8 percent, had likely fallen dramatically as well. I'm aware that I probably lost a bit of muscle mass, too.

Regardless of all that, I found, in the weeks following the illness, I had a lot of trouble recovering from efforts; my heart rate was abnormally high and I was fatigued far more easily than I should have been. I decided to call the season quits (in SoCal all the good races happen between March and June anyway) since my summer goal, Cascade, was completely out of reach.

I took August mostly off the bike. I was riding 2-3 times per week but the lingering weakness and abdominal pain I later found out was pretty common hepatitis (liver enlargement) caused by the EBV, kept me from doing anything very serious. In mid-August I started some light, anatomical adaption-type lifting and was, to be honest, enjoying my early off-season a little too liberally (picture: my Vuelta and Worlds prep involved intervals of a liquid kind).

Continuing with the lifting through September, I found that I had gained about 11 pounds over my pre-illness weight and a hydrostatic BF test showed me to be at about 10.8 percent body fat. I added about 12 hours of on-the-bike training in September and carried that over into October. I'm now through max strength in the gym and am doing plyometrics work three times per week.

Now, my question is this: I've never taken so much time off from training. Furthermore, I moved from LA to Albuquerque (from sea level to about 6,000 feet) and though I am now mostly acclimated (recent blood work shows my hematocrit has increased from 43 to 47.5 and hemoglobin from 14 to 17) I am wondering, what is the biggest reasonable drop in threshold I might expect to see?

I did a quasi test yesterday - I rode up a very long, steady climb increasing watts every two minutes until I reached what I've known my threshold heart rate to be in the past - and found that I've gone from about a 310 watt cp60 to a 265 cp60: a loss of about 15 percent. I've never lost so much from my threshold in an off-season and am wondering if these numbers make sense or if I might still be seeing deleterious effects of the EBV.

I read that at altitude gas exchange in the lungs becomes less efficient and, at best, most athletes can expect to train at only about 95-97 percent of their sea-level threshold even upon acclimation, but even with that I am looking at a 12-13 percent drop in threshold power. That seems like a lot to me.

Thanks for your time and sorry for such a long winded email.


Scott Saifer says


This is a complicated question. You have three things working against your threshold power currently:

1) Altitude. As you note, living in Albuquerque you should expect your LT power to be a few percent lower than at sea level.

2) Time off bike. You are right that taking time off can make you lose LT power. Losses of around 25 percent after one month of no exercise are in the right range. If you've been doing only base riding, your LT power would be down a few percent.

It's possible that the altitude and time-off effects together could add up to 15 percent, especially if you throw in the stress of moving. If you've already been doing harder training, you should have most of your power back.

3) Lingering effects of mono or EBV. Mono usually leaves athletes weakened for nine months, and sometimes a lot longer. Just based on the fact that you had mono last summer, I'd assume you are not fully recovered yet.

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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