Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - November 9, 2011

Kevin Evans and David George chase Christoph Sauser and Max Knox up a stony ascent.

Kevin Evans and David George chase Christoph Sauser and Max Knox up a stony ascent. (Image credit: Zoon Cronje)

Topics: Max Heart rate, Blending Track and Road, Neck Pain, Flexibility and Wattage

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Max Heart rate

Blending Track and Road

Neck Pain

Flexibility and Wattage

Max heart rate


My question relates to my maximum heart rate. I'm a 28 year old road cyclist. I've tested my max and min heart rates and have always come to having a max in around 194bpm. My question is this; when I race and it comes down to a sprint and I'm really pushing I always exceed my max HR usually about 204 but the highest was 210 recently. I'm just wondering is this common? Is it safe to push this hard? I've no history of heart problems myself.


Nick Gibbons

Scott Saifer says:

Hi Nick,

This is an easy one! Your max heart rate is closer to 210 than 194. Most riders (but not all) can get a higher heart rate riding out doors than on a trainer, and most riders can get a higher heart rate in a competitive situation than in a testing situation. A maximum heart rate recorded during an indoor test is an okay place to start until you can get outdoors and check your max in a race.

As to whether it's safe, I don't know anything about your personal health other than your assertion that you have no heart problems, but I do know that many riders have maximum heart rates as high as yours and race up to them routinely without ill effects.

Blending track and road

Hi There,

I'm primarily a road and crit racer in the UK. The races I do are March through to August usually but in the winter I will ride the track for training.

Last season I started racing on the track in January. The track races are endurance based; points, and scratch in the main. The intensity is very high - up to my maximum and 15mins long

While this is good training, I felt that I lacked 'strength' in early season road races and struggled with climbing and threshold riding. I put this down to not enough tempo and sub-threshold training from January onwards.

I would like to race the track once a week in the winter, but need guidance on how to blend this with training for primary road objectives come March and April.

Should I race track? If so, when is it OK to start and what other workouts should I combine with this during the rest of the week so I feel the real benefit come the spring?

Thanks, Ben

James Hibbard says:

Hi Ben,

Racing on the track is going to be beneficial for you—particularly for your criterium racing. It helps to increase one’s leg speed, sprinting ability, and anaerobic capacity.

However, as you mention, it is helpful to undertake a period of training prior to the road season in order to work on the development of lower cadence power and aerobic endurance.

It will depend upon the duration of your track season (and to some extent the local weather) but there are two fundamental approaches to structuring your training so that you start the road season in March with a higher degree of road-specific fitness. The first is to, as you suggest, simply use the track racing as training. This would mean undertaking training that is similar to what you used to do in terms of road season preparation but with the addition of some weekly track racing. Of course this approach is not going to develop you as quickly as a track racer, and your track results are going to be less than optimal, but your track racing would serve to introduce some weekly high cadence pedaling work and intensity, while the other days of training would take the typical progression of increasing intensity and duration in a periodized fashion as the road season approaches.

The second approach would be to train and race on the track more during the winter months, but to stop by mid-January so as to allow for a sufficient amount of time to develop road fitness prior to your first races in the early spring.

Which approach you choose really depends upon your priorities both in terms of road and track, and also in terms of when your targeted road events fall on the calendar next season.

Ben replies:

Hi James,

Thanks for the prompt reply. Very interesting as well.

I was concerned that doing one session of very high intensity track racing a week would contravene the established wisdom of base/build/race training where intensity only comes to the fore later in the cycle.

I should also add that I usually only get up to 10 hrs per week to train.

I'll take you advice and apply the first approach. Come January are there any particular workouts you'd recommend to bring on road fitness? Races are normally 2.5 hrs.

Thanks again,


James Hibbard says:

The issue of winter intensity is interesting. In the last ten to fifteen years there has been a marked shift away from the traditional long slow distance orthodoxy towards the belief that that one should generally undertake some intensity in the off-season. I too remember hearing training approaches in the early 1990s that suggested that one should never ride over say 60% of one’s max heart rate so as to avoid “damage to the capillaries,” or some other type of unsubstantiated harm. No matter what the specific harm was attributed to, underpinning the orthodox long slow distance position is the unfounded belief that any intensity in the off season would result in compromising the development to one’s aerobic foundations.

However, like many things, there is just enough truth in the idea of avoiding winter intensity that that is not a totally bankrupt concept. Indeed, it is the case that one’s body does need a period of rest from intensity, and one’s aerobic system does need to be developed through training at appropriately low heart rates. What you don’t need to worry about is that a small percentage of winter intensity will make it impossible to develop your aerobic system at the same time.

In terms of how to best implement the my second approach - namely, a block of training between your road and your track season. This will depend upon what your physiological limiters are. However, in general you will need to focus on endurance (rides of two to three hours depending upon the duration of your longest events), sub-threshold development (think tempo intervals), as well as doing some climbing which demands both lower cadences and slightly different muscles than are employed on the track.

Neck pain

Hi there,

I am a triathlete/tourer/cyclist and have been riding pretty solidly for 6/7 years. However, I am getting excruciating pain in the base of my neck, spine on the left hand side...This starts at about 6/7 miles and is unbearable at 15 miles. Once I pause riding the pain subsides very quickly but then comes back even quicker when I start to ride again.

It is a deep burning pain throughout my left trap and a sharp pain in my spine on the same side that gets worse when I twist to look over my right shoulder.. It is not a dull pain or ache,. it is incapacitating...I cannot 'ride through' the pain...I do not believe it is a fitness issue.

I have tried various bike sizes and tweaks but it is always the same result. I have tried a myriad of seat and bar positions. Currently my seat and bars are roughly parallel as I am trying to take off as much pressure from my neck as possible but regardless it makes no difference.

I have had x-rays/MRI scans which come back clear. I have also been seeing an osteopath who is doing a great job of loosening my back and neck and improving my posture but it is having no effect on my neck pain. My osteopath recommends moving to a mountain bike and getting one where the handlebars are substantially higher than my seat...but I am a road cyclist, mountain biking is not my sport!!

I have not been for a full bike fitting (cadence sports has been recommended) as I am not sure it will make a difference.

And it doesn’t matter what cycling I do, cruising, touring or racing it’s the same..The only difference I can spot is that it is slightly worse when I go uphill.

Have you come across this problem before and could you recommend a bike fitter or physio who specialises in cycling. I am trying not to quit cycling but when my body wants to do 50-70 mile bike rides and my neck is saying I can only do 10-15 its demoralising. My wife is a keen cyclist and I have many friends who cycle but I can’t ride with them. I'm at my wits end!!!!

What is most frustrating is that I have not come across anyone else who has the same problem.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Daryn,

If the MRI's show no problem, then it is almost certainly not a neck problem per se, but a matter of how you load it when cycling. That means that there is an issue with your bike position or the way that you function when cycling. Or perhaps both.

I need more information and don't just rattle off the answers, have some one observe you and confirm or otherwise what you think or feel.

Firstly, talk to your osteopath and organise to go and see him / her with your bike. Set up your bike on an indoor trainer using a long carpenters' level to ensure that the bike is level between axle centres. Warm up to the point where you are perspiring freely and riding at a solid sustainable pace. What I then need to know from you or your osteopath or both of you is -

1. Is your left elbow more locked when riding in the brake hoods or the drop bars than the right elbow?

2. Is your left shoulder thrust further forward than your right shoulder?

3. Is one shoulder lower than the other one?

Which one is lower?

4. As viewed from behind with your shirt off, do you sit with your pelvis twisted forward on one side?

Which side?

Confirm this by having your osteopath stand above and behind you on a stool.

5. Do you drop one hip on the pedal down stroke of that side?

Which side?

6. Do you have the perception that one leg is stronger or more fluent than the other?

Which one?

When you've completed that exercise, let me know what you found. I suspect that by the time you have done that with your osteopath present, they will also know what they have to treat in addition to your neck.

More to come next week.

Flexibility and Wattage

Hello guys,

Just a quick question regarding flexibility and wattage. My flexibility is generally pretty poor, I have tight hammies and a very tight back. Luckily I have no on the bike pain but was just wondering what it would be costing me in sustainable wattage?

I am doing regular stretching, yoga and core work now to hopefully remedy this.


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Sam,

This is a good question and has two answers. First, If you can do long rides comfortably you are probably not losing any watts in terms of power you can generate. The research in that area says that you need to be flexible enough to get into the extremes of the position you need to be in to pedal, but that more flexibility reduces rather than increases efficiency beyond that.

For instance, if you can get through the top of the stroke smoothly with your toes horizontal or down and the bottom smoothly with your heels horizontal or down, your hamstring flexibility is not limiting your power output. I hope you'd never ride like that, but being able to proves that you are not right on the edge of too tight to pedal.

When a muscle is extended rapidly it can work like a spring, storing a bit of energy for a moment and increasing the force of its next contraction. This is the theory behind plyometrics, and at certain points of the pedal stroke, that energy can also be released back into the pedals, if the spring has a bit of springiness to it. Stretch so much that the normal movements of riding don't take you anywhere near the limit of flexibility of the pedaling muscles and you eliminate that mechanism, potentially decreasing efficiency (Disclaimer: There been a lot of research on this topic in runners. There's no question that increasing hamstring flexibility correlates with reduced running economy in runners. I don't know that the research on cyclists is conclusive as yet.)

So, part one of your answer is that if you are flexible enough to ride comfortably for long distances, you are flexible enough to produce power efficiently.

Part two is more interesting though. Remember that in general power is not what wins races or makes you go fast down the road. What determines how fast you go is power compared to the resistance you need to overcome? Thus power-to-weight ratio trumps pure power in climbing, and power versus aerodynamic drag trumps pure power on a flat course.

So, the second part of your answer depends on how your hammies and back are affecting the aerodynamics of your position when you ride. If you can ride on the drops with your elbows bent and your upper back roughly horizontal, and still finish a long ride comfortably, then you are flexible enough, and your bike fit is pretty good.

If you have a choice between comfort and aerodynamically efficient position, then your lack of flexibility (or your bike fit) really is holding you back. How much depends on just how high you are sitting, but typically at 20 mph (32 kph), we see about a 1 mph (1.6 kph) difference with the same power on the drops vs the hoods with straight arms, and twice that comparing drops vs tops.

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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