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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - October 27, 2010

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.

Returning to the bike

The situation is as follows: Currently returning to the bike after about eight months of physical therapy that was needed to repair a spine and right hip (recently discovered that left leg is shorter than the right by 1.2 cm and thus everything has been in a state of correction).

Besides chiropractic work, I underwent a great deal of stretching and strength training to heal my lower body, especially my ilial psoas on the right side. I am a newcomer to cycling yet I picked it up very quickly, racing about a dozen times my first year and having relative success.

All that being said, in the next couple weeks we will be putting a shim on my cleats and attempting to pedal again. My question is how to get back into this the smartest way possible. Im going to want to ride like I used to and obviously that's just not possible.

I am very good at listening to my body so I'm not overly worried about overdoing it. Any recommendations or advice. Hours/miles per week to start out with followed by incremental increases? I look forward to your response, thank you for your time.


Scott Saifer says:


Classic advice for starting back up would be 40 minutes every other day the first week, adding 20 minutes to each ride each week, then adding a fourth and finally fifth day per week once you are up to two hour rides as often as you have time to go that long. Keep making the rides longer as well at about the same rate until you are using your available time.

During the first month back on, keep your heart rate under 80 percent of max, even if that means riding super slow at first, and keep the cadence high enough that you are not pushing particularly hard on the pedals. And of course if any of your injuries act up, back off to lower intensity and shorter rides until they clear up again.

Shin splints from cycling


During a recent weekend ride that was heavy on climbing and about 110 miles long, I felt a small twinge in my left shin while standing out of the saddle to power up a short but stiff climb. At the moment it happened, I jokingly remarked to one of my riding buddies that the hill was so steep that I hurt my shin.

It was at mile 60 or so and I didn't think much of it for the rest of the ride. However the next day, it was really painful to walk and to dorsiflex my foot. The pain lessened over the week, during which I only rode once and spent a lot of time icing my shin and taking ibuprofen.

By the following weekend, the pain had subsided and I did another long ride with a lot of climbing. The pain came back during the ride and it was fierce. I hobbled around for several days afterwards, again icing and doing ibuprofen. At this point, I've been off the bike completely for 10 days and it still hurts to walk, though the pain has lessened somewhat.

I have had shin splints in the past from playing ultimate frisbee, but they were higher up than this is and they were symmetrical (both legs). I just had an x-ray to rule out a stress fracture (which seems even more unlikely), and the PA, who is also a cyclist with an orthopedic background, diagnosed it as a shin splint.

So is it possible to get a shin splint from riding and in only one leg? It seems so unlikely at the end of the season when my fitness is good and up until the injury had been spending lots of time on the bike. I should mention that I haven't changed my position since the beginning of the season.

If not shin splints and not a stress fracture, what else could it be and, in the end, does it matter? Is ultimately the treatment the same? Ice, anti-inflammatory and time off the bike...



Steve Hogg says:


Yes it is possible as you have found. In the instances that I have seen there were two common factors that contributed to varying degrees; calf tightness and a cleat position that was too far forward.

Perform a calf stretch and see if the calf of the affected leg is tighter than the other side. It is likely and if so, that is at least part of the picture. It is also worth checking that you have enough foot over the pedal in the sense that the centre of the ball of the foot is in front of the pedal axle with the shoe leveled between where sole joins upper at mid heel and where sole joins upper underneath the ball of the foot.

Effects of living at altitude

Hi Cyclingnews,

Does living at high altitude without periods of low elevation, high-intensity workouts, negatively impact performance at sea level?

When I moved to Northern Arizona (roughly 6,900-7,000 ft) and the end of the 2009 season, my fitness seemed to skyrocket after about a month of acclimatisation. I've looked at many studies relating to altitude training and most focus on training for short periods of time, not living at altitude.

As you mentioned in other Q&A blurbs, most of the studies do show that "living high, training low" is the best method to increase performance. I did do intervals at lower elevations during the winter, with Phoenix being a quick two-hour drive away, but I stayed up here during the summer to stay away from the heat.

Looking back on the season, I seemed to do the best when staying in Phoenix for 3-4 day periods of riding and then living back at altitude for 4-5 days; granted my view is skewed because I got increasingly fatigued throughout the season.

Another thought I have is that once a person is acclimated to a given elevation, he/she should be able to tax their cardiovascular systems just as much as a person living at sea level, countering the notion that a person cannot reach their VO2 max at high elevations.

I know that many top North American cyclists I raced this year live in Boulder at around 5,400 ft and that the Olympic Training Center is somewhere around 6,000 ft. This leads me to believe that living up here must not have a negative effect, especially if I get out to some of the sea level races for intensity. What are your thoughts on living at altitude for extended periods of time?


Scott Saifer says:


Yes, living at altitude long term wrecks sea level performance, pretty much like living at sea level wrecks (or fails to prepare one) for high altitude performance. The usual simplified explanation is that at altitude your body gets to be very good at extracting oxygen from the thin air, but because the muscles never receive as much oxygen as they could at lower altitude, they lose the ability to make the power that can be made with that extra oxygen.

My home district includes a lot of sea level races, and a few races as high as 9000 feet (almost 3000 meters). When I was racing, there was a guy from the mountains who won the high altitude races again and again, year after year, but couldn't even stick with the field in sea-level races on similar terrain. The negative impact is that big.

You can get around the negative impact by doing high-aerobic power training at lower altitude or with supplemental oxygen. It's not peak intensity like sprinting that needs to be done at low altitude but rather extended sub-LT efforts.
About VO2-max at altitude: When one first arrives at altitude, VO2-max will be much lower than it was for the same rider at sea level. As one acclimatises, the difference gets smaller, but never disappears.

Approaches to increasing performance

I'm 26 years old, in perhaps the best shape of my life. I'm coming back from being definitively sedentary, and that from being in the best shape of my life. I wrestled, rode, and was a fencer in high school, and spent considerable time in the weight room. I know how to lift, I know how to stretch.

I'm 5'8", 195, down 30 lbs since college graduation (May 2007). When I wrestled I was down to about 185 when I was healthy, and that seemed to be a good weight to hold my bones together - I'm no porky pig. I'm a touch heavy, but I also have one of the thickest necks you'll see on a cyclocross course, and not by design: I'm not lifting anymore (at least not until I have a concerted approach). Also, my bike-handling skills are quite alright and I'm not afraid of climbing.

I've taken this time to deal with mental health issues, get back to a level of fitness where I have options; I needed to settle myself. Resting HR is about 50. Raced 'cross last year, raced mountain in spring, want to race road as well. The competitive streak is alive and well, the desire to push myself is VERY much alive and well. The time commitment is pretty good, in that I have no family, and don't go out too much.

So here's my question: What is the best approach to making the biggest gains over a year? I am annoyed by the limitations my fitness has on competing, i.e., I want to be able to make some moves in a race, have a chance, instead of only ever feeling like I'm throwing myself on a rack.

Don't get me wrong, I LIKE throwing myself on a rack, but the mental strain of suffering week after week for no reason bothers me, at least from the standpoint of my mental health. It has seemed to me like massive volume is the best way to go. So at this point, if on any regular week I just get the hankering to ride 70 miles, I'm not intimidated by my ambition. I do leg speed drills, intervals (hills and flats), sprints. I'm also planning to ride through the winter, looking forward to it.

So I'm new, but I'm no dummy. I know that heartrate is next (I'm about a month away from being able to afford one), and a solid training plan, and a better diet, and some strength training, and more stretching. My question is conceptual: how do I go about thinking about riding in terms of just plain getting strong? If racing is best included as a part of this training plan (because in all honesty if it's not I can take it or leave it, I'd rather spend my energy reaching that exponential level of strength and fitness.

There will always be races, and truth is, I just love riding my bike. The love may not be compromised. How does racing fit in? And when I'm racing, but not where I want to be, how do I think about it? Do I go to races and focus on dueling the five guys I'm around most of the time? Do I spend a season just focusing on race rhythm?

I'm sorry to talk about without the 'just do it' mentality that moves many a strong athlete to the higher levels of the sport, but since this is, in all reality, a hobby, a life pursuit, the pressure's really off. I chose a different path a long time ago. By the same token, I have a chance to get smart about it, you know?

Am I right in thinking this way; that volume, the decision first to step up to true endurance cycling, is the way to go? Or is there a split? I know that I don't know what I don't know. Help me think about what this next year should be like.

Take Care, and thanks again, your section is excellent.

Colin B.
Philadelphia, PA

Dave Palese says:


Well it sounds like you are motivated and willing to take you cycling experience to another level. That's awesome!

You've asked a lot of questions, covering many different areas of riding and racing. To be honest, too many to give any or all of them the proper attention in this forum.

What I suggest to you are two options:

1) Find a coach or advisor that you trust. This person can should be able to do everything from advise you on preparing yourself physically as well as mentally. It sounds like you want to do a lot of things all at once.

What a good coach/advisor will do is help you decide what changes/additions to you program will be the best bang for your time buck and net you the most gains towards progressing you towards where you want to go. Sometimes a person like I am describing can be found in the local riding scene.

Having grown up riding a racing the South Jersey/Eastern PA scene, I know that there are plenty of qualified folks down there. Join a local club, like Tri-State Velo. You can learn a lot and make great progress just riding with other good riders.

2) If getting a coach isn't in the cards right now financially, there are several good books out there that can help you design a training plan on your own. It takes some real thought and work to do it well, but books can be helpful.

I have always been a big fan of the Joe Friel book, The Cyclist's Training Bible. If you take the time to actually read and think about what is in the book and follow the steps he lays out, I have found it to be the most comprehensive book out there. But that's just my opinion. I still suggest joining a club like Tri-State Velo. It sound like that would be a good move for you.

Hope this helps. If you have any other questions, let me know. Have fun and good luck!

Perineal pressure

Hey guys,

I have an interesting question that may or may not affect other blokes too - I find that after about an hour in the saddle a 'certain area' gets numb and pins-and-needles start to set in, or there's just a complete loss of feeling.

It's easily managed by standing and getting out of the saddle for a minute or so but it's frustrating to have to stand up to get the blood flowing again and sometimes, during races, it's a bad time to do such a thing.

My set up seems to be fine on the bike and I use quality saddles (fi'z'ik Antares for road and Ares for TT) at the right angles and height and have good quality bib shorts but I seem to get this problem almost every time I ride.

I'm never left with pain or problems post-ride but am riding around 350km+ a week and figure that long term this can't be good for the ol' fella, and I know the missus wants to have little sprogs one day. Do I need to invest in a special saddle, different shorts, change my positioning or set up? Or does this happen to all guys and I just need to deal with it? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Michigan, USA.

Steve Hogg says:


No, you shouldn't consider your experience 'normal'. The question is whether the problem is caused by the position you hold on the bike or the seat you have. There is no way of knowing that from what you have said, so here is a general 'To Do' list in an attempt to help you find a solution.

1. Set your seat height at the height that allows you to ride a solid hill in a gear too high for comfort fluently. Many riders seat their seat heights after riding around on the flat at low to moderate intensity. For many of them, this is higher than ideal when really pressing on and experience suggests to me that more people have their seats too high than too low.

2. If you are not stable on the pedals, whether it be because of not enough foot over the pedal, not enough arch support or imperfect cant of the foot on the pedal, then the attempts to compensate for any lack feedback to the pelvis on seat and can cause 'issues'.

Use a decent arch support insole. The correct amount of arch support for cycling seems to be when the amount of support feels mildly intrusive when standing on the ground in cycling shoes. The best bet regarding insoles are the Esoles Efit Super Dynamic range. Each pair comes with four different heights of modular arch support and two heights of metatarsal 'button' and are adaptable enough to suit just about anyone.

Most arch support insoles are a bit generic which means that they aren't designed to be the best option for high arch feet. Once you have a pair of these, experiment with BFS cleat wedges. In addition, ensure that your cleat position allows the centre of the ball of the foot to be in front of the pedal axle as measured with shoe level and crank arm horizontal and forward.

3. If your bars are too low, too far away or any combination, then the accommodations required to reach them can load up sensitive areas. Ask yourself whether you can comfortably ride in the drops for sustained efforts. If the answer is no, then poor bar position may be the reason.

4. Seat setback. If the seat is too far forward, then you will be bearing your weight more on the perineum than is ideal. Equally, if the seat is too far back, then you may be moving forward onto the narrower section the seat. With a good position you should feel as though your arms are functioning as relaxed props, not structural supports.

5. Choice of seat. Most people who have perineal pressure or genital numbness don't need to change their seats but plenty do. The pick of seats for your kind of problem is the SMP range (pictured in gallery). I don't know how heavy you are or what you do with your bike, but if you are not a giant, have a look at the SMP Lite 209 or the SMP Dynamic.

SMP saddles are designed to run nose down. As a rule of thumb, if you are flexible and can ride comfortably with your bars low, then run the seat so that a digital level laid from high point on one side of the centre channel at rear to high point near nose, shows minus 5 degrees. If your relative bar / seat position is more run of the mill, run the seat at minus 3.5 degrees .if your bars are high, then run it at level to minus 1.5 degrees. Don't be afraid to experiment with the angle.

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.

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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