Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - September 14, 2011

As was the case with most teams today, Team Exergy ran bigger outer chainrings for the downhill run into Colorado Springs.

As was the case with most teams today, Team Exergy ran bigger outer chainrings for the downhill run into Colorado Springs. (Image credit: James Huang)

Topics: 60 Tooth Chainring, Specific weight training for different disciplines, Tendonitis and persisting knee pain, Shorts riding up, CrossFit

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60 Tooth Chainring

Specific weight training for different disciplines

Tendonitis and persisting knee pain

Shorts riding up


60 Tooth Chainring

Greetings Cyclingnews fitness experts,

I recently purchased a 60 tooth Chainring as I live in the Bahamas (I know poor me) and it is very flat here and I was never going off of my previous 52t chainring so I thought why not go bigger? With a 9 speed cassette (12-27), I can basically get all the previous gearing ratio’s plus 2 extra power ratios for when I really want to push my limits. I’ve found as long as I can keep my cadence up around 80rpm I’m going a lot faster with not too much work.

I tried reading up on bigger chainrings for professionals and have heard of some for some time trials, and I know they do mountain stages which would be killer with a bigger chainring. I know they and you are much smarter than I am about all of this, so what am I missing? I thought I’d give it a try and then see how it works for me. I mostly ride solo but enjoy pushing myself more. I occasionally do a race and thought I might put my 52t back on for that and use the 60t for training. Should I adjust my seat or plan for any surgeries?

I just wanted to get your opinion before I did something to hurt myself.

Thanks, I love reading your advice,


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Jonathan,

Experimenting with gears is good. Enjoy yourself. As you noted, most of the gear ratios you can achieve with a 60 up front overlap what you could have gotten with your 52. You just gain two higher gears which you can use for "hill training" on your flat roads. Of course if you put on a more standard 53 up front and 11 in back, you'd be darn close to the same ratios. You don't need to worry about hurting yourself so long as you are smart about how much time you spend on your new, bigger gears. Build up slowly. Don't neglect your spin. Do low cadence rides at most twice per week and spin the other days. That will let your knees and other joints recover between tough workouts.

Since you live somewhere flat though, why not throw on a tighter rear cassette, say an 11-21 and gain a few more usable intermediate gears?

Tendonitis/Persisting Knee Pain

Hey guys,

I have a question about persistent knee pain. I developed pes anserine tendonitis two summers ago. I went through physical therapy and everything seemed ok. The pain/tightness in the area continues to return. I could not get a straight answer from the doctors or physical therapists on what is the best course of action? Do I need to take an extended break from cycling and allow this to heal? It is a problem with fit? How do pro cyclists who develop tendonitis during a race wind up racing well a few weeks later, what are they doing to get over it? If you need more background information I will be happy to supply what you are looking for. I am interested in general information about taking care of this problem.

Thank you for your time!


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Tom,

I need more info.

1. Is only one knee affected or both?

2. Did the problem first arise from cycling or running / walking?

I'll answer your other questions when you give me that info.

Tom replies:

1). It’s the left knee only. Years ago I swapped a seat and did not check for seat height, the seat was too high and next day I could not straighten my left leg completely (I've read all of your blog posts, right side bias?) In the years since the seat height incident I worked all the way up to 20 hour weeks on the bike without any problems. Until the tendonitis sprang.

2) I believe that the injury came only from cycling. I live in Mammoth Lakes, CA, home of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. The year of the original injury I was riding 1-2 times a week all winter and quickly ramped up the miles in the spring. My knee started hurting in May. This year we had a huge winter and I did not ride from mid-November to mid-March. I was fairly conservative with saddle time however the knee started bothering me a bit by June. I have limited time on the bike since and have been hiking a bit as a way to stay active. It is more light soreness and tightness in the area, not stabbing pain on the inside of the knee like it was on the first occurrence.

Happy to provide any more information that you need. Thank you very much!


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Tom,

Thanks for the info. Most left legged problems of the type you describe occur because of a right side hip drop or forward rotation or both. Assuming that is the case with you, and it is likely, then the solution is to identify and resolve any reasons for you to drop the right hip. Here's a plan of action:

1. Firstly, you need to confirm that you are dropping the right hip. You will need an observer or a video camera placed above and behind you while you pedal under reasonable load. Have a look at The Right Side Bias
for examples of what you should be looking for. Your pelvic movement, assuming that's the problem, may be more subtle than those examples. If in doubt place use a marker pen to place a large dot on either side of your low back so as to highlight any movement occurring.

2. Assuming you are dropping the hip firstly tackle seat height and seat setback using the info on our site as problems with either of those are common reasons for dropping the right hip.

3. Then progress to the various posts on Cleat Position and Foot Correction. This will take some time and once the process is finished, you will either be fine or maybe not. If not, have a global functional assessment with particular focus on how tight and dysfunctional you may be in the glutes, low back, hip flexors and hamstrings. Work to resolve any issues identified.

Basically, your knee only continues to hurt because there is a challenge to its plane of motion. Whatever the cause or causes of that challenge need to be addressed.

Strength training for specific disciplines

Hi Cyclingnews,

My question or questions concern strength training for cyclists, and more specifically strength training for specific disciplines. When I say disciplines, I don't mean mountain biking versus road cycling, but more along the lines of time trialing versus sprinting, etc. I have read up on the subject of strength training for cyclists, but I have never seen anything about a difference in strength training programs for cyclists who are focusing on being good at time trials, sprinting, climbing, etc. I am more of a sprinter/time trialist myself, but I am curious to know if the type of weight lifting I am doing will improve my abilities in one area and hamper my abilities in another.

I know climbers aren't typically the largest, most muscular cyclists so lets start here since it seems to be the easiest. Should a rider who is built to climb (small frame, long-ish limbs, small muscles, etc.) be in the gym doing heavy lifting, or should he/she be concentrating on high rep-low weight lifting?

Now this part really pertains to myself personally: I typically do 3 days per week in the gym during the off season. Give myself time to acclimate to doing heavy lifting (instead of the lighter weight I do during the season), and then get into low rep-high weight workouts almost exclusively during the off season. I understand (though may be incorrect) that doing these types of workouts can improve my muscular strength, good for sprinting, but will they also improve my ability to time trial at somewhat short distances (20km or less)? I guess I'm more interested to know if lifting improves my sprint, then does it hurt me in other areas besides climbing?

I hope you can shed some light into an otherwise dark area of knowledge for me. Thanks so much!


Dave Palese says:

Hey Austin,

The short answer is "no" there isn't really any strength training protocols for specific cycling events.

The long and short is that all cyclists are endurance athletes and really apply a very low amount of force to the pedals during even the highest energy segments on the bike. What gets us isn't the force but the frequency!

Low amounts of force applied over and over and over again.

The only exception to this could be the match sprinter on the track whose requirement is to start from an almost dead stop in a pretty large gear and get it going quickly, then stay on top of it. But even there the pure force application requirement is relatively brief. And it can also be said even in this very unique cycling event actual muscular strength (the ability to move X pounds/kilos) in itself is not a predictor of success in match sprinting.

It still comes back around to frequency and more to the point velocity - being able to move an amount of weight quickly. The rider who can move the greatest amount of weight the fastest will have the quickest jump and THAT will improve his/her chances of success in match sprinting. And to be clear, I'm talking about match sprinting on the track only. The above does not apply, in my mind, to road sprinting.

Note: You'll find as many studies showing that in the gym strength training yields direct performance benefits for cyclist as you'll find studies saying the opposite. So I'm gonna tell you just what I believe and have found with my clients. My general thought is this: I don't believe that there is any direct performance benefit to be derived from in-the-gym strength training for cyclists, with the exception of the match sprinter on the track for the reasons stated above. That being said, I look at it this way, if you are going to carry that muscle mass up hills and accelerate it over and over, it may as well be fit muscle that works for you and not against you.

But to get back to addressing your original questions.

1) Should a rider who is built to climb (small frame, long-ish limbs, small muscles, etc.) be in the gym doing heavy lifting, or should he/she be concentrating on high rep-low weight lifting?

No cyclist should do one protocol and not the other (Light weight/High Reps vs. High weight/Low Reps). Just like with anything we do in training, strength training or "Total-Body Fitness" (TBF) as I like to think of it , should be approached in a periodized way, with progressions in movements (exercises) as well as workload (weight), and velocity (speed/frequency). Remember that specificity in training is very important.

The more specific the training can be to the actual demands of your event(s), the more benefit you will gain from it. This becomes especially true when your available training time becomes limited as it is for many working competitors with "real" lives. Everything you do in the gym should be pointed toward replicating the movements and actions you perform in your events. You could write a book on this, and people have, so I won't go into it too deep here.

I'll also just mention that to say " a rider who is built to climb (small frame, long-ish limbs, small muscles, etc.)" can be putting limiters on someone, or yourself that are unfounded. A rider's build alone is not an indicator of performance abilities one way or the other. This applies especially to weekend competitors and normal people. There are so many things that play into performance in sprinting that to say only riders with solid/thick builds are good sprinters just isn't true and conversely, skinny riders with long limbs and small muscles won't necessarily be good climbers.

Performance should be how you define your strengths. Look back on how you have gotten your best results and use that as a starting point. But I'll also say that it do not believe any normal person racing bikes (the vast majority of weekend competitors) should classify themselves as this or that.
Your training and your approach to racing should be targeted at developing you as an all-around rider with lots of cards to play. Saying I am a sprinter or I am climber can lead you to miss out on opportunities that present themselves.

2) Will strength training improve you sprint but then hurt your climbing?

If done correctly, no. See above.

Hope this helps.


James Hibbard adds:

Hello Austin,

You are correct about the relative lack of literature regarding how a road cyclist with a particular focus (be it sprinting, climbing or time trialing) should approach strength training.

First, since you are asking about the benefits of strength training, I take it that you are familiar with some of the literature that (after years of debate) has pointed to the positive results of strength training for the aerobic demands of cycling. However, the strength training protocols employed in many of these studies varied greatly.

The simple answer to your question is that yes, generally those road racing strengths which are more power-based (sprinting and to a lesser extent time trialing) usually entail a more rigorous strength training program—including a phase with higher weights and lower repetitions. Your question is predicated upon the reasonable assumption that one’s strength training should be informed by the demands of those skills (such as a good sprint or the ability to climb) that one has been able to successfully rely upon. However, there is another factor to consider, and that is your natural limiters.

For example, if one is ectomorphic but is still generally fast in a sprint (thus needing to develop peak power), one would obviously need to undertake more strength training than if one was a mesomorphic sprinter who gained muscle easily, but lacked speed or the necessary endurance to even be in position to contest a sprint at the end of a long race.

In terms of your general breakdown into heavy weights in the off season, and lighter weights during the season, I would recommend an even more phased approach.

It is far from the only one, but a very typical approach is starting with a transition phase in the fall, moving to a hypertrophy phase in the early winter, a strength phase in the late winter and a power phase (with an increased speed of movement) in the early spring, before finally transitioning to a maintenance phase during the season.

One other factor to keep in mind is that a complete rider who can time trial, sprint, and climb well, has many more options and ways to win, so in some cases it is best to not work so hard to improve one skill set that you sacrifice another (think of a climber with no power, a sprinter who cannot make it over even small climbs, or the time trialist who can’t follow accelerations).

I hope that this helps.

Good luck with your training,


Shorts riding up


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Andrew,

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You are not sitting squarely on your seat and are dropping your right hip forward. This is why the right leg of your knicks moves upwards. It is also likely that the reason for the seam rotating inwards on the right is because your right hip is rotating outwards while pedaling.

While there are factors of position that may exaggerate this tendency, by far the most common reason for what you describe is being much tighter in the right hip and lower back than on the left side. I'd suggest that you have a global functional assessment and if as I assume, this confirms what I'm saying, then work to address the issues identified.


Hey Cyclingnews,

I have been in bike shops for 7 years, raced 2 of those years cross-country, and then took a year and a half break from cycling and got heavily involved in CrossFit. My experience doing the programming from individual coaches has put me in the best shape of my life. Now back in bike shops, and back training again while still maintaining, a CrossFit program I have found myself screaming back to my racing shape faster than i could have imagined. Is CrossFit something you recommend? also i have had clients go into CrossFit endurance programs and had huge success in triathlons, ultra endurance races, and extra races, any thoughts on CrossFit and Cycling?


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Gavin,

I do CrossFit strength myself and love it. As you've noted, CrossFit strength provides overall fitness and functional strength that can be a good foundation on top of which to layer bike or triathlon specific training, but I'm not recommending it for my clients for several reasons. I'll list a few:

1) Injury frequency: An athlete may get lucky and do many months of CrossFit without an injury, but I've seen too many CrossFitters with knee, ankle, shoulder and back injuries to want my clients to take it up. Some of those injuries were the result of bad form that might have been caught by an instructor but weren't. Others started from doing exercises exactly as instructed and were bad enough that they would have kept a rider off the bike or kept a triathlete from running or swimming for several weeks.

2) Inappropriate competitive challenge: Part of the fun of CrossFit is boosting your number of handstand pushups, pull ups, rope climbs, muscle ups and so on. Being able to do moves you couldn't do before, lifting weights you couldn't move before, keeping up with your comrades on double-under jump rope and so on are very motivating, but they all motivate you away from your aerobic training time. One woman recently told me that as she started run training for an upcoming race her CrossFit numbers went the wrong way, so now she doesn't want to run.

3) Inappropriate muscle development: If you are doing mostly flat races, body mass doesn't really matter, but if you race MTB or hilly road races, then every excess pound undoes weeks of training. The research says that people who combine strength training with endurance training don't gain muscle mass, but since many riders would do well to lose upper body muscle mass and you can't spot-reduce muscle mass except by not using that muscle while you do use the muscles you don't want to lose, CrossFit makes it harder to reach a good body weight for the already-lean but over-muscled rider.

4) Recovery and time challenge: For the vast majority of athletes the ultimate limiters to performance are either finding adequate training time or being able to adequately recover from training to make use of available time. Strength training is good for endurance athletes, but the challenge of finding training time and recovering from training both argue for doing one's strength training in the most efficient manner possible: minimizing gym time, and working muscles sort of proportionally to how important they are to cycling.

I have to admit not knowing enough about CrossFit endurance to recommend for or against it!

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