Fitness questions and answers for January 16, 2008

Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

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.

Jon Heidemann ( is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.

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.

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.

Fiona Lockhart ( is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier ( is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT ( is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, 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.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela 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 assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

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.

Scott Saifer ( has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel ( is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Steve Owens ( is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

Brett Aitken ( is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his website.

Richard Stern ( is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer ( is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Michael Smartt ( is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete™. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Air temperature, heart rate and actual calories burned
Higher HR in hills
Where to start?
B12 for cyclists
The steepest gradient

Air temperature, heart rate and actual calories burned

Hi I am currently doing base km’s as part of early season training and to lose some weight (Male, 191cm, 98kg). It’s summer in Australia and gets up to 42C. Even though I exercise during the early morning, I note that my heart rate is higher for a given cadence/gear/terrain vis a vis a cooler morning, therefore for the same speed a higher heart rate is the result. My HRM tells me I have therefore burned significantly more calories, but does this translate directly. To put it another way, would a HR of 150 for an hour in 20C really burn the same calories as 150 HR for an hour in e.g. 30C heat – my Polar HRM would give the same answer. I’m concerned that my elevated HR in the heat is overstating actual calories burned and negatively impacting on my strict diet exercise regime (measure calories with CalorieKing online and use HRM for exercise calories).

Paul Smith
Evandale, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi Paul,

Higher HR in hills


First thanks for the fitness Q&A, it's great.

I'm a male 32y.o road rider 176cm 68kg. I ride 250-350km/week. I was recently lent a heart rate monitor and on the last few rides I paid attention to what my heart rate is doing on the bigger hills as compared to the flats. I tend to be a good climber and a pathetic sprinter. I generally feel comfortable spinning 100-110rpm. I normally climb with my elbows sticking out and my hands on the bend between the tops and the hoods.

I have a good 10km/500m climb nearby as well as a 8km/ 380m climb. When I was climbing these ascents last week with the new HRM I noticed my HR was 180+ for the duration of the climb. My highest I have seen is 195bpm (I get close to wanting to be sick at over 190). But on the flat I cannot seem to make an effort that gets my heart rate sustained over 170. It is as if my HR is an indicator of the gradient. An slight descents I find it hard to sustain HR of 160+. This doesn't make any sense to me, why I can happily put out power up a climb for 30mins to make my HR 180+ yet cant put out the same power to make my HR go over 170 on the flat for 30 seconds. Even slight plateaus on a climb will see my HR drop. It also seems to explain why in a group ride every time the hill kicks the bigger advantage I have.

Steep descents are different - doing over 80km/h down hill in 53x12 I will see my HR near 180.

Can I train myself to be able to go as hard on the flat as I can on big hills? What is going on here? Is it psychological?

Melbourne Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James,

James responded:

Hi Scott thanks for your reply,

my last ride I was doing 93rpm (18.5km/h) into a very stiff headwind (trees were being blown about) up a long 4% grade. Normally I would be doing 22.5 (105rpm) - 24.5(104rpm) and changing between 39x23 and 39x21 at 23km/h (108 v 98 rpm).

Steeper grades I am straight into the 25cog. On the flat my shift points are 5rpm lower, until I am doing over 40km/h where it is back up to the "climbing" rpm.

The lowest I do is 95rpm on anything, unless I'm drafting a bunch and just ticking over. If the hill is too steep to maintain over 90rpm (17km/h in 39x25) I will get out of the saddle. The range of cadence is purely for covering the gear ratios. I don't make good power at low cadence. Wind greatly affects my climbing, into a headwind I will be markedly slower than climbing with a tailwind but I will just gear down and spin regardless. I feel like I am mashing at 95, but have recorded max cadence of 201rpm. If we are sprinting for the top of a hill, I will normally gear lower and spin up to 130rpm which is normally enough to beat my companions.

I hope that makes sense.

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James,

James responded:

If I ride the flats at 93 rpm my heart rate still drops, it feels as though I can't push as hard on the flat. My position does changes with the grade of the hill, on a steep climb I will have my hands on the tops, and sit upright, on a moderate grade I have my hands on the bend b/w the tops and hoods (both allow me to open my chest up), on slight grades I will be on the hoods and I only ever get in the drops going on descents.

Are you thinking that my HR goes up when I start 'mashing' when the rpm drops? The places where I have seen 195bpm were on 10% grades but I was still doing 90rpm.

I will do an experiment today on a velodrome and get back to you, I will go flat out at 80rpm-90rpm, recover and then go flat out at 100-110rpm and see what HR I hit. Would that help?

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James,

James responded:

Hi Scott and Carrie,

The results of my experiment yesterday were that I could hit 180bpm on the flat, first I did 44km/h spinning 124rpm, and 41km/h spinning 128rpm (different gear) in my climbing position I maintained it for 2km. Then I did 41km/h 79rpm flat out till I was sitting on 180-181bpm, in the drops, which I maintained for 2km.

As I had a target HR I suffered a lot to put in the effort to get my HR up. At low cadence my legs were screaming at me, they apparently do not like force work, but they got used to it. I had set my mind on keeping the effort high enough to produce the HR.

On one hill on the way home I forced my self to accelerate over the hill and actually increase my HR from 178bpm to 183bpm as the gradient dropped.

I know I find it extremely uncomfortable in the drops spinning a high cadence I will arch my back on a climb. I have been undergoing chiropractic treatment for an unstable pelvis. and I do a fair bit of stretching to compensate. I do pass Steve Hogg's balance test.

I will give it a shot tonight, I have a couple of good long hills to try.

Thanks again this is great - and doing the drills I ended up with close to fastest average speed for my training route yesterday.

Scott Saifer replies:

Hi James and Carrie,

James responded:

you are right about the efforts - yesterday I was too wrecked to get my HR over 160bpm, so I did it this morning. I did 19.5 up a steep hill at 98rpm on the tops and then went to the drops HR was 178bpm.

I was wrong about arching my back, I didn't arch my back and I was still spinning in the normal range, I did however have to keep shifiting backward as I would roll onto my perinium. It was easier today, so I think I will keep practicing like you say twice a week. I have assumed that if I wasn't getting enough air in the drop my effort would drop and the HR would drop.

I have a 7km climb planned for this weekend so that will give me plenty of time to see what happens over a longer period.

Thanks again

Where to start?

I've had a 45 year hiatus from training and racing but I'm now back on the bike. I've been reading lots of training books but they all seem to be geared towards people who are much further along than I. After 3 months of riding and 2 in the gym, I'm getting more serious as my fitness level has increased rapidly. I'm doing laps in my local park much faster, I've dropped a few pounds (6 ft. 180 lbs, 59 years old), but I'm confused as to what I should be doing.

Should I just forget about all the training stuff and just try to put in as many miles as possible on the bike? Intervals? Is there some reference I should look to that I've yet to find? My natural inclination is to race again, probably time trials as that's what I was always best at as a junior. Everyone seems to think that because you are reading a training book you have 10,000 miles in your legs already. Thanks for any help you can give me.


Dave Palese replies:

Hey Phil, Welcome back!

B12 for cyclists


I read somewhere that B12 vitamin helps produce red blood cells. Therefore, it can help cyclists perform better. Should one be interested in taking B12 supplements to hopefully increase performance, what dosage do you recommend? I use to take B12 as a teenager, because I was vegetarian. The dosage back then was 1200 mcg, which, to my knowledge, is the higher dosage available on the shelves here in Canada.

Thanks for your time!

Normand Boivin Rookie cat 4 racer, Montreal, Canada

Steve Owens replies:

Hi Norman,

The steepest gradient

To settle a bet; assuming a length of 100 m or more what is the steepest gradient a road biker could manage without toppling over? Also, what is the steepest gradient the pros race up?


Scott Saifer replies:

Hi Ed,

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