Skip to main content

Fitness questions and answers for July 19, 2004

Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding.

Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) 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 (www.davepalese.com) 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 (www.trainright.com) 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 (www.velo-fit.com) 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 (www.physiopt.com) 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 (www.cyclefitcentre.com) 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.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

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 (www.wholeathlete.com) 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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com) 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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com) 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 (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) 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 (www.cycle2max.com) 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 www.cycle2max.com website.

Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) 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 (www.cyclecoach.com) 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 (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

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.

Money vs Watts vs Time trial equipment
Achilles tendons #1
Tight calves
Curvature of the spine
Glucose, fructose, or galactose?
Heart rates
Knee pain - in my good knee!
Summertime breathing
Pursuit training

Money vs Watts vs Time trial equipment

I wonder if you have been asked this before, but I have been wondering about Time trial equipment.

Watching the tour you see all of the guys using $6000+ of specific time trial equipment. This stuff must really help them, but I wonder how much it would help the average cyclist.

Since these guys put out amazing Watts and wind resistance increases exponentially, would elite cyclists benefit more from aero equipment than the average cyclist? Since I am obviously not producing the wattage that they are, is wind resistance less important to me, making my TT equipment proportionally less important?

My basic question is: Do you have to be fast in the first place to see
the benefits of good TT equipment? Should I get decent TT equipment?

Eddie Monnier replies:

Some of the best time trialists I know have rather basic equipment. Spending a lot of money will not overcome poor fitness or an inefficient aerodynamic position. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, studies have shown that novice cyclists often realize larger absolute improvements than Elite cyclists (Jeukendrup and Martin, Improving Cycling Performance: How We Should Spend Our Time and Money, Sports Medicine 2001; 31 (7): 559-569).

Dario Fredrick replies:

I think Eddie's response covers the issue very well. Although I would make a small change to the priority list, switching #1 and 2. Without proper bike fit, aero bars can actually make you slower. I see many cyclists compromise their well-trained road position (in the drops) by clipping on aero bars that extend them too far forward. In an example such as this, the cyclist would actually be faster in the drops. It is not worth compromising power and efficiency for a slightly narrower profile. So an efficient standard road fit is often faster than an inefficient TT position on a road bike (with clip on aero bars).

Achilles tendons #1

I'm 38, 195lbs and ride 3- 5 days a week for the last 3 years and I mix it up between road and xc mtb. My rides are 1- 3 hours depending on how much time I've got. I'm reasonably fit and participated in a 24 hour MTB race last month.

Since February I've had pain and stiffness in my Achilles tendon that radiates up my calf in the morning. It's worse the morning after hard rides. After a few minutes of walking around it loosens up and the pain goes away. The pain sometimes comes back after I've been sedentary for more than 2 hours or so. I think my pedal position is good (just below the balls of my feet) and my shoes fit. What should I do?

The pain is on both sides, but worse on the left. I wear Northwave shoes for both road and MTB, Supergo SPD road pedals for the road and specialized SPD for the MTB.

Dan Harrington

Steve Hogg replies:

Assuming that you are back on the bike, the first thing you have to do is limit ankle movement to a degree that you can control well. Mark the centre of the ball of your foot on your cycling shoe. Eyeball the angle that your shoe sits on the pedal when pedalling under load. It may be heel in, it may be heel out, it may differ from one foot to the other.

Achilles tendons #2

I'm a 30 yr old, Cat III, male road racer. My typical training regimen is between 10 and 15 hours per week (depending on the time of year) on the bike. In a flash of brilliance, last October, I decided to start running as cross training. I did 2 runs of 2 miles each without too much difficulty, until the evening after the second run. I began feeling a dull pain in my Achilles tendon. I stayed off it and iced it for a few months (no riding), and everything seemed OK, until I decided to try snowboarding during Christmas break. The pain immediately returned and has since failed to go away. I was training about 10 hrs per week during January, February and part of March, before I decided to stay completely off the bike until I have recuperated. I had a bike fit done which showed that my saddle was 3cm too low, and stem was about 3cm too long. I had been riding with that bike position for 3+ years. I have been to several doctors, received injections in my Achilles to help hasten the healing process, been to two physical therapists, and received orthodic inserts for my shoes from my doctor. An MRI showed a healthy Achilles tendon, but significant swelling where the tendon attaches to the heal.

I am dying to get back on the bike but am at a complete loss.

I use Carnac Quartz shoes, size 44.5. I have used the same shoes for about 2 years. My pedal system is Speedplay Zero. they are new, but I used Speedplay x-1 for about 3 years prior.

Steve Hogg replies:

The first thing you have to do is limit ankle movement to a degree that you can control well with ease. This will take load away from the Achilles tendon. With your shoe size I would move the cleat so that the centre of the ball of the foot is 11 mm or a fraction more in front of the pedal axle centre when the shoe and crankarm are horizontal and forward. You are likely to run into a couple of potential problems:

Tight calves

I am a 42 yr old male who is trying to get back into cycling after starting a family. I have very limited time to apply to riding but I can manage at least 20 K a day going to work and back. I get out for longer rides 1 to 1-1/2 hr on the weekends and once a week during the weekdays. Nothing like I used to do, but my goals are different now largely fitness and weight control. That said I still love the feel of being able to push it TT style on a road bike even if the duration is shorter.

The essence of my question is this: I seem to be limited by my calve muslces as far as ability to do cycling "work". Once they are cooked I am also, even when I raced previously this seemed to be my limiting factor. I thought it might be seat height too low, but I have raised my seat to encourage foot flatish pedaling and opposed to the heel down mashing I used to do in my youth. I am (sigh) and will always be a TT guy, I can't sprint and the tempo variations of a hard RR or (especially) a crit cooked me then and will cook me now.

My many interest is a higher level of fitness and the occasional race. I wonder what your thoughts are on this, either position wise or biomechanically. Thanks Kevin

Scott Saifer replies:

There are many possible answers. One simple thing to try would be to move the cleats farther back on your cycling shoes. Decreasing the cleat-ankle distance decreases the lever against which calf muscles work, potentially decreasing the work they do and helping them to stay fresh longer.

Curvature of the spine

I have owned road bikes since a teenager, although have typically stuck to short, intensive rides of around 10-25 miles. At the grand old age of 29, I have recently begun to ride slightly longer distances, riding 50+ miles at a time, and averaging 200 miles per week. Posture on these longer rides is becoming an issue, however, as I have severe scholiosis. I am fortunate, in that I have a double curve –my spine is essential an S shape, with only a small amount of sideways twist. The curvature of my spine is well balanced and when standing, my shoulders are level, and the only obvious indication of the problem is a considerably shortened torso and slightly raised, right shoulder blade. When riding these longer distances, however, I realise that I am sitting with a twisted pelvis. I basically ride with the bike leaning slightly to the left, while I lean to the right to compensate. Sounds odd, but this eases pressure on the first curve at the base of my spine.

This is resulting in a number of problems on the longer rides. Firstly, as I don’t sit squarely on the bike seat, I am having real problems with saddle sore. I sit with the saddle resting against the main tendon on my left leg, and therefore the constant pressure is resulting in a permanently tender, (often very) sore point in this area. A second problem is that I get severe pains and cramping in my right foot. On many rides, my foot is so numb it feels like little more than a block on the end of my leg.

A constant problem, which I am used to, is that my back gets extremely stiff and I often suffer from considerable back pain when riding for longer than an hour or two. I’m used to this and expect it, but just wondered whether you might have any cool tips for stretches that I can do whilst riding.

Jenny Hodgson
Manchester, UK

Dario Fredrick replies:

I highly recommend a Yoga video called "Yoga for Scoliosis" with Elise Browning Miller. Elise is a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher and has overcome severe scoliosis in her own body. You can read about and purchase the video here: www.yogaforscoliosis.com. In addition, I would find an experienced Iyengar Yoga teacher in your area to help you. Only seeing you in person can an expert most effectively offer assistance.

Glucose, fructose, or galactose?

In today's market of sports energy drinks and gels one is flooded with hype claiming one product is better than the competitors. When it comes down to it, all products contain fairly similar percentages of simple sugars for immediate energy while also including more complex carbs for lasting energy. Some products claim the best source of immediate energy is glucose while others use fructose, while even one product I looked at uses galactose. My question is, which type of simple sugar is best during cycling or any endurance sport and what percent of the energy product mixture should be complex carbs? I realize that there are many factors to look at including the speed at which each type of sugar molecule is transported into and from gut enterocytes, the conversion of galactose and fructose into glucose, and the total amount of energy needed to properly metabolize each sugar molecule. Any insight on what to look for in a sports drink or gel would be extremely useful.

Ryan Snodgrass
Sacramento, California

Pam Hinton replies:

Yes, we live in the land of plenty - plenty of choices. The bottom line is that your quads need a constant supply of energy to keep the pedals turning, and the most effective way to do this is to feed them glucose at regular intervals. You may pour that simple advice into your water bottle and gel flask and tuck it into your back pocket and you'll make it to most finish lines. Because things are never as simple as the bottom line, however, you may read on for the rest of the story.

Heart rates

I'm a 48yr old duffer time-trialist. In the 10 years I've owned a heart rate monitor, my max and threshold (when race-fit) heart rates have remained constant. I have known all along that heart rates are supposed to drop with age and that the drop is not necessarily a linear function of age. This year I have found that my threshold is 5 or 6 beats lower than it was, which has been rather crushing since I was convinced I'd be the first person to beat the aging process. However, my on the road speed, such as it is, doesn't seem to have suffered and so I have more or less come to terms with this. My question then is rather academic in nature- What do any of you know about the triggers that would cause this kind of change, and what might be the mechanism of HR limitation, given that not just the maximum HR drops, but that the whole HR range gets compacted?

Also, given that we know that in the aerobic range, HR and power are a linear function, and since my tHR just went from 158 to153 or 152(a 3.2-3.8% drop) but my power output (calculated from times) cannot have dropped by even 1%, there seems to have been some decoupling of the two parameters. Anyone care to comment on this? It doesn't seem to be too rare a phenomena in the aging athlete.

I'm sorry if this is a bit of navel-gazing, but I think there are some interesting physiological mechanisms underlying this stuff.

Mike Capp
Madison, Wisconsin USA

Dario Fredrick replies:

For a trained cyclist such as yourself, the mechanisms for reduced maximum and threshold heart rates (HR) as a result of aging are most likely a reduced responsiveness to exercise stress hormone production (adrenaline) and a reduced contractile strength of heart muscle. You may also find that you become more sensitive to cardiac drift as you get older since both stroke volume and cardiac output decrease as well.

Knee pain - in my good knee!

I'll spare the details of my left leg issues (ITB syndrome which I am able to 'treat through stretching etc.' + prolapsed disc L4-L5 which caused problems until I had a microlamenectomy) because my biggest issue in getting into better form has been a recurrent problem with the right knee.

A bit of background--I am 2m tall, weigh about 91kg. My bikes are custom made (race bike is 62x62), and my 'race bike' has 177.5mm cranks while the commuter/crap weather bike has 175mm cranks. I use full float pedals, and wear cycling orthotics. My bike fit is a combination of my experience with pain over the last few years, physios/video analysis, and 'ball of foot over pedal axles, knees 1cm behind the bottom bracket' approach. My cadence is typically 90-110 when riding flats, and drops to 65-90 when climbing, depending on how tired I am.

The problem with my right knee is that, say, once a month, I start to get discomfort around the right VMO and to the inner side of the knee. Not painful, just discomfort. When I end up pushing it a bit, like I did in a stage race this week-end (with about 1000m of vertical in the first stage in 72km). I end up getting a sharp 'swelling' pain underneath the kneecap, which feels like a vertical strip of pain right in the middle of the knee cap. After some initial rest (say, sleeping), it is stiff and painful. It resolves within two days usually.

Often the pain is associated with long slogs into the wind combined with climbs.

It began when I started upping my distances for the Alpine Classic in January. I have seen two physios who say ITB, but I am suspicious about this diagnosis.

My guesses:

- chondromalacia (which I had as a junior cyclist and resolved with specific quad exercises)
- VMO is weak and kneecap tracking is off/hamstrings very tight
- need new orthotics
- fore-aft cleat position may need changing.

I stretch a lot, and am in that camp of flexible folk who find it often difficult to get a really good stretch.

I have read many of Steve Hogg's articles, and also have read the counter-arguments.

Heck, I just want to be able to ride and race and enjoy myself. I'll try anything (and I am patient), but I am at a bit of a loss where to start (more physios? specific exercises? Cyclefit?).

Peter Benda
Melbourne, Australia

Steve Hogg replies:

The VMO like the other quadriceps is an extensor of the knee [ straightens the lower leg ], additionally, it plays a role in lateral stability of the knee which seems to be a bit of an issue with you. I would bet that one or more of your guesses is the cause of your problem. If I understand you correctly, this pain only occurs when you are under reasonably heavy load. Here is what I would do.

Summertime breathing

I live in Boulder, CO and during the summertime it can get very hot and it stays very dry and we do get some level of pollution in the air. When the air is hot and dry and polluted I tend to have trouble breathing deeply at about the 3 hour 30 minute mark in my rides. To the point where I am sometimes forced to breath much shallower than normal for a couple of hours. The same feeling does not come over me in low altitude places or in the cooler parts of the year.

I don't think it's life threatening because it only affects me a during the summer and only when I'm riding. But it can become uncomfortable for quite a bit of time and it is something I worry about when I go out to train.

Jordan Logan
Boulder, CO

Steve Owens replies:

What you're experiencing can be a few different things but I strongly urge you to look for a resolution to the problem and not let it get the best of you. I've coached and presently coach athletes that have told me of similar symptoms (and in the same area). What I think the problem may be is an allergy to perhaps a spring to summer-borne grass, pollen or mold. Another possibility is that, especially with your shortness of breath, you may have a type of exercise-induced asthma (EIA). EIA can be diagnosed and treated very easily. For diagnosis, all you usually have to do is (in a cycling specific environment) measure your forced expiratory volume (FEV1) into a flow meter and compare the results to that of your normal "sitting around" FEV1. A doctor can and should do this to accurately determine if there is a significant difference. Treatment is usually in the form of a beta agonist (i.e. - Albuterol). I caution, however, that there is some evidence that excessive use could exacerbate the condition. Another possible symptom is coughing and/or wheezing during or after exercise.

Pursuit training

I am an 18 year old racer and I was wondering what the best way is to train for a pursuit on the track.

Eddie Monnier replies:

Glad you've discovered the track, my favorite part of cycling! The Individual Pursuit (IP) is an event that draws primarily on the aerobic system to satisfy energy needs. So making your aerobic engine as large as possible is an important step in training for IP. This requires a suitably large volume of base fitness followed by several sessions per week (2-3) of riding near or at lactate threshold power for 30-40 mins (eg, 3-4 x 10-mins at lactate threshold power with 2.5 minute recoveries) over a six to ten week period. This is usually done on the road bike. A power meter is a very valuable tool for this type of training. Toward the latter part of this training block, you want to begin to focus on your ability to sustain quite high cadences since pursuits are typically done at 105 - 120 rpm. This should be done on your track bike in your pursuit position.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1