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Fitness questions and answers for May 6, 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.

Tennis elbow and oversized bars
HR, fatigue & power
Training in the recumbent position
Cleat position
Mid foot or crank length
GI issues
Heart rate
Leg length discrepancy
Lower back cramps
Numb legs
Power into the wind

Tennis elbow and oversized bars

I recently switched from standard 25.4 riser mountain bars to oversized 31.8s. My first ride, I noticed some forearm pain near my elbow; it got worse the next ride. Then I rode another bike with 25.4s; no problem. Back to the bike with 31.8s, and the pain was back.

Since then, I dug the garden and seem now to have a full-blown blast of tennis elbow. It's only been a few days, and its feeling better, but I don't want it to linger.

So, my question: since I rode the problem bike last year with standard bars and was fine, is it possible that the 31.8s are too stiff for me? It seems odd, since oversized bars are becoming the norm and besides, they are quality Bontrager XXX bars, but they really are stiff.


Scott Saifer replies:

It's possible that the bar stiffness is the problem, but don't your grips have more give than the bars add or take away? I'd be more suspicious of the angle and tilt of the bars, or some other geometrical change that went with the changed bars. If they are the same bend and you really set them up the same, blame the bars or maybe the stiffness of the stem. Otherwise look at the geometry.

HR, fatigue & power

I've always noticed that the day after a hard ride my heart rate is often slower to rise, and lower for a given PE. Now that I have a power meter, I can quantify it, and sometimes my heart rate is 10-15bpm lower at a given power level than it was the day before when I was fresh.

From what I've read this is very normal (I hope!), but I don't understand it at all. If your heart is a muscle, and it is "tired", and not fully recovered from recent hard exercise, it would seem to me that it would have to pump faster, not slower to deliver the same amount of oxygen to your muscles.

If it's true that muscles always require the same amount of oxygen to produce the same work, how would a slower heart rate deliver the goods? Does the heart's stroke volume somehow increase to make up the difference?


Scott Saifer replies:

You are on exactly the right track with the stroke volume idea. The heart accepts several inputs that combine to help it decide when to beat. There are stretch receptors in the heart wall that generate a signal. When the signal reaches a particular level, the heart beats, but the level that triggers the beat depends on several hormones that in turn are present in larger or smaller amounts depending on your state of recovery or fatigue, and repletion or depletion of water, electrolytes and nutrients. Thus the heart beating at a particular rate does not imply a particular rate of oxygen delivery or muscular work across all conditions. The longer the heart "waits" to beat, the more blood returns from the body to fill the chambers before the heart beats, leading to larger stroke volume and equal cardiac output for the same heart rate.

Training in the recumbent position

My question is how effective training in the recumbent position would be for standard road bike racing. I am a competitive cat one racer, age 34. I'm a former US criterium Champ, and in a comeback after 10 years away from the sport. I've been racing since 1988, and while I love cycling I tire of getting harassed by cars.

I've been thinking about getting a pedal powered kayak, and want to get some opinions on how effective my time training in the recumbent position would be to my racing. If it proved effective I would like to move from the road to the water a couple of days a week, and maybe do a long winter pedal kayak trip in Baja for base. My fitness goal are to be very competitive in domestic pro races.

Matt Johnson

Scott Saifer replies:

Recumbent cycling is a fine way to begin your return to race fitness. You'd get to practice the essential skills of making time for training and eating and drinking for endurance. You'd burn some fat and even develop some leg strength. At some point though you need to start pedaling in your racing position again. Even if the motions on a recumbent are similar to those on a safety, the muscle recruitment patterns are quite different and recumbent riding really counts as cross-training rather than specific training for cycling.

You could probably do well for your first return season with a day or two per week of upright cycling until about 10 weeks before your first races, at which point it would be time to shift to 100% upright.

And you have my sympathy about the cars.

Cleat position

I have read as many of your responses regarding arch cleats as possible. Although the benefits of the mid foot cleat desirable, my Shimano Ultegra / Adidas Adistar Race pedal/shoe combo does not seem to be a good candidate for the modification.

Currently I have my cleats as far back as allowable on the shoe. I believe I have enough room to drill holes to position my cleats an additional 15-20mm back. Would this relatively minor change at least in theory provide some of the benefit of mid foot cleat position? The holes are no big deal if I do not experience a benefit but I do not want to try that unless there is potential benefit.

How is it working out for mountain bikers?


Steve Hogg replies:

Tough question to answer without more information from you. To speculate with any authority I would need to know where your foot is in relation to the pedal axle on your current shoe / pedal setup. Historically Adidas have had their cleat mounting holes positioned much further forward than has been the case with most other shoe manufacturers. If that's the case with your Adistars, and I'm not familiar with them, and you have centre of the 1st MTP joint over or behind the pedal axle, then it is very likely that you will gain a benefit.

Mid foot or crank length

One problem with normal pedals is that for part of the pedal rotation (12 o'clock to 3:30), the foot and pedal are well front of the knee. So the pedaller is pulling the pedal back as well as pushing it down. This is inefficient in much the same way as the foot placement of a runner who is overstriding by reaching too far forward. But just as mid-foot cleats increase power by bringing the foot and the pedal axis "under the thigh," doesn't moving the seat forward and/or shortening the crank have the same result - with much less disruption of equipment?


Scott Saifer replies:

No. Mid-foot cleat placement changes the length of the foot-lever and as a result changes the tension needed in the gastrocnemius and soleus to deliver the forces generated higher in the leg. With "normal" cleat placement, those two smaller calf muscles are limiting the forces that can be delivered to the pedal by the quadriceps and gluteus maximus.

GI issues

I am a 36 year old CAT 4 cyclist and former age group triathlete, 6'1" and 190 lbs. I used to have the issues after intense run training, but I am now having them after bike races and intense training sessions. The main problem seems to be intense gas, so much so that it becomes painful to the touch, and my pants fit tight. Is there any relationship regarding gastrointestinal distress and the consumption of maltodextrin? I have experimented with many sports drinks. It started with accelerade, which I thought was due to the protein. I had less of a problem but still some with powerbar's product. I switched to hammer products which are supposed to not cause the problem, but I think it is actually worse. In trying to figure everything out, it seems to be the maltodextrin that is the common link. In fact, when I was a complete newbee hack and sucked down Gatorade and Powerade, I don't recall the problem. I guess that could be because I was not fit enough to put out high enough intensity to produce the problem. What are your thoughts?

Colona, IL

Scott Saifer replies:

Responses to sports drinks are quite individual, and you might well have sensitivity to maltodextrin. While there is a logical argument in favour of maltodextrin, I don't think it is essential to use of maltodextrin rather simpler sugars for sports drinks. In fact, the important factors seem to be that the drink should have carbohydrate and electrolytes and taste good enough that you drink it with some enthusiasm. If you handle Gatorade or Powerade well, just use them.

Heart rate

I am 53 years, and I've been racing since 1990 for fun and fitness. My max heart rate has always been in the low 180's and I have had no major illnesses in that time. I had a solid road race in late August of 2007 and transitioned straight into cyclo-cross season, same as the last 5 years. Early in cross season I had some poor performances that I could not explain, so I cut back on training for a couple of weeks, and then I took a week off hoping my form would come around. It didn't. I finally pieced together what was happening. For some reason I developed GERD in September right when my racing went downhill. I developed a pressure in my chest that got worse if I sat for a period of time. Also, my heart rate would not climb above 160 no matter how hard I rode. I would finish a cross race not with a racing heart or winded, but my legs felt like they had done a hard race.

Discouraged and confused, I finally quit racing and riding altogether in late November. I took 8 weeks off from any training/conditioning activates and had some tests run. ECG, nuclear stress test, and an echo-cardiogram, (I had these test done twice at different hospitals). Everything was fine, nothing wrong with my heart. I had an Upper GI, and all seemed normal there too. I'm taking Prilosec for the GERD, seems much better.

By mid-February I was feeling better and I resumed training gradually, I had the occasional good day, but mostly it was very laborious to ride. The weather finally broke here in Western PA and I started to increase my workouts. Again, I would have a good day followed by an absolutely horrible day. I was still only riding 3 days a week, so I was not overdoing it. I bought a new HR monitor and would occasionally see 163 or so on long climbs, but that was rare. I did a couple of crits and struggled to keep up with the field. Last Thursday I did my normal training loop of 45 miles with 4 harder climbs. I had trouble getting my HR over 125 pushing hard up a false flat, and could not crack 150 on any climb. I felt miserable the whole ride too. And in the last week, my chest has been bothering me more and more. Seems once I started riding more, the chest pressure returned. Mostly at the bottom of my rib cage down into my upper abdomen, feels like a strap across my chest.

I was thinking I might have a hiatal hernia that is made worse by the cycling position and was not caught by the Upper GI because of my inactivity at the time and the fact I was lying flat when they did the x-ray part. I cannot understand why my HR is so low during rides and won't respond to exertion like it always has. I have given up trying to race and am going to do only recreational rides to keep some level of fitness if I can ever get this problem solved.

What I am looking for is some sort of direction to take in finding/correcting this problem. I need a doctor that understands the stress of cycling, not to be told maybe I'm too old to be doing this sort of activity. Or that it might not be healthy to exert myself so much.

Gary Dugovich

Scott Saifer replies:

I've heard of symptoms identical to yours, including the initially clean ecg and echocardiogram when the problem was mild. My client returned to the doctor when the symptoms progressed, as yours have. At that point he had an angiogram (looking at the coronary arteries) and a few hours later he was having a multiple bypass operation, which saved his life.

Leg length discrepancy

My girlfriend, fairly new to road riding, has a 1/4" (6.35 mm) leg length discrepancy (LLD). She has just purchased a new road bike, properly fitted by my LBS. She is running SPD pedals and mtb type shoes (Adidas). I've read various approaches to addressing this type of issue including shimming just between pedal and cleat, shimming only the footbed, splitting the difference, or even looking at dropped pedal system. So my question is what may be the best approach given the shoe/cleat set up? She currently corrects in street shoes with a custom heel lift. I don't think that would be appropriate here. I personally like the idea of shimming cleat from shoe but having the cleat sticking 1/4" further out could be a challenge to walk any distance which should not really ever be an issue.

Salt Lake City, UT

Scott Saifer replies:

The first question to answer is whether the 1/4" difference makes any problems for her. When walking, the distance from heel to hip is the main concern, but when riding, the distance from heal to pedal contact is more important, and many rides with a small leg length discrepancy can adequately compensate by extending one ankle just a bit more than the other. If the leg length discrepancy leaves your GF sitting asymmetrically on the saddle, she will probably end up with some saddle-contact area problems, low back problems, knee problems or something else eventually so the discrepancy is worth correcting if she compensates with by sitting crooked rather than just extending an ankle.

Lower back cramps

I have been trying to increase my proficiency at protracted climbing. I have been doing rides of 50 - 70 miles in length with 80 - 110ft of ascent per mile. During some of the longer stretches of 11-13% grade, my lower back seems on the verge of cramping. I ride a triple with a 12-25 on the back. In those grades I am usually in the smallest chainring and the 23 or 25 on the cassette. My cadence drops to the high 40's.

I am 6'2", 181lbs. I ride a 62cm Trek 5200 carbon bike for which I was individually fitted using Computrainer analysis to assure optimal wattage output and ATA. My ATA is generally around 88 - 92; my stroke efficiency is 78 - 82.

Is there something positional that is misaligned or do I just need more time in the saddle and more core strength?

Kevin P. Porter

Steve Hogg replies:

I am sure that some of the coaches can offer more detailed advice but when I read this I thought "Most people are going to hurt somewhere if they ride steep climbs at cadences below 50 rpm".

Numb leg

For the last several seasons (3-4) my left leg has been going numb after about 30 minutes in the saddle when I ride my road bike. I don't seem to have this problem on my mountain bike. Standing temporarily elevates the numbness, but it returns after only a couple of minutes. I've been riding and sometimes racing the same road bike for 8 years and managed 3 and 4 hours rides with no problems a few years ago. I've never been professionally fitted, but seem to have found a pretty good fit with this bike. Unfortunately, my riding frequency has dropped substantially since then in part due to the numbness. I've switched saddles recently and that has helped some, but the problem still exist. I know that I put pressure directly on the bone (pelvis) when I sit on the road bike and am sore there. Definitely more on the left side. My main concern is that I've done permanent damage.

Steve Hogg replies:

I have seen what you describe a number of times in the sense that a 'dead' leg occurred on the road bike but not on the mtb with the same rider. Each time it was a nerve impingement or vascular restriction and the lower torso position of a road bike vs. an mtb exacerbated a pre-existing problem. It may be that there is some positional issue on the road bike but in your shoes I would find a quality structural health professional who is a cyclist or has an interest in cycling and have that person structurally assess you and find out exactly what is happening. Dave and Kelby may have more detail to add to what I've said.

Power into the wind

I keep getting murdered when I pull through into the wind. What's the best way to improve power for this?

Tim Williams

Scott Saifer replies:

First, practice riding into the wind for the psychology of it. Then, if you suffer far more into the wind than with it compared to other riders, examine your aerodynamics. Are you as low, narrow and smooth as the guys you ride with? Are your wheels similarly fast?

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