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  Last updated: 12/2/2019

Miscellaneous Training Questions


Q. A few years back I took a pretty bad spill and recieved a ragin' road rash the entire length of my leg which took a few months to really heal. I was suprised at how painful it was...I guess the 1st degree burn syndrome. These days I'm getting at least 75 - 100 miles in a week but have not bit the bullet and shaved my legs. Do riders shave their legs for performance sake (ie. less wind resistance -- does hair really make that big of a difference?), or from a preventative stand point (when you take a spill, the hair doesn't get ripped out of your leg, causing a bad case of road rash)?

A. I doubt that shaving your legs makes a significant difference in wind resistance. Shaved legs are a plus IF you take a fall and have to clean out gravel and dirt - the hair gets matted into the "scab" and pulling on it while cleaning just hurts that much more. Here the question is "does shaving regularly offset the rare time one will fall and need to clean up road rash?" Each rider has to answer that one for themself. I suspect that the reason most riders shave is cultural i.e. everyone who is a "serious cyclist" does it, so to be part of the club, one has to adopt the traditions.

Proper Pedaling Technique

Q. I'm curious which muscles should I use when pedaling for sustained riding? I have pedal clips and I find myself using my quads mostly. When I start to tire, I consciously start using my calves more by rotating my ankles as I pedal. I'm wondering if I should make a conscious effort to get in the habit of always using my calves, or what the most efficient method is?

A.My guess is that 80% plus of your cycling energy is applied by your quads. At the bottom of the stroke, there is often a "wiping mud off the foot" backward push (and a number of professionals swear they also pull up on the backside - probably using hamstrings a bit). Good bikers have well developed calves, so we know they use them to some degree in the cycling effort. One does need to avoid ankling, which can be harmful.

Designing a Training Program - off season training

Q. I am 43 years old and ride lots of cross country ATB and some free ride. During the season I ride ATB two days a week with lots and lots of climbing. For the past 4 years I have ridden the two days a week year round (winter too) with some recovery days and strength training in between the rides. This is the first year I would like to train on a periodization plan in the hopes I can reach even better some personal records I have on the hills we ride here in Bellingham WA . I have read articles by various coaches and most including yourself recommend first building an aerobic base of 500 to 1000 miles before increasing intensity.

A. Taking time off in the winter is a great psychological break. But rather than a complete break, I favor your approach. One doesn't have to go to cross train to stay in shape in the winter if the roads are available - and the fact you stay on the bike all winter minimizes the need to focus excessively on getting that aerobic training base in the Spring.

Designing a Training Program - building a base

Q. I have also become interested in the capillary building theory that the late Mike Walden taught. That theory as I understand it holds that the base period of training is most useful for enlarging the network of blood vessels. As long as the intensity of training is kept to a moderate level of 65 to 70% of max HR the capillaries will grow strong enough to withstand the rigors of intervals and hard training later.

A. Building the base period allows various aspects of the musculoskeletal system to adapt to regular exercise. I suspect it is connective tissue as well as blood vessels - and I'm not sure that it really matters anyway. But the 500 miles of slow easy riding (aerobically, not anaerobic) before moving on to add intervals is good insurance against early season injury as you pick things up.

Q. I have been training this way for the past four weeks by spinning on the trainer, using my HRM to keep the heart rate at an optimum 125 to 130 BPM. I have been careful to use the fourth week as a rest week.

A. A good way to develop a base - don't push the HR. And the week of rest lets the body take advantage of the down time to rebuild and reinforce the muscles/ligaments.

Designing a Training Program - maximizing training time

Q. I want to develop a training program that is right for me and that will help me reach my genetic potential but I only have from 5 to 6 hours max time for quality training each week. I want to have a training program that is flexible enough to accommodate for the inconsistencies that recreational riding gets into. For example I don't have any problem with the low intensity of the base phase during the winter. But when spring breaks out and I am in the building phase of the program it will be a challenge not to over do it when the "Buds" all want to hammer up the hill as hard as they can. I want my best to come in late summer not burn out in the spring like I always have before. I would like to peak in my fitness during the months of July thru September when the riding conditions here in Bellingham WA are best. Toward the end of this summer I started a periodization plan of my own and with just three weeks of using intervals and rest days I crushed some old personal records that I had set a few years before. This gave me confidence that I full season of periodization would do wonders for me.

A. As to maximizing your 5 to 6 hours, the correct balance is addressed in preseason training. As to periodization, I don't believe it holds any magic other than helping you to focus your goals over a one or two month period. And with that focus, you tend to get much more specific in applying the training principles just referred to. Remember the keys are

So, pick the "period", write down your specific goals (distance, speed) for that period, and then design your daily riding program to get to those goals. The tips in Structuring a Training Program and Intervals might be of help as well.

Designing a Training Program - developing fast twitch muscles

Q.From my limited understanding of muscle firing, cycling develops and stimulates both the slow and fast twitch responses, according to the intensity and duration of the ride. (ie sprinting, climbing, downhill coasting, high rpm, low rpm etc.). What I'm wanting to know is how to maximise the amount of fast twitch fibers I have.

A. You could develop and enhance ,fast twitch fibers by stressing them. They are the muscle fibers that recruited for short, high intensity exercises, which means intervals. You can do the intervals on the flats or sprinting up hills. And to avoid joint problems, when you "stand on it" I'd encourage high RPMs (90 - 100 per minute).

Getting that psychological edge

Q.I am looking for ways to improve psychologically during racing. Are you aware of any cycling related "self actualization" techniques or visualization that may be available?

A. These offerings from might be of interest:

Maximum Heart Rate

Q.I am a 54 year old cyclist and ride between 4000 and 5000 miles per year and do some pretty intense riding. My max hear rate is 188 and I have reached this many times. My question is regarding conditioning and the effect it has on max heart rate. Early in the season I can get to the max of 188 without too much effort and later in the year find it harder to get to the 188 rate. I know my conditioning has improved but does the conditioning change my max heart rate or is it always going to be the same regardless of the condition you are in?

A. I am not the heart rate expert, but my understanding is that max heart rate is age (and person) dependent. I have seen it mentioned that with overtraining it might decrease, but conditioning should not either increase or decrease it. It may be that it is easy to get to your MHR in the spring when you are out of shape, but then when you are in fighting shape, you really have to work to get the same level of maximum stress on the cardiovascualr system.

Adding Weight to the Bike

Q. Would adding weight to my bike for training help my performance (speed and hill climbing especially)?

A. The short answer is yes, BUT no more than other types of focused training.

To quote from the Bicycling article (link below) - "a watt is a watt is a watt. Power is work over time". Anything that forces you to push your limits - work harder, increase your wattage - will make you a stronger cyclist, able to ride faster.

Other strategies to boost your power (max watts) include:

But training with weight may have benefits unrelated to increasing your maximum wattage.

One is psychological. Train with weights, then ride without them. You will feel lighter and faster. Not an insignificant edge when riding with friends, feel faster and you will ride faster. And cheaper than buying a new, lighter bike.

The second is training for a very specific event - a bikepacking trip. Training with weight will get your body (muscles, ligaments, joints) prepared for dealing the extra weight you will be carrying mile after mile.

In the end this is a personal choice. If you don't do well with a focused, training regimen, carrying extra weight is an easy alternative. But in the end you end up in the same place.

More on this topic at

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