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Cycling Fitness Q&A - Dave Smith answers your training, nutrition and fitness questions

This month: How long off the bike before fitness drops; Training with a cold; Which hills are the right hills; Handy training rules of thumb and lots more

In the first of our new monthly series of Cycling Fitness Q&A, coach Dave Smith answers your questions on cycle training, health, nutrition, and general fitness.

If you would like to ask Dave a question about how you can improve your form, fitness and general cyclling well-being you can email your question to info [at] (put Cycling Fitness Q&A in the subject line) or comment in below this month's feature.

‪Great to see Fitness Q&A back, please include lots of rules of thumb, we don't all have power meters, access to VO2 tests etc... Matt Hardy

DS: I don’t use a power meter and it’s 25 years since my last VO2max test. Feel is great and also knowing the gears you usually use on certain climbs. Ride as much as you can, mix between steady state and intense efforts, sprints, power climbs – always ask if you could ride faster, or should ride slower.

We all have an idea of how we’d like to be able to ride in future. Spend some time faking that speed/ability – then recover and try again.

How long before fitness/stamina drops off? A week off the bike and feel like legs are back to square one!! Two weeks off now because of a cold/virus. Not looking forward to starting again!! ‪Alan Birtwistle

DS: It’s inevitable that you’ll have lost fitness, but the good news is that it comes back quite quickly. The main thing is to wait until you’re symptom free for a few days then gradually get back into it.

‪Is it normal to have a constantly tight ITB? Despite stretching and manipulation it always hurts. Is it a sign I'm overdoing it? Nick Lawn

DS: It may be due to previous injury or incorrect bike/cleat set-up.

What gradient hills are the best to train on and what approx elevations should one strive for. ‪Robert Windsor

DS: It totally depends on what you wish to improve – explosive power on short steep climbs, endurance on long gradual ascents etc. Usually I’d say, which are you struggling most with? Then spend 2/3rds of climbing time on those.

My hamstrings tighten up so much post-ride I can hardly bend over in the mornings or pull my feet up to put my socks on. Rob Matty

DS: You need to spend time on specific stretching for them, not the bouncing around some riders do before a ride, that’s actually counter productive, but regular stretching for 5-10 minutes a few times per week.

How do I stop pain at the rear of my knee joint long term, it goes after a couple of weeks off the bike but always comes back. Its tendons or ligaments not bone, I've moved my saddle all over the shop to no avail. ‪Jerry Kent

DS: I’d suggest a bike fit with a fitter who is recommended by others. There could be so many reasons for this, I can’t diagnose and prescribe anything remotely. Moving the saddle all over the shop may not allow you to settle into what could well have been the right position.

How to utilise short daily 15-30 commute as a training session? ‪David Molony

DS: If traffic conditions allow, I suggest accelerations from junctions, powering out of roundabouts, taking a hillier route. Also consider doing the morning commute before breakfast, and eating once you get to work.

Best exercises to stop hip and neck ache? ‪Adam Miller

DS: Firstly if your neck is ache and not injury, watch TV lying on the floor, leaning on your elbows with your head held up – to reduce neck ache, induce neck ache more often

Regarding your hips, I suggest a visit to a sports injury specialist.

Can you cut fat while building power at the same time? ‪Scott Johnston

DS: Absolutely, the training that is most effective at building power, high intensity intervals, is also the most effective at assisting fat loss, especially if you do them in a fasted state.

‪What are the best things to practice off the bike to improve versatility or performance on the bike? Ben Cooper

DS: The simple one is squat jumps. Trail running also helps. But look at the aspects of cycling you wish to improve then think about movements and resistances that might replicate a part of that.

How do you get the balance between quality and quantity? ‪Shaun Canner

DS: All your riding should be ‘quality’, just at different intensities. Do you lack endurance, explosive power, climbing ability? Think about how much you gain from extra time on the bike. Is three hours giving you 33% more gain than two hours? I know I haven’t answered your question, because there is no definitive generic answer.

What kettlebell exercises can I do for cycling over the winter to build core strength and stability? What size kettlebell? Paul Baker

DS: Only two are required for a complete workout, the Turkish Get Up and classic Kettlebell swing. Start the get up without a weight until you can do the movement nice and smoothly, then try 5kg and see how you get on - but it’s a very personal thing. For the swing, 12-25kg.

Why can't I seem to transfer my fitness onto the bike? Run and swim for hours with good pace. Biking not so much! ‪James TheFluff O'Flaherty

DS: It’s usually a simple matter of time spent undertaking an activity. If you have a history in the other sports, cycling will take time to develop to similar levels. Keep at it, it will come along one day.

Why is functional threshold power much higher when I do the test outside compared to the test on a turbo  ‪Sean Mccorry

DS: It’s likely that your core is cooler outdoors, so less energy is being used to deal with temperature regulation, meaning more of your metabolism is directed at generating pedal power.

Should you train or not with a cold? ‪Cycle Art

DS: There are many who suggest using the above/below neck rule, e.g. if it’s a head cold yes, if it’s throat and chest no. In my view you can exercise lightly but not train with a light cold, but to be honest I see little point given the risk of becoming more unwell. Better to rest for a week than be ill for a month.

If you have a sore throat, hard exercise draws inspired air deep into the lungs, passing the site of infection – think about how wise that sounds?'s founder and first editor, nowadays to be found riding a spreadsheet. Tony's journey in cycling media started in 1997 as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - finally handing on the reins in 2021 to Jack Sexty. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes, though he'd like to own a carbon bike one day.

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Talcumboy | 9 years ago

Similar to Scott Johnston above I would like to know how much to eat to put on lean muscle weight from intense cycling not fat. Do I need to replace all the spent calories my HRM says I burnt and then eat that many above my BMR then another 500 a day or if some of the calories I burnt were from fat do I not need to replace that amount?
At the moment I seem to be staying the same weight and body fat and I am doing 10x 1hr sessions a week, easy morning and hard evening.

M_Vos | 9 years ago

I am going to work in West Africa for 4-6 weeks in January. I realise I will lose form and fitness over that time. I cant take much with me except maybe running shoes. I am riding in the Etape next year and will be going straight into training as soon as I get back home. Is there anything I can do to at least keep something there for when I get back? Squats, planks, Lunges etc. I wont be able to access a bike or a gym but I should be able to go running OK I hope.

stealth | 9 years ago

I always breakfast before my commute, but I do get up & eat 1 1/2 - 2 hours before I ride. If I am doing a turbo session early I will ride before eating (I don't like having to clean the mess up...)
As usual, quality advice from DS.

Simon E | 9 years ago

Another vote for commuting before breakfast. I started doing it because riding to work on a full stomach felt uncomfortable. Been doing it for over 8 years now and it feels great. How good I feel during my morning rides is not related to food. Far more crucial is sleep.

Stretching - loads of info on www. Do them when muscles are warm after a ride (not before), this GCN video shows 5 good ones.

I'd also agree that if you're down with a cold you will be much better off resting and recovering completely before you resume training.

Punkass | 9 years ago

I've been a practitioner of Dave's "no breakfast before commute" for quite some time now. I've also done fasted rides in the morning for an hour at a time (sometimes longer). I've never felt that I was experiencing any muscle degradation, and during the process learned from Dave that I most likely function better on an empty stomach, as my body uses too much energy digesting food.

Perhaps it is subjective, but fasted riding for me definitely hastens weight loss, but not in a way that I feel taxes my muscle strength.

I've also done those stupid intervals that he made me do which I feel pretty strongly are the spawn of Satan. Unfortunately, they also really work, and I noticed an improvement on my goal after a week.

macrophotofly | 9 years ago

Good to see this kind of column but it would help if the answers had a bit more explanation to them - especially when they could be quite different to things many of us have been doing
e.g. Can you please explain this point in more detail "...Also consider doing the morning commute before breakfast, and eating once you get to work"?
Most items on this subject, I've read before, have said eat something at the start of the day before exercise, even if it is something small. Some articles have even suggested not eating first thing in the morning has a negative impact on muscle growth, so keen to understand the science behind this advice, please?

Nzlucas replied to macrophotofly | 9 years ago

I think the idea is to have a coffee or something small then keep to zone 1/2 so that you mobilise fat stores and build fat burn efficiency. Eating Carbs ruins the fasted state, intensity has to be low though or its counter-productive.

Dave Smith replied to macrophotofly | 9 years ago

To answer the points by macrophotofly, firstly longer answers would mean answering fewer questions, but I'll look for a middle ground in the next Q&A.

Regarding the commute before breakfast, it's simply to encourage fat as fuel to start the day and also fasted exercise can elicit a more pronounced adaptation response. Which is a good thing when mid-week is limited to commute rides.

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