Like this site? Help us to make it better.


Cycling Fitness Q&A - Ric Stern answers your training and fitness questions

Send your cycling training and fitness questions to – This week: 'Is training making me ill?' Saddle height, a singular knee problem, training plans +more

Riding a bike should be as simple as, well, riding a bike, but it doesn’t always work out that way - occasionally things can get in the way of achieving your training and fitness goals - aches, pains and general conundrums about stuff like training routines, nutrition and bike setup. All this applies for competitive riders at every level and for those that just want to be able to keep up with their mates on weekend rides, or get the best out of their weekday cycle commute. 

If your cycling goals seem tantalisingly out of reach it’s time to get some expert advice to help you reach them. We’ve got just the person to help in the shape of top coach, Ric Stern. 

Our new fitness guru is well qualified to help you get more out of your cycling, he’s been a professional coach since 1998 and has guided riders both amateur and professional to numerous national championships, a number of World Championship golds, and gold and silver medals at the paralympics too. 


Light and long or short and heavy?

Looking at a number of training plans and sessions but really keen to understand how to ensure you are making a difference to performance in terms of overall strength and muscular endurance.  What sort of duration and intensity is required to cause adaption of the body, are they interchangeable and what overall level of training is appropriate.  Are there any hard and fast rules, or signs from the body, that you have done ‘enough’ to really make a difference?

Familiar with the concept of tonnage for weight training which is why I ask the question.  Have seen it suggested that (within a given range) overall tonnage lifted provides the strength and endurance improvement rather than load alone, e.g. 200 reps of 10kg or 100 reps of 20kg should give similar overall results. 

The key thoughts here being that the lower rep and greater load is thought to give greater strength benefit.  The flip side is greater rep and lesser load influences muscular endurance more whilst putting the body under less physiological stress and according to some evidence quicker recovery.

Can you apply same logic to riding in 2 ways ?

1. Either through high wattage output for short time or lesser wattage for longer (although acknowledge not as easy to calculate a reps multiplied by kg and personally feel power strain ramps up hugely in the upper quartile wattage up to FTP) but for example could do over under @ 200watt average for an hour or steady 150watt for 2 hours.

2.  Or a 1 hour 200 watt ride but either low cadence hill climb or higher cadence flat ride.

Sorry for the rambling!


Ric Stern: Interesting question, but perhaps somewhat difficult to answer.

If you’re familiar with TSS* (training stress score) as you seem to be familiar with power output then this may be one way to quantify training stress and then use that as a weekly score. Obviously, though in terms of weight being lifted this would be akin to power output. 

Your body is *likely* to increase fitness based on how difficult/intense a session is; and how long it lasts for (e.g. riding at 200 W for 8 hours could be very stressful even if 200W isn’t that difficult if say your threshold power (FTP) is 300 W; compared to riding at 1500 W for 5-secs and then not doing anything else). Additionally, how much stress you place ‘constantly’ on your body will also have a bearing on how your fitness adapts. For example if you train one day a week no matter how intense it is, this will likely not be as good as training for say 6 days a week at a much lower intensity. 

There is more than one way to skin a cat: as you point out you could get an increase in FTP by riding slightly below FTP (e.g. moderately intensive) for a long period of time, or you could ride at FTP for a shorter period of time. This presumes that you’re trying to increase your FTP. 

So, how much do you need to improve? The answer is impossible to state, but it’s likely going to be more than you’re currently doing, but not so much that it causes very heavy fatigue. Or, more is more until it’s not. 

Does that help?

*TSS is Training Stress Score, a metric designed around power output (although it can be estimated from HR data as well with much less precision) and is designed to tell you how stressful a session is (with 100 TSS points being equal to the effort of riding flat out for one hour).


Getting down to race weight

How would you best advise someone trying to get down to race weight* whilst balancing a calorie deficit with being able to supply enough energy to keep up a high training load as well as replenish glycogen stores on the off days?

*I have deliberately used the term race weight so as to distinguish between general weight loss and the act of reducing weight for a lean competitive cyclist.


Ric Stern: Great question. Unfortunately, the answer to this is very likely beyond the scope of a brief answer. If you’ve reduced weight (fat mass?) and gotten pretty lean, getting down to ‘race weight’ will depend on exactly what you mean by race weight (e.g. are you talking race weight of a classics rider, or race weight of a Grand Tour rider), your training goals, your psychology, what you currently eat, and a myriad of other factors. 

The actual answer to your question is likely to depend on the above issues and what you’re prepared to do (e.g. it might mean giving up all treats and/or ‘bad’ foods and drinks for the next two months). It’s unfortunately an impossible question to answer without knowing a whole lot more about you (and working with you). 

During the weight loss period though, you may need to reduce the intensity of your rides so that you don’t deplete your glycogen stores (which would result in you fuzzing around on the bike in a really slow and useless manner). 


Giant Contend SL - saddle and post.jpg

Saddle height woes

I am having so much trouble finding a comfortable height for my saddle. One day the height feels good the next day it doesn't feel the same.

Can you please suggest a cure for this?


Ric Stern: Sorry to hear that you can’t get comfortable on your saddle. This is an important aspect of cycling, and having a bike fit you well is extremely important, so that you don’t have any aches and pains (other than perhaps the one’s you self inflict from training hard!!). 

There are a myriad of ways to *start* finding your *initial* saddle height. Once there, you’ll need to gently move the saddle up and down (and perhaps backwards and forwards) to find the ideal position. It’s an iterative process, and one that has no definitive exact position (as it can change as you get more and more used to a specific position). 

The two methods I use as a starting point are:

1) while sitting on your bike in your cycling shorts and with your cycling shoes on, place your heel on the pedal and gently pedal backwards. at 6 o’clock your knee should have a small, shallow bend in it and as you spin backwards you shouldn’t rock your hips.

2) my main go to method is to ascertain the vertical height of my greater trochanter (which is bony protrusion at the top and side of your femur, see google for anatomical images) and then to set your saddle height measured from the top surface of your pedal with your lower crank directly in line with the seat tube to the top of the saddle point which is directly over the centre of the seat tube and set that to 100% of the greater trochanter height. You may then need to move the saddle up or down from here by say 5 to 10mm depending on your pedalling style (e.g. a flat footed pedalling style requires a lower saddle height than a toes down pedalling style).

For even more on the subject of setting your saddle height check out's in-depth feature How to set your saddle height.

Additional to this it may very well be worthwhile in investing in a good bike fit. A good fitter will help you find a nice position that suits you and your riding style.

Good luck and hope that helps.


Sore knee.jpg

Knee pain (singular)

I get knee pain on the outside of my left knee when riding. I have had a bike fit and the right knee is fine. Any ideas what exercises might help (or is it just a bad knee as I am 43)? 

Ric Stern: Sorry to hear your knee is hurting. This shouldn’t be happening (unless e.g. you do have something wrong with your knee!). Almost certainly I’d be looking at your bike fit first and foremost. I’d check that there’s no damage to your bike - have you bent a crank or pedal? 

However, have you always had this knee pain — was it present before the bike fit? Did it come on almost straight after the bike fit? Or, is it very recent? This may give us clues as to what is happening. If for e.g., it’s very recent then perhaps you’ve bent a crank or pedal cornering? Have you been in a crash? Have your shoe cleats moved, or worn out? 

Other things to think about are do you have leg length discrepancy? Have you crashed and banged your knee? Is your saddle bent (giving different heights to each leg)?

You may also want to discuss your knee pain with a physio or doctor? Perhaps you do have something up with your knee. This could be anything from bursitis – inflammation of the bursa sac, which acts as a ‘cushion' between bones and tendons under the skin – through to arthritis (bizarrely such issues may only affect one leg)?

Once you’ve been through these points it may be worth considering something such as yoga (for strength and flexibility) or some strength work to see if that helps.

Hope that helps?


Is training making me ill?

I am combining 140 miles per week of commuting with race training and keep coming down with bugs a day or two after a hard training session (150 TSS-ish). Minimum TSS per week from the commute is 300 (going easy every ride) and typically my week is about 600TSS as I am trying to train. My diet is good and I feel like I sleep well but what would you measures can I take to stop hammering immune system. 

Ric Stern: Sorry to hear you’ve been unwell. There are of course a variety of reasons why you may be getting ill, from training too much (or insufficient recovery) through to having little ones (no idea of your personal situation!) who bring home lots of ‘bugs’!

There are, however, a variety of changes you may be able to make to try and stay ill free. Some are less practical than others…!

1) lock yourself away from others after training for a couple of hours while you recover, this is when you are at your weakest and picking up infections can happen a lot. I’ve heard of people who lock themselves in the toilet for a while (!) but this maybe dependent on how many toilets your house has and whether anyone will get furiously annoyed with you  3

2) Most importantly ensure you consume sufficient amounts of carbohydrates. The evidence from the vast majority of the research shows that immune health is boosted by carbohydrates and that insufficient carbohydrate intake is associated with higher than normal frequencies of colds, and upper respiratory tract infections. I’d imagine, from your TSS data that you’re cycling somewhere between 8 and 12 hours per week, and this sort of workload would require about 7 to 10 g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass per day (e.g., if you weigh 70 kg then 490 to 700 g of carbs per day).

3) immediately upon finishing a training session (even commutes, or when you’re feeling tired) you could try consuming 1.5 g of carbohydrate per kg body mass (e.g. 105 g for 70 kg) as this will aid recovery. You can then try consuming small amounts of protein. As an example of what 105g of carbohydrate equates to in real food that would be half a tin of baked beans, 2 slices of toast followed by a fig roll. You’d also get about 19g of protein in that .

4) Just because you’re going easy every ride, doesn’t mean the rides are easy (well, it does, but stay with me!). If you’re riding every day or nearly every day there’s going to be a significant amount of fatigue developing. This may be fine. However, even though the rides are easy it may still be worthwhile thinking about point 3 above. 

5) 600 TSS may be too much for you at present? It may be prudent that you reduce some of your workload, either the commutes or the ‘proper’ training and say reduce to 500 TSS per week and then as you start to feel  more comfortable gradually increase the total TSS at a gentle rate (maybe try a ‘CTL’ - chronic training load - ramp rate of 1 or 2 per week).

6) Perhaps the way that you’re training has too many intense days. These high intensity days will burn through your body’s store of carbohydrates (glycogen) at a rapid rate and it maybe you need to do less intense training

It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you’re ill and keep training (without allowing your body to recover and get over the illness) then the illness will linger and you’ll prolong it. Take some time off and get well. 

If you would like Ric to answer your cycle training or health query drop him a line at: fitness [at] you can also follow him on Twitter @RSTSport or visit his website




Ric Stern established RST Sport in 1998 and has been using an evidence-based approach to coaching to help grassroots athletes to world-class athletes perform at their best. Ric can be reached through

Add new comment


Bob Wheeler CX | 7 years ago

is it bad to listen to '80s rock music while i cycle, to try and get pumped up a bit?

Latest Comments