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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.

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

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.

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.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 ( 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.

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.

Kim Morrow ( 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, 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.

Fitness questions and answers for March 22, 2004

Training output
Saddle height
Cleat position and knee soreness
Group vs solo
ACL Tear
Leg length discrepancy
Dinner and recovery

Training output

I am 49 years old and a mountain biker of 5 years. For the last 3 years I have been doing vigorous indoor training on a RevMaster, during spinning classes. I have always known that the "220 - age" did not apply to me. To offset that knowledge, I was just adding 100 BPM to whatever % of output was being asked for. For example, if the instructor wanted us to go up to 85% of max, I would take my heart-rate to 185 BPM.

This worked fine and I was very often up to and above 195 during spinning classes. I was doing this 4 or 5 times a week for months. When I came across the Karvonen method of measuring heart-rate, I immediately adopted it. The highest I ever got my HR to, was 200 and my resting HR is around 65. I have been using the new scale for 4 or 5 weeks now and I seldom get my heart rate over 187 now. My question is, have I diminished my heart's ability to work at high levels and in fact worsened my conditioning?

Bill Baker

Scott Saifer replies:

An intriguing question, though I'll encourage you to think about it in a different way. Rather than be concerned with what heart rate you can sustain, I suggest that you be concerned with the speed or power that you can produce at any given heart rate. If one rider can do 25 mph at 140 bpm and be exhausted after an hour, while another rider can hold 180 bpm for an hour, but at 22 mph, I'll put my money on the first rider to win the race.

So the question becomes, what has happened to your power output at similar heart rates since you changed the way you calculate your heart rate zones? If the power is up, you have improved your conditioning. If your power is down, you've worsened it.

Saddle height

I am an intermediate cyclist in above average condition and content with my current workout and diet, however I have a question about bike set-up that I would genuinely appreciate your input. Could you please tell me what is the optimum method for figuring saddle height on a road bike in stage-race-type settings (non-crit, non-time trial). With the crank arm at its lowest position, should the leg be fully extended? Almost extended? I have heard so many theories on this subject that I don't know what to believe?

Troy Reust

Dario Fredrick replies:

With the pedal at the bottom of the stroke, it is generally agreed that the angle of the knee should be around 25-35 degrees. This is a fairly large range that should allow for individual differences in legs (femur/tibia lengths) and flexibility. A professional fit is your best bet however, particularly one that integrates pedal stroke efficiency analysis to optimize your position.

Ric Stern replies:

I don't believe that there is an optimum method for working out seat height. I don't feel that an equation based on some measure will suit everyone as many variables come in play, such as leg length, ratio of upper and lower leg, foot size, etc.

That said a reasonable ball-park starting figure is 100% of greater trochanter height. This measure should be from the top of the saddle where you sit to the top surface of the pedal (when it's horizontal) with your cranks directly in line with your seat tube and measuring to the lower pedal.

To get your greater trochanter height stand up straight in bare feet with your legs slightly apart. The greater trochanter is located at the upper part of your thigh on the lateral aspect and is the point at which your leg rotates around. There is a bony protrusion at this point.

I find this to be quite a good starting point.

Cleat position and knee soreness

I am a recreational road cyclist aged 31 height 172cm. weight 74kg and I've been riding only about two years averaging probably less than 100 k's a week. I have recently upped the training a bit (maybe 150k/week) with the idea of trying racing by the end of the year. Unfortunately at the same time I bought new shoes and have started having some knee problems. I tend to believe the shoes are somehow responsible although I must admit to insufficient warm-ups before my rides to and from work, which both start with savage little hills. Originally I was wearing a pair of cheaper Lake tri shoes with just one strap I got second hand. The new ones are three strap carbon soled beauties and I can definitely feel the difference in power getting through to the pedals both upwards and down. I'm still using red Look cleats and mid range Look pedals.

The pain is on the inner side of the knee about an inch below the knee cap. It's not bad enough to stop riding (although I have just taken a precautionary week off) but is kind of stopping me giving everything in the inevitable races to the next light post. Initially I thought I had set the cleats up running too straight along the shoes (my feet splay out a fair bit when I walk) but turning them around to match more closely the angle of my feet when standing/walking doesn't seem to have helped as I am sore again today from my ten kilometre ride to work. Is fore and aft position important as well? Does the size of the foot make any difference - mine are pretty small for a guy at European 40. Really I was just wondering if you could tell me how to work out the best set up for your shoes/cleats/pedals and what other factors may be involved in my present discomfort.

Julian Porter
Brisbane, Australia

Dario Fredrick replies:

It's possible that rotating your cleats outward would make the problem worse. It's fine that you have cleats with float, but rotating the feet out excessively can place additional strain on the inner knee. Fore and aft position does make a difference, and you should be sure that the center of the cleat (directly over the pedal axle) is positioned under the ball of your foot, if not slightly behind it. Foot size should not affect the situation, unless one foot is significantly larger/smaller than the other. In addition to proper cleat position, your saddle height should allow approximately a 25 to 35 degree angle in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

I have experienced a similar problem, so I'll share what worked for me. First, the pain sounds like mild tendonitis. This is a common problem that cyclists experience, particularly if one is knock-kneed (valgus) or if the feet rotate out quite a bit on the pedals. The first step in dealing with an acute injury is rest and ice (about 10 minutes at a time). Improving flexibility can help. Since cyclists tend to overdevelop the outer thigh and buttocks muscles, the inner leg muscles (attached just where you described) have to work hard to stablize the knee during pedaling. Stretching the outer quadriceps, the buttocks muscles (gluteus), and especially the ilio tibial band can help. I've also found massage to be very helpful in releasing both these tight muscles that I mentioned, as well as to release the belly of the muscle, whose tendon is inflamed. Finally, you might consider pedaling lighter gears at a slightly higher cadence that you're used to, especially when climbing. If the problem persists, I would have your position and pedaling action examined by an expert. Good luck!

Eddie Monnier replies:

In addition to Dario's recommendations, I would strongly suggest you seek out the best bike fitter in your area and have him or her set up your cleat position (and have your whole bike position checked, if you haven't done so before).

If you continue to have problems, then I would suggest you try non-floating cleats. I've worked with some athletes, myself included, who were fine with pedals that float at certain mileages, but experienced tendonitis when they increased volume. Switching to limited- or non-float pedals eliminated the problem.

Heal quickly and enjoy your first race.

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

I would agree with both Eddie and Dario, and would like to add some additional perspective. The area that seems to be troubling you is most likely the pes anserine bursa, which is where the sartorius, gracilis, and semitendinosus muscles insert on the tibia. This area is typically aggravated by excessive rotation at the knee joint and by having too high of a saddle height.

The knee ideally functions as a hinge joint, tolerating (and needing) small amounts of rotation to function correctly. We run into problems when there is excessive rotation, or poor rotation control, present. The first place to control rotation is from the ground up - your foot. Poor foot mechanics can cause the tibia to rotate excessively (usually internally) and this force is often dispersed at the knee. If you have excessive pronation, malaligned cleat position, or too little float, the knee can be forced to compensate. Ironically, if you have poor lower extremity mechanics and too much float, you can also cause the same problems because the knee is allowed to rotate with no control (as Eddie points out).

The second problem that can cause rotational irritation and is just as common in my clinical observation but extremely overlooked, is control from the top up - what is the influence of you hip on your knee. I often see cyclists (and less blessed bipeds) with weak hip external rotators and abductors that position the femur incorrectly and cause the tibia to rotate at the knee and foot to compensate. This also robs power from the cyclists, as their lower leg is not aligned to allow the prime mover muscles (quads, glutes, etc) to function correctly. I will stress again that I see this constantly - and find it very overlooked. I had two high level cyclists that had great difficulty performing even the basic hip abductor strengthening exercises that total hip replacement patients perform!

In both of these cases, the knee is the 'victim' joint, that serves to disperse the rotational forces exerted from above, below, or both (my personal clinical favorite!) Excessive rotation at the knee results in many problems - patellofemoral pain, meniscal irritation, and pes anserine bursitis/tendinits are just a few.

In addition to Eddie and Dario's advice, I would recommend ice massage to the area for 10 minutes 2x day (particularly after riding), and getting evaluated by a skilled therapist who can assess how your entire lower leg works as a connected chain.

Group vs solo

My question is simple. For overall fitness, is it better to train alone or with the local club? I am 33 years old and have been cycling for 20 years. I would like to see some dramatic results this year.

Jason Keller

Kim Morrow replies:

I'm not sure if when you talk about "overall fitness", whether you are including training to race? There are many, many advantages to training with a local club. To name a few: improving pack riding skills, enhancing speed while group riding, learning pacelines, learning to read the wind direction to set up echelons, camaraderie with your fellow cyclists, motivation to train/ride, safety in riding in a group versus alone out on the open road alone, learning to set up for a sprint finish, practicing chasing and attacking (it's kinda hard to chase yourself or attack yourself:), and there are certainly many more benefits to group riding.

Now, there are times when it would be beneficial to train by yourself. If you are working on specific cycling drills, are trying to do a true recovery ride, and/or have specific intervals that you need to complete, then perhaps you will need to go it alone. And, if you are a time trialist or triathlete, you will certainly need to develop the mental abilities required to ride alone. But, most of the time you can accomplish your training goals with a few fellow riders who have the same training objectives as you do. It certainly makes the whole training process much more fun. And, after all, shouldn't riding our bikes be fun?! I think so. Have a great year.

ACL Tear

I am a 35 y/o masters cyclist in California, Cat 4 and very competitive in mixed Cat 3/4 races, and had an MRI confirmed ACL tear 1 ½ weeks ago while attempting to ski. Initially, I had a lot of swelling and decreased range of motion, but not anymore. Actually, I am able to spin on my trainer for 1-2 hrs without pain, but obviously only using small gears. Being that I am a physician, I have done my literature search and none of it has been reassuring. The risks involved in the surgery, post op complications and conflicting data reports seem a bit too high.

I come to you for advice with the conservative treatment modalities. It is my intention to continue cycling, and improve over the years, so I need to have all my options in front of me before making a decision. I realize you probably make a living doing these sort of consultations, so if some form of payment is required, please let me know.

I would appreciate any direction you can provide in this matter.

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

While there are a host of injuries that I would rather have than an ACL tear, I would say that you should be more at ease than your letter indicates. ACL reconstruction is an extremely routine orthopedic surgery that results in excellent overall outcomes when performed by a skilled surgeon. I treat anywhere from 50-100 ACL recons. in my clinic each year and cannot think of a less than 100% return to function outcome in the past 3 years.

You are also following a normal course post injury. Typically, the initial injury is painful, but not excruciating, as the ACL has a relatively poor blood supply and poor innervation. Once the initial insult of the injury resolves out of the acute inflammatory phase (7-10 days), the knee tends to feel relatively normal (provided that no additional injury such as a meniscal tear or MCL tear was sustained concomitantly). Many of my ACL patients ask "Do I really need to have it repaired?" once they get out of this phase. The knee feels relatively normal, moves fine, and, as long as the patient is not too aggressive, doesn't present with any gross instability. My answer to any active patient is an emphatic "Yes have it repaired!" Without an ACL, there are two concerns that I have for an active individual, First, your knee does not have ligamentous integrity and the shifting and general lack of stability at the knee puts you at risk for more severe injuries. Second, the ACL is the primary restraint to your tibia gliding forward on your femur. Without it, the secondary restraint (meniscus) is placed under significant stress and can break down in an accelerated manner. Keep in mind that this is for active individuals. There are lots of people who opt not to have ACL repairs (and those who are ACL deficient) who do fine - but I have long term concerns with their return to aggressive activities. Incidentally, cycling is one of the best activities for ACL deficient individuals - but we don't need to be told how great cycling is!!

Your rehab will progress through a number of phases. I allow people to road ride at appx 4 weeks, provided that they have excellent quadriceps strength and their pedals are set on the loosest tension possible to minimize torque on the knee. I allow mountain biking generally around 3-4 months. Keep in mind that the graft (typically hamstring or patellar tendon) generally becomes progressively weaker for the first 4-8 weeks and then increases in strength until it is at full tensile strength at appx 9 months.

In short, as someone who specializes in conservative medicine, I would opt for surgery. You will have the best long-term outcome and maintain your quality of life.

Leg length discrepancy

First I just want to thank you for all of your expert advice. I have a couple quick questions. I am relatively new to the sport of cycling and am in the base endurance building phase of my training program. On recieving my yearly phycical my Doctor happened to mention, out of the blue, that my left leg is 2 cm shorter than my right. I do not notice anything when I am on the bike, but I am wondering, since it is early in my training regiment, should I try and fix this? Second, I have been experiencing some tenderness in my achillies tendons and it seems to happen as a result of dropping my heels when climbing. Should I simple try and climb without trying to harness that extra power one gets when dropping ones heels on climbs? I am 26 yrs. old, 5' 11", and about 170 lbs.

Steve Navratil
Charlotte NC

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

I would first have you look back on an earlier response that I had to a similar question. Keep in mind that this was someone with some significant structural differences.

I would stress first that there is a fair amount of subjectivity in leg length measurement within the same observer, on the same subject, on the same day! As someone who routinely examines iliac crest height (hip height) and leg length in long sitting, lying supine, and standing, there are many variables that can affect leg length. I routinely see people with significant leg lengths who are completely asymptomatic. The body is never 100% symmetrical, and has an amazing ability to accommodate. If you have no symptoms, one of two situations has occurred - either your body has adapted or you have not placed enough stress on the system for the mechanical stress to accumulate above a painful threshold. While I am certainly proactive in my treatment and the knee jerk reaction would be to raise your cleat, I have seen an equal amount of problems caused by posting a leg which had already had a number of corrective compensations occur (i.e. the unequal leg length is the body's "normal" and by raising the "short" leg, an imbalance is created).

My recommendation would be for you to do three things. First, if it doesn't hurt and is not significantly altering your pedal stroke (neutral spine without a significant hip drop on the 'short" side), don't fix it. Second, If it does give you a problem slowly raise the shim height (1/8" -1/4" per 1-2 weeks) so that the body can accommodate the change. Third, have a good sportsmedicine physical therapist look at your flexibility. One of the main causes that I see for apparent leg length changes are asymmetric flexibility/stability patterns that allow one side of the pelvis tor rotate forward.

Regarding your Achilles tendon issue. Pedal through your normal pedal stroke - don't force your heel down. I think that a certain Mr. Armstrong would debate if you have to have a dropped heel to climb well.

Dinner and recovery

I'm a 30 year old category 3 racer with a full time job. I've been wondering about this question for a little while now.

I work 8am - 4pm and ride after work. I've read some places that you shouldn't have a large/heavy meal up to 3 hours before you go to bed. Claims of that food being more readily stored as fat are on my mind. Since I go to bed at 10pm that would put me at approximately 7pm for my last meal of the night. However, by the time I get home, get changed and head out the door it can be almost 5 o'clock some days. My dilema is that when I want to do 3+ hour rides or go on the 6pm group ride, these will generally bring me home past 8pm, what should I be doing for proper food intake and also avoid that feeling of eating too close to bed. Going to bed later isn't really an option as I have to be well rested to function at work the next day.

Should I be focusing more on recovery based shakes and bars? Eating a "real" meal is a lot more appealing to me.

Peter Rhodes
Concord, NH USA

Ric Stern replies:

The large meal before bed thing is just an old wives tale. It's essential to eat after training, taking in plenty of carbohydrates to restore muscle and liver glycogen. This will help fuel you for further training, and stop you from feeling bad the next day.

All that matters in terms of weight loss/gain is your energy balance. In other words, if you eat more than you expend you'll gain fat, and if you eat less than you expend you'll loose fat.

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