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Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for March 22, 2004
The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel
Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com)
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 (www.davepalese.com)
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 (www.trainright.com)
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 (www.velo-fit.com)
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
David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com)
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 (www.cyclefitcentre.com)
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
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 (www.wholeathlete.com)
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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
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 (www.cyclecoach.com)
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 (www.cyclecoach.com)
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 (www.elitefitcoach.com)
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
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.
Cleat position and knee soreness
Group vs solo
Leg length discrepancy
Dinner and recovery
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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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