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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 August 9, 2004

Knee over pedal spindle
Crank length
Leg musculature
Long tibia
Smoking - how dangerous?
Q factor
Achilles tendonitis
General malaise
HRM cardiac training
Ideal weight and food on the go
Tweaking seat height
Saddle sores
Shoulder cramps
'Passive' position
Tension headaches

Knee over pedal spindle

It seems that these days many bike fit experts also require a knee position that is vertically neutral over the pedal spindle when the crank arm is in the horizontal-front position. Do you agree with this? Would you complete this fit discussion by addressing knee position (ideal fore-aft seat position for power transfer) and seat height? Which is, in your opinion, the first to start with - seat height or fore-aft?

Thanks for the great discussion!

Tom Anderson
Golden, Colorado

Steve Hogg replies:

I have a horrible feeling that this is going to be a long reply. The reason so many people position the knee over the pedal axle is a by product of the ' doing it by numbers' approach. The well trodden path to riches in the bike positioning business, is to come up with a measurement based system, commit it to a cd , floppy disc or manual and then sell it to every bike shop that is interested. The underlying assumption is that a bike position or bike frame choice is a product of a persons static measurements and a few simple relationships [ the one you describe plus ball of the foot over the pedal axle, multiply leg length by a number for seat height etc]. This idea is simple and persuasive, we get measured for a suit, why not get measured for a bike?

I'll tell you why not; static measurements only tell us how a person is proportioned while static. Unfortunately riding a bike is a dynamic activity. Those static measurements tell us nothing of the capabilities, individual techniques, injury history, asymmetries of measurement of function, range of movement etc of any given rider. In short what I'm interested in is what a given person is capable of and how they do what they are capable of. Long ago I realised that this has little or no relevance to, or correlation with static body measurements.

I'll give you a brief example of this from my files. We have two identical twins who want to buy custom bikes. No body dimension that I can measure varies by more than a couple of mm and their weight is within a kilo of each other. So they are near enough to identical in weight and measurement as well as appearance. The 'numbers method' suggests by implication that they should be riding identical bikes. Despite them having great differences in injury history, degree of flexibility and how it was achieved, personality and pedalling technique under load. Measurably, they were the same, functionally they were dissimilar. To focus on one aspect of their differences and its effect on position: they had almost opposing extremes of pedalling technique. Under serious load one dropped his heel a lot, the other still maintained a toe down style. The twin who drops his heel has to sit lower because this extends the leg more than his sibling. Moreover, by dropping his heel to that degree, he is pushing himself back in the seat and doesn't need to sit that far back to stabilise his pelvis. The toe down twin can sit 30+mm higher for the same leg length, leg proportion and foot size because his pedalling technique allows him to reach further. This toe down style also means that the major vector of force on the pedals is to the rear. In high school physics we all learnt that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This toe down style tends to tip the riders weight forwards and so he needed a more relaxed seat angle to allow him to get his weight back far enough so that his pelvis could be stable under load without enlisting torso musculature heavily to allow him to be stabilise.

These two eventually left with 25mm difference in seat tube lengths , 15mm difference in top tube length, and 2 degrees difference in seat tube angle. They are each happy with their positions and bikes but neither can comfortably ride the others bike, despite being near enough to identical in measurement. I'm sure that you can see my point. One example does not make an argument, but I see this sort of thing, ie, lack of correlation with standard tables, on a daily basis.

I started out in the bike game 17 years ago believing all of the proportional based stuff was the way to go because most of the info available suggests that approach. It was only by trying to put it into practice on a money back if not happy basis, that I realised that approach had no basis in fact.

To answer your next question. I couldn't tell you where the knee of anyone who I position is in relation to the pedal axle statically. I don't think it is relevant. Firstly, seat height needs to be such that the rider can reach through the bottom of the stroke with power and control under reasonable load. Next, any asymmetries of pelvic function need to be addressed by twisting the seat and / or building up various areas of seat. Next, seat set back needs to be such that the rider can support the majority of their weight after taking their hands off the drops while pedaling in a reasonably hard gear. Teetering is fine, collapsing onto the bars or noticeably arching the back to prevent collapsing is not. Next, sort the cleat position fore and aft. If this requires a large change, seat height and fore and aft position may need to be changed somewhat. Then take care of any knee tracking issues. Next, position the bars and brake hoods so they can be reached with ease in the various hand positions and so that when on the drops the neck is not using more than I would guess, 85% of its range of movement to allow the rider to see forward. Somewhere along the way, any leg length asymmetries of function or measurement need to be addressed. It all sounds easy doesn't it? I wish.

How can you judge whether you have got it right? Apart from the huff and puff of exertion, riding at pace should feel easy. There should be no sensation of 'fighting' the bike. Power should be generated from the hips down. The torso should be used almost exclusively for breathing and there should be no more tension in the arms and shoulders than is necessary to steer and control the bike. Post hard ride there should be no dead lactic feeling in the quads even if running up and downstairs. All of the upper leg musculature should feel tired but this shouldn't feel localised. If you can achieve this you are pretty close to the mark.

Above all remember that performance cycling is actually 3 sports, and of those, riding the bike has the least priority. The other two sports?

Sleeping and stretching. If you are adequately rested and have adequate function [most people don't] the rest is easy.

Crank length

One quick final question: what are your views on crank length? I am 5'10' with a 33.5 inseam. I race road and MTB, so I currently run 175s on both bikes. I train mostly on the road - as do many MTBers these days - so, I feel keeping the cranks the same helps me reduce the chance of soreness when I ride the MTB.

Realizing that my "ideal" crank length is 172.5, am I losing any efficiency on the road by riding a 175?

Tom Anderson

Steve Hogg replies:

Given that you are using your road bike as a training aid for your MTB, I would stick with the 175s so that the crank length is the same on both. It is always harder to go up a crank length on short notice, like spending the week days riding 172.5s and going up to 175s for the weekend MTB race, than it is to go down a crank length.

Who says your ideal crank length is 172.5? I don' t think that crank length is necessarily a function of leg length. There are other factors to consider. As to your last point about efficiency; efficiency at what? You are likely not to be able to jump as quickly in a sprint on the longer crank, but you may well climb hills better providing you can control the extra range of motion well.

Leg musculature

I've been riding seriously for 3 years. I note new thigh muscle definition, the obvious heads of the quad above the knee, but also muscles on the sides and further up in front. What is the function of these various muscles? It seems like I'm able to "pedal from the hip" more now, but it might be my imagination or not good in any event. Any insight to muscle function and pedal style/bike position? Why do cyclists have a split calf?

Darrel Stickler
San Mateo, CA

Steve Hogg replies:

What you observe is a by product of training, ie increased muscle development and perhaps decreased fat overlaying them. Broken down and simplified, pedalling action is something like this. The glutes and hamstrings extend the hip, ie push the upper leg, our primary lever on a bike downwards. At the same time, the quadriceps extend the knee, ie straighten the lower leg and the muscles of the lower leg control the movement of the ankle. Generally, the further forward a rider sits, the more they enlist the quads, and the further back they sit the more they enlist the hammies and glutes. Ideally we want these muscle groups working in harmony so the pedalling load can be spread over the greatest area of upper leg musculature.

I wouldn't concentrate to much on pedalling style. There are those that argue that pedalling style can be trained, but I'm yet to be convinced that this is necessarily an improvement. At 90+% heartrate, very few riders are thinking about individual pedal strokes. Usually at high load and heartrate they will revert to what comes naturally to them. For this reason I think it is best to accept what comes naturally and refine it by riding a lot.

If you look at old tapes, Merckx [ heel down] and Anquetil [ toe down ] had absolute opposite extremes of pedalling technique under severe load but both won most things on offer at the time. So I don't think that a particular pedalling technique defines whether a cyclist will be successful or not.

As to position, find the best person you can to position you. It can make a huge difference. Ideally you should look for someone who takes a capability based rather than measurement based approach.

Long tibia

I am a male 34 year old 100-150 miles a week group rider plus a little racing. Lately I have been struggling with my bike set-up, in particular saddle height and for -aft. I think I am having difficulty because my lower leg length is probably longer than average, although my upper leg is probably closer to average. I always feel as though my legs are just to long. I am 5'9" 148 lbs. Any suggestions, do people with longer tibias need to make their adjustments with this in mind ? If it helps my legs are 32" with 18" of that being from the bottom of patella to the floor.

Jack Agnell

Steve Hogg replies:

Unfortunately there are no rules of thumb that work well for everybody, though I can give you some general advice that will help you in the right direction.

1. Mount your bike on a trainer and make sure that it is dead level between axle centres. Set your seat height so that in a big gear, under reasonable load [ which I'll define as being the sort of load you would experience forcing a gear that is 1 tooth to big up a moderately steep hill ] you can reach the bottom of the stroke with power and control. If in doubt as to what this means, keep raising your seat in 3mm increments till you start to lose smoothness under reasonable load. When this happens, drop the seat back to the last mark that felt smooth. Basically, you should feel like you are reaching the bottom of the pedal stroke with a bit in reserve. The best crosscheck is that if after a TT or similar intensity ride you are sore in the hamstrings just below the glutes, then you are still a touch too high. Remember that under high torque, moderately low rev efforts, all but a rare few will drop the heels more, which in turn means greater extension of the legs. Seat height needs to be set for those kind of conditions simply because that is where greatest extension occurs.

2. Your seat should be far enough behind the bottom bracket so that you feel that the great majority of your weight is supported by your ischia [ sit bones ]. Ideally you should feel that your weight is borne on the centre of them, not the rear edge. If you feel like you are rolling off the centre onto the rear of the ischia, then either the seat is still too far forward or the seat nose needs to be tipped up by 1 - 2 degrees. The crosscheck here is can you take your hands off the drops while riding hard without falling forward uncontrollably. You should be teetering on the point of balance. This is more easily accomplished on the road than indoors because on the road you have a 30km/h plus wind hitting you in the chest.

3. Position your cleats so that they are in the position noted in the Cleat Position 1 & 2 posts on this site Q & A for July 27.

Remember that after steps 2 and 3 the seat height may have to be reassessed slightly.

Smoking - how dangerous?

I didn't get a reply to this question a while ago, so I'm trying again. I'm well aware that smoking is not healthy, that's obvious, especially when you do sports at a certain level. But exactly how bad is it? Does it really slow me down a lot to smoke 10 cigarettes a day, does my heart rate increase, my lung capacity decrease etc? Is there a rule of thumb of seconds lost per km on a tt?

Mikkel Laursen

Scott Saifer replies:

I'm just guessing here but I bet you didn't get an answer because performance coaches won't take a smoker seriously. Sorry I don't have a seconds per kilometer answer for you. After ten years in business and more than 300 clients, I've never had a client who smoked. Anyone who cares about speed on the bike should not smoke. I have had clients who were ex-smokers. They seem to recover their full ability to breath deeply in about five years once they quit.

If you care about speed, don't smoke. There's no question that smoking reduces VO2-max and sustainable speed. Perhaps someone else can jump in with the precise numbers, but my recollection is that after one cigarette approximately 5% of your hemoglobin is tied up as carbo-monoxyhemoglobin, which does not transport oxygen. Carbon monoxide sticks to hemoglobin much more tightly than does oxygen. Oxygen is a slightly larger molecule and is kept by it's size from perfectly settling into the pocket in hemoglobin. Carbon monoxide being a little smaller, fits in a little tighter and is harder to knock loose. A hemoglobin molecule that has a carbon monoxide molecule attached won't transport oxygen until the carbon monoxide detaches. So effectively, smoking is the same as decreasing your hematocrit. It's like anti-EPO.

If you don't care about speed or cancer or emphysema, smoke away. By the way, my grandmother stopped smoking after 20 years but before I was born. She was diagnosed with emphysema a few years ago, more than thirty years after she stopped smoking.

I just did some poking around on the internet and came up with a number for you. In a test of 2.4 km run performance, otherwise healthy 18-26 year old male smokers went 3% slower than similar non-smokers. This run takes about 10 minutes. Among the subjects who ran 2.5 km in less than nine minutes, smokers had significantly less endurance than non-smokers, thought the abstract did not include numbers for this measure.

Q factor

I have always ridden with Time Equipe pedals (the old ones), but just got a pair which, unlike my old ones, can not be installed using a pedal wrench, but rather an Allen wrench.

As there is now considerably less of a gap between my pedals and the crank arms, should I be really careful about going out and riding like nothing has changed on the bike? I have seen a few letters about 'Q factor' on the site, but it seems people here are talking about a few millimeters.

The gap between the pedal and the crank arm on my "new" Equipes seems to have been decreased far more than a few mm's, leaving me a little concerned with such a dramatic reduction. I am not sure if you need more information in order to answer this question, but please let me know if there are unknown unknowns that I don't know about.

Matt Kinder

Steve Hogg replies:

The story is this. The original Time Equipes' that you had, had no ability to angle the cleats, but because there was 20 degrees of rotational movement this was only a problem for a rare few. In addition to rotational movement, the cleat could also move 15mm across the pedal with out rotating. The idea being that the foot could find its own position naturally. Most people's feet naturally gravitated to the outside of this 15mm movement giving an extremely wide 'effective' Q factor.

A lot of pro riders complained about this, it wasn't really a problem but you do have to pedal with the heels in more than with other systems because the feet are further apart than with other systems. The less the Q factor the better the feel for a majority of riders. In recognition of this, Time brought to market an optional narrower axle. By eliminating the wrench flat, the pedal was moved 7mm closer to the crank per side. This is the version that you have now. They should not be a problem after a ride or two getting used to the new feeling.

If however, you find that you prefer the older, wider axle, then it is interchangeable with the new shorter one.

Achilles tendonitis

I'm a female, cat IV rider, 5'8", 130 lbs, ~ 400 hr/yr training plan this year, and I like to climb hills a lot. About 10 months ago I injured my Achilles while running (sprints) training for a short distance triathlon. My pain is in the distal part of both Achilles near the heel. I have not run now for over 8 mos, but on & off I'm still plagued by Achilles pain after riding, hills especially, and also long rides after a few easy days. I ice them, take anti-inflammatories occasionally, & I've started some weight training for my gastrocs thinking that might help. Hasn't yet. It's been a long time!. Looking for other suggestions, roles for ultrasound or PT, etc.

Nicole Alexander
Tucson AZ

Steve Hogg replies:

There are health professionals on this forum that can better answer the question you have asked re rehabilitation, but there is another issue to consider. That is cleat placement fore and aft on your cycling shoes. You may or may not have some propensity for Achilles tendon strains for other reasons, but if you don't have enough foot over the pedal when cycling, your problem will be further aggravated. If you look on this site for the Fitness Q & A post ' Cleat position 1 and 2' on July 26, and follow that advice re cleat placement in your shoe size, at worst you will be no better off and at best you may get a pleasant surprise.


There isn't a wealth of information about training for long climbs. For example, I ride a climb which is 14k at about 6%. I do this purely for fun, but sure would like to improve my time for the ascent. Most of the time I avg about 180hr, and it takes about 50 minutes or so. I am always spent at the top. Sometimes I try to go slower, but that's not the point, and besides I end up with a very low cadence if I do that.

Should I just keep riding it? Ride it more often? Help!

Dean Georgaris

Brett Aitken replies:

First you need to be specific about what your aiming to achieve on the climb. Start with the major goal in mind first (eg. cutting 2 minutes off your time within 3 months) and then start breaking it down into smaller pieces to help you make it happen. 2 minutes seems alot but it's only an improvement of 10 seconds a week.

First and foremost is that if you are carrying a few extra tyres around the waist then concentrate on this first. On a long climb those extra pounds can make a huge difference before even having to worry about improving your power or fitness. Secondly try breaking the climb down into sections. If the climb is a fairly even gradient then you could simply do recurring intervals on the the first part of the climb by doing 4 efforts of 3km each at a higher power/effort than you'd normally ride up in and use the downhill as your recovery section.

You could also use these recurring efforts to measure your ideal cadence for climbing as well and how your heartrate responds to this. Riding it more often might not necessarily be the answer to going faster up hills but riding it with a purpose will certainly help.

General malaise

I am a 28, soon to be 29, year old Cat 4 racer. I am about 71 inches tall, and approx. 190 lbs. I have been off work most of the spring and summer, and consequently, have had time to ride a fair bit. Approx. 160-200 miles per week, or, 12-13 hours per week.

Lately, as in the last two weeks, I have been getting to about the 30 minute point in my workouts, and feeling just generally blah. I can't explain what has brought it on. I have been calorie limiting, to about 1000 cals till 5:00pm, then a ride, then dinner for about 800 calories. Is this low-calorie diet, in an effort to slim down, causing the general malaise that I am feeling? Additionally, I ride in intense heat and humidity, in the order of 90F and 75% Humidity, with little elevation climbing. During these rides, of any intensity at all, I notice a light-headedness that often accompanies the problem, usually, just before. I do not have a history of medical problems, though my dad passed away a year ago from a sudden heart arrhythmia. I have no diagnosed health problems, and take no medication. My diet consists primarily of low fat, high carb foods. I am a heavy caffeine user. I eat hardly no fruits and veggies though.

Ashley Renfroe
Birmingham, AL, USA

Pam Hinton replies:

Here's an experiment for you to try that might shed some light on your problem. First, determine the gas mileage for your car. Then, completely empty the gas tank and pour back in exactly one-half gallon. Now, try to find ways to drive that car the exact distance that it is supposed to travel on a full gallon. You can probably do it if you strip out the interior and maybe take off the doors and fenders, but you'd still have to drive very slow and coast on all the down-hills.

But don't try to get out and push, because you're doing the same thing to yourself that I suggested doing to your car for that experiment. In my opinion, the answer to your problem is that you need to eat more and more of the good stuff. A person of your height, weight and age cannot perform well on only 1800 kcal per day. In fact, you probably need to double your energy intake given how active you are.

If the effort to "slim down" is to improve your cycling, your current strategy is evidently counter-productive. Being lean is advantageous in the sport of cycling, where power to weight ratio is a determinant of performance. However, the concept of too much of a good thing can be applied to leanness and to the self-denial some people exert in their attempts to lose weight. In setting body weight goals, we must consider body composition, genetics, and overall physical and mental health. Some individuals may be classified as overweight based on standard height and weight tables when in fact they are lean, simply because they have more muscle mass than the "reference" man or woman. Genetics are a strong determinant of body type. It is much more productive to accept your body type and race in events that suit your natural strengths than it is to fight against your genes. The physical risks associated with excessive leanness are overtraining syndrome, frequent illness and injury, and loss of bone mass. For some people, weight becomes a mental burden as well, which saps your emotional strength.

I suggest that you put your efforts into your training instead of into losing weight. If you don't give your body the nutrients that it needs, you will never reach your potential. Increase your energy intake and be sure that you are getting enough protein. People who eat low-fat, high-carb diets often limit their intake of foods that are good sources of protein, such as dairy products and meat. You admitted to avoiding fruits and vegetables. Being a nutritionist, I can't let that pass. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of anti-oxidants (compounds which prevent damage to cell membranes), such vitamins A and C. Potassium and magnesium, two minerals needed for normal muscle function, are also abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables. Folate, a vitamin that is need for cell growth, is also found in plant-foods.

Riding in the extreme heat and humidity might also have contributed to your malaise, but you will never know for sure until you rule out the possibility that you may simply be runnin' out of gas.

HRM cardiac training

I'm at a loss! I seem to be shunning all the prescribed, documented rules for Heart Rate sports fitness training using a Heart Rate Monitor.

Using a Polar s720i I've just started getting back into a fitness regime and am cycling, running & swimming and hope to do a half ironman around Christmas time. But all the literature I read just doesn't seem to apply to me!

A few pointers:

The adage of 220 minus age for Max HR doesn't fit - I should therefore be 187. Twice now I've tested with my Polar HRM and recorded a MHR of 199 (resting HR at the moment is about 55).

Using the Polar Fitness Test, my VO2Max is around 58 - Journals and books (Peak Performance - Issues 104 page 5,6, & 7 Londeree and Moeschberger (1982) 'Effect of age and other factors on HR max' - Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, 53(4), 297-304 Swain et al (1994) 'Target HR for the development of CV fitness' - Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 26(1), 112-116 Miller et al (1993) - 'Predicting max HR' - Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 25(9), 1077-1081) quote a formula for working out %VO2Max as: %MHR=0.64 * %VO2 Max + 37 or (.64*58+37)=74% of MHR for my VO2Max.

Bearing in mind - that VO2Max is the threshold for excessive Lactic acid build up and a point that should only be crossed during very strenuous point of training / race that gives my VO2Max HR of 148. This is ridiculous! I reach this HR within 2 mins of starting a run! So this must be wrong.

Point in Action:

Did a 12 Km run a couple of weeks ago (bearing in mind it was the first run/exercise for 6 months) I spent 45 mins continuous with my HR above 180 - which is above 90% of my (excessively high) MaxHR. This shouldn't be possible without collapse! but felt fine (although a bit knackered!)

A couple of weeks of exercise and my HR has dropped significantly and now I run consistently at around 170. But does this change the fact that I could sustain longer periods of higher intensity work in a race for example.

I want to try training in the right 'zones' and as I am doing a half ironman ( which will be 5 hours of exercise if I'm lucky) knowing my thresholds will be quite important. I do also realise that this is a MHR taken from a running test so my cycle zones would be approx 5 beats less.

Does all this mean I actually have the potential (with training) to go quite fast, or am I just an unfit bugger? :o) I suppose genetic makeup has a lot to do with it.

About 10-12 years ago I was very fit. Running 10km cross country races in approx 32-33 mins - at the moment I'd be luck to break 50 mins for that distance.

I am really interested in all this stuff and hope I haven't inconvenienced you too much in making you read this.

Dean Mullin

Scott Saifer replies:

You sound like someone who would be great fun to coach. I'll answer a few of your questions. 220-age gives a poor approximation the population average maximum heart rate. 210 - 1/2(age) gives a better approximation to the population average, but the standard deviation is still around 10, which means that 96% of people will be within 20 beats of the average. The only way to know your own maximum heart rate is to do your own test. The formulas are nice for setting up zones for people who are so out of shape that they might die if they go hard enough to test.

Same concept with VO2-max. There are formulae that might help you approximate, but only an actual test will tell you your own personal VO2-max.

I'll suggest that you do the majority of your training between 70% and 80% of your measured maximum heart rate in running and riding, and that you swim with bilateral breathing and back off if you begin breathing particularly hard. As you are at the very beginning of training, it's likely that your maximum heart rate and ventilatory threshold heart rate will change in the next weeks and months, and that your speed at sustainable heart rates will increase by a much greater percentage than the heart rates will change.

Unfortunately for you (but fortunately for me, max heart-rate ~172) there is no connection between a high maximum heart rate or a high sustainable heart rate and athletic success. What matters is how fast you go at any particular heart rate.

Ideal weight and food on the go

I am an 18 year old (male) road cyclist, and I intend on competing in the collegiate ranks in B/C divisions next year. I am 5'8" on a 58 cm Trek 1000, and weigh approximately 135 lbs. I am a very good climber, and can ride with or away from the group when the roads turn up. I can hold my own and usually ride about 20 mi/hr for my 2-3 hour training rides through hilly NW Connecticut, but I don't seem to have the power to drive for long distances on flats by myself, and I get dropped very often on descents since heavier riders just seem to shed me out the back. In a sport where everyone thinks weightlessness is the key, do I actually need to gain weight to become a better all-around cyclist?

Also, I have trouble taking in solid food while riding. Then it seems like it is only a matter of time before I crash out. Power gels can only get you so far, and I usually take a water and gatorade/saline bottle, but I inevitably burn my reserves about three hours into an effort and start cramping or just feel drained. I have tried energy bars mostly but they just tend to sit dryly in my mouth and make a painstaking task to chew. I try to suck down water and make it go down more smoothly, but the whole circus act usually makes me sit up and work to get food down rather than just eating in the flow of the race or ride. Any suggestions?

Tres Lambert

Pam Hinton replies:

At the risk of helping to promote a giant in the industry, much of your problem will be solved through application of the Nike slogan: just do it. With a couple more years of age and the experience that goes with it, you'll no doubt gain a few pounds, but more important you'll learn ways to hang with the bigger dogs on the long descents. For insurance, find yourself a good all-around weight training (pumping iron) program and get yourself an 11-tooth cog. Another thing you'll learn with practice is how to fuel up on the run.

Think of the athletic side of you as a baby that you are responsible for feeding. So you need to find out two things: what is good for this kid and what this kid will eat and not trip the gag reflex. You find out what has the best nutrition by reading labels, and you determine the palatability by trying it under the exact conditions that you'll need it. Some of these things may taste great right out of the fridge and chased with a cold glass of milk as you watch the latest edition of Southpark in your air conditioned townhouse. But it will likely be a different dining experience when mixed with blood, sweat, and tears (apologies to David Clayton Thomas,

The trick is to keep yourself fueled up as you ride so that you never burn all of your reserves and have to run on empty. During exercise, skeletal muscle has four primary energy sources: glucose stored as glycogen in the muscle, blood glucose, fatty acids circulating in blood, and fat stored as triglycerides in muscle. We are primarily concerned with blood glucose and muscle glycogen because when these fuel sources are depleted, fatigue hits hard and performance drops markedly. The glucose in blood (about 20 g) and in skeletal muscle (350 g) will last for approximately 90 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (60-70% of VO2max). It is possible to delay or prevent the onset of fatigue, i.e., the point at which you crash out, by consuming carbohydrate at regular intervals throughout the entire ride. The recommended intake is 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Drinking 16-32 ounces of a commercial fluid replacement beverage that contains 4-8% carbohydrates every hour, would meet this guideline. So, for a 3 hour ride you would need to drink at least three bottles of a Gatorade-type drink. Typical energy gels contain about 25 g of carbohydrate, and these work fine as long as they are taken with water to avoid gastrointestinal distress. My point is, do not wait until late in the ride to start replenishing your carbohydrate supply.

I know that trying to open and remove the wrapper from some energy bars can be a Herculean task, and as you point out, chewing and swallowing them is no small feat. I have a few suggestions for making eating on the bike seem more manageable and less like a circus act. If you eat "solid food" during a ride because you can only tolerate so much carbohydrate in liquid or gel form, then experiment and find an energy bar that doesn't require the effort of masticating rawhide or swallowing sawdust. To make the bars easier to eat on the fly, open the wrapper, break the bar into bite-sized pieces and put it in your jersey pocket before the race starts. Also, don't be fooled into thinking that only "energy" bars contain energy. Check out the ingredients labels for foods such as Fig Newtons, raisins, Moon Pies, pretzels, licorice, and gummy bears and you'll begin to see that you can get energy on the run from a plethora of sources. Ask some of your more experienced teammates and competitors what they use. Then get some and go out on a training ride and . . . just eat it.


Hi, I'm a 29 year old male beginning cyclist. I have mostly played baseball, basketball, and boxed as an amateur when I was in my teens. I was just wondering which are the major muscles that are used when cycling? Can there be any repetitive type injuries to these muscles? Just curious. I am now trying to avoid jogging since I have bad knees. But, up to this point in my age, I am now wondering why I did not take cycling at a much earlier age. I love it. I started with 5 miles a day, now I'm up to 20 miles a day, six times a week. I either rest on Saturday or Sunday. Thank you for any info that you may give me.

Sergio Flores

Scott Saifer replies:

The major muscles providing power on the bike are the glutes, hams, quads and calves. When riding hard, low back muscles also become active. The muscles that support your head when you bend forward are active too. Many other muscles have smaller roles in supporting you weight on the bike, and making the postural changes that come with steering and slowing.

Overuse injuries to cyclists are generally to joints rather than muscles, if the bike has been fitted well and the rider builds up distance and intensity gradually over months or years, allowing time to adapt to each level of exertion before moving on. A seat too high can lead to damage in the hamstrings. Each other positioning error has it's own characteristic injury. If you are serious about cycling and planning to move past the 20 miles per day level, I'd suggest visiting with a local fit expert. ask around for referrals. Most shops have someone on staff who does fittings well enough to sell bikes, but that doesn't mean that most shops have someone on staff who is competent to properly fit a rider who is going to ride longer or harder than the average recreational rider, who rides for a few months and then hangs up the bike when things start to hurt.

Tweaking seat height

I'm a 46 y/o, fit, average vets road racer. Solid build, 88-90kg. No mutant anatomy but have always used a more than average heel down pedaling technique. A while back I developed a problem (no injury or such that I was aware of) in my right leg with a pain running from the outer hip diagonally across toward the inner thigh. Not a quad pain but more deep within the leg. During sustained hard effort it would sometimes be accompanied by lower back pain, across the back and not a glute pain. It would normally not come in until 30km or so and would sometimes be serious enough to make me get off. A few minutes off would then allow me to go again. I often had the feeling that my right leg was working harder than the left.

Thinking front of leg pain / too low theory I tried increased seat height - worse. Tried more seat set back and, while the perception of power was better, pain was marginally worse. I then took the opposing theory, lowered seat height and reduced set back and, ignoring the one change at a time rule, shifted cleats forward (previously set so as to be below the ball of foot) after reading your recent comments. The result of all this was 6mm less seat height and 5mm less set back than I was originally riding. LOOK cleats are now nearly as far forward as they'll go on s.45 Shimano's.

I've done around 150km total in 3 rides since. During ride one I felt that the cleat change was causing my feet to roll outward (normal for me & I have to wear runners built on a curved last) during the pedal downstroke but leg pain was vastly improved. Using the go with it and not force it theory I then fitted a pair of scaphoid arch supports before riding again. Feet feel great and I can sustain higher cadences more comfortably, feeling like my pedaling is much more circular. The leg pain has been almost eliminated but has shifted. The sensation (after the same 30km or so) is now toward the outside of the quad and parallel with my thigh. No more back pain. The rest of the set-up is unchanged. My question is - from a physiology view, do these actions & effects make sense? Is there anything else you may suggest? I'm a little worried, not understanding why the problem arose in the first place, that I might be setting myself up for developing some other drama.

Mick Meaney

Steve Hogg replies:

The original pain sounds like a tight psoas or iliacus, the psoas merges with the iliacus and as both are hip flexors, they are functionally linked as well. The psoas then continues across the hip joint to the lower back where it splits into six 'fingers'. 5 of these attach to the 5 lumbar vertebrae and the 6th to the lowest thoracic vertebrae. If it is the hip flexors that are overtight, then pain at the front of the upper thigh and low back pain can be one of the possible results commonly.

The question that has to be asked though, is why only on the right side?

The answer inevitably will be because of some functional and/or measurable asymmetry. Your best bet here is to see a good physio, chiropractor, osteopath, masseur or similar to diagnose and fix.

As to the steps you have taken, anything I say would be a blind guess as I don't know how you function or sat on the bike originally or now. The tightness on the outside of the thigh now is probably your ITB [ iliotibial band]. The I in ITB stands for the iliacus I mentioned above, which fits the pattern that I assume you fit.The measures you have taken have worked to some degree, so don't worry to much about that. My only concern is that you have misunderstood the advice I have previously given re cleat position. If your starting point fore and aft was ball of the foot over the pedal axle, you should have moved your cleat back on the shoe, not forward.

If you re read that cleat info and get it back where it should be you may find that you have to drop the seat again slightly as this will stretch the leg out more.

Saddle sores

Hey guys, a "delicate" question. What is the best way to deal with the annoying recurence of saddle sores, i change knicks & Jerseys every day, shower twice a day, but they still re-occur in the same place, right where the "cheeks" - (for want of a better word), meet the saddle, right in the delicate area of the groin region,( the underside of the Scrotum, where the sun don't shine basically )

It has never been a problem before - would a chamois creme help...?? It's starting to effect my position on the saddle & my training. I am 35 yo, Male, and race Road races & Crit's.

Matt McGoon

Steve Hogg replies:

It sounds like hygiene is not the problem which leaves a number of possibilities.

1. You are bearing weight on your perineal area
2. You are tight in the hips and lower back and hence rocking side to side
3. Seat is too high
4. Any combination of the above

I need more info. Is the problem even on both sides or more pronounced on one side? Is there any feeling of perineal pressure? What brand of bike and size do you use? What type Of seat do you use? What brand and size of shoes do you use?

Matt responded:

Steve, the problem occurs on both sides, no there isn't any feeling of perineal pressure, I am riding a WILLIER compact, large frame size (which is compareable to a 56 standard) i am currently using a SELLE ITALIA SLR, with the "cut-out", shoes - i have just changed up the the DMT ULTIMAX, with the carbon soles, after using the RS3 model for two and a half years.

I stretch every day, at home & at the gym using static stretches, and the Swiss Ball. I am seriously considering getting "fitted" correctly to see if this can alleviate the problem. I couldn't ride this morning, as the saddle sore is quite tender, i'm thinking that if i take the weekend off the bike, Mother Nature should run it's course, and - fingers crossed, I can start training seriously again Monday. I hope ths information I've supplied is enough, if you require more let me know, as i'm keen as too have the problem leave forever.....Matty

First thing to do is not to use any antiseptic creams or lotions, they are just a moist breeding ground for bacteria. Next, trip down to the chemist and buy some ' Medi Pulv' antiseptic powder. Apply that liberally to the affected area after every bath or shower.

Your frame has a 73 degree seat tube angle and your SLR Trans AM seat has plenty of fore and aft adjustment. One trap with those seats is that if set up dead level, the shape of the underlying plastic shell tends to tip riders of the middle of the sit bones onto the rear of the sitbone. This is turn can mean that though the cut out relieves any pressure that otherwise may be felt, there is friction between perineum and knicks/seat. Get an angle finder [incinometer] from a hardware store, it will cost you about 30 bucks, and after making sure that your bike is dead level between axle centres, place a straight edge on the seat with the angle finder on top. Adjust the seat so that the nose is 1 1/2 to 2 degrees higher. If seat level is the problem, this should solve it.

The only way that you could be losing hairs from the underside of your scrotum [ it is generally infected hair follicles that cause saddle sores] is if there is friction there. If changing the level of the seat makes no difference, consider how well you knicks fit. If they are loose in any way, this can cause your problem.

Are you creeping onto the nose of the seat under load, if so, this can cause your problem. If this is the case, follow the advice given on the posts "Penile numbness and perineal tenderness" for August 2 on this site. You have plenty of potential for seat adjustment with the seat and frame you have, and DMT's have the cleat mounting holes far enough back so that proper cleat positioning [ see Cleat Positioning 1 & 2 for July 27 on this site ] shouldn't be a problem.

Shoulder cramps

I read with great interest the recent inquiry from Adrian Blomfield regarding shoulder cramps. I did what you prescribed by setting up a stationary trainer and having someone observe my hips and shoulders. I think, based on your diagnostic test, my problem may well stem from not sitting square on the saddle. What do I do now? Thanks in advance.

Mark Mendelson
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Steve Hogg replies:

The ideal solution is to use the services of a physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath or similar to resolve the underlying asymmetry which is commonly caused by overtight hip flexors and / or a restricted sacro -iliac joint on the affected side, and less commonly caused by a multitude of things.

The less than ideal solution is to work around the problem. The following advice will work if you are a typical example of this problem:

1. twist the nose of the seat off centre in the direction of the hip dropping side. It should not be so much that the seat ' feels' twisted. If anything, you should feel straighter. If you feel twisted then you have gone to far with the seat nose.

2. point 1 should minimise the hip drop to some degree. If this is not enough, then fit a firm but soft pad, 3mm thick to the rear of the seat on the hip dropping side. You may or may not have to fit a similar sized packer under the cleat on the same side.

3. Remove the bar tape on the hip dropping side and fit some Specialized Bar Fat under the the bar tape and brake hood on the hip dropping side, then refit the bar tape.

Those three steps will work to a greater or lesser degree depending on the severity of your asymmetry of function and how well you assess what you need done. However I must stress that this is no substitute for solving the root cause issue. The better and more symmetrically your body functions, the better you will be able to perform on the bike.

'Passive' position

I read Steve Hogg's reply to the question about penile numbness with interest, in particular Steve's guidance on achieving the 'passive' position.

It leaves me with one question - can he describe in more detail how he achieves it ? The description he gave left me a little confused - did he mean - balanced when leaning forward ? i.e. you move into your drops position, then take your hands off the bars, while in that position, and then see if you do/don't fall forward - if that is the case, I don't know a rider who would not fall over or tense their back to hold the position !!!! As you can see I am a bit confused - but also interested in getting it right, because I think it could be very helpful

John O Sullivan

Steve Hogg replies:

The factors that prevent people being able to pass the hands off test are:

1. Seat too far forward
2. Bars too low or too far away
3. Cleats too far forward on the shoe
4. Poor or negligable ability to enlist transverse abs and multifidus on a bike (poor core strength)
5. Any combination of the above

The key to a good position is a stable pelvis, passively achieved. The best way to achieve this is to sit on it, ie, bear the majority of body weight on the ischia [ sit bones ] at the base of the pelvis. To do this the seat needs to be an appropriate distance behind the bottom bracket. Just how far is a very individual thing and there is a large degree of difference between a wide range of people.

Done properly, the action of the glutes/hammies and quads is in harmony and equilibrium with neither being overloaded and consequently challenging pelvic stability.

If the seat position is correct [and the position of cleats and handlebars] then the musculature of the torso isn't being used to any great degree to help stabilise. There are 20 torso muscles used in breathing. 18 have postural implications which means that if any of those 18 are being used to stabilise or bear weight, they are not or are only partially available to breathe with. Performance can never be optimum if this is the case.

Properly set up, the rider in my view, should be able to teeter on the point of balance for a brief period, if taking the hands off the bars while riding on the drops under reasonable load. In so doing, the torso is unloaded to a large degree. If the rider can support themselves totally without hands and without teetering they are more than likely sitting too far back, and their hamstrings will let them know it on hilly rides even if all the other positional parameters are fine. Additionally, the transfer of weight forward when getting off the seat to sprint will be ponderous and deliberate rather than instant.

If the seat is too far forward or bars to low, there is a weight transfer forward which has to be borne somehow. The process of doing this means restricted respiratory ability and extraneous muscular enlistment which has to be fed with heartbeats that are then not available to the legs which drive the bike.

Probably the largest variable in all of this is the degree of structural function that a given rider possesses. All you need to be is adequate. The problem here is that ' adequate ' in our chair bound society, means significantly above average. This is only because the average level of structural function is appallingly woeful. To many of us are infatuated with the pursuit of muscular strength and/or cardiovascular efficiency. This is many peoples idea of fitness. It is only one aspect of fitness, and the least important because it is the easiest to come by. Neurological fitness is fundamental, ie, how well the signals from the brain get to wherever. What is the major determinant of neurological fitness? The answer is posture, both static and dynamic. How many people train that?

Essentially, the arms should function as relaxed props,and I stress relaxed. No matter what the level of structural dysfunction, the principles enumerated here will improve rider performance if they put into practice properly. Sounds easy doesn't it?

Tension headaches

I'm a 26 year old male and I'm around 5'9" and weigh 165 lbs. I ride a Giant TCR Aero series bike which has a compact road geometry and I've removed the aero bars that came with the bike. After moving to New York City recently, I've started road biking about 150-200 miles per week and essentially given up my mountain bike which I had been riding recreationally in the past. I weight train intensely about 3 times a week in addition to riding. However since picking up road biking, I get intense crushing pains on either side of my head towards the middle to end of my sets. This is particularly prevalent when I'm performing exercises while I'm lying on my back. The crushing pain usually resolves to what can be best described as a 'tension headache' and persists usually for the rest of the day. I have never felt any pain when biking, even on my longer trips. I'm wondering if this is something due to a mistake in my position while riding that's putting strain on certain muscles in my head and neck region -- perhaps I'm too stretched out? Is this something that will resolve itself after time?

Eric Lee

Steve Hogg replies:

There are other people on this forum who know far more about headaches than I do, but I will relate an incident that occurred some years ago. I had a rider seeking advice re position. His problems were sore hands, perineal numbness and stiff neck and shoulders and headaches such as you describe. The headache complaint in not a common problem, but the others I see daily. We sorted out his position so that he bore far less weight on his arms and upper torso and the headaches disappeared as well. My assumption at the time was that the over enlistment of upper torso, neck and shoulder muscles to ride a bike must have played a part in his headaches. He is the only person of thousands I have seen to have this happen, so don't get your hopes up. I mention it only in the remote chance that you are similarly affected.

I suspect that the health professionals on this site are far more likely to be able to help.

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