Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for October 4, 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.
Maintaining aerobic fitness
Cycling during pregnancy
Comeback training and timing
Hand numbness and pain
More Achilles problems
Bike fit and pain
Fore/aft seat position revisited
Fit and muscle utilization
I am a 60 year old racer (weigh 160; 5' 10"). I am fairly strong (leg press
100 reps of 600 lbs), an OK sprinter, do better in crits, but weak in road races.
When climbing, I am very strong on grades up to about 9%. When pitches get steeper,
I quickly fall apart. Since I regularly get dropped on steep climbs, I never
get to use my "strengths" on flatter climbs or in the final sprint. Is this
something I have to live with, at this point in my life, or is there some training
regimen I can focus on over the winter?
Dario Fredrick replies:
Yes, there are definitely training regimens you can follow over the winter
to improve your climbing performance in races. I disagree with notion that
a particular height/weight ratio predetermines whether you are a "sprinter,"
"rouler," or "climber" unless perhaps you are a world-class professional.
Clearly, losing weight will reduce your resistance on climbs, but increasing
power will also allow you to climb faster. Maximize your sustainable power
for the particular race efforts in question, and regardless of reducing your
weight your performance will improve.
First optimize your nutrition and recovery practices (rest, stretching, massage,
etc.), as well as your bike fit. Begin training by developing cardiovascular
efficiency, riding for a few weeks at primarily ~70-85% of your maximal steady
state (MSS) or "threshold" HR. After a recovery week, increase muscular efficiency
and endurance by adding a few training days with longer efforts (15-40min)
at ~85-93% of MSS on sustained climbs for a few more weeks. Then after a rest
week, work on increasing your maximum sustainable power by doing one or two
days with multiple 5-8min efforts at ~95% up to MSS HR. The next step in your
higher intensity training would be to work on increasing your "supra-threshold"
power by doing maximum sustainable efforts of ~2-3 min on steeper climbs (>9%).
At this point you should be race-ready.
Whether you are physiologically more naturally suited to shorter power efforts
such as in criteriums, or have only trained those strengths in the past, this
recommended progression of training intensities should help you improve your
performance on steeper climbs.
Scott Saifer replies:
Does 9% happen to be the grade above which you stand or above which your
cadence goes below about 70 rpm? If so the solution might be as simple as
getting a bigger rear cog or a triple. Other than cadence changes, there's
no physiological reason why a 9% grade should be any sort of threshold. Usually
we think more about the length of a hill than it's grade when wondering if
a particular rider will make it over the top with the bunch.
At 5'10" and 160, you are the weight for height of a professional sprint
specialist or time-trialist, definitely not a climber. A professional climbing
specialist your height would weigh closer to 140 than 160. If you race with
age-matched masters, you can probably get away with about 10 pounds extra
if you are not trying to compete at the national level.
The only reason I didn't launch into the discussion of weight first is that
your note suggests that you do well on long climbs of less than 9%. If this
is the case, you've got me stumped. If you blow on longer shallower climbs
as well but have good power on the flats, you are being held back by your
Maintaining aerobic fitness
I'm a 27 year old male Cat 2 road cyclist and during a typical training week
would average between 300-450km depending on intensity levels and have been
cycling for 2 years. I have just entered the transition phase of my year and
am now starting to think about how I will plan out my training program for next
season. Typically I would commence base training in mid November and continue
this until March before starting to add in intensity sessions of varying difficulty.
My key season races fall between late June and mid September (road races of
between 160-230km) and I would typically plan my peak for mid September. For
the upcoming season my race goals remain pretty much unchanged however I will
be holidaying overseas with my family for approx 6 weeks through December and
January and wont be able to do any cycling. As this is when I would typically
get in a lot of good base miles I am considering how to best work around this
schedule change. At the moment the best I can come up with is to start base
training a month earlier that in previous years and whilst overseas try and
get in a few 1 hour gym sessions each week of varying aerobic exercise in the
hope that this will at least maintain some of my fitness. I would appreciate
any comments/guidance on my plan to work around this time off the bike and if
you have any suggestions on the type of aerobic exercise I should try and do
over the 6 week period I would be appreciative.
Dave Palese replies:
I think that your plan sounds like a good one. Get in the training while
you can. During your holiday, try to work out aerobically 3-4 times a week
using cross training of various types (running, hiking, mixed aerobic at the
gym, and so on).
It isn't optimal, but is the best you can hope to do.
Cycling during pregnancy
I am an avid recreational cyclist in my early thirties and just became pregnant.
I generally ride at a moderate pace 3-4 times a week (mountain, road, cross)
and on Saturdays or Sundays like to do a longer ride of 3-5 hours, typically
with a number of decent climbs therein. Can you advise on how much my cycling
routine should be altered for a safe pregnancy? Obviously, cycling will become
harder in the third trimester, but I have a number of months before I get there.
Pam Hinton replies:
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that all women
with uncomplicated pregnancies participate in moderate physical activity for
at least 30 minutes most, if not all, days of the week. Regular exercise has
been shown to reduce the occurrence of physical complaints during pregnancy,
improve mood, and shorten delivery time.
Women who are accustomed to exercising at high intensity and female athletes
may continue to train vigorously during pregnancy, but they should be aware
that some of the physiologic changes associated with pregnancy may require
them to back off the intensity or modify the type of activity. Resting metabolic
rate is increased during pregnancy, meaning the body requires more oxygen
at rest. As the uterus grows in the second and third trimesters, it puts pressure
on the diaphragm, increasing the work required to breathe. Because the body
requires more oxygen and has to work harder to obtain that oxygen, less oxygen
is available for exercise. For this reason, maximal workload may be reduced
and exercise may feel more difficult at a given intensity during pregnancy.
Another consequence of the elevated metabolic rate, is an increased susceptibility
to overheating and dehydration. There is some evidence that maternal overheating
(core temperature above 39.2 °C) during the first trimester may increase the
risk of birth defects. So, avoid exercising in hot, humid weather or if you
have a fever and be sure to consume adequate fluids. The weight gain associated
with pregnancy changes a woman's center of gravity, which may preclude activities
that require balance in order to avoid abdominal trauma. So mountain biking
and cyclocross may be out of the picture.
Remember that, on average, pregnant women require an additional 300 kcal
per day for growth of the fetus and maternal tissues. Inadequate energy consumption
during pregnancy will result in a low birth weight infant, which increases
the chances of neonatal complications. Hormones produced by the placenta (human
placental lactogen, estrogen, progesterone) cause changes in maternal metabolism
such that the mother preferentially uses fat for energy, which allows glucose
to be used by the fetus. These metabolic changes cause pregnant woman to have
lower fasting glucose levels and to use more glucose during exercise than
non-pregnant women. So be sure to consume adequate carbohydrate, especially
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot to say, congratulations!
I was very intrigued by an article I saw in the last two issues of Bicycling
magazine. It talked about a supplement called Corduzin and its aid in helping
the body better use oxygen, among other things. It is develpoed and ditributed
out of London, and is said to help many marathoners who are using it. It also
states it is legal in every nation. This seems to good to be true. Do you guys
know anything about this new supplement? And if you do, does it work and does
it have any side affects?
Pam Hinton replies:
You're right. When an advertisement promises that a supplement, "strengthens
and improves heart muscle and increases lung capacity" and "…is scientifically
formulated to reduce fatigue and increase energy levels" because it "…allows
the lungs to utilize oxygen more efficiently so you can go harder and last
longer.". It is too good to be true.
It is difficult to determine the complete list of ingredients in this supplement,
as it is not consistent throughout the website. On the "Ingredients" page,
fenugreek, hyssop, mullein, thyme, mustard seed, and coltsfoot are listed.
Alpha-lipoic acid, flax seed, licorice root, nettle leaf, sage leaf, slippery
elm bark, and yarrow extract are additional ingredients listed on the "Questions"
page. The homepage simply states that the supplement "… gives your body the
vitamins and minerals it needs to run faster on less oxygen."
While some of the herbs listed as ingredients may have beneficial effects,
e.g., anti-oxidant activity, other herbs may be harmful. For example, severe
systemic allergic reactions to thyme, hyssop, and mustard seeds have been
reported. And, negative interactions between herbal supplements and medications
are always possible. For example, fenugreek contains coumarin, a naturally-occurring
anti-coagulant, which can cause adverse reactions when taken with non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin.
As with most drugs, and even nutrients, the dose may determine the physiologic
effect. In other words, more is not necessarily better and, in some cases,
consuming too much can be harmful. In the case of dietary supplements, you
cannot be certain what or how much of a particular ingredient a supplement
contains. The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements-including
vitamins and minerals. To see a benefit from this supplement you need to take
it daily for 1-2 months, according to the website. At $60 per month (or $120
for 4 months), the potential risks-even if only to your wallet-outweigh the
benefits. That's my two-cents worth.
Comeback training and timing
I want to train for racing again after a 6-year hiatus. Back in the "ol' days"
I had plenty of time to train and far less responsibilities to work, family,
etc... I wonder if you have any advice on serious training after a long break
and tips on how to get a solid base in when time is of a premium. Thanks.
Dave Palese replies:
Base can mean many things for different people with different goals. Base
training needn't be lots of high volume days if the races on your plan aren't
that long in duration.
I have had several clients, masters athletes, who's schedules consisted of
races not lasting longer than an hour and 15 minutes (i.e., crits and short
circuits). During the General Preparation period of the training year, the
majority of their training days were no longer than 90 minutes long. If they
could swing it on the weekends, I would have them do one day that built up
to the 150 minutes mark. But not in all cases.
In planning out your training, take a close look at the events you want to
do and tailor your training to prepare your for those events. Don't do high
volume just because you think you should. DO what you need to do. That will
help you make the most of the time you have. If your longest priority event
is only 90 minutes or so, then you longest training day need only be about
Hand numbness and pain
I am 42 years old and have been riding and racing since I was 18. I am a physical
therapist so have learned extensively about the human body. I don't race or
train nearly as much as I used to due to family constraints, but recently have
had to stop riding entirely due to the above problems. I ride 2-3 x per week
either on or off-road and up to 100 miles/6 hours of riding. I was diagnosed
about 10 years ago with a herniated disc which did not require surgery and thought
at first these symptoms were a manifestation of this condition. However, my
orthopedic surgeon ordered a nerve conduction which has diagnosed moderate to
severe carpal tunnel syndrome.
An x-ray and MRI did demonstrate that I do have mild arthritis in my cervical
spine, but my doctor did not seem concerned with how the pictures looked for
my demographics. Simply placing my arms on my handlebars of either my mountain-bike
or my road-bike cause an immediate onset and worsening of these symptoms. My
question is can carpal tunnel syndrome manifest itself into arm-pit and scapular
pain too? Or do I have a double problem involving my cervical-spine as well
which places my doctor's opinion in doubt?
Steve Hogg replies:
Firstly I had better qualify what I am going to say with the caveat that
I am not a health professional but have had extensive experience with on bike
carpal tunnel syndrome. If bike riding has caused your issues the likely causes
1. Seat too far forward causing a weight transfer forward that has to be
supported by the arms and shoulder complex;
2. Handlebars too low or to far away;
3. An anterior iliac crest and/or restricted sacro iliac joint on one side
which leads to dropping one hip and/ or rotating it forward on each pedal
downstroke. Autonomically, we will do whatever we have to do to, and enlist
whatever we have to enlist to stabilise the pelvis while riding. If you are
dropping/rotating one hip, the common response to that challenge to on bike
pelvic stability is to thrust forward the shoulder on the same side and/or
lock the elbow on the same side to brace against the anterior motion of hip.
This of course loads up the hand, arm and shoulder complex on that side;
4. Twisted vertebrae anywhere in the spine from sacrum upward which will
cause a twist in on bike torso posture anywhere from sacrum upwards. This
will cause the afflicted rider to load up one arm/hand more than the other;
5. A parasympathetic nervous system that doesn't work well. Typically this
kind of person will be tight in upper and lower back but not too bad in between,
and are thought of by their friends as the kind of person who can't relax.
Often this manifests on the bike as locked arms and forward thrust shoulders
whether this is required to support weight or not;
6. The poor design of the majority of mtb 'flat' handlebars which cause the
rider to cock the elbows and lift the shoulders to varying degrees which in
turn tends to exacerbate any pre existing issues;
7. Any combination of the above.
I have delayed in answering your query because I was hoping some health professional
would take up the baton and so can't answer your last two questions with any
confidence. I have a friend in your line of business to whom I am forwarding
your email. He is a bit of a wizard with the type of issues that you speak
of. He has a busy life and so may take some time to get a reply.
More Achilles problems
I'm a 42 year-old cat IV male cyclist, 5'10", 155 lbs and I've been cycling
for over 20 years, but only returned to racing last year. I'm currently using
a structured training plan through trainingbible.com with about 500 hours annually.
I use Bebop pedals (a free-float design) with DMT Ultimax shoes, size 42 ( a
little small, but I like a tight-fitting shoe). About two months ago, I began
focusing on developing more power through an intense sprint workout. At about
the same time I fitted my shoes with a pair of SOLE footbeds to address a problem
I was having with with a hotspots. I began to "notice" my achilles tendons in
both ankles -- no pain, I just found myself thinking about them. Gradually they
became more and more noticeable. Four weeks ago, I was on a recreational ride
up a 32K climb -- I forgot to change out my cassette, so I was stuck mashing
a bigger-than-comfortable gear at low cadence for the duration. The next day
my achilles tendons were screaming. I found the articles on achilles pain and
cleat set-back, and I re-positioned the cleats so that the ball of my foot now
falls about 5mm behind the pedal spindle. I have also removed the footbeds as
I felt that my heels were not held securely due to the increased elevation.
The sharp pains have subsided; the pain I have now is sort of a gritty, burning
sensation. It usually eases overnight, but returns after an hour or so of moving
about in the morning. My riding is currently restricted to light spinning on
the trainer for perhaps an hour max. I have also incorporated some light weight
training including calf-presses (minimal weight) to help strengthen the area.
Should I be looking at ways to stabilize my ankle during riding? Perhaps a
fixed or limited float pedal as opposed to the BeBops?
Steve Hogg replies:
Move your cleats back another 4mm. Measure this so that the point where the
sole of the shoe meets the upper underneath the centre of the heel and the
point where the sole meets the upper above the pedal axle are level with each
other. When you moved the cleat back to where you have it now, you lessened
the load on the achilles tendon, but you have not got it back far enough yet.
The DMT's you have should have ample further rearward adjustment unless you
have unusually proportioned feet.
If the foot beds that you used raised your heel a lot, the load on the achilles
would only have been increased, as you had to drop your heels more than usual
coming off top dead centre to get behind and over the pedal axle at the earliest
possible part in the pedal stroke. Add to this poor cleat positioning and
the effects of using a harder than usual gear and it is not hard to understand
why your achilles tendons decided to protest. Rest and light training should
sort them out, but it is worth your while to see a health professional about
I wouldn't change pedal systems unless the hot spot is caused by the small
contact area of that pedal and shoe. Freeplay is good. The last thing you
want to do is restrict your foot movement too much on the pedal. You will
just transfer the load somewhere else. Knees for example.
Thanks for the speedy reply. I'm going to schedule an appointment with a physical
therapist to work on recovery -- it looks like cyclocross is probably out for
I am following your recommendation on additional setback, however I have some
questions regarding other modifications to my position that may be necessary
to compensate for the re-positioning of the cleat. Do you have any recommendations
Steve Hogg replies:
You have already moved your cleats back 5mm from your previous ball of foot
over pedal axle position and I'm suggesting another 4mm of rearward movement.
As far as seat height goes, you may need to drop your seat by 2 - 3 mm to
compensate for the extra extension of the legs that the more rearward cleat
positioning can cause. Ride the bike first though and be guided by feel. Often
the cleat positioning that I have suggested causes a change in the range of
ankle movement in the pedalling stroke. This in turn can mean that no seat
height adjustment is necessary.
As to the wider question of the rest of your position, there is not much
I can tell you without knowing a lot more about you. Read the various posts
re positioning for the last 2 months or so and if you have any queries, I'll
do my best to answer them.
My cleats are now a full 9mm back from their original position. The pain during
riding has largely subsided, however I'm just spinning on the trainer to get
a feeling for the new position and not applying any real load. I found it interesting
that after I pushed the cleats back the first 5mm a few weeks ago, a chronic
knot in my left calf disappeared... I'm hopeful that I'll be back on the road
before too long.
Thank you very much for your help.
Steve Hogg replies:
Thanks for the feedback. If you keep your cleats where they are now, you
are unlikely to have any ongoing Achilles tendon issues once you have recovered
from the current episode. To have the ball of the foot over the pedal axle
as is commonly recommended, can limit performance and increase the chance
of avoidable injury in my experience. If you leave the cleats where they are
now, once you get the hang of it, you will find a performance improvement
as well as less chance of injury.
Bike fit and pain
I am having knee pain with my new road bike (Mercier Serpens). Some background:
I used toe clips for many years on my old bike (Dave Scott Ironman). It is
56cm. The only knee pain was from overuse (big gears, low cadence, high load).
Now have all new equipment: 61 cm frame, Shimano Ultegra pedals w/SPD-SL cleats,
Lake CX220 shoes. Crank arm length old 172.5, new 175mm.
When I ride at my normal pace (16-18mph for 18 miles, mostly flat, some hills)
I get pain around both knee caps the next day. This new setup with clipless
pedals is killing me!
Present bike fit: Bottom of knee over pedal axle, seat height 29.75 in. (I
am 6ft 2in), ball of foot over axle. I do not struggle against the floating
cleat position which seems to be centered.
My question: Is my knee pain, which has appeared since starting to ride this
new setup, caused by the longer crank arms, clipless vs toe straps, or my fit
on this larger frame? I raised the saddle until I felt I was reaching at stroke
bottom, then lowered it a bit. Is my knee angle now more severe with the longer
crankarms, causing this problem?
Steve Hogg replies:
It could be a number of things. It is unlikely that the rotational angle
of the cleats is the issue, because if it was you would be feeling pain on
one side or other of the knee. However, given how little rotational freeplay
SPD-SL's have compared to many other systems, it would be worth revisiting
the cleat angle.
The seat set back that you have and the ball of the foot cleat positioning
will certainly increase the likelihood of any propensity for knee pain where
you feel, it in my experience. Read the posts ' Cleat Positioning 1 & 2' for
July 26 and position your cleats accordingly. With the shoes that you have
and the pedals that you have, it should not be a problem to gain the cleat
position described in those posts. Make sure that the shoe is levelled between
where the sole joins the upper in the middle of the heel at the back, and
where the sole joins the upper underneath the pedal axle at the front. You
are likely to have to move your cleats back substantially to do this, so you
may have to drop the seat another 2 - 4 mm as the more rearward cleat position
is likely to cause greater leg extension.
Once this is done, move your seat to a position where you can support your
weight while riding on the drops without hands. If seat setback is good you
should be able to teeter on the point of balance for a period. You need to
be able to do this without having to arch your back and shorten up to support
your weigh without hands. This is likely to be a substantial adjustment of
the seat, but how much will Once done you may have to adjust stem length and
bar height so that you can reach all of the hand positions on the bars with
Once you have got your cleat fore and aft position and seat setback correct,
you will be enlisting your hamstrings and calves together in eccentric contraction
more than you currently do to help the quadriceps extend the knee. This should
solve your problem [and increase performance].
Going to longer cranks is often a harder adjustment physically than moving
to shorter cranks. Given your height and proceeding on the assumption that
you are of average leg length, it is unlikely that 175mm cranks of themselves
are the problem. It is very likely to be what I have discovered.
Let me know how you get on and if you need more help.
Fore/aft seat position revisited
I have been following with great interest Steve Hogg's comments on pelvic stability
and fore/aft seat position in recent Fitness Q&A responses. I have a question
that relates to Steve's suggestion that the rider should move the seat fore/aft
to a point where teeter balance is just obtained when removing the hands from
the drops while pedalling hard. Steve states that this is designed to ensure
passive pelvic stability, and I presume it is therefore a function of torso
length and weight. Could Steve explain how this position will constantly generate
a correct fore/aft seat position, regardless of femur length? Is femur length
no longer considered a determining factor in setting optimal fore/aft saddle
position (as per the knee-over-spindle method)? I understand and find convincing
Steve's arguments relating to breathing and passive pelvic stability, but what
impact on pedalling dynamics does femur length in relation to distance behind
the bottom bracket then have? Suppose two riders were biometrically and functionally
identical apart from the fact that one has a longer torso. I presume this would
result in the seat of the longer rider being set back in comparison with the
shorter rider in order to balance the longer rider's relatively further forward
upper body CG. Would this not then generate variation in the amount of relative
use of key cycling muscle groups (quadriceps, gluteals, hamstring) in each cyclist
(e.g. the longer cyclist would have more hamstring/less quadriceps use during
pedalling, while the shorter cyclist would have the opposite), due to the fact
that the pelvis for each rider will be a different distance back from the bottom
bracket despite their identical leg lengths?
I might like to add that I am just returning to cycling after a three year
layoff and have just moved my seat forward (it was all the way back) in line
with Steve's suggestions. Apart from an initially strange sensation, I now find
I am the most comfortable on the bike I have been for years. It will be interesting
to see how this works when I begin criterium racing again in a few weeks, as
I always felt I lacked power and wanted to drag myself forward on the bike when
going hard on the drops, particularly when coming out of corners in criteriums.
Although I feel intuitively that my fore/aft position is now much improved,
I would appreciate it if Steve could find time to answer my questions above.
Scott Saifer replies:
I expect Steve will have detailed answers for you, but I can point out that
the range of motion of the hip has much more impact on muscle activation then
does the seat fore-aft position by itself. Your hypothetical long rider might
have to have higher handlebars to get effective muscle use than would your
shorter rider. If you remember Miguel Indurain on his TT bike, you might be
willing to entertain the possibility that higher handlebars are not always
a bad thing.
Steve Hogg replies:
Your question is a good one. I'm not a fan of the reductionist view of anything,
let alone bike position. An effective bike position is all about achieving
acceptable compromises between a number of sometimes contending requirements.
The best way to do this is to take a whole of body approach. The assumption
you have made in your hypothetical example is correct in my view, providing
that extra torso length is the ONLY thing we are talking about. In real life
examples that is unlikely to be the case. Human beings are wondrously adaptable.
A gent named I think, Neil Sperry won a Nobel Prize in the early '80's for
proving that 90% of the brain's activity is tied up in controlling posture
and movement. [As an aside,that is where the mistaken phrase "we only use
10% of our brain" comes from.]
The practical effect of Sperry's discovery in so far as it relates to a bike
position, is that it doesn't matter how you sit on a bike, even backwards,
you will find a way to propel it somehow. The question is though, to what
level of efficiency and at what physical cost?
The bottom line for optimal performance, is that achieving that stable pelvis,
passively, as I have spoken about is fundamental and all other requirements
are subsidiary to that to varying degrees. In the hypothetical case you mention,
if that was the only difference between the 2 riders, I would position the
longer torsoed rider's seat further back. If the torso length was longer by
10mm, 20mm even an extreme example of 50mm, how much further would the seat
need to be back?
Not nearly as far as the increase in torso length is the answer, to allow
the rider to support that extra weight that they cantilever forward. This
is because as the seat of the longer torsoed rider moves back, he is able
to apply good pressure to the pedals earlier in the stroke, i.e, he is pushing
forward earlier at the top of the stroke. The net result of this is that his
weight is pushed back on the seat, which in turn means that the difference
in seat setback required for our long torso rider, is not of the degree that
you would perhaps expect.
Still, this extra setback means that at some level there will be differences
in the relative enlistment of various muscle groups, if torso length is the
only difference we are talking about. So what, we are adaptable. Additionally,
neurological efficiency and posture on a bike play a major part in determining
what muscles are enlisted and to what varying degrees, not just where the
seat is. The background that all of this needs to be framed against is:
Is this the best compromise to allow me to perform well at the lowest metabolic
cost and avoid injury?
If the answer is yes, then get on with it. If the answer is no, then work
out what needs to be done to achieve the best compromise.
Regarding femur length: while plenty of literature and inference out there
in bicycle land suggests this STATIC approach, DYNAMICALLY it is a myth. I
get sick of hearing " I have my knee in a neutral position over the pedal
axle" Neutral in relation to what?, is the question I always ask and have
yet to have answered. Don't get hung up on measurements and mythical relationships
between body segments and bike parts. Get hung up on your capabilities and
the best way to maximise them no matter what ' rules' the solution might contravene.
As to your last paragraph. If you found in your case that you could pass
the balance test by moving your seat forward, you are in a minority in that
regard but I would be the last person to argue with you. If the pelvis is
stable in a passive sense, the rest of the body can get on with the job of
propelling the bike, rather than stabilising the pelvis, which autonomically,
it will always prioritise.
Fit and muscle utilization
I read Mr. Hogg's opinion on fit, and it made quite a bit of sense. I've been
racing in men's colliegate and USCF road races for about a year now. I've never
been thrilled with my fit, and I've sometimes felt it detrimental to my ability
to handle the bike. However I didn't understand why on August 2 you said sitting
farther forward results in under utilization of the glutes. A priori it seems
that muscle utilization would be dependent only on hip, knee and other joint
angles relative to the rest of the body, while weight balance would be related
to angles relative to horizontal or gravity.
Nonetheless I rode my bike for a bit without my feet on the pedals, and I found
that really changed my weight balance and drove home the importance of proper
seat tube angle. As a result I've been trying to optimise my weight balance
by moving my saddle back based on the teetering in the drops idea, but I've
run into a bit of a snag: I can achieve the same effect by raising and bringing
back the handlebars relative to the saddle and keeping the bars in the same
spot relative to the saddle and moving the saddle back. So how much should I
move my seat back, and how much should I raise my bars?
My thought on how to resolve the dilemma on whether to adjust the bars or the
seat or both is to try and achieve optimal hip angle for power production and
muscle utilization- which presumably are nearly identical conditions. Is there
such thing as optimal hip angle, and how can I determine mine, if I have one?
My thought is to then rotate the saddle and bars until proper weight balance
between contact points is achieved.
Steve Hogg replies:
I have been waiting for the question implicit in your first paragraph for
sometime and had just about given up hope. I'm glad that someone reading this
stuff has thought about it a bit rather than just accepted unquestioningly
or disregarded totally, as they chose.
Muscle utilisation depends on exactly what you say, and to which I would
add neurological efficiency and the relationship to gravity. When a rider
sits too far forward, enlistment of the quads increases. To prove this or
otherwise all you have to do is move your seat 10mm forward and see what tires
and or hurts more than usual. The centre quad, the rectus femoris, is both
a quadricep and a hip flexor. All of the hip flexors are functionally linked
and so quad overuse indirectly causes increased tightness in the other hip
The gluteus maximus and the hip flexors move the hip in opposite directions.
The hip flexors are a 'postural' muscle group meaning that our brain autonomically
gives them higher priority than our 'phasic' glutes. If the hip flexors are
tight beyond a certain degree, the brains protective response is to partially
or wholly shut down the nerve pathways to the glutes. This is done by means
of an interneuron from memory, but I would have to brush up on that. This
doesn't mean that a person can't clench their glutes if they want to, and
think about it consciously. It does mean that in an activity like bike riding
where the pedalling action is on ' auto pilot' where we are not consciously
controlling and thinking about every pedal stroke, the glutes are inhibited
neurologically to a greater or lesser degree if the scenario described above
is the case.
In my experience, and I'm happy to accept that maybe I see a skewed sample,
the majority of the people have tight hip flexors before they ever go near
a bike. This is a by product of western culture where we spend a lot of time
sitting and cramping up the hip flexors. When the glutes are not working properly,
and given that the we have a pedal to push against, giving us a closed system;
the action of the quads in extending the knee will cause movement at the hip
without necessarily optimal glute involvement. This of course localises the
load to quads to a greater degree than is optimal.
Your question at the end of your second paragraph is the right one, and while
easy for me to do in person, is somewhat harder to explain in any way that
is accurate and particular to you, given that I can't see you and have no
knowledge of what sort of structural condition you are in and the techniques
that you bring to pedalling a bike. Here is the best I can do:
Move your seat back till you can pass the hands off test, even if this means
that you can only do it with your hands placed at the rear of the drop bars,
not deeply in the hooks. If you can not pass this and reach fully in to the
drops, then either the stem is too long or the seat is still not far enough
back. Shorten the stem to what ever degree seems appropriate so that you can
reach deep into the drops. Try the hands off test again. Can you only do it
by arching your back noticeably more as you take your hands off?
If so, you are likely too far forward still. Every repeat of stem shortening
and point of balance testing, make sure your bar height allows you to see
forward comfortably while riding in the drops without using the full range
of movement of the neck to see forward. No more than about 85% is about right,
though the crit riders out there can get by with less because the distances
they race over are not as great.
Sooner or later you will find a point where you can teeter for some time
on that point of balance without problem. If at the same time you can reach
the drops comfortably, you must be pretty close. How do you know if you are
sitting too far back?
Pedalling at high cadences relative to that individual suffers; the belly
of the hamstrings become overloaded on hilly rides and a limiting factor;
there is a sensation of pawing forward at the pedal on the downstroke under
load; we can force a gear well but fluidity of stroke is compromised etc,
How do you know if you have got it right?
Other than the huff and puff of exertion, every thing should feel easy. There
should be no sensation of 'fighting' the bike or of trying to drag it down
the road with the help of the upper body while riding on the seat. The quads
should not ever feel dead, post hard ride. There should be a general evenness
to any leg tiredness. The hands and arms should feel like they are relaxed
props that you could almost ride without. There should be no more tension
in the arms and shoulder complex than is necessary to control and steer the
bike. Legs for power generation, torso for breathing and arms for steering
is minor simplification of how you should feel.
Re your last paragraph; I have been searching for some predictable range
of angular relationships between various body parts for far too long. There
is a range, but it is so large that anything I could say has limited application
to any particular person. There is such a huge variety of function/dysfunction,
symmetry/asymmetry, proportion and technique [ and by technique I don't just
mean pedalling technique, but how we 'hold' ourselves on a bike] that I have
given up the search as impractical.
Thanks so much for your reply. I was wondering if you could clarify one thing
for me. I wanted to make sure that you're telling me that when you slide your
seat forward, even if you adjust your bars to be in the same position relative
to the saddle and bottom bracket, the sub conscious somehow kicks in and changes
your muscle utilitzation, due to the direction of gravity, regardless of whether
or not we've put our bars so high that we feel balance. I was wondering if you
could explain how or why that is.
As I read your first and second paragraph, moving your seat forward causes
over enlistment of the quads, causing tight hip flexors, causing less glute
employment, causing more load on the quads, making some spiral of pain. We can
observe expirementally that moving the seat forward does cause more quad enlistment,
but I'd really like to be able to explain why moving the seat forward causes
increased stress on quads.
Also, is it possible to set one's position up such that the gluteus is over
used and the quads are under utilized?
Steve Hogg replies:
Before I answer your queries I want to correct an inference you have taken
from my previous reply. In your first paragraph your phrasing of the "sub
conscious somehow kicks in and changes muscle utilization" doesn't sit well
with me. The neurological inhibition that I was talking about, which in that
particular case was the hip flexors vs glutes, is a well known neurological/biomechanical
principle known as ' Sherringtons' Law Of Reciprocal Inhibition'.
Now to answer your first question. In this forum I am trying to explain things
simply, in a way that can be easily understood and applied for some level
of benefit, to people I don't know and can't see and have no knowledge of,
other than what they tell me. This is a lot different from spending 3 - 3
1/2 hours positioning someone in person to a level that I will guarantee the
You are implying if I understand you correctly, that the point of balance
test that I have spoken of can be passed, with more or less a wide variety
of seat setbacks if the bars are positioned high enough. You are right, but
that does not mean necessarily that a rider with seat too far forward and
bars high enough to allow a stable pelvis will perform well.
Probably the simplest way to answer your first question is somewhat obliquely.
The acme of position in my view, is when a given rider can:
1. have the greatest leverage on the pedals for the greatest number of degrees
of crank arc, consistent with
2. using pedalling musculature that bears on the pelvis at front and rear
with the greatest degree of harmony and equilibrium, consistent with
3. balancing the use of the quads at the front of the upper leg to extend
the knee, with the use of the hamstrings and calves working together eccentrically,
to extend the knee, consistent with
4. using the foot and ankle with best control, consistent with
5. balancing the relationship with gravity of the whole body so as to allow
the respiratory musculature of the torso to be used to greatest efficiency,
6. presenting the smallest frontal area to the wind and providing the best
aerodynamic profile, consistent with
7. the structural makeup, propensity for injury and individual techniques
and body language of the rider, consistent with
8. the intended use to which the rider will put the bike and the terrain
that he/she will ride over with good performance, consistent with
9. minimising the likelihood of avoidable injury.
In short, what you are implying will help you pass the balance test; but
you will probably not ride very fast for very long.
Your second question: Moving the seat forward increases the use of the quads
because it decreases the use of the hamstrings and calves in helping extend
the knee. In other words, the load is localised to one muscle group at the
front of the leg rather than spread over more musculature. I know that saying
this is likely to prompt the question from you as to why the hammies and calves
work this way as the seat goes back, and just how far back to put the seat
for any individual. Sorry, I don't get paid for these replies, and knowing
the answer to that question has taken a lot of years to nut out and helps
me earn my living. I am not giving that one away, though I have given enough
info on this forum over the past few months for the motivated to eventually
work it out.
Also bear in mind that what may be far enough back for one rider may not
be nearly far enough back for others and too far back for others still. That
balance point test consistent with having handlebars placed as I have suggested
in general terms, will get riders with a bit of nouse in the vicinity. For
some this will be with low bars, for others the bars will need to be quite
high. Structural function and general proportions play a large part in this.
Your last question: it is certainly possible to set a position for a given
rider that under utilises the quads but it is very hard on a UCI legal bike
to overuse the glutes. Generally speaking, the hamstrings will be a limiting
factor well before the much larger and more powerful glutes. Additionally,
unless using unbelievably long cranks, the range of hip motion required on
a bike does not go close to working the glutes to the fullest degree.
I am a 55 year old successful triathlete having been on 3 TEAM USA teams at
the ITU Worlds and a 4 time (soon to be 5) competitor at the Ironman in Kona
Hawaii. I suffer the worst case of burning feet when out on long rides (over
@70 miles) when the weather is hot and humid(Hawaii). Would a wider cycling
shoe be a possible fix. This is not a one time problem but a constant issue
on long rides or races. I have 15 years of racing experience.
Steve Hogg replies:
You are not really specific as to what you mean by hot feet. Is this localised
to a part of the foot or felt over a larger area? First order of business
is to check the cleat positioning posts for July 26 and position your cleats
fore and aft accordingly. If poor cleat position plays a part in your problem,
the info in those posts will cure the problem or minimise its severity.
Next, is there any sensation of lateral compression in the forefoot of the
Can you wiggle and spread your toes freely?
If not, as you suspect, your shoes are a likely culprit. On hot days when
riding distance, the feet can swell and make a shoe that fits snugly at normal
temperatures fell too tight. If this is the case, look for another shoe model
or brand. Don't be tempted to get a size too big in an effort to get width.
If you buy a size too large you just make the job of having a good fore and
aft cleat position that much harder.
Additionally, given the time you imply that this problem has been occurring,
has anyone looked at your feet?
If you have any of several common malalignments of the foot, then localised
pressure/burning sensation can be result. Once you have eliminated cleat position
and shoe fit as possible causes, it would be worth your while to see a podiatrist
with cycling background or related experience to see if foot morphology plays
If you can provide me with more specific info I will try and refine any
I am a 37 year old male office worker. I normally commute to and from work
daily on my mountain bike. It is only a relatively short distance of 1.5 miles
but as I live on the top of a steep hill and my office is at the bottom it helps
to keep me fit. I also go out at weekends and on holidays for longer distances
from anywhere between 10 to 30 miles but these tend to be on flatter routes.
In August a purchased a new road bike. I am reasonably happy with the set up.
The bike is comfortable to ride and it not too dis-similar to my mountain bike
in riding position although I have no pedal clips on the mountain bike. I have
done several rides of up to 25 miles on the road bike in France and in Wiltshire,
England without problems and was looking forward to building this up to longer
On the weekend before last I did two rides of about 15 miles each from my home
and since then have been suffering knee pain in both knees. I experienced no
pain whilst cycling - this only manifested itself later. The pain is a generalised
dull pain and cannot be pinpointed to any particular part of the knee. It feels
as if my knees are cold and it is uncomfortable to walk.
There were several differences between my last rides and earlier ones which
could have contributed to the problems:
1. The routes were much more hilly
2. The weather was colder but still relatively mild
3. The road surfaces around my home are not so smooth
My questions are:
A. Why should I get problems on the last rides but not the earlier ones? Is
it a combination of 1,2 and 3 above or is it that I have just done too much
too soon or a problem with the set up of the bike the results of which just
happened to catch up with me at that time?
B. I have visited my doctor who could find nothing wrong with my knees and
just recommended rest. I am taking it easy - no cycling and not much walking.
How long is it likely to take before my knees recover and I can start again?
C. When I do start again, what distances do you recommend to build up my knees
so that I do not get a recurrence of the problems?
D. Is there anything that I can do to speed up recovery?
Steve Hogg replies:
Firstly, what does ' reasonably happy with the setup' mean?
Does it mean that you are mainly happy, but are unhappy with certain aspects
of your position? If so, what are you unhappy with?
To answer your questions:
A. Your problems could indeed be a result of the reasons you have listed
to which I would add the likelihood that you were riding harder gears on the
road bike relative to the mtb. Unless you have a triple crankset, it is unlikely
that you have the same spread of gears and perhaps the bigger gears that you
were possibly using could be added to your 3 potential causes. It is hard
to comment on your bike set up without knowing a lot more about you and your
B. Let pain or discomfort be your guide. Knees are largely held together
with fibrous tissue that does not get a lot of blood flow. Because of this
they are hard to injure, but equally, once injured they take a bit of getting
C. When you do start again, keep to small gears at moderate rpm for 2 - 3
weeks. This will flush blood and lymph through the joint without any particular
D. I don't know, the health professionals on this site should be able to
offer specific advice.
If it is any consolation, I spent a week of riding hills in another city
last January. The highlight [lowlight?] was when a local rider took a group
of us up a 'killer' hill. My knees have been bulletproof on a bike for 30
years, but after climbing 640 vertical metres in 3 kms with gradients of up
to 25% and with a cadence of down to 30 rpm in parts, just to get up the damn
thing, my knees hurt for 3 days afterwards. I wasn't alone either.
Get over this and repeat your route at some future time, making sure that
your knees are warm and that your gearing is appropriate to the gradient and
your fitness level and you will likely be fine.
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