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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 October 11, 2004

Winter training
Maintaining peaks
Second hand smoke
Compact vs traditional frames
Lactic acid
Acid reflux
More foot issues
Ball of the foot
Knee problem

Winter training

I'm a 25 yr old male, 6' and 155-160lb, currently a cat4 racer, in my first year of racing. I'm trying to make the cat3 upgrade by the of the year, and have hopes of continuing to improve next year. My natural strengths seem to lie in long distance endurance and climbing, but a large percentage of the races in my area are relatively short criteriums or flat-to-rolling circuit races, often won by sprinters who hang with the pack until the closing rush. The skills necessary to succeed in such races have come only with considerably more time and effort, for me--my sprint, quick acceleration, and speed over short, flat stretches have all improved with training and racing over the year, but are still not fantastic.

Over the winter, I'd like to maintain and even improve on the gains I've made in these areas, but nearly every plan seems to require a return to nothing but slow mileage for a number of weeks after the race season ends. This seems like a pretty good way to lose the explosive strength I've gained. Is there a smart way to incorporate some training for this kind of strength into a winter plan, so that I'm not starting from scratch next year with regard to improving my weak points? I was thinking that I would continue to include maybe one session per week with either a small amount of short, hard intervals, or else some sprint work--is this a bad idea? Any advice is appreciated.

Michael Margarite

Dave Palese replies:

Knowing very little about you, my suggestions are these.

The short interval sessions that you mention induce a certain level of stress and fatigue that we ideally want to avoid in our training at this point in the season to give ourselves a chance to recuperate from a long season. To try and push yourself repeatedly for the next several months through training of this level will most likely lead to staleness and actually a loss of performance probably when you want your level of performance to start rising (i.e., the end of February and into March). I would error on the side of backing things down for now and build a solid foundation for the skills you cite as keys to success in crits and the like.

What do I mean?

Let's look at the sprint. A good sprint is more than just going as fast as you can. To have an effective sprint you must be able to do a couple different things. You have to have quick acceleration of leg speed and then be able to sustain a high workload for, all be it short, period of time.

In my experience, the Cat 4 and 3 riders I have worked with who could have improved as sprinters lacked good acceleration. Acceleration of leg speed can be worked on during the General Preparation period (say Nov-Feb) by doing seated high cadence sprint workouts. These are 8-10 seated sprints from a slow roll in a 39x19-21 gearing (light resistance). Explode from the hips accelerating you legs up to max cadence in as short a period of time as you can and maintain for 8-10 seconds. Rest for 5 minutes, and repeat 6-8 times. This workout will train you ability to get your legs moving quickly, improving the performance of your fast-twitch fibers, without inducing too much fatigue, and increasing recovery time between training sessions. As the winter season progresses, increase your gearing to increase the load on your legs. But do this slowly and, as a general rule, you should never do any seated high cadence sprint workout in anything but the small chainring.

If you combine focused work like above with increased strength either from on the bike training or weight training you should see improvements in your sprint (from a physical point of view) come spring. And the improvements you will make will come with minimal physical and mental stress, leaving your fresh and ready to fight when the racing starts.

The other part of a good sprint is good strategies and tactics, but that's a book in itself.

The slow and steady endurance training (a broad term) that you would focus on through the "winter" will benefit your ability to ride at a high speed over short stretched as well as finish off your races with a good finishing kick. Endurance training does this by improving your bodies efficiency at moving oxygen to the muscles and using it when it gets there. The more efficient your body works the faster you will be able to go and the fresher you will be at the end of your races, generally speaking of course.

The long and the short of it is, there is a time and a place for everything. And now (the "winter") is the time to relax, set your goals for next year, come up with a plan, and start laying the foundation for 2005.

This is just a very small part of the big picture, but I hope it helps.

Maintaining peaks

I am 22 year old male trackie, aiming to break into a national squad for racing in under-23 track events, having ridden on the track for 18 months. Relating specifically to track sprinting, I need to know how best to maintain and then later re-obtain peaks of fitness.

I have had trouble this year maintaining peak fitness for big events following an initial "target race". I compete in the match sprint, Keirin and Kilo. I found I was able to peak successfully for a big championship (and win) through a good training cycle but was then unable to raise my game again the following weekend for another big championship, where I felt sluggish, tired and nowhere near as quick as I had done the previous weekend. I was following a 4 week cycle (3 on, 1 off), then a week's quality intensive work 2 weeks before the targeted race, with an easy "tapering" week in the week leading up to it. In the week leading to the next championship I did a short but intense training ride on the Tuesday, an easy ride the next day, and a short ride before the event on the Saturday and Sunday.

Therefore I'd like to know how best to a) maintain peak fitness for a big meet the week after an initial targeted race (such as what I should be doing in the week leading up to the second race) and b) how then to "re-peak" for events not much later in the season, say only 4 weeks after the first peak (e.g if one needed to be at a peak for a selection race and then be at another peak for the race you might have been selected for a month later!). Thanks for your help!

Luke Rogers
Shrewsbury, Great Britain

Eddie Monnier replies:

Congrats on winning your first target event! A great feeling, eh?

Different athletes respond differently to the peaking process in terms of how long they can sustain a peak and how long they need between peaks. In my experience, a true peak can last anywhere from a week to two weeks. Some athletes will continue to have good performances for another week or two following the peak because they gradually lose their peak while others will experience a dramatic drop off in performance almost immediately following the peak. Besides the individual's natural responsiveness to peaking, other factors which can shorten the duration of a peak include too many races, too short of a Base period, and insufficient unloading prior to the peak.

In either case, when the athlete's performance degrades, it's time to take a mini-transition cycle so that the body (and mind) can recover for the upcoming training phases. The duration of this will depend in part on the athlete (their recovery patterns) as well as on how much time there is before the next peak. In general, I don't recommend any less than six weeks between peaks and it may require (much) longer if the events are very dissimilar (e.g., a criterium vs. a week long stage race). Since you're specializing in sprint track events, however, you could probably get away with six weeks.

Remember, too, that peaking is not just about maximizing your physical readiness for competition. It also involves perfecting your psychological state. At your level, I encourage you to make relaxation and visualization techniques a part of your training program.

Second hand smoke

I'm a young American category 2 racer that is going to Arizona to train this winter. While there, I was thinking of getting a job as a bartender to pay the bills. My question is, how much will the second hand smoke affect my riding? Of course, I would try to find a bar or restaurant with some sort of ventilation or open enough room that I'm not constantly sitting in a cloud of smoke. It'll be nearly impossible to find a totally smoke free place, however, so how much will even a "little" smoke harm me? I'll be doing 20-25 hours a week, everything from low to high intensity.

Todd Elenz

Pam Hinton replies:

What you are really asking is, "How much will smoking cigarettes affect my fitness," because the only real difference is that the secondhand inhaler doesn't have to buy the cigs. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the typical restaurant, bar and casino worker, who is a nonsmoker, inhales enough smoke on an average shift to experience the same health effects as a pack-a-day smoker-remember that in that environment, you're breathing smoke with every breath, not just when you light up. Even restaurants and bars with no-smoking sections and those with expensive ventilation systems are no better than those that allow smoking anywhere on the premises. The ventilations systems remove the smell, but not most of the more than 4,000 chemicals contained in cig smoke, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency classifies secondhand smoke as a class A carcinogen.

Cigarette smoke has many direct effects on the cardiovascular system that are detrimental to exercise performance (and overall health). The effect that is most applicable to endurance athletes is that cigarette smoke limits the amount of oxygen that can cross into the bloodstream from the lungs, reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. The carbon monoxide in cig smoke more readily attaches itself to hemoglobin than does oxygen. So when both are present, carbon monoxide crowds in line ahead of oxygen. (By the way, this is the same mechanism by which people commit suicide by leaving the car running). Once carbon monoxide binds to a red blood cell, that cell can no longer carry oxygen from the lungs to the body. To compensate for the non-functional red blood cells, the body produces more red blood cells. The greater number of red cells, coupled with an increase in immune cells and clotting proteins, makes the blood more viscous. As a result, the heart has to work harder and blood flow through the capillaries is reduced. Another substance in cigarette smoke, nicotine, causes an increase in the flight-or-fight hormones, epinepherine and norepinepherine. These stress hormones increase resting heart rate and, in conjunction with nicotine, promote vasoconstriction (ahh, the rush). This narrowing of the blood vessels elevates intravascular pressure, scars blood vessels and decreases blood flow to the heart. The net result is decreased oxygen delivery to the heart and skeletal muscles.

Cigarette smoking also has negative effects on fat metabolism. It increases LDL cholesterol, which is the cholesterol that forms plaques, or blockages, in blood vessels. Smoking also accelerates the formation of plaques by promoting oxidation of LDL, which is a key step in the development of heart disease. Not only does smoking increase "bad" cholesterol, it decreases HDL ("good") cholesterol-the substance that transports cholesterol from the body to the liver where it is excreted.

I suggest you look really hard for a job at a nice nonsmoking vegetarian restaurant or coffee shop. That way you can still pay your bills and derive maximum physiologic benefits from those epic wintertime Arizona group hammer sessions. Sure, you might make more money, and meet more girls, tending bar at a hot nightclub, but you have to ask yourself what you really want to accomplish down there.

Compact vs traditional frames

I am going to splurge a considerable amount of money on a new bike and I am trying to decide whether to go with a compact or a traditional frame. Its going to be used for racing and training when the weather is beautiful (well, at least, for the first few months or until the newness wears off). Basically, I've read a lot of stuff of varying quality and knowledge on the two frame geometries and I was wondering if one of you guys could give me a more realistic idea to what the actual difference really is.

Peter Pienkowski

Dave Palese replies:

There isn't much hard info out there to say whether one frame type is better than another.

I work in a bike shop and we sell both traditional and compact frames.

The running thought, and I have no facts to back this up, is that a compact bike is lighter and stiffer than a standard frame of the same size since the seattube is shorter. The weight issue may be true if you weigh the frame alone, but I would be curious to see how things shake out when you add material for the now longer seatpost back in to the complete bike weight. The stiffer angle? I haven't seen any data to make me say that this is or isn't true, but it could be.

When compact frames started appearing on the market a few years back, (I saw a prototype Merlin in 1997 between the legs of Tom Kellogg) my first thought was that the bike companies had come up with a way to produce fewer sizes by making standover less of an issue. I don't know whether this is the case or not.

The long and the short of it is, it comes down to personal preference. You should try the different styles and see which you are most comfortable on, both fit-wise and look-wise.

For what it's worth, I think the compact frames look cool!


A couple of recent studies are lending some credibility to the health claims of grapefruit; specifically weight loss, lower cholesterol and reduced risk of certain kinds of cancer.

The studies go on to indicate that these benefits are possibly linked to a flavoniod called naringin. This flavoniod is present in most citrus fruits but especially in grapefruit. Apparently this flavonoid limits the bodies ability to utilize and store carbohydrates - thus the weight loss effect.

As such, I was wondering if grapefruit (or citrus in general) would be detrimental to the performance of an endurance athlete? Should I be avoiding a glass of grapefruit juice in the morning with breakfast?

Jeff Erler

Pam Hinton replies:

There is no reason for endurance athletes to purge their refrigerators of grapefruit and grapefruit juice. As you noted, grapefruit received some media attention about a month ago for its ability to promote weight loss. Researchers measured changes in body weight over a 12 week period in 100 obese men and women. The subjects were randomly assigned to consume ½ grapefruit, grapefruit juice, grapefruit extract or a placebo with each meal. The researchers found that the subjects who consumed grapefruit in any form lost more weight than subjects who received the placebo (~about 3 pounds vs. 0.5 pounds). During the 12 weeks, all subjects were instructed to walk 30 minutes three times per week to ensure equal energy expenditure among groups. However, the subjects could eat whatever they wanted during the study, so it is impossible to be certain that the difference between groups was due to grapefruit consumption. Individuals who are obese are often "insulin resistant", meaning their bodies don't respond to normal levels of insulin, so the pancreas secretes more of the hormone. The researchers did not determine how grapefruit promotes weight loss, but speculated that it might work by correcting the insulin resistance associated with being overweight. In that case, grapefruit would actually enhance the body's ability to use carbohydrates for energy, particularly in the muscle. Endurance athletes, however, won't derive this benefit because they are not insulin resistant to begin with.

The compounds in grapefruit, naringin and naringenin, belong to a group of chemicals called flavinoids. These chemicals are found in plants and act as antioxidants by reacting with substances that damage cell membranes. Naringin (what makes grapefruit taste bitter) is found in highest concentrations in the white part of the fruit and in the membranes separating the segments, so the concentration is significantly higher in the whole fruit compared to the juice. A serving of grapefruit juice (about 6 ounces) contains 20-130 mg naringenin and a serving of grapefruit can contain 5 times that amount.

While the effects of grapefruit on weight loss and carbohydrate metabolism remain uncertain, it is known that naringin interferes with metabolism of many prescription drugs, by inhibiting a key enzyme in the intestine and liver (CYP3A4). Grapefruit impairs the metabolism of anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, sedatives, anti-hypertensives, HIV protease inhibitors, and cholesterol-lowering drugs. To reduce the risk of drug toxicity, it is best not to consume any grapefruit juice or dietary supplements containing grapefruit peel or extract if you are taking these medications.

Grapefruit juice has also been shown to reduce the metabolism of caffeine. It is worth pointing out that this effect was achieved following a single dose of 1200 mL (about 40 ounces) of grapefruit juice. I don't know about you, but if I'm getting ready to race, I'll take a shot of espresso over a ruby red 40 any day.

Lactic acid

Wonder if you could answer a question about body chemistry. I am a road cyclist. My son does some mountain biking. He recently made an off-handed comment that spitting gets rid of lactic acid. That was news to me. Is it true? And related to that, when I start out road cycling I often tear up with very acidic tears. It takes me a while to clear them out, then I'm fine. Are those tears expelling lactate acid?

Richard White
Haileybury, Ontario

You bring up a very interesting and often misunderstood topic. The short answer to your questions is no, it is not true that saliva or tears expel lactic acid. There is virtually no lactic acid outside the muscle cell, and what most people refer to as "lactic acid" is not really lactic acid at all.

Lactate and hydrogen (H+) both result from the process of glycolysis (anaerobic conversion of glucose to ATP) in the muscle cell. You will not find lactic acid outside of the muscle cell, and the notion of "lactic acidosis" has been directly challenged as incorrect[2]. Ironically, lactate plays an important role in reducing acidosis rather than creating it.

Hydrogen ions, if they accumulate beyond the buffering capacity, can result in acidosis (reducing pH). Acidosis results from non-aerobic ATP production (both glycolysis and CP-ATP pathways), rather than from the production or appearance of lactate. There is evidence that acidosis can result in muscular fatigue, although this theory has been challenged as well[1, 3].

Lactate is a desirable substance. It is not the dreaded "lactic acid" that we were once led to believe as the cause of pain and fatigue during intense exercise. Lactate is an important aerobic fuel for muscle, the heart, the brain and precursor for the liver to make glucose.

For more information about lactate and lactic acid, take a look at this fitness article.


1. Pedersen, T. H., O. B. Nielsen, G. D. Lamb, and D. G. Stephenson. Intracellular acidosis enhances the excitability of working muscle. Science. 305:1144-1147, 2004.

2. Robergs, R. A., F. Ghiasvand, and D. Parker. Biochemistry of exercise-induced metabolic acidosis. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 287:R502-516, 2004.

3. Westerblad, H., D. G. Allen, and J. Lannergren. Muscle fatigue: lactic acid or inorganic phosphate the major cause? News Physiol Sci. 17:17-21, 2002.

Scott Saifer replies:

While it is conceivable that tiny amounts of lactic acid end up in saliva, the amount being expelledf by spitting would be so trivial as not to be worth considering. I think your son is either misinformed or yanking your chain.

It's unlikely that your acidic tears contain much lactic acid either but here's a test. If your tears contain lactic acid, it's coming from your blood. If that is the case, the acidity of your tears should rise as you ride harder and be the worst after a long, hard sprint. Is this the case?

On a related note, as has been discussed at some length recently on the forum, lactic acid is not the cause of muscle fatigue but is actually a fuel for aerobic metabolism and is not something one would want to expel.

Acid reflux

I am 22 years old male who has been cycling for about 7 months. I suffer occasional acid reflux and gastro-irritation post rides, I have seen the doctor, and taken blood samples but there seems to be nothing wrong with my stomach nor liver. I wonder if you know what might have caused it?

Jason Jia

Pam Hinton replies:

This would genuinely qualify as a pain in the neck. The only personal experience I have with this phenomenon would be friends who have learned the hard way what and when they can and can't eat prior to high-intensity races like crits. So it might be that a little gastric circumspection on your part will do the trick.

Acid reflux happens when the valve between the esophagus and stomach (the lower esophageal sphincter, LES) is not working properly. Normally, the LES only relaxes when you are swallowing so food can pass from the esophagus to the stomach. When the LES relaxes at other times, stomach acid flows the wrong direction (reflux), irritating the esophagus. Chocolate, peppermint, spearmint, onions and fat cause the LES to relax. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and some medications also cause relaxation of the LES. When the stomach contents exert a lot of pressure on the LES, acid may reflux into the esophagus. Gastric pressure is increased when food stays in the stomach too long (delayed gastric emptying), after eating a large meal, or laying down after eating. Exercise can divert blood flow from the gastrointestinal tract and slow gastric emptying. If you eat too much too close to the time you ride, that last meal may stay in your stomach and cause reflux-especially if, as in the case of the friends I mentioned earlier, your ride happens to be a walk on the hammerin' side. For immediate relief from the burning and irritation post-ride, try taking an over-the-counter antacid. These medications work by directly neutralizing the acid. As for a remedy during the ride, at least one of my friends swears that slamming a Coke helps. Not sure why it would work, but maybe things actually do go better with that stuff.


I have read Hogg's theory but a stable/balanced pelvis can be obtained within a huge range. Using his theory I can mash a 53x11 from my modified KOPS position (knee just behind pedal spindle (KJBPS)) and then slide all the way to the nose of my saddle and then all the way back to the tail of the saddle and still not fall forward or use my abs/back to resist falling forward. I tried it spinning a smaller gear with the same results (Hogg recommends pushing a big gear). So that doesn't really help me. I've been using basically the same position for 15 years so it feels comfortable but can I drag a few more watts or efficiency out of my aging legs by sliding the seat back 1cm, 2cm...? If I gain a few watts but start having pain that's not acceptable though. When you look at bikes in the pro peloton they have their saddle jammed all the way back plus have 30mm set back posts so I wonder if I'm missing out on some power (or power earlier in the stroke). Any input would be greatly appreciated!

Justin Maines

Steve Hogg replies:

I think you have missed the point of what I have said. I have advocated on this forum that seat setback should be such that the rider should teeter on the point of balance. What you are saying is that you can support your upper body weight well in a wide range of butt on seat positions, which is not the same thing. The other thing is that the gear that I mentioned as the test for this was ' under reasonable load'. 53 x 11 would seem to me to be an unreasonable load for a majority of riders. It is easier to pass this test outdoors than indoors. Outdoors there is a 30km/h, 40km/h or whatever wind hitting you in the chest which aids balancing. Indoors this is not the case and teetering is ideal. If a rider has very poor pelvic mechanics on the bike passing the balance test will be much harder than someone with good function and dynamic core strength. The bigger the gear you choose to use to perform the balance test, the easier it is to pass. The easier the gear you choose, the harder it is to pass. Try the balance test again in a gear that you can push on the flat with some effort at 90 - 95 rpm and get back to me. The reason I advocate trying the balance test in a biggish gear is that I am uninterested in how people perform at 30 km/h in a bunch talking to their friends. What I am interested in is how those same people perform under pressure. This is when their true 'body language' for want of a better term is revealed. The more functional the rider, the harder they can ride without sacrificing technique and 'fighting' the bike.

If you are too far back, a number of things will be come apparent fairly quickly. The belly of the hamstrings will load up and be a limiting factor in performance; the quads will feel like they are barely being used; you will run out of leverage well before the bottom of the stroke which will be particularly noticeable uphills; the transition from on the seat driving to off the seat sprinting will be deliberate and unnecessarily slow because of relatively large distance that the riders weight needs to transfer forward.

If none of these things strikes a chord with you, be happy. Whether you can improve your power output or not by a change in position, I have no idea without knowing a lot more about you, and preferably seeing you.

Re the pro scene, my personal experience of that is that what you say holds true for some but not for a lot of others. There is little evidence of a coordinated approach to position. Unless you are the rare star, you perform or there is a large pool of potential riders to take your place. Very few teams put a lot of effort into maximising a riders potential through position.

More foot issues

I have recurring foot numbness that ends up feeling like my toes have been banged with a hammer. I have tried new shoes, bigger shoes, new pedals, saddle and now I think that it may be related to cleat position. I have fairly large feet (size 47), have pretty flat feet and walk a bit like a duck. I have looked back on some of your past letters and am looking for an indepth description of proper cleat placement. For example, fore/aft position, position in terms of medial and lateral positioning as well as how much my cleat position should replicate how I walk.

Roger Gorke

Steve Hogg repies:

Firstly, see the cleat positioning posts for July 26. If you do as suggested then that takes care of the fore and aft positioning. For rotational angle, you need to make sure that the position that your foot is under a hard pedalling load, still allows a range of movement either side of that position. If your foot is trapped at an angle that it does not want to be at, the load will be transferred elsewhere. Typically the knee can be the casualty. For lateral position, there are various recommendations out there, but I have always found that the closer to the centreline of the bike the better, consistent with crankarm/ foot and ankle clearance. Given the external rotation of the hips that you mention, it would be a really good idea to have your posture assessed by someone who knows what they are doing.

Your flat feet may play a part in this but there are plenty of other factors that can come into play.

Given what you say about your feet, it is worth your while seeking out a good bike positioning person to help. Ideally you want someone with experience with your kind of problems and they should take a capability based approach.

You mention you want detailed advice. You need to provide more information. Brand and model of shoe and the pedal system that you use would be a start. Lastly, there is often a correlation between the angle of the foot walking and what is necessary on a bike. However, there are a LOT of exceptions, so don't get hung up on that.

Roger responded:

I actually checked where the ball of my foot was in relation to the pedal axle. The ball of my foot was way, way in front of the axle. I moved the cleat forward and will give that a shot. I rode this morning in to work and things seemed to be ok. It was hard to tell because it was kind of chilly and my toes were a bit numb from the cold. I should know more on the way home.

Shoes - Carnac Ellipse and Northwave Revolution (The Carnacs seemed to be better but the cleat position was bad on both shoes.) Pedal -- Dura Ace 7800

I will look in to getting a pro fit done.

Steve Hogg replies:

it hadn't occurred to me that you may have your cleats too far back. It is relatively rare. Too much foot over the pedal could be part of your problem. Generally speaking too much foot over the pedal will cause the pedal stroke to be jerky because ankle movement is limited too much and so there is no 'flow' at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Do you have any sense of clawing your toes while pedalling, particularly under load?

Ball of the foot

One for Steve Hogg. When you talk about putting the cleat center/pedal axle behind the ball of the foot (about 9mm for me size 45), what part of the ball of the foot are you talking about? I've always used the inside edge (of the ball of the foot). But it seems that the ball of the foot is curved. So, at the inside of your foot it is further back, at your mid foot it is further forward. Maybe it is my ignorance of anatomy, but where should I be referencing the 'ball of the foot' (inside/outside/middle?) to appropriately place my cleat in relation to it?

John Parker

New Mexico, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

'Ball of the foot' is a layman's term for the 'first metatarsophalangeal joint' which in turn is more commonly known as the 'first metatarsal joint'. What each of these terms refer to is the large knuckle at the base of the big toe. By comparison the joint at the base of the little toe is the 'fifth metatarsophalangeal joint' or 'fifth metatarsal joint'. The others in between are numbered depending on proximity to the first. What you need to do for positioning the cleats is to put your cycling shoes on and locate by feeling for them, the front and rear edges of the first metatarsal joint and the top and bottom of the joint.. One you have found these use a reasonably fine marker pen to put a dot at the midpoint. Now hop on the bike and pedal in a reasonably hard gear and eyeball the angle your feet sit on the pedal. It may be toe in or out, it may be different on each side.

Get off the bike and remove your feet from the shoes. Place each shoe at a time in the pedal and levelling the shoe between where the sole meets the upper in mid heel and where the sole meets the upper under the ball of foot area, position the cleat so that the mark on the shoe is at the desired distance in front of the pedal axle while the shoe is in the pedal at the angle it would be [ heel in/out or whatever] if you were riding under load. Now get back on the bike and check while pedalling that there is an even amount of freeplay either side of where your natural foot position is. If not, adjust accordingly. If you have to do that, then double check the fore and aft cleat position again.

Knee problem

I am a 33 year old male who has been competitively Cycle/MTB racing for 8 years and riding for 11 years. My problem (as it seems) is a typical Cycling one in that I have a problem with pain in my left knee (right is fine).

Here's some history. It began around three years ago. Two years ago I had a professional set-up done which included new shoes and orthotics for both Road and MTB to correct alignment and improve foot stability, new saddles for both to improve pelvic stability and a shorter stem on my road bike, seat positioning including fore/aft as well as cleat positioning fore/aft. This helped hugely, but has not cured the problem.

This winter was the first time in 3 years that I rode with no knee niggles (usually worse over the winter) and had been doing 2.5 hour rides on the MTB and around 7 hour weeks with no problem. The injury has repeated itself at the start of the season (September October) for the past 2 years, then faded after building up my volume to an average of 12-14 hours a week. We had our first road ride of the season, a fairly big one of 4 hours and my knee started to hurt after 3.5 hours, this was 7 weeks ago and it has not settled down since. I don't think it was the fact the ride was on the road bike, seems to be caused by duration, not which bike I am riding. I was set-up on fixed cleats (I use the new Durace Pedals) and have put floating cleats on 3 weeks ago to see if that would help, but has made no difference. Since the injury it makes no difference weather I ride my road bike or the MTB, the pain is the same and I have had it on and off the bike. Even walking at times the pain is there. I have tried taking a few days off at a time more than once and this has made no significant difference either. Also makes no real difference weather I spin or ride at a steady/hard pace, if anything when I push a harder pace the pain is not quiet as intense as if I spin.

I have a good technique, smooth pedal stroke and stable upper body, cadence of around 95 on the road bike and 85 on the MTB.

I also do a lot of core strength work on my back/abs with a Swiss ball and yoga for stretching.

I have seen physios/chiropractors over the years and currently working with a local physio who is still trying to find out exactly what the problem is, no luck just yet but have only had 2-visits with him and he is trying acupuncture currently. I have seen an orthopaedic 2 years ago and another 4 weeks ago and have had fresh x-rays each time which show no degeneration or problems with the knee joint(s) or structure. He (current physio I am seeing) says I am tighter on my left side than right and I have been doing a lot of extra stretching on ITB, Hip Flexor and Quad but has not made any difference. I am currently doing some strength work on my left quad as it has been identified as being slightly weaker than the right.

The knee pain I get is on the inside and very sharp. It comes on between the 12-3 part of the pedal stroke and sometimes the 6-9 part of the pedal stroke. Since the injury, the pain comes on pretty much straight away. The weird thing is I can get relief be pressing on or near the base on the inside head of the quad muscle. It's like flicking a switch and the pain disappears completely. It feels like a nerve is getting pinched or crushed and my gut feeling is that the pain is being referred to the knee from somewhere in the head of the quad? I thought you may have a suggestion or idea, or may have encountered a similar thing? Steve I would really appreciate any advice you may have for me as I am very passionate about my cycling and enjoy competing at high levels, but this injury is really starting to get on top of me!

Grant Anderson
Alexandra, New Zealand

Steve Hogg replies:

it is rare in my experience for an on bike knee problem to be the knee itself. It is much more likely that the knee is loaded up because of shortcomings elsewhere. I need more information from you. Set your bike up on an indoor trainer making sure that the bike is level between axle centres. Warm up and pedalling in a hard gear [ as much as your knee allows] with your shirt off; have someone stand behind you and see if you have a tendency to drop either hip.

If so, which one?

If you can get back to me with this information, I will try to advise further.

Grant responded:

I had a physio treatment yesterday and he really worked on breaking down the larger outer quad muscle deep inside and did some acupuncture treatment. I think he is in the right area as this morning when I did some Swiss ball, was doing lower and upper abs by lying flat on back then raising Swiss ball to 45 and 90 deg with legs extended, and when doing so at a couple of points during the raise felt a sharp pain shoot through my left knee and could really feel what was happening with the quad muscle, in how it was contracting etc since the physio as it is still very tender.

So I think he is in the right area, question is why has it happened? As you describe below, I have discovered the pain is definitely referred and not the cause, but the problem. I read your article in the current Bicycling Australia Issue on hip drop etc and found it very interesting.

Steve Hogg replies:

I think the key is the site of the pain, i.e. the inner head of the quad, the rectus femoris. It is the major muscular lateral stabiliser of the knee. It typically fires up to the degree that you are talking about if the stability of the knee is severely challenged. The question is why?

There are many reasons why this could be so. I would just about be prepared to bet, having just re read your first email that the root cause is a pelvic function/symmetry issue. Don't necessarily think it is a left side problem. It may be and that is where the pain is, but it may be a right side cause. We always have a tendency to protect one side at the cost of the other. Usually, but not always, the protected side is the handedness side and the affected side is the less facile side.

Once you can ride more or less without pain, try what I suggested on the trainer and let me know what happens.

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