Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for October 11, 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.
Second hand smoke
Compact vs traditional frames
More foot issues
Ball of the foot
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Dave Palese replies:
There isn't much hard info out there to say whether one frame type is better
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
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
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?
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.
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
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. 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
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,
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,
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.
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?
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
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!
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'
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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
If so, which one?
If you can get back to me with this information, I will try to advise further.
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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