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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. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

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 February 21, 2005

Torn hamstring comeback
Unequal leg length solutions
Another Crank length case
Walking as training
Training and Sickness

Torn hamstring comeback

I had a slow-speed crash nearly two weeks ago where I put my foot down after I locked handlebars with another rider at an intersection, and the other rider fell into me causing my leg to slip out and me to fall. The result was a torn hamstring. I had dark bruising from my knee to the top of my leg, but fortunately did not completely rupture the hamstring or tear (at least significantly - I did not get an MRI) any tendons. Right now I am wondering when I can get back on the bike and once I do, when to know how much riding is too much.
For the first week, I could not lift my leg enough to turn over the pedals unless I was sitting upright (hands off the bars on the trainer). I rode for 30 minutes without pain, but was in excruciating pain for two days after that. I got wise and spent the week lying on the sofa with ice on the leg, doing gentle stretching and getting massage but no activity and no more riding! I still cannot tie my shoes, but I tried, and I can pedal the bike almost comfortably with my hands on the bars. Can I ride? Of course the physical therapist says to wait, but I can see my season slipping away from me! I just starting training again on January 1 after breaking my arm, and not being able to ride is driving me crazy, especially since there's very little else I can do to stay fit. Any advice?

Laura Weislo

Raleigh, NC

Dave Fleckenstein Replies


Returning from this injury as quickly as possible requires walking a thin line between stressing the injured tissues just enough (to promote healing and not lose too much fitness) and overstressing the tissue (causing re-tearing and limiting you even more). Your hamstring is going through the "remodelling" phase of healing where new connective tissue is being deposited in a relatively random alignment and then is slightly broken down and realigned by motion and use. If we don't use the tissues, the scar tissue will lay down in a random alignment and limit motion, if we overuse it, the breakdown will occur faster than the deposition. If we use it appropriately, we end up with healthy mature connective tissue.
My first concern is that you maintain and possibly gain, hamstring length. My preferred way to do this is to:

1) Deep heat the hamstring for 15 minutes, as heat increases the extensibility of soft tissue,
2) Perform a doorway hamstring stretch. The stretch should be done for 6-8 minutes initially, progressing to 15 minutes. This must be done very gently - you should feel only a mild stretch when performing this.
Next, we want to maintain as much fitness and bike memory as possible. I want you to get on your bike as pain allows. I think that by riding at light resistance and moderate cadence riding on your hoods or the top of your bars, you will place minimal additional stress on the hamstring. I have also found that, as the ride progresses, you will become more comfortable to a point. Do not keep riding once (or if) you reach this point where symptoms start to increase.
Finally, minimize inflammation from each individual bout of exercise. I prefer to ice while in the gentle stretch position, I have also had patients ice while maintaining a long sitting position (flexed at the waist with legs straight).
Four to six weeks is a typical timeframe for resolution of this type of injury. Athletes generally try to push too quickly - this in an injury that you want to heal once and only once! I would not start pushing aggressively on the bike until you can easily ride in the drops. This still allows you to maintain a workout intensity that will help you to at very least maintain your base.

Good luck

Unequal leg length solutions

I have an approximate leg length difference of about 1cm. I've heard two different trains of thought; either building up the cleat by the difference on the short leg versus building up half the difference. Which is the correct version, and why?

David Padula

Eddie Monnier Replies


I trained in bicycle fits with Paul Swift, who besides having worked with many of the notables (eg, Dr. Andy Pruitt) designed the LeWedge, which can be stacked thick-to-thin to resolve leg length discrepancies (LLD's).

First, you need to understand that there are actual LLD's and functional LLD's. The former is determined by x-ray of the full legs and pelvis. Whether or not there is an actual LLD, there may be a functional LLD. That is, one leg functions as if it's shorter. This could be due to alignment issues, muscle inflexibility, etc. and can be assessed by a physical therapist, chiropractor, exercise physiologist, etc. who may be able to identify paths to minimizing or even resolving the functional difference. Before making any correction to your bike fit, you need to know how much of the shortage is attributable to the femur (hip to knee) and how much to the tibia (knee to ankle) before you can determine the amount of correction. As a rule of thumb, I correct 1/4 to 1/3 of a femur shortage and 1/2 of a tibia shortage. Many factors affect the final determination of this correction; so I would suggest you seek out a bike fitter with experience in addressing LLD's. And of course, enrol your medical professional of choice to determine if your LLD is correctable or not.

Happy riding!

Another Crank length case

I find the ongoing discussions about bike fit very interesting. Last year I began having slight, somewhat vague glitches, which I knew had to be related to my position. At the end of the year, the vagueness went away and problems became very noticeable. (Chafing, a very sore left shoulder after a ride of more than 20 miles, occasional soreness in the left knee usually in the rear, but a few times in the front, sore upper back etc.)
I had tried all the regular formulas - various seat height measurement theories, KOPS. I used shims to correct what I had believed to be a slight leg length discrepancy (a wild idea I arrived at when measured for a shirt; one arm 4mm longer than the other), changed the angle of my seat slightly. I then read and followed the advice given here, especially the method for determining seat set back as well as purchasing and using the Kit Laughin stretching book. The latter were most useful and helped a bit, especially the stretching. (However, once I began stretching, other pains arose as I became more flexible.)
In the end, I still was not fully comfortable. I couldn't see a good fit specialist, because the ones I have heard or read of in Japan are using strictly formula-based approaches - some formulas are absurdly complex and precise.
Around the start of the year, I found a good deal on a Dura Ace crankset. I had been using 170 cranks (my inseam is 82mm, I am about 176cm tall.) The new ones were 175mm, and although I worried that they may be too long and preferred a set in 172.5, the deal was so good that I took a chance.
I have now used them for over 600 miles and they have done so much to improve the feel and comfort of riding, that I am hesitant to believe it. I keep waiting for pains or problems. For the first week, the only thing I changed was the crankset. I did not even lower the seat. After that I lowered it in stages to a total of about 2.5mm. I also moved my seat back about 1 mm as it seemed that I felt very slightly restricted. Other than that and straightening my seat back out, everything is the same.
For the first time, I feel that I can apply power throughout most of my pedal stroke. Before, I would occasionally follow the advice to imagine you were scraping mud off your shoe at the bottom of the stroke to ensure you were getting power on more of the stroke. That was always uncomfortable on my knees and I couldn't really do that for long. But now, I don't need to. I can feel that I am applying more power throughout the stroke. As a matter of fact, my hamstrings were sore the first few times after riding these, whereas before, it was always my quads. When I am somewhat sore from a ride now, it is not concentrated on any one area.
So my completely unscientific conclusion is that a large part of my problems were addressed by changing to a longer crank length. That is usually an expensive option, and you gotta get it right because most shops won't let you try several cranksets for a week or so.

David Hufford

Tokyo, Japan

Steve Hogg Replies

G'day David,

Thank you for relating your story. Ron Haney, the American gent I have mentioned a couple of times lately has suggested to me that his experience with bike positioning is very similar to what you have described, in that many comfort and performance issues tend to resolve themselves with the correct length cranks. Often the crank length required is quite long relative to leg length. I am forwarding this onto to Ron who no doubt will reply with further comment. I might have to take the plunge and follow Rons' suggestions. Has anyone got a good price on some 185mm cranks?

Walking as training

Hi guys,

I'm currently at the tail end of my base building phase and have a quick question for you. I walk to and/or from work practically every day (4 or 5 times a week, time and weather depending). It takes me about 40 minutes to walk 5 kms. The road I take is mostly flat, except for a 1/2 km long, steady hill midway. I keep a pretty good pace throughout, averaging a 100 HR, with a 120 HR on the hill. My question is this: With all this accumulated walking during the week, could this be considered as "training" or should I simply dedicate that time on the bike trainer at home?
I'm 42, healthy and fit, have been riding and training more seriously for about 4 years now, and have no health problems.


Vinny D.

Kim Morrow Replies

Hi Vinny,

It looks like you are walking at a pretty good pace. That's great. I do a number of walks during the week as well. However, I do not consider it specific "training" for my cycling events. Usually I record it in my training log as zone 1, which is my "recovery" training zone. If you are trying to build cycling specific fitness, it might be good to consider replacing a few of those daily walks with some cycling specific workouts on the trainer. Much of the decision as to how you spend your available training time depends upon your cycling goals and upon your strengths & weaknesses as a rider. It also depends upon what you enjoy doing. Walking is a good mental diversion, and a nice way to start the day without having to worry about getting too sweaty on the way to work. Sounds like a combination of alternating morning walks with morning spins on the trainer might be something for you to consider.

Kind regards,

Training and Sickness

I am a 33-year-old cyclist - 5'9", 155lbs. averaging 135-210 miles a week depending on where I am in my year round training. Since I've been training more seriously over the past two years, I've noticed a pattern of sickness at the peak of any periodisation effort. Most of my training revolves around a 3-4 week ever-increasing workload that repeats throughout various periodization phases. After a good four weeks of training I invariably catch an illness (flu, respiratory infection, etc.) towards the peak of effort - regardless of season. Needless to say, this significantly hampers any gains.
I do implement a steady Foundation Phase in the year, but due to my career I can only manage a five-day schedule with an hour or more on the trainer through the winter. Like anyone, my miles do increase significantly with daylight and the onset of spring. However even in a Foundation Phase - and keeping my heart rate mostly within recommended guidelines - I always seem so much more susceptible to illness at the end of week three or four. Do you have insights into why this may happen and how I can avoid illness through the stress of training? I appreciate any and all wisdom you can provide!


Pam Hinton Replies

Hey Boys,

You are not alone in your recurrent battles with upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and all the nasty symptoms: sore throat, swollen lymph glands, runny nose, sinus congestion, and headache. URTIs are the most common illness among athletes and usually follow a marked increase in training volume or intensity or after prolonged, exhaustive exercise (e.g. marathon or stage race). Stories of similar ailments abound within the pro ranks, especially this time of year. So, first we'll swallow a little science and then chew on some common-sense pills to prevent it. The immune system is complex; it involves many cell types that specialize in responding to different microorganisms. Simply put, there are two general types of immune response: cell-mediated immunity (CMI) and humoral immunity. CMI is an immediate response by natural killer cells (NK cells), macrophage, and cytotoxic T cells to destroy anything that the body recognizes as foreign. Humoral immunity is the production of antibodies by B cells with the assistance of type 1 T-helper cells.

Antibodies are proteins that are specific for a particular pathogen, coating the outside of the microorganisms, thereby neutralizing them. The humoral immune response takes longer than CMI to start defending the body because it takes time for the cells to make the antibodies. The cool thing about the humoral response is that the immune system remembers if it has been exposed to a pathogen, and the antibody production after subsequent exposures is much more rapid. The immune system operates such that when one "arm" of the immune response is activated, the other is suppressed. So, if B-cells are cranking out antibodies full-throttle, then CMI is turned way down. To function effectively, the immune system has to be integrated into the rest of the body. This is accomplished via bi-directional communication between the immune system and the nervous/endocrine system. Immune cells release proteins called cytokines that act on the brain. For example, cytokines produced by immune cells in response to infection, act on the hypothalamus to increase body temperature. You experience this as fever.
Conversely, hormones released into the blood in response to brain signals, alter immunity. The illness that you experience during intense training or after a race is a result of your brain talking to your immune system. In response to the increased stress of training, your brain signals your adrenal gland to make more cortisol. The sympathetic nervous system is also activated, resulting in increased release of the catecholamines (norepinepherine and epinepherine). The most recent research suggests that these hormones are not generally immunosuppressive, but alter the balance between cellular-mediated and humoral immunity. Cortisol and the catecholamines suppress cell-mediated immunity by shutting down NK cells, macrophages, and cytotoxic T cells. In contrast, antibody production is increased. This disruption lasts 3-72 hours after exhaustive exercise, leaving you susceptible to viral URTIs. It is also worth noting that antibody production is part of the allergic response, so you're also more likely to experience allergy symptoms. There are several things you can do to minimize URTIs and allergy symptoms brought on by too much of a good thing.

The first line of defence is plenty of good old-fashioned sleep - adequate rest - especially following those particularly hard throw-downs. Next comes another down-home remedy - consume adequate carbohydrate during and after exercise. Carbohydrate is the single dietary intervention that has been shown to reduce cortisol and catecholamine secretion in response to exercise and to maintain immune function after exercise. No need to get fancy with your third line of defence, either. You should reduce the chances that pathogens or allergens invade your body to begin with. The mucus membranes that line our airways and sinuses are natural, physical barriers to infection. When these physical barriers dry out, they are ineffective. So, stay hydrated, and regularly use a saline nasal spray during cold, flu and allergy seasons. These sprays are available over-the-counter or may be mixed at home using pickling salt and water. While you're at it, don't forget the lowest-tech barrier to infection - frequent hand washing. You've heard it before - you must listen to your body and give yourself a break. The point of hard exercise is to tear down and then to rebuild a bit stronger. The trick is to not forget the rebuilding part, and to give your body a chance to let it happen. But while the rebuild is working it's magic, it pays to remember; it's a jungle out there, dudes - take care.

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