Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for October 24, 2005
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.
Antibiotic side effects
Leg length discrepancy
EPO and drug use
Narcolepsy, modofinil, and racing
Saddle fore/aft and stem length
Boil washing shorts
In response to Andy Bloomer's reply regarding piriformis syndrome, does he
notice any difference in leg strength related to the numbness? I self-diagnosed
myself with piriformis syndrome about 18 months ago, and notice that my left
leg (affected leg) is significantly weaker than the right. My physio thinks
that the numbness could be causing disruptions in the firing of the hamstring
Does he have any suggestions on convincing my physio on my condition? I'm currently
being treated for numbness radiating from my left gluteus down the back/side
of my leg, usually stopping at the knee. My physio is currently convinced that
the numbness is caused by a disc issue in my back and is treating me accordingly.
Any help is much appreciated.
Andy Bloomer replies
Obviously Dave is far better qualified than myself to comment on your condition,
all I can offer is anecdotes of my symptoms and what works for me and I may
have incorrectly labelled what I have as piriformis syndrome. I get no weakness
associated with the pain although I do get exactly the same symptoms; tightness
in the butt and numbness/pain sometimes as low as the back of the knee. What
I do to alleviate it is lie on my back, flex my right knee to 90 degrees with
the right foot flat on the floor, place the left foot on top of the right
knee then slowly draw the right knee toward the chestuntil I feel a stretch
on the left butt.
Your physio may be treating you with 'McKenzie' type stretches (hyper extensions
of the back) which did nothing for me and sometimes made the symptoms worse
Now that I've explained what I do it might help Dave to understand what might
be wrong with us both.
Dave Fleckenstein replies
If I might be so rude to interrupt, I have some thoughts on your condition,
as this is something that I treat with frequency and have posted on in this
column previously. The branch of the sciatic nerve that is most associated
with the piriformis corresponds with lateral calf sensation and pain. This
is the "true" piriformis syndrome, and I find that the term "piriformis syndrome"
is given to any buttock pain without differential diagnosis. (Indeed people
have labeled me a "piriformis syndrome" rather than stating the more obvious...)
Most often, the pain that you are describing truly is associated with a nerve
root irritation, and I would look more aggressively at those sources of injury,
particularly given the weakness that you state you have.
Interestingly, many people get relief of back pain with piriformis stretching,
but not because the piriformis was the source of the pain.
Check out another old post to
see if this helps to explain.
Antibiotic side effects
Thanks for all the informative articles in the past. If you haven't covered
this topic, I have a question regarding possible side effects of this "nuke
and pave" antibiotic my doctor prescribed. When he gave me Avelox (Moxifloxacin),
he warned me not to exercise. At all. Walking, yes. Hiking, no. No riding, no
lifting, no yoga or pilates. (No drinking, thanks to another drug he assigned
me - great, now how am I going to spend these two weeks?) However, I found this
in the drug literature:
"Fluoroquinolones [Avelox's classification] may rarely cause inflammation or
even tearing of a tendon (the cord that attaches muscles to bones). If you get
sudden pain in a tendon after exercise (for example, in your ankle, back of
the knee or leg, shoulder, elbow, or wrist), stop taking the fluoroquinolone
and check with your doctor . Rest and do not exercise until the doctor has made
sure that you have not injured or torn the tendon."
Now I'm confused. Can I do some easy spins on the trainer, as long as they
don't stress a tendon? Could I easily do yoga or pilates?
San Francisco, CA
Kelby Bethards replies
I do not know if they have had any ruptures of tendons with Avelox, but like
you said it is what we call a class effect. The risk of tendon rupture is
rare, but a risk. I think your doctor was just being very cautious. It is
impossible to do any exercise without "stressing" a tendon, as every muscle
has a tendon that connects it to a bone. But, like you said, mild exercise
may be perfectly ok.
I guess the question I would have is why are you on Avelox, as it does seem
like a big gun to me for someone as generally healthy as cyclist tends to
be? The problem I would see with Yoga or Pilates (especially the latter) is
that they certainly would stress tendons. Anything that stretches a muscle,
stresses a tendon. The one we (physicians) tend to worry about with the fluoroquinolones,
is the Achilles.
So, for the short period of time you are on Avelox for, just be careful.
It won't hurt you, but a ruptured tendon would.
Leg length discrepancy
Thanks for taking the time to answer my question (in detail, I might add).
I know how hard it is to answer these kinds of questions without having all
the information, but I figured I would see what you thought about possibility
of the shorter side pelvis being anterior rotated. I truly enjoy reading your
column and respect your opinion. The largest leg length issue I've had to deal
with is a rider who had one side 4.0cm shorter than the other from a bad fracture
(the result of being hit by a car). I corrected for half the discrepancy but
he was still experiencing ITB and knee pain on the shorter side. Perhaps I would
have had more success with your 5mm:1mm suggestion. Thanks again.
Steve Hogg replies
Good question. I don't know, I try to answer on the basis of what people
tell me and what my experience tells me is the likely occurrence. I have answered
similar questions before in greater detail canvassing the issue that you raise,
and sometimes [quite possibly erroneously] assume that people have researched
the archives. The basic tenor of query was that the gent concerned had a leg
length discrepancy and was getting conflicting advice on whether to use a
heel lift or a packer. I felt that I answered that correctly. He didn't ask
"do I indeed have a leg length discrepancy?"
To broaden the scope of your query somewhat; the only thing I will believe
regarding leg length discrepancies is a waist down x ray in a standing and
hence load bearing position with limb segments measured from joint centre
to joint centre. I don't have those facilities but inferences can be made.
I liken human bodies to an incomplete jigsaw in that I may never be able to
see the entire picture, but if I have enough pieces, I can make a reasoned
judgement. In the sense of positioning someone, I examine them thoroughly
and make them jump through some metaphorical hoops. That gives me info about
their function and symmetry.
Ultimately though, I don't care how a given rider presents off the bike,
I only care about how they function on the bike, the rest is background info.
The key on the bike is to start at the pelvis and work outwards. If there
are pelvic asymmetries of function on the bike, do whatever is necessary to
resolve or minimise that. Then continue outwards to the legs, torso and arms.
This sometimes means that people with no measurable limb length differences
may end up with a packer or not, depending on how they function, not how they
measure. Occasionally too, people with measurable discrepancies may need no
packer, again depending on how they function.
In between those is every possible permutation. One interesting case that
I had last year was a gent with what appeared to be a 12 - 15mm measurable
discrepancy. He was extremely flexible and because of the way he compensated
[sat slightly askew on the seat in a way that defied my various attempts to
straighten him] left with only a 3mm shim under the cleat of the short leg.
Now that he was alerted to the asymmetry, he saw various people and over time
effectively "decompensated" in a postural sense. He is into detail and as
well as seeing a good physio and chiro, had all his walking shoes modified
[the soles removed, a 10mm full length buildup fitted and the soles reglued/stitched].
His good flexibility allowed him to cope easily with this. Over time, because
he had "decompensated", I needed to increase the buildup under the cleat of
his short leg to 12mm. Lastly, your last sentence doesn't sit well with me.
No theory, fact! There will ALWAYS be a compensation for a leg length discrepancy.
There are a variety of ways to compensate, some of them very individual.
Equally, there will ALWAYS be a compensation for a functional leg length discrepancy.
It too may take a wide variety of forms, some much more common than others.
Adam Baskin then responded:
I'm just wondering; how do you know that the leg length discrepancy isn't being
caused by a greater anterior pelvic tilt on the shorter side? That would sort
of throw a wrench in your entire compensation theory.
Steve Hogg replies
When there is a discrepancy of the order you mention, then often it's impossible
to gain a good cleat position taking into account what I have previously said
about moving the cleat back 1mm for every 5mm of shimming. Often custom shoes
need to be made with a build up in the sole and altered placement for the
cleat mounting holes on the built up shoe. The cleat position I have mentioned
on various posts tends to equalise loads front and rear on the upper limb
and knee, and so may be an option.
Differing crank lengths needs to be thought about and things like that. I
am not trying to second guess you, you can see your client, I can't, but if
your guy still has strain in the hip flexors and knee, he may well be over
reaching on that side. There is always a way with leg length discrepancies
no matter how large.
I have some time at the moment so here are two quick stories:
1. Polio victim: 50mm of leg length discrepancy, five shoe sizes of foot
length difference, 75 mm of arm length discrepancy, and small hemi pelvis,
all on right side. I could not pack up the short leg cleat more than 10mm
because the rider had limited control over the withered leg and could not
cope with a larger packer than 10mm.
Effective solution [after much trial and error] - redrilled right shoe so
that cleat of long leg was just in front of heel. This stretched the long
leg out much more and allowed me to lower the seat height. 10mm shorter crank
on right side, re-drilled right shoe and moved cleat to under toes [very limited
ability to exert force on this leg, it basically coasts, so cleat position
not an issue] which allowed short leg to reach further. 10mm packer under
right cleat and steel seat rails bent so that seat rolled to right about 15
degrees. Because of polio, he has never been able to ride off the seat, as
the withered arm will not support weight, so none of these things I have listed
were a problem. To cope with shorter arm [which has no strength] I reversed
a Spinaci bar which allows him to shorten his reach noticeably on the short
side. He already had all his controls on the left bar.
Result: Previously had considerable back pain after 30kms on bike. Now has
no pain on 120km rides which is longest ride he does regularly. Understand
too that this man is not Joe Average and neither can the solution be average.
2.Vietnam vet: had the rear third of his right knee shot out, was missing
all but big toe on right foot with a lot of forefoot amputated and missing
50mm of bone length in femur. This left him with a massive pelvic tilt to
the right and large scoliosis with single full length of the sacral/lumbar/thoracic
spine scoliosis. Lives in a remote area and had never had any kind of intervention.
No pain walking, plenty of back pain on bike. Had x rays of spine showing
permanent lengthening of vertebrae on outside radius of scoliosis and shortening
of the vertebrae on the inside radius of the scoliosis. Pedals massively toe
down on right side and drops heel noticeably on left side. The limiting factor
is the right side hip/lower back is locked up massively. This means that if
his right cleat is packed beyond 20mm his right ilium lifts off the seat at
the top of the stroke.
Solution [other than rejigging seat and bar placement]was to put him in custom
made shoes, which given his damaged right foot, were substantially different
in shape and size, with a 20mm build up in the sole of the right shoe. After
some mucking around, I realised the best solution was to accept his asymmetric
pedalling style and set the seat height at a reasonable height for the longer
leg and build up the shoe of the short leg only enough so that he didn't lift
the right ilium off the seat.
Result: He looked substantially different on each side but was smooth and
I only tell you this to illustrate there is always a way, if you think and
observe long enough and hard enough - best of luck with your 40mm client.
Dave Fleckenstein replies
Your question is valid and one that we touch on frequently. Here's an older
column that discusses this. I know that in multiple columns Steve has addressed
both true and functional leg length discrepancy. We write these columns having
often answered similar questions in the past, and tend to take these issues
as part of the current conversation. I can tell you that, being one who views
asymmetries very suspiciously and is slow to jump and correct them (mainly
because of poor intra and inter-relater reliability in measuring them, as
well as the fact that small asymmetries are the norm), Steve's methods are
EPO and drug use
I was just wondering what EPO does that helps the body so much and consequently
means it is a banned substance. Also what are the side effects? I've heard that
it can cause blood clots. I'd appreciate your view, thanks.
Pam Hinton replies
Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone that tells the bone marrow to, "make more red blood cells." EPO is produced in the kidney when the amount of oxygen present in the tissues is abnormally low. Factors that cause low oxygen concentration in the tissues are: impaired lung function; heart disease; anemia; and lower relative oxygen concentration in the atmosphere due to lower atmospheric pressure (altitude) or due to an artificial hypoxic environment (hypoxic tent).
EPO causes stem cells in the bone marrow to develop into red blood cells (instead of white blood cells or platelets). The most immature red blood cells released from the bone marrow into the circulation are reticulocytes. Initially, the reticulocytes can make more hemoglobin, but they lose this capacity as they transform into mature red blood cells; this process takes approximately 3-5 days. The ratio of reticulocytes to mature RBCs will increase with EPO use and it is sometimes used as evidence of doping. Mature RBCs have a lifespan of about 120 days. Once they are no longer functional, RBCs are degraded in the liver and spleen. The iron is "scavenged" and transported back to the bone marrow for use in hemoglobin synthesis.
Everyday, approximately 300 million RBCs die and are digested. In one year, 6 pounds of hemoglobin are recycled. In a healthy, endurance-trained male about 40-45% of blood volume (i.e., hematocrit) is red blood cells. A 2002 study of 169 male national team cyclists found that the average hematocrit was 45 ± 3 %. A hematocrit of 50% or higher is "suspicious" of blood doping, either by transfusion or by artificially stimulating production of red blood cells. As the proportion of blood cells in the blood increases, the blood becomes viscous and does not flow as readily through the blood vessels. The combination of thick blood and low resting heart rate is the explanation given for the deaths of several pro cyclists while they were sleeping. To increase your hematocrit without endangering your health, you need to stimulate red blood cell production and provide your bone marrow, the nutrients that it needs to make new cells. Endurance training, particularly high intensity interval training, stimulates red blood cell production by creating a temporary oxygen deficit during exercise. Beyond training, you could stimulate red blood cell production by spending approximately four weeks at altitude (if you currently live at low altitude).
The improvements seen in performance with altitude training last approximately two weeks after returning to sea level. Alternatively, you could buy or rent an altitude tent. Without the necessary nutrients, no amount of training or altitude exposure will increase you hematocrit. Obviously, iron is needed to make hemoglobin, but vitamins B12, B6, and, folic acid are needed for DNA synthesis and cell replication. Take care.
Andy Bloomer replies
Put simply, EPO is a naturally occurring substance within the body linked
with the production of red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for
carrying oxygen around the body so theoretically the more you have the more
oxygen you can transport leading to better performance in endurance events
that derive energy from aerobic metabolism.
The hematocrit value you may have heard of is the percentage of blood that
contains the formed elements and typically represents around 45% of the total
blood volume in a healthy male subject (around 40% in females). The vast majority
of these formed elements is made up from red blood cells so the hematocrit
can be used as an indirect measure of red blood cells. The remaining portion
of the blood is plasma (around 55%).
The artificially produce version of EPO was developed to treat conditions
where a patients own stores of EPO created insufficient red blood cells. When
administered to a healthy subject it has the effect of producing greater red
blood cells than normal and therefore increasing the hematocrit. If left unchecked,
the hematocrit could increase too much leading to the blood becoming more
viscous than usual and running the risk of forming clots with dangerous consequences
(strokes and heart attacks for example).
Early problems with EPO abuse were that you could not test for it as it was
a naturally occurring substance (you can't test positive for EPO) and you
could only infer abuse from an unusually high hematocrit. That was the reason
the UCI imposed the 50% rule. Anyone with a hematocrit of over 50% was suspended
from racing to protect their own health. They were not automatically branded
a cheat as there was no way of saying whether their level was artificial or
otherwise. Hope that helps - other panellists may know more on the subject
Narcolepsy, modofinil, and racing
I've been reading about other issues related to training and optimal performance
[quite a nice section, by the way], but I have not seen my medical condition
addressed for some time.
Unable to race the past few years because of a nagging back injury that seems
to be improved, I am now facing a return to the sport I have loved for decades.
But my narcolepsy is making a return to fitness a daunting task. Where I would
expect to be tired because of the ever-increasing demands placed on my system,
the normal overnight recovery after a long training day takes longer [I suspect]
because I am just plain tired, and give in to the sleep that is all-too-common
But the one medication that actually HELPS me without elevating my heart rate
to unnaturally high levels - modofinil [brand name PROVIGIL] - is, as I understand
it - a prohibited substance. What can I do? Will a doctor's prescription suffice?
The last time I raced, I was taking provigil under my doctor's supervision,
and my sleep and workouts were at a wonderful equilibrium. Have things [rules
and such] changed since 2002?
The mostly reverend Mr. Grandpa Kim,
The orphanage, capitol city, Iowa
Kelby Bethards replies
The mostly revered Mr Grandpa Kim,
You are in a tight spot. (Not really, only if you are going to race in a
national caliber or international caliber event)
You are correct in that modofinil is on the 2005 banned substance list. There
is a possible exemption for when you begin to do national and international
competitions. You can seek what is referred to as a Therapeutic Use Exemption.
This states that you may use certain substances (I am paraphrasing, at best,
the anti-doping rule book) in the case that you have a documented condition
and need said substance to treat that condition.
Where you may be hung out to dry is in the rule, which states that the said
substance cannot give an added benefit to performance. Modofinil is in the
stimulant class of medications and although it may not be much more activating
than the layman's caffeine, it may not be interpreted as such. Look the rules
over at the following site:
a look at this document. The rules are in the Therapeutic Use Exemption
chapter (IV). Given that I know your background and ability to "interpret"
the rules maybe you can find a better loophole. Till then, keep taking your
meds and racing.
Saddle fore/aft and stem length
Many thanks for this column. Most useful.
I have followed Steve Hogg advice of "hands let go off the drops and try to
support the torso" method to help me to find a good saddle fore/aft position
in relation to the B/B. I moved my saddle back a total of about 15mm (gradually)
and now I can almost pass the no-hands test. My on-bike (avg speed) performance
has improved. Thank you Steve!
I say almost pass the test because in order to pass the test fully I
had to move the saddle further back about 5mm and my pedalling performance (and
average speed) actually decreased. So I moved it forward again by about 5mm
but now it is harder for me to pass the no-hands test even though my performance
(average speed) is better.
My question therefore is: could it be that my stem is a bit too short to pass
the test? I ride with a 100mm stem right now. Perhaps if I got a 10mm longer
(i.e. 110mm) stem I would be able to "pass the no hands test" in current saddle
And what are the tell-tale signs of a stem being 10mm-20mm too short? I know
about guides like "wheel hub obscured by handle bar" etc. Are they good and
Thank you in advance!
Steve Hogg replies
I am glad that you are performing better. Regarding stem length; when you
are on the drops you should feel like holding the position is easy and without
strain on the arms, neck or shoulders. When you take your hands off the bars,
don't think that you should be rock solid. Some people can be, but they are
exceptional and usually have superior core strength. Most people teeter to
some degree and that is fine as long as they can control that reasonably well.
The idea is to have the seat back the minimum distance that allows the torso
to be cantilevered out from the pelvis, without needing to enlist much in
the way of upper body musculature to support the torso.
Doing this well will free up the torso for breathing purposes and ensures
that the maximum effort neurologically and physiologically can be devoted
to propelling the bike rather than maintaining the position.
How far the seat needs to be back is a huge variable and depends on the proportions,
functionality and pedalling technique of the rider. Just one example: if we
have a rider with a long torso who is inflexible, he will ride in the drops
with a flexed torso. So this means that despite having a long torso in a measurable
sense, his functional torso length on a bike may be significantly shorter
than that, and so does not need to have as large a seat set back as a more
Why am I telling you this?
Because you may not need to have your seat the 5mm further back. If you can
say genuinely that you are of above average flexibility and core strength
then you may indeed need to go back the extra 5mm. If you are not, the decreased
performance you experience suggests that you keep your seat where it now is
and adjust the front end of the bike around that.
There is a margin for error and it's approximately 5 mm either side of ideal.
If at the rearward end of this, there will be very good leverage, moderate
grade hills will be easy but steep hills will be a comparative struggle and
the ability to pedal fast will be diminished. If at the forward end of this
range, high cadences will be easy, the rider will lack leverage in a comparative
sense and steep hills will, relatively speaking, feel better than moderate
grades. Ideally, the rider should be able to all of this; pedal fast when
they choose and push a big gear when they choose with ease relative to their
abilities and fitness level.
Have you got a good relationship with a bike shop? If so, borrow a few stems
and try various lengths out. You don't want the length that feels o.k. on
a good day for a short ride. You want the stem length that feels like you
could ride on the drops for a long time relative to the time you spend on
a bike with ease.
What are the tell tales if the stem is too short?
It varies from person to person but a simple solution if you can borrow several
stems is to keep increasing the length until under race conditions it is obviously
too long. A good stem length will be typically 10mm shorter than that if you
are reasonably body aware and perhaps 20mm shorter if you are not particularly
I have started my winter recovery phase. Is it possible to recover on the bike?
I don't like running or other high impact sports as they hurt my ankles and
knees. Though I live at the base of the Sierra mountains, I also avoid skiing
for the same reason (some say I'm crazy)…
Thus, I'd like to have an "on the bike" recovery program. My plan is to do
no stress spinning rides for 60 to 90 minutes at my warm-up HR (120-130 bpm)
five or six times per week through the end of December. A good portion of it
will be on a mag trainer due to weather. How does such a plan strike you?
My stats: male, 39 years old, 5' 11" (1.8 m), 167 lbs (75.9 kg), 72 VO2 Max,
RHR: 38, MaxHR: 193, no power stats, not a fast twitch fibre to be seen, climber,
can climb at 160-170 bpm for a long time. I'm a non-competitive endurance rider.
Scott Saifer replies
Whether your plan is a true recovery plan depends on how much and how hard
your training has been. So far as physiological recovery is concerned, three
months of low intensity should work well. So far as psychological recovery,
I question riding 5-6 days per week. At least for riders who routinely put
in big miles 6-7 days per week through the training and events season, recovery
is about having a period where you don't have to train so that you can recover
emotionally from the stress of having to train all the time as well as from
the physical stress of that training. I usually suggest every other day or
less frequent exercise during the recovery period.
I also question the need for almost three months of recovery. Even top pros
doing 100 races a year manage to recover in a month more or less before beginning
training for the following year. Your question implies that one should cross
train during the recovery period. This is not a bad idea since some variety
will keep training fresh, but if you are still loving riding the bike and
not planning to push for huge miles next year, staying on the bike through
the recovery period can work well.
Since you live near the Sierra but don't want to risk injury from skiing,
you might consider cross country skiing, which provides a great aerobic workout,
some variation from cycling, and much less danger than downhill. If you do
go, you'll likely see me on the trails.
Boil washing shorts
Unfortunately I had to go to the doctor the other week due to an incredibly
itchy groin. It turned out to be a fungal infection, (a result of sweaty cycling
shorts) which he has given me some antifungal cream and wash for, which seems
to be working nicely. However he told me to wash all my underwear in a boil
wash, to reduce the chance of reinfecting myself. Cycling shorts usually say
wash at 30 or 40 degrees centigrade; surely it will ruin them if I do them at
60? Is there another way to clean them to make sure there is no risk of re-infection?
Scott Saifer replies
I have had the very itchy fungal infection of the groin once. It cleared
up quickly when I used an antifungal cream and washed my shorts in cold water
with no reinfection problem. I don't know that there aren't different fungi
with different resistances to washing or that I was not lucky.
I am a 21 yr old cat.3 cyclist. For the past two months (Aug/Sept) I had been
doing some serious training directed by an ex-pro as my coach. (LT intervals,
motor pacing, power intervals, etc.) I started using my HR monitor again (I
had stopped because I was using a power meter to gauge my efforts instead).
One day while in a race I was curious to see how high I could get my HR. So
after the race was done, I looked at the watch, and it said that my max was
237. I immediately thought this to be absurd and figured since a lot of people
were wearing their HR monitors, that I was getting interference from other riders.
But then another day when I was doing motor pacing I came home looked and it
said 217. This time I was really puzzled, since it was only me and the car I
was riding behind. Now, I've been training with the thought that my max HR was
somewhere near 200-205, but now I am not so sure. Should I change my HR training
zones to reflect the 230 max? Or is something else going on here?
Scott Saifer replies
When you train by heart rate, it is important to have a correct measurement
of your maximum and threshold heart rates. Otherwise you are training by the
wrong heart rates.
Since you are unsure of your true maximum heart rate, you should test it
formally enough that you are sure of the reading. Many things can give a false
high reading on the HRM. Two common ones are riding near sources of interferences
(high-tension power lines, some building alarm systems, radio transmitters,
other riders with HRMs), or a loose HRM strap combined with flapping clothing.
If you just look at the max on the monitor after a ride, you don't know when
the max occurred. If you watch the monitor while making a maximum effort,
you can see if the heart rate rises as the effort rises and then drops off
again, or if it happens at some odd time. If it rises and fall smoothly, it's
Finally, if the heart rate on the monitor rises suddenly even though you
are not making a major effort, you might have a heart problem that should
be looked at by a doctor, so it would be a really good idea to know when and
how your heart rate is rising towards 237.
If you are working with a coach, he or she should really be answering these
questions for you.
I have a question regarding the fit of a saddle in relation to the sit bones.
I have been riding for about a year and a half, and originally started on a
thickly padded saddle because I couldn't stand to ride on a racing saddle for
more than a few minutes. As I progressively added miles, and improved my equipment,
I became more comfortable. I now ride a Selle San Marco SKN that is 140mm wide.
My sit bones are approx. 105 to 110 mm apart at the points, and I find that
on longer rides (35 miles +) that I end up "eating the saddle", and numbness
sets in. I am 37 years old, 5'11", 200 lb (I know, I know...but I'm big-boned!)
and I ride a 55 cm Litespeed Tuscany about 100 miles per week.
The SKN saddle has a decent cutout, so it seems more to be that the saddle
is too narrow. My question is how much wider should the saddle be than the sit
bones in order to position them in the location that would provide the best
support? I know that saddle comfort is highly suggestive, and that if possible
I should try a saddle out before purchasing it, but that is often difficult.
I have been looking at the Strike Pro Plus saddle, as it has a larger width
(159 mm) and an incredible cutout, but could it be too wide for me? Or perhaps
not wide enough? I am loath to spend $250 for another saddle if the one I have
is sufficient and I just need to do something different, or should really look
for something wider. Thanks in advance for your help.
Scott Saifer replies
I'm glad to hear that you've been able to ride with less padding on the saddle
as you've ridden more. I've assumed that as one develops a smoother, less
bouncy pedal stroke and as one decreases pressure on the saddle by pushing
down more one should need less padding, but since most of my clients have
started out already pretty serious about their training, I've had little opportunity
to test the theory.
The important measurement on the saddle is not the over-all width, but the
width of the relatively flat platform at the back where the sit-bones will
sit. The flat part needs to be about as wide as the sit-bone spacing. Of course
the exact width of the "flat part" is open to discussion since saddles generally
curve away gradually from that flat part.
Even a perfect saddle can leave you numb if you don't have it positioned
optimally. If you have not already done so, search the archives on this forum
for Steve Hogg's suggestions on saddle position. Adjustment is a lot cheaper
than replacing saddles, and can do more for comfort.
I just set up an old bike on my stationary trainer. But after a hard 45-minute
ride I have little flakes of rubber all over the floor, and my rear tire is
completely bald. I didn't even have it set particularly hard. Is this just a
fact of life, or am I doing something wrong? Thanks.
Scott Saifer replies
You either have inadequate contact force between the resistance drum and
tyre or the drum is misaligned.
The drum should press into the tyre about 1/8 inch (3mm) or a little more.
If the drum doesn't press into the tire, the tire slips and burns. Most trainers
have some sort of adjustment for this. Some others you can put a shim under
the resistance unit to make it press more firmly against the tire. If the
tire is undersized, (MTB tire on a road-only trainer or 650 wheel) you may
not be able to fix this problem on the current trainer and may need to get
a trainer designed to work with smaller wheels.
In one case I've seen the drum axis was not parallel to the wheel axis, as
a result of which the tire scrubbed across the drum with every revolution.
The smell of burning rubber was a clear indicator that something was not right.
This is the sort of thing that someone mechanically inclined might want to
try to repair, but I would return to the source for refund or replacement,
since the drum is not supposed to be able to be misaligned.
The final possibility which I hope you've already checked is that your tyres
are under-inflated so there is inadequate tire pressure against the drum.
I need to get a new pair of orthotics and I was looking for a recommendation
if you have any for me. I live in Palo Alto, CA (Northern California, close
to San Francisco) I have just moved from Philly and don't know anyone good yet.
Thank you for any recommendations and keep up the good work, I start and end
every day with you.
Fiona Flockhart replies
Phil Astrachan is a physical therapist and cycling coach in San Francisco
who does custom orthotics. His contact information is:
Phil Astrachan, MS PT, CSCS
CTS Certified Cycling Coach
Presidio Sport & Medicine
1162 B Gorgas Avenue
P.O. Box 470607
San Francisco, CA 94147
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