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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 November 21, 2005

Mystery knee pain
Neck discomfort
Compact versus standard frame
Respiratory muscle use
Training HR and power
Pronating foot
Sore knees
Quad pain

Mystery knee pain

I am a 34 year old male, at 6'4" and 168lb. I have been a recreational MTB rider for 15 years. In August I purchased my first road bike (61cm Specalized Roubaix with 175mm 52/42 cranks). Due to finances I have been using my Speedplay frog MTB pedals and Shimano MTB shoes. With MTB riding I have never experienced any appreciable knee pain no matter how intense or long the ride, butt within weeks of starting road riding roughly 1 hour four times per week at 15-20mph I developed knee pain that only occurred while riding.

About 10-15 min into a ride the antero-lateral joint line will begin to hurt, seemingly more on the tibial plateau. If I don't reduce intensity to a minimum it can become excruciating. The odd thing is that the moment I get off the bike the pain is totally gone. I can squat, jump do stairs etc. with no pain. The only way to even slightly reproduce it is to push hard in the above noted location. I have had a doctor examine the knee and have also had an MRI, but nothing abnormal was found.

I have been careful to only push gears that allow me to spin 90+- rpms. I have adjusted my seat height as commonly instructed. I have moved the seat forward so that my patella is directly over the end of the cranks at the bottom of the pedal stroke. I believe that I sit squarely on my seat, and have not found that moving in any particular way alleviates the pain. Initially I thought moving the seat forward helped the pain, but the initial relief didn't last more than one ride. As near as I can tell, my riding position on my road bike is similar to that of my MTB in terms of the distance the seat is above the handle bars, and although I'm not the most flexible person, I do fairly regularly stretch my quads, hamstrings and IT bands. I would appreciate any advice you can provide as this pain is severely limiting my ability to ride at anything more than a snail's pace. Thank you.

David Dick

Eddie Monnier replies


Your MTB presumably has a triple on it, correct? The stance width, often called "q-factor" will be much wider than the double on your road bike, which I believe has an FSA crank (most of which have 147mm q-factors). Since you've ridden pain-free on the MTB for so long, I suggest your cleats are set too narrow for your road bike set up. You have two choices:
(a) Get a crankset with q-factor equal that of your MTB set up or, more appropriately,
(b) Have your local fit expert set up a pair of dedicated road shoes (and pedals).

Steve Hogg replies


As well as acting on Eddie's good advice, another thing to consider is this:

If your pain is one sided only, what may be happening is that the increased forward lean on the road bike may be challenging your stability on the seat leading to you favouring one side over the other in the sense of a mild hip drop.

While not common, this is a far from rare occurrence when a long time MTB rider switches to a road bike. Additionally, check the angle of your cleats. The narrower ' Q' of the road bike probably means that you are pedalling with a lesser degree of heel out angle of the foot. If this doesn't leave you sufficient rotational movement, that too could be concern.

Neck discomfort


I was wondering if you can give me any advice - I have a road bike, and when doing longer kilometres I get pain in my neck and shoulders. Any advice would be appreciated

Dwayne Barry

Scott Saifer replies


Very good chance your stem is too short or too low. If the angle between your upper arm and torso in the drops is less than 90 degrees, there's a good chance it is too short. If it's 90 degrees or greater, the stem could still be too short but is more likely too low. If you poke around in the forum archives for fitting instructions, you'll find that Steve Hogg has given some excellent guidance on how to set up a bike. Below are a few paragraphs on choosing and adjusting a stem. Note however that you'd do best to check the seat height and setback by Steve's methods before focusing on the stem, since a change in the saddle effectively changes the stem as well.

Stem Length and height

The old traditional way to determine stem length was to place the elbow against the nose of the saddle and extend the fingers toward the handle bar. If the fingers just reached the bar, you had a touring fit. If there was a 1-2 cm gap between fingers and bar, that was a racer fit. The newer traditional way is to sit on the bike with your hands on the drops and look down toward the front hub. If the bar obscures the hub, your stem length is about right. Why stem length should be different depending on neck length or fork rake is hard to fathom.

My preferred way to determine stem length is to set up your bike with your bars and an adjustable stem. Set the stem short and then gradually lengthen it until you just begin to feel overstretched. Go back 5 mm. That's your stem length. Now look down the road as if you are riding normally and then try looking up. If your head rises barely or not at all and you have to roll your eyes up to look up, your bars are too low. In this condition the muscles in your shoulders, your upper back and the back of your neck are pulling the neck as far up as it will go at all times and they will become tired and sore. You will ride the tops to relieve the pressure even though this makes you aerodynamically inefficient. Set the bars as low as possible to still allow some upward movement of the head with hands on the drops.

If you don't own or have access to an adjustable stem: it is possible to do a pretty good stem fit by addressing length and height in the opposite order. If your thighs hit your chest or you have to rock to let your thighs come over the top of the pedal stroke, the bars are too low and should be raised by adding spacers, flipping the stem or getting an up angled stem. When the stem is as low as it can be while still allowing you to pedal smoothly, if the back of your neck and tops of your shoulders get sore on longer rides, get a longer stem. When you are set up with the correct stem length the angle between your upper arm and torso while riding the drops will be 90-degrees or a bit more. Ideally you would borrow longer stems or buy them from a shop that will allow you to return them until you find the ideal length and angle.

Compact versus standard frame

Hi Guys ,

Is there a set of 'general' rules applying to position set-up when you have a standard frame positioning versus applying that to a compact frame? I say general as I realise positioning involves intricate details when getting to the 'nitty gritty'!

David Padula

Moorabbin, Victoria

Scott Saifer replies


The compact or standard geometry makes no difference whatsoever in how you do a set-up. In either case you make adjustments to achieve certain relationships between the contact points (pedals, saddle and bars), appropriate to the dimensions, fitness and flexibility of the rider. It doesn't matter if the stuff between those items is a tiny frame and a long seatpost or a giant frame and stubby post. So long as you can achieve the desired relationship between those three "contact points", and get weight distribution compatible with good handling, you're fine. On either style of frame you may need to get a different seat post, stem or bars to achieve a good position.

Respiratory muscle use

I understand that cardiac output is the great limiter in human fitness and not respiratory exchange. However, I've read that the blood flow to the inspiratory/expiratory muscles can take much needed blood from the leg muscles at strenuous exercise levels. Is there a method of breathing that is the most efficient and will therefore allow a rider's legs more blood? I've heard it recommended that a rider should use forced exhalation and passive inhalation, does that sound correct? Also, in what training zones should a rider worry about efficiency of breathing?

Secondly, is there an email address for Doctor Bethards that he would be willing to give out? I'm a medical student/racer and would like to ask him some questions regarding practicing medicine with a focus on cyclists.

Trevor Eide

Scott Saifer replies


I often recommend forced exhalation during heavy breathing to my clients, but I think the more important issue is tidal volume. Deeper breathing, not to the point of stress, increases oxygen exchange compared to shallow breathing as more fresh air reaches the alveoli and more used air actually leaves the body rather than being pulled back before it can reach the outside world. Professional and highly trained cyclists generally breath deeply and much more slowly than less trained athletes, particularly at very high work rates. This is not something they have to study or force themselves to do, but something that comes naturally with extensive training.

Training HR and power

Hi, I'm a 21yr old cat.1 road cyclist who's been riding for 6yrs now. I have an important question regarding training HR versus training power. After my last race, I took it easy for the last two weeks of September before I started weights in October. During October, I was lifting while doing low HR training at no more than 70% of max with my watts from 180-200w(longest ride was 2.5hrs, and I also took 2days off/wk). Just to note, that on top of my training stress was a great deal of mental stress, and I also went rollerblading with my dog.

Everything was going well until the last week and a half of October where I was under extreme external stress as well as coming down with a bad toothache(turned out to be abssessed) So, the past week or so I have noticed that my resting HR was elevated along with my training HR. I then took this past week very easy, only riding twice, and my resting HR is now pretty much normal. Now, here's my real concern; I'm noticing that my HR rises easier than before and doesn't correlate to the same wattage as it did throughout the year. Is there anyway this increase in HR could be due to my external stress, dehydration and three cups of espresso a day? Or, could this possibly mean that I have went into the state of overtraining? I'm very concerned about possible overtraining, due to the possibility of getting my first pro contract. I don't want to ruin my first pro season in November.

Just to help you more, here are some numbers I got from my max testing back in March of this year:
PWC170: 364w
PWC130: 235w
lactate 2mmol: 339w/ 163HR
lactate 4mmol: 408w/ 179HR

So, as you can see, I'm stumped with this one. I'm not sure if this indicates overtraining or just loss of "race fitness". Obviously the latter is much better than overtraining. If there's anyone who could answer this for me I would appreciate it.


Scott Saifer replies


When you take extended easy periods, the relationship between heart rate and power changes, with the heart rate increasing for a given effort. It is not overtraining but rather de-training. If you get back on for some routine aerobic training, the relationship will return most of the way to normal within a few weeks at most. If your training is really good, your power at any given sub-threshold heart rate should be higher after the training season than before your break.

Pronating foot


I have read all your articles and think you are the ultimate 'fit Guru'. I recently switched to Speedplay pedals because I felt that no matter how much I tried I could not get comfortable with the new Time RXS pedals that I was using. I have always suffered from lower back pains and a troublesome left knee which I believe are somehow related. After countless cleat adjustments I went against my fitter's advice and positioned each separate cleat differently, I immediately got some relief. I pointed the left foot neutral and the right foot 'toe out' as much as it would go but I became frustrated when I would get tightness in my right quad.

I notice that while pedalling for some time my left foot would pronate 'toe in' considerably so I decided to try the Speedplay pedals as the unrestricted float might help. As of writing this article I have not ridden enough on the Speedplays enough to give accurate feedback only that it felt very 'free' and comfortable immediately. The Time pedals spring system was obviously acting against my natural position. My question is what can be said or done for a single foot that over-pronates, or feet that each want to do something differently. Should I leave them be or is there some greater problem that I should look into.

Not sure if it is related but I also suffer left hip flexor tightness.

Gerald Reyes

Steve Hogg replies


I need more info. Set your bike up on an indoor trainer with the bike levelled between front and rear axle centres and climb aboard stripped to the waist.
You will need an observer to stand behind you and slightly above you. Once warmed up and pedalling in a hardish gear; i.e. one where you are working reasonably hard but not compromising technique too much; I need to know the following:
1. Which hip you drop and/ or rotate forward on the pedal downstroke?
2. Which knee if any, is closer to the top tube?
3. As viewed from behind, on what side is the gap between inner thigh and seat post greater?
4. Viewed from above and behind which shoulder if any, is thrust further forward?
5. As viewed from either side, which elbow if any is more locked than the other?
6. Which knee if any, moves laterally at the top of the stroke?
7. Lastly, do you have any feeling of one leg being your preferred or stronger leg?
Get back to me and I will attempt to advise.

Sore knees

I'm 35 and I've been riding and racing for about 20 years. Two years ago, I packed in a lot of miles in the early season - probably too many - and for the first time I began experiencing soreness and swelling in both of my knees, primarily behind the knee cap. The early diagnosis was patella femoral syndrome - kneecaps not tracking properly - so I have done plenty of exercises to strengthen my inner quad muscles to help the tracking process, as well as stretching, icing, taking ibuprofen, and getting custom orthotics etc. An MRI indicated that there is no really big scarring that would indicate a need for surgical "scraping" behind the knee cap, and no arthritis, which is good, and according the some doctors the pfs is no longer pronounced - however, a year-and-a-half later, my knees are often still inflamed and they hurt if I ride at anything more than an easy spin. Any ideas? Thanks very much.

Tod Mohamed

Steve Hogg replies


Assuming that there is no inherent issue with your knees, which is possible but uncommon, there are two broad causes for knee pain such as you describe on a bike. I assume that you stretch regularly. If not it is a good idea to start and a book I recommend is ' Stretching and Flexibility' by Kit Laughlin.

If you are tight in the hips and / or lower back, knee tracking problems can be one of the results. It is worth seeing a podiatrist as well. There are plenty of issues associated with the feet that can also cause the patellas to track poorly. Look through the archive and you will find that there is a lot of advice from various people regarding knee pain. Once you have been through that, seen a podiatrist and got into the routine of stretching regularly, let me know what happens.

Quad pain

I was hoping you could give me some guidance. I'm a 42 yr old cat-4, been racing for 4 years. At the end of a real hard ride or race it's always my quads that are fried and/or give out 1st. Based on your articles I'm guessing my seat is too forward and I should perhaps move my cleats backward relative to the shoes. I probably also rely too heavily on my quads in each pedal stroke. I mostly played soccer prior to cycling. I have been lifting in winter, somewhat following Friel's book. This fall/winter I was planning on incorporating longish low cadence hilly rides to try and extend the duration that my legs can work before they fatigue. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.

Rod Mitchell

Steve Hogg replies


If your quads are being heavily loaded it is because they are doing all or most of the work extending the knee with out any counterbalancing effort from the rear chain, i.e, the hamstrings and calves. If there are no neurological issues to consider, it is likely that you are sitting too far forward. Go through the archives and find anything you can about seat setback or cleat positioning. Once you have done this and experimented with positional changes I would be interested to hear how you fare.

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