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Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for November 21, 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.
Mystery knee pain
Compact versus standard frame
Respiratory muscle use
Training HR and power
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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'!
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.
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:
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Get back to me and I will attempt to advise.
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.
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.
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.
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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