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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.

Cyclingnews also has the full directory of all Form & Fitness questions and answers to our expert panel in a separate archive.

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 April 24, 2005

Muscle warming gel
Knee warmers
Testicular Pain
Knee problems - coach needed
Lower back pain
Shoulder-tendon pain
Arm pain
Weight loss
Sports drinks
Saddle choice
Heel rotation and power
Cleat setup and position
Hip flexor problem
Lower leg and foot pain
More energy use

Muscle warming gel

At age 62 I am relatively new to road biking/spinning. And I have noticed that it takes me a while to warm up my legs and knees before I ride/spin. I can control the warm-up phase when spinning.

However, warming up in advance for a ride is difficult, especially when I am riding with conditioned riders. If I start slow, I get dropped and I see my riding partners fading into the horizon.

Is there any value to using a muscle warming jell before I start riding? If yes, do you have any suggestions for a warming jell that does not have an odour?

Nick Treseder

Andy Bloomer replies


The reality is that no warm up preparation will have any physiological benefit for exercise. They work by irritating the skin and simply giving a feeling of warmth from the blood flow being diverted to the surface of the skin. In fact it is arguable that this will actually worsen the body's ability to exercise as it re-distributes blood flow away from the working muscle where it is needed. The effects of warm up preaparations are therefore largely psychological, which is an effect I suppose that can't be under-estimated. If you look and feel good then that might be beneficial to your motivation.

Knee warmers

I'm from a climate that temperatures are frequently 60-70 degrees. I dislike these temperatures because if I wear knee warmers I am too hot, and without them my knees get a little cold and ache. I tried cutting up a pair of old shorts and taping a small piece of them to my knee, but it has not worked very well. I've seen pictures from the Eddy Merckx era of guys have small bandage-looking covering on there knees. I'm not sure if warmth was their reason, but it looks like a good idea. Are there any good products or alternate ways to stick a thin piece of cloth to the kneecap area? Any suggestions (even long shots) are welcome. Thank you

Matt Appleman

Steve Hogg replies


Try the Campag knee warmers. They are sock type material and are only thick at the front. The rear and sides are a more open weave. They may be what you are looking for.

Testicular Pain

I am a 51 year old male recreational road cyclist who's been riding for over 20 years. I've had all the usual aches and pains over the years but have encountered a new one that concerns me.

When I first get on the bike, I get a very sharp shooting pain in the upper right area of my right testicle. After squirming around on the saddle a bit and cocking my right leg away from the bike, the pain goes away.

There is a small spot on my right inner thigh to the inside of my pelvis that triggers this pain. When I press on it, I can trigger the pain, and the harder I press, the more it hurts. No numbness and no testicular pain when I'm off the bike...just the quick stabs of pain until I get resettled. Is this pain something I should be worried about?

I've done almost 10,000 miles on my current saddle, but think I may need to go with something wider, thinking if I can get better support for my "sit bones" I will be able to avoid grinding the saddle into that touchy spot. Any saddle or set up changes you would recommend?

Kelby Bethards replies


It sounds like from the location that you could possibly have something called epididymitis. However, it'll take a visit to your physician or practitioner to elucidate this. I would certainly recommend you see somebody first, then worry about your saddle position.

Knee problems - coach needed

Hi, I'm a 28 year old cat. 4 racer here in NYC. I raced as junior but quit when I was 22. I returned to the sport late last season and have gradually increased my work load. My problem is with my left knee - when I ride in my 53 for even over two or three minutes I undoubtedly feel a pain on the upper part of the inside of my knee after the ride. The pain continues through the next day. After an anti inflammatory and elevation and ice the pain goes away.

I've worked on my cleat positioning, saddle for/aft and height, and make sure I stretch properly before training. My pedals have a proper amount of float. Here's the strange part: I don't have any problems when riding hills (neither short and steep nor long and gradual) though, and I can't make sense of it. Wouldn't the lower rpms and stress on ligaments and tendons affect me equally on hills as they do when riding bigger gears? I am quite lean: 5'10 and 140 lbs, and I imagine that the lack of more muscle mass may contribute to my problem.

I can do three hour plus rides in hilly terrain without problems as long as I don't push a gear bigger than a 53 x19 on the flats for anything but a short amount of time. I'm extremely frustrated that I can't take my training to the next level. I have even put off racing so far this season because I know I can't hang by riding in my 39x17. I started increasing my training beyond roller sessions quite late (late Feb.) and I'm thinking maybe it is related to doing too much too soon. The upside is that I can spin high Rpms very smoothly! The advice your team has given in the past has helped me considerably.

Also, can you recommend a good online coach? Price isn't a consideration (within reason), but I'd like someone that can tailor specific workouts for me. Thank you for you time!

Daniel-Martin Armstrong
New York City

Steve Hogg replies


That's an interesting problem - pain under load in the big ring but not in the small ring. What would be different?

The only answer I can think of is upper body position. I imagine that when you are in the big ring you place your hands in the drops or perhaps on the brake hoods. I also assume that when pushing hard on the hills your hands are positioned on the top of the bars or on the hoods. Can you tell me which is the case?

I am thinking that the greater further lean to get to the drops ( if my line of thinking is correct) is destabilising you on the seat to some degree and changing the mechanics of how you pedal. Here is a preliminary course of action:

Set your bike up on a trainer with an observer standing on a chair or stool above and behind you. Warm up and then pedal under load for a period with your hands on the tops, then on the brake hoods then in the drops.

What your observer needs to tell me is whether you tend to drop one hip or rotate one hip forward and whether the incidence of that increases as you lean forward to place your hands in the drops. Get back to me with what you find.

Lower back pain


I race my road bike at the collegiate level. However, I've been having recurring pain in the lower back, 2-3 lumbar region of the spine, right-side. It usually kicks in around 1 hour into the ride, depending on the intensity, and becomes much worse when climbing is involved. The pain is a shooting pain that feels like a nerve is pinched. I've been to multiple bike fitters, who have adjusted my fit to the point where I feel like the fit is great (sitting squarely on the saddle, in a not-overly aggressive posture, all the other usual stuff - knee over pedal spindle, hands relaxed on the handlebar, legs extended at the bottom of the stroke).

The pain is only on the right side, but it can become unbearably painful, to the point where I only want to pedal with my left leg. Like I said, it's a nerve-type pain, possible the sciatic nerve getting pinched. I went and saw a sports doctor, who said I may have a slipped disc, so I took it easy for two months, doing physical therapy; after feeling pretty good and returning to the bike, it felt good for a month, but the pain is starting to return. X-rays are negative for any bone issues (MRI is fairly cost prohibitive). I've noticed (as you discussed with a previous reader) that my right knee turns in towards the top tube when riding, and am wondering if this has anything to do with it; strangely, I have little/no knee pain. In any case, I feel like I've been to doctors, physical therapists, and bike fitters, all of whom are puzzled. Do you have any insight? Any response is appreciated. Thanks.


Steve Hogg replies


Aside from a scan of some sort to definitively nail the cause, the only info you give that stands out is the internally rotated right hip ("my right knee turns in towards the top tube when riding"). If you have an uncorrected right forefoot varus, one common compensatory mechanism is to internally rotate the right hip. This will prevent strain on the knee but over time will cause problems large or small in the hip or lower back. This is one possibility, not the only one. Check among the bike fitters that you have seen as to who has the equipment to check your feet and let me know what you find.

There is also the possibility that this is a left side problem. If the left forefoot is notably varus and this hasn't been addressed, one uncommon method (but there are plenty out there) of compensating for this is to make all the physical adjustments required on the other side of the body. If this is the case, almost always it will go hand in hand with the dropping of the hip which in your case would be the left side. Have your bike fitter of choice determine which hip you drop if indeed you do and let me know that as well.

Less likely but still possible is that this has nothing to do with feet and the cause arises elsewhere. It wouldn't hurt to have a good physio cast an eye over you.

Shoulder-tendon pain

Apologies for my not so very good English, hope I can make myself clear!

I'm Swedish, male, 30 years old and quite new to road cycling. I'm only into my second season as a road cyclist. By the end of my first season I started getting pain in my right shoulder. It's located in the tendon that I guess is either "infraspinatus" or "supraspinatus". It started getting more and more inflamed so I took a long break. The pain stayed for several months - I could not swim properly or lift heavy stuff without making it worse.

My general practitioner has just ordered rest and some gymnastic exercises, but now I'm eager to get on my bike again as spring is coming (even to Sweden.) I've been doing short rides on rollers; 30 minutes maximum, but I can feel the tenderness the day after. (Although not even near as bad as last fall). I've tried to pay attention to my position on the bike, ("experts" tell me the size is right and the saddle position is correct) the pain is located to my right shoulder, but I can feel the tendency in my left shoulder as well. I'm left-handed and my left arm is stronger than the right. Could be a clue to why it's worse on the right side?

The reason why I'm asking you is because I can't seem to get any sensible information from any person I've asked about this. Shoulder problems seem to be quite unusual? Ok, hope I didn't get too much into details.


Steve Hogg replies


Your English is fine. Certainly better than my Sverige! There could be a number of causes for your problem. If your pectoral muscles are too tight and you are forced to fold your shoulders towards each other, pain such as you experience can be one of the results on a bike but usually this will happen only if you are also reaching too far to the handlebars. Try fitting a handlebar stem that is 10 mm shorter and possibly a bit higher. That should help.

Do you feel like you are supporting too much weight on your hands? If so, this is likely to make the problem worse. If this is the case, the likely reasons are any/or of the following - seat too far forward, bars too low, bars too far away. I would start by shortening your stem length and seeing what effect that has. If that doesn't solve the problem, please get back to me.

Arm pain


I'm a 38 year old woman new to bike racing. I've been biking forever and last year finally trained for and completed a couple of centuries. I joined a racing team in January for the coaching and training plans. So far it's been great - it's gotten me off my trainer and I'm putting in the miles outdoors, which has cleared up some overuse issues with my right hamstring. I'm averaging about 200 miles per week right now - although its more about the hours than the distance. I've done two races, a crit and a road race, and had a good time. Actually did OK in the road race. I'm starting to work on developing [some, any] explosive power.

My problem is this, I developed an ache in my right arm just above my elbow, below my tri, in early March - about a week after getting my bike fit. My ART guy [Active Release Technique - it did wonders for my overuse injuries] advised me to do more tri stretches. In late March, I rode for a few days or a week with my seat too low without realising. The ache developed into a pain on the outside of my elbow that hurts sharply if I pick things up in a certain way or when I twist my arm. My wrist began to ache as well.

I adjusted my seat to its proper height, and the pain has not increased, but has not dissipated either. Upper body weight lifting aggravates it slightly [depending on the move].

I'm loathe to cut back my bike time or to return to the trainer. Any thoughts on what this might be and how I can address it? I've been icing it a bit, and continuing to stretch the arm out. Should I go back and talk to the bike fitter for adjustments? What will make this go away? Thanks for your attention.

Tamara Fraser

Steve Hogg replies


Go and talk to the bike fitter again. Specifically, ask him whether:

1. You sit squarely on the seat
2. If not, which side do you favour in the sense of it being forward

A couple of questions for you:

1. Are you right handed?
2. Are you tighter in the right shoulder than the left or do you have a lesser range of movement in the right shoulder than the left? Let me know the answers to those questions.

Weight loss

Hi, I'm 5ft 8, 150 lbs and have 10% body fat. I want to get to 140lbs and 6% body fat - can this be done? I try not eating, but it's not good! I try extra protein, but I gain weight; I eat more and gain weight, I eat less and nothing happens. I use a power meter and on a great week I'm putting out 10,000kj - an easy week I'm doing about 1,000 per day for about five days.

I'm in school for acupuncture and get massages; I seem to gain muscle but for some reason that doesn't translate to more calories burned and less body fat. I went to the nutritionist and she says eat more! I was only doing about 2,000kcal per day; I try to eat 500kcal a day less and lose nothing. I'm a smart guy but for some reason I may feel real fit and ride strongly and yet I can't seem to lose weight.

When I was in Italy a few years back I was down to 143 and was like 6% body fat - the thing is I ate bread all day and it was so hot I was sweating all the time. I live on the central coast of California and its always a bit cool, I'm thinking the body does not want to give up the fat do to the cold? Am I way off? Anyhow, if you had any ideas on what might help I'm all ears. I'm a cat 2 masters rider - 35 years category.

Mike I

Pam Hinton replies


Thank you for posing the most frequently asked nutrition-related question in a refreshing way. I'll admit to feeling a little bummed whenever someone asks why the First Law of Thermodynamics does not seem to apply in their case. I know that my answer is going to cause some disappointment. But, the fact of the matter is that energy cannot be created or destroyed.

To lose weight, you must create an energy deficit. This can be accomplished by reducing your energy intake or by increasing your expenditure or a combination of the two. It sounds simple enough, but when you start fighting your body's built-in preservation mechanisms, it can be very difficult. According to the Set-Point Theory of Body Weight, each individual has a genetically determined weight that is normal and healthy for them. When you push your body away from the Set Point by over- or under-eating, it fights back. The most significant adaptation is for your resting metabolic rate to increase or decrease in response to an energy surplus or deficit. So, one reason that you may be having a hard time getting to your goal weight of 140 pounds is that it is below your Set Point. In fact, you have evidence that this is what is happening. As you noted, when you eat less nothing happens. Obviously, these defence mechanisms can be overwhelmed in the face of prolonged energy excesses or deficits.

I realise that you are trying to get back to a weight and percent body fat that you had a few years ago, so it seems possible. But consider a couple of things. First of all, realise that there is a lot of error associated with measuring body composition. The most accurate measurements have an error of ± 3% associated with them. So your "like 6" percent may not have been much different from your current 10% body fat. Also, it is very difficult to accurately determine energy intake. Unless you keep written records of everything that you eat and drink, measuring portion sizes, for at least one week, you cannot accurately determine energy intake. I am hinting that you may want to double-check your energy intake-it may be higher than you think.

Here are my suggestions for you. First of all, do what you can to keep your resting metabolic rate elevated. Don't starve yourself, eat small frequent meals and snacks, and do 1-3 sessions of high intensity training per week. Since you are a Cat 2 racer, you are likely doing that already. Second, re-evaluate your body weight and composition goals. If you are "fit" and "ride strong" at your current weight, why go through the agony of trying to lose weight?

Sports drinks

Hi there,

I'm a 26 year-old male road racer who's been riding for almost three years. During this time I have been using a powdered energy drink (CyctoPower by a local company) during my rides but I have recently decided I'd like to cut down on sugars and I'm also not sure about some of the ingredients found in energy drinks. Last weeked I decided to try a ride with water mixed with a bit of fruit juice. The ride was about 2hr20 mins and I felt fine up until the last 20 mins when I 'bonked' for the first time in my life. I am pretty sure this must have had something to do with not having my usual energy drink with me.

What I'd like to know is - what alternative is there to consuming sugary energy drinks when on long rides? Should I be concerned about the affect they may have on my blood sugar levels by boosting them artificially? Thanks,


South Africa

Pam Hinton replies


I can't blame you for wondering about the long-term health consequences of drinking chemicals like, potassium sorbate, ester gum, yellow #6, and calcium disodium EDTA. But, you don't want to throw out the sugars (at least of most of them) along with the artificial colours and preservatives. I know it goes against all of the nutrition advice about avoiding simple sugars because of their adverse effects on blood glucose, but during and immediately after exercise you want your blood sugar to go up quickly.

Here's why. The glucose in blood (about 20 g) and in skeletal muscle (350 g) will last for approximately 90 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (60-70% of VO2max). Once it is gone, fatigue hits hard. It is possible to delay or prevent the onset of fatigue by consuming carbohydrate at regular intervals during exercise. The recommended intake is 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Drinking 16-32 ounces of a commercial fluid replacement beverage that contains 4-8% carbohydrates every hour, would meet this guideline. Immediately following prolonged exercise (2-3 hours), the goal is to replenish glycogen stores so that you will be ready to train again the next day. Insulin secretion is needed for glycogen synthesis to take place because it increases glucose uptake into the muscle and activates the process of glycogen synthesis by stimulating the enzyme glycogen synthase. So post-exercise, the greater insulin secretion associated with simple sugars is a good thing.

If you read the ingredients list on an energy drink, you will see that there are many names for sugar, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose polymers, fructose, and galactose to name a few. You want to avoid sports beverages that use fructose as the primary sugar (2-3% fructose). Fructose is absorbed from the intestine by a unique pathway and its rate of absorption is slower than that of glucose. Fructose that is absorbed from the intestine also must be converted to glucose by the liver and this takes awhile. Thus, it takes longer for an energy drink that uses fructose as the primary sugar to elevate blood glucose and fuel the muscles than it does a glucose or sucrose based drink. Another downside of fructose is that it may cause gastrointestinal distress because it is slowly absorbed. Any fructose that remains in the intestine can cause cramping and diarrhoea.

You are probably correct in attributing your first bonk to the dilute fruit juice. The concentration of carbohydrate in full strength fruit juice would be approximately 4-6%. So drinking water mixed with juice didn't give you enough glucose. Another advantage of sports beverages over fruit juice is that they contain electrolytes, i.e., sodium, potassium, and chloride. In addition to replacing fluids, we need to replenish electrolytes that are lost in sweat. The general guideline is to drink eight ounces of a sports beverage that contains 500-700 mg of sodium per litre every 15 minutes. Maybe you could lobby your local energy drink company to leave out the artificial colours and preservatives in the CyctoPower, but keep the good stuff-the sugar and salt.


Hi there, I am 24 years old, 6'2, 185 lbs. I am in decent shape considering I am almost eight months out of complete ACL/Meniscus reconstruction. I don't believe I have been overtraining, but for over a week now, I have been unable to stay above 85% or even 80% of my max. I ride about five times a week, taking two active recovery days of 70% maxhr or lower. My average HR is generally 160, but recently, my max hasn't been going any higher than 177, whereas last summer I was consistently averaging 170. I think I know the answer, but I need to read it from someone I overtraining? If so, is it best to just stay off the bike for a while? If so, how long? Thanks for your time.



Scott Saifer replies


You are probably doing too much high intensity riding, but I cannot entirely determine that from the information you have given. Technically, overtraining is not just deep fatigue. To be overtrained your performance has to have degraded while you maintained or increased training. So the real question is how your average speeds or average powers on your recent rides compare with those of a few weeks and a few months ago. If you've gotten faster and are near your peak speeds, you are not overtrained. If your average speed has decreased along with your average heart rate on similar courses and with similar effort, you are overtrained.

I like that you have two relatively easy days per week. I hope you are trying to get over 80% of maximum heart rate only one or two days per week. The other days should be strictly below 80% of maximum. These are the general rules. If you are overtrained, keep all your rides under 70% of maximum except for one short testing effort per week. When you heart rate rises with a hard effort to at least 95% of your old max and you can sustain 90% of your old max for five minutes again, it's time to return to more normal training. Depending on how long that takes, your normal training can be determined.

Saddle choice

Hi there

I'm a bit tired of sore perineal region from friction and pressure discomfort - this is especially with longer distance tting. Do you have any comments on alternative seats - e.g. a moonseat, and whether they have any adverse effects on performance?

One of the pro teams had odd looking seats on their tt machines several years ago, what happened to these?

Mike Bowles

Steve Hogg replies


There are four aspects to your problem.

1. How functional you are in a structural sense
2. Where the seat is fore and aft and nose up/down and how this forces you
to bear your weight
3. How appropriate a given seat is for you
4. The effect of other parameters of position on how you bear your weight on the seat; eg height and reach to the bars and cleat position. Can you supply some more info please?

Mike then responded:


I was being a bit more tongue in cheek - more the wacky side of seat design and if you had seen any viable alternative to sitting on metal hand railing. I did a web search and came up with a couple of alternatives and also whether the (I think ONCE) seat provided any benefit.

Mike Bowles

Steve Hogg replies


The ONCE seat that I think you mean was a Concor Supercorsa in the early 1990's. It had a large kick at rear, almost like a small backrest and ONCE used them on their TT bikes at the time. I had one for a while (still have it as a curiosity) and it is the most comfortable seat I have ever used; plenty of firm padding but very heavy. I took it off after a short while because the 'backrest' took up so much room that I needed a seatpost with 15- 20mm more offset than standard to get my butt where I wanted it. Seat posts like that were unobtainable at the time. Every so often someone shows me a "new and revolutionary" seat but from what I can see a railed seat with a nose is still going to be with us for some time.

I have some ideas regarding seats but will wait until I have the time and money to do something about it.

Heel rotation and power


I'm a 46 year old, 5'7" 132 lb male who started time trialing about four months ago after coming from a competitive running background that left me with a meniscus tear in my left knee, for which I had surgery about a year ago. I currently log between 120-200 mi per week, all on my TT bike, which still has Speedplay X pedals. My orthopaedic doctor tells me I don't have a leg length difference (but there was no CT to back this up). I have four questions:

(1) Riding my rollers, I recently noticed some asymmetric heel movement. While my right heel remains pretty stable in neutral position, my left heel rotates inwards on the downstroke, and outwards on the upstroke. The Speedplay X's do not limit or centre this, but I'm a bit concerned there are forces at work that might further harm my vulnerable left knee. Assuming forefoot varus would be an explanation for this, I got some Specialized BG shoes that definitely have more varus compensation than my old Shimano R151's. It seems to have reduced the heel rotation a bit, but there still is some. Shall I add shims even though there seems to be no leg asymmetry, or is the heel rotation less of a problem than I think? With the old shoes, I also noticed a pressure point on my right foot outside that went away when I turned the heel slightly inward. This effect seems to be gone with the new shoes. Does that mean the real problem is not sitting square enough on the bike? Unfortunately I can't turn the saddle to find out, since the bike has an aero seatpost.

(2) Given my left knee, is it advisable at all to change to pedals with constrained float, say Speedplay Zeros. What's the benefit of constrained float anyways?

(3) With the new shoes, I notice a slight increase in average power, by about 3-5W (that's on the roller, with same cadence). While I have heard that uncorrected varus can sap power, I wonder if that is a realistic figure.

(4) Just out of pure curiosity - I seem to produce about 20-30W higher sustained power on climbs (with a cadence in the 60-70 rpm range) than on the flats (with 90-100rpms). While position on the bike certainly accounts for some of that, I still see this effect when riding both in aero. What is the explanation?

Peter C. Mehlitz

Steve Hogg replies


thank you for fairly complete information. From (1) I will just about guarantee that your left foot wandering around is actually an uncorrected right forefoot varus. I will explain. If you have been reading this forum for a while you may remember at different times I have mentioned that a greater forefoot varus on the right side is very common. Equally, most riders whether left or right handed protect their right sides and I have my own ideas why this is so. For arguments sake let's assume that this is you. An uncorrected right forefoot varus should lead to right knee pain because of consequent lateral/rotational loads on the knee but this is relatively uncommon.


Because that right side protection mechanism kicks in and we compensate in a number of predictable ways and the occasional weird and wonderful way. One of the ways that the right side varus can be compensated for is to load up the outside of the right foot and this is why the increased varus compensation of the Specialized shoes reduced the pressure point on the outside of your right foot. Another way common compensatory mechanism is to do whatever is necessary to keep the right knee tracking straight and this often involves pelvic asymmetries of function that cause the left knee and/or foot to wander around. Correct the right side issue and you will minimise the left side problem.

Plan of action: get a Lemond varus/valgus gauge or see a podiatrist with similar tools to establish to what degree you have a forefoot varus on either side. Once this has been established, fit 1 Lemond wedge for every 5 degrees of varus on either foot as a starting point and refine by feel. Remember too that your Specialized shoes have a small amount of compensation built in.

Have a look at this post and this post and position your cleats as suggested and you will go some way to minimising any foot related issues as well. Get on a trainer and have an observer standing above and behind you determine whether you sit with the right side of the pelvis forward and whether you drop the right hip on the pedal downstroke. Get back to me with what you find. Regarding question 2, the answer is no. Why restrain the foot from finding its' natural place on the pedal. All you do is leave yourself open to potential knee problems. Regarding question 3 - I have seen similar and larger improvements with no other change but correcting footplant on pedal. Regarding question 4; the coaches can answer that one with greater authority than I can.

Peter then responded:

Hi Steve,

Thanks a lot for your suggestions, which made perfect sense to me. The explanation for the right foot pressure point was dead on. Here are the findings:

(1) Right foot has 5 deg varus, left foot is 0 deg (measured with the LeMond forefoot measuring device at my local bike store)

(2) Moving the cleats back seem to alleviate the heel rotation a bit, but I also feel like loosing a bit of power (while not constantly trying to generate power from my calfs, I always tend to use them when I push hard, which might be due to my running heritage).

(3) No apparent right hip drop or visible rotation, but I definitely sit somewhat to the left on the bike, and would intuitively say my right hip is forward.

(4) With one wedge under the right shoe, none left, the left heel rotation didn't conceivably change (though I was only able to get 3 bolt pattern wedges, not the 4 bolt Speedplay ones)

(5) One right, one flipped left (i.e. thick side outwards) feels better, but still shows some rotation

(6) I tried one right and two flipped left, but it wasn't really different to (4), and it feels kind of strange with an asymmetric number of wedges

Given that the shoes have some varus compensation built in the sole, (4) makes sense. But it's not a one stop solution yet, which raises some more questions:

(a) If the hip rotation is a "trained" compensation mechanism for the asymmetric varus, doesn't it take some time to get this corrected? Does it vanish at all without actively working on it?

(b) Why do I also see the heel rotation during single leg drills with my left side (on the trainer)? If it's forced by hip rotation, shouldn't it go away if the right side isn't engaged?

(c) Is there such a thing like a "dynamic" varus, i.e. the static measurement on the left side not corresponding to the mechanics under load? In running, I always had a slight over-pronation

(d) What role might stance width play in this? My feet were definitely too far out, based on my hips.

I can't help it but think that while the right varus definitely contributes to the effect, there is also some yet to be discovered cause on my left side. I didn't mention that I'm quite bow legged, but again symmetrically. The right foot had a pretty bad case of ruptured ligaments some 20 years ago, so I definitely always was intuitively trying to protect this side during running.


Steve Hogg replies


When you have a lifetime of asymmetric function, correcting a stressor won't totally solve the problem but it does mean that one less issue is creating a problem. From what you have said about not sitting square and feeling like you sit with right side of pelvis forward, it is worth twisting your seat off centre so that the centre of the nose of the seat points at right hand edge of the handle bar stem bar clamp. This will move the right hip backwards and the left hip forwards and should have an effect on the left heel rotation. Experiment with the degree of seat twist to find the best amount. Too much twist and you won't follow the twist and will be even less comfortable. Too little and nothing is achieved. The correct amount is when you feel straight(er) despite where the seat is pointing.

To answer your queries:

(a) It takes time and is also unlikely that the right forefoot varus is the sole problem. Rather that it plays its' part along with any other accommodations you have made to function that way largely pain free and any other asymmetries that you have, particularly around the pelvis.
(b) That means that you are not sitting squarely on the seat. That won't change by pedalling one legged. Try the seat twist as outlined above and then see what happens one legged. Ideally, it should improve. If not, please get back to me.
(c) I don't know if there is such a term but have often found that there can be little correlation between a static measurement and what happens dynamically. Most of the time there is a correlation to a greater or lesser degree but there is plenty of cases where this doesn't occur. A personal case.

I have varus forefeet and pronate but when I walk or run over a TCG GaitScan ( a computerised mat that measures pressure and duration of load of a footplant and then compares to a theoretical perfect foot plant) I am near perfect. So noticeably imperfect statically, much improved dynamically.

The converse is true for some as well. With me on bike, if I don't correct the varus, no pain at all on the right, some niggles on the left because like most, my tendency is to protect the right side. If I correct the varus, then feel more even, produce more power and tend to sit more squarely.

If in doubt, ignore the static measurement and go with what is necessary dynamically. Control of movement is very important if the goal is to cycle to potential injury free.

(d) That depends on leg length and sensitivity. As the pedals move further apart our hips don't. What tends to happen is that increased Q means a more heel in / toe out pedalling style. Anyone who rides both an MTB triple and a road double chainring bike will be familiar with this. Some are more sensitive than others. I can ride an MTB without problems but I 'feel' ( have never measured this) more powerful and smoother the closer my feet sit to the centreline. For some people with externally rotated hips and tightness in hips and lower back, the opposite is true. Don't worry too much about hip width vs separation of feet. Experiment by moving your cleats laterally on your shoe and find out what feels better for you. Don't necessarily be disturbed if the answer is different for each foot. Best of luck.

Cleat setup and position


My friend has just purchased a road bike with Look pedals, and I was searching cyclingnews for an article that would help him set up his cleats and his riding position. I live in Tennessee and he lives in North Carolina about 5hrs away. If I were there I could do it for him, but since I'm not this would be the best way of helping him. This is his first road bike and first set of Look cleats ( he as SPD's on his MTB). It seems like I read an article about this a few years ago, but I've searched for 30 minutes and haven't found anything for the beginner setting things up for the first time. The frame appears to be the correct size for him, but he needs to be as comfortable as possible. He is 45 and was in the Army for 20 years and broke his back parachuting several years ago, so an extremely low, more aerodynamic position wouldn't be good for him. I hope you can help me, thanks.

Dwayne C. Letterman

Steve Hogg replies


Here are a few posts to get him started:
Post 1
Post 2
Post 3
That should get him started. If you use the search function in the archive, there is plenty more.

Hip flexor problem


I am a 58 year old male recreational cyclist. four years ago suffered an acetabular fracture right side. have ridden 9k since then w/o incident but have experienced some slight tightening of the hip flexor on right side in early season but seems to have resolved as i ride and fitness improves

This year, tightening worsens with even easy riding...even small grades aggravate it very quickly - rest, anti-inflammatories, ice has not helped, and I have started a stretching programme but am not making much progress

I don't have to work very hard for "tightness" to turn into pain at the top of the pedal stroke on the inside of the leg as it meets the torso, particularly if I make even a modest effort on a small grade. Fact is, this started on a short, very easy ride

Do you have any suggestions? I have a ride in the Dolomites in six weeks.

John McCombs

Steve Hogg replies


I don't know why your right side hip flexors are tighter but in your shoes would consult someone ( physio or similar ) who could tell you and set about resolving the problem.
You imply that the tightness is pronounced at the top of the pedal stroke so it is likely that anything that you can do to open up the angle between upper leg and torso is likely to benefit you to some degree.

Firstly, raise your bars because that won't change the way you pedal but will open up the torso / upper leg angle. Have someone watch you from above and behind while you pedal under load on an indoor trainer. Do you drop your right hip on the right side pedal downstroke?

The description you have given of the site of the pain means that it might be an adductor that is hurting. If so, it is because you are either sitting too high, are too tight, or are hanging to one side. Or any combination of those.

Have you made any recent positional or equipment changes prior to the onset of this problem?

Lower leg and foot pain

I have a mysterious injury, and I came across your site while trying to use the Internet as a diagnostic tool.

I am a 25 year old female. I am not a road cyclist yet, though I'd like to be in the near future. I'm currently just riding a Spinning bike 4 times per week for 1-2 hour sessions. I started biking because it was the main exercise approved by my doctor following a diagnosis of lesions on the cartilage of the right talar dome. I would like to do more endurance riding than is typical of spinning training. Currently, access to equipment is a problem, though I do use the same bike nearly every time. I can therefore tailor my shoes to work with that bike's pedals. I followed the same routine on one brand of bike from Sept-Jan, and I changed brands in January (changed gyms). My lower leg and lateral foot pain started in mid February. I find cycling to be good cross training for my main activity, equestrian sports, and I'm worried the problems I'm developing will affect both activities.

I do own road cycling shoes by Specialized. They are supposed to have a slight medial wedge, which I thought would be helpful for my chronic medial tibial stress syndrome (10 years). Because of the MTSS, the ankle injury, and a slight curvature of my right tibia, I have become a strong supinator on the right side. I have more range of motion in my right hip than my left, and I tend to sit slightly off the left side of the saddle. I am conscious of this and have been working on correcting my pelvic positioning in the saddle (the same happens with a horse's saddle). Despite sitting to the left side, I feel that I have greater reach with the right leg (I would ride a horse with a slightly longer right stirrup. I do not have leg length discrepencies). I wonder if I am reaching too much with the right, especially with the toes and the outer side of the right foot. I tended to get hot spots, cramps, and calluses on the ball of the left foot; maybe because I am putting too much pressure on that pedal (the hip function is weak at the top of the stroke).

My main question concerns lateral foot pain. It seems to be some type of tendinitis, because the pain is worse after rest, particularly first thing in the morning. A new stress fracture is possible but there are no signs on the X-rays yet. It doesn't quite fit plantar fasciitis, and it doesn't quite fit peroneal tendinitis. My doctor is leaning towards peroneal tendinitis, though the pain is only at the attachment points. The peroneals function fine with little or no pain. Standing and walking are the main triggers, though after several steps, the pain lessens dramatically. It seems more likely to be the peroneus brevis, because the pain is the worst at the fifth metatarsal.

I've read what you've posted about cleat position. I have tried several times to move the cleats back farther under the balls of my feet. They felt like they were too far forward, even with the base of the big toe rather than at the first metatarsal joint. Perhaps this is just a problem with spin bike cleats or these shoes, but the cleats keep moving towards the toes within an hour of riding after having moved them back towards the arch. I tighten the screws as much as possible. So, I haven't been able to conduct a good experiment as to whether the cleat positioning is to blame.

My physical therapist wants to correct the supination by changing my orthotics. Since I would not wear orthotics with cycling shoes and I'm not sure I necessarily supinate in them anyway (due to my equestrian background, I am more prone to anchoring my weight on the pedals under my big toes. I just feel that I may be trying to grab at the right pedal with my right foot). I can tell that my right ankle dorsiflexes a little more on the upstroke, but it also feels more relaxed overall than the left during the entire motion. Since this problem started about a year after I was banned from weight bearing exercise other than moderate walking, I suspect that new orthotics in my street shoes will not be the answer.

I should mention that my illio-tibial bands and hip flexors are chronically tight. I have slight palpable right lateral calf pain near the upper attachment points for the peroneals. I wonder if my right hip and pelvic joint problems are the primary problem. Do you have any suggestions for how I can make my shoes cooperate? I am interested in getting answers not only to figure out how to alleviate this pain but so that when I invest in a road bike and a training bike I will know what my needs are. Or if there is no fix, I will know that this is another sport I have to avoid before making such an investment.

Catherine Miller


Steve Hogg replies


Firstly you need to find why the cleats move under load. That is unusual if they are tight. Consult a good bike mechanic as to why this is happening since you haven't been able to resolve this. It just shouldn't happen if everything is tightened and fitted correctly. You say that you sit to the left but feel like you can comfortably reach further on the right side even though there is no leg length discrepancy.

How limited is the range of movement in the left hip?

If it is pronounced, and your self description makes it sound that way, have you considered a shorter crank on the left side? The lateral foot pain; is it present on both sides or only on the right?

More energy use

I just read your post on energy use confirming that the conversion from KJ to calories burned is accomplished by multiplying by 4-5. I've had my efficiency tested in a lab, but that was a year or so ago and I don't recall the number.

Is that I use to get the actual calories I've burned, i.e., the CPSB (calories per snickers bar) measurement?

For a short ride I just did: 25 miles, some hard efforts, mostly moderate stuff, my SRM says that I burned 786.6 kJ. Does this mean I burned over 3000 calories in 90 minutes? That sounds very high to me. I'm 23 years old, 6' tall about 178 pounds and a cat. 2 racer. I calibrate the SRM about 20 minutes into each ride, as suggested by SRM. Any help would be great.

Ryan Stubenrauch

Scott Saifer replies


Apparently I misinterpreted the original question. I thought we were using Calories throughout the discussion. To convert from calories of work done to calories of energy expended, multiply by four or five (20-25% efficiency). To convert from KJ of work done to Calories expended, just keep the same number since on Calorie is about 4.18KJ.
And for people who are really paying attention, 1 Calorie is 1000 calories. 1 calorie is ~4.18 joules.

Ric Stern replies


It appears that in the previous answer at the Fitness Q&A there was a mistake.

Your SRM (or a Power Tap) reports mechanical energy expenditure in Kj, in the case of your recent of 787 Kj. This is converted to the more 'usual' food energy measure of Kcal by dividing by 4.18; i.e., 188 Kcal.

However, as Scott pointed out the human body when cycling is about 20 - 25% efficient for trained cyclists. The efficiency figure varies for actual absolute power, cadence, road grade, etc. Thus, to get the complete picture on how much energy (in Kcal) you expended you need to then multiply the 188 Kcal by a factor of 4 to 5; i.e., you would have expended somewhere between 753 to 940 Kcal depending on various factors. As you divide KJ by 4.18 to arrive at Kcal and then multiply up by a factor of 4 - 5 for efficiency you can estimate your energy expenditure by just saying that whatever the actual number was in Kj is approximately what you expended in Kcal. In other words, in your ride you expended 787 Kj per your SRM, and you approximately expended 787 Kcal.

You can't really get anymore accurate than that - because even if you've been to a lab and had your expired respiratory gases measured to calculate your gross efficiency, your efficiency will change due to various factors. Of course you could purchase a portable gas analyser and ride with that at all times, but I'm thinking that, that would be somewhat cumbersome and not much fun!


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