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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 July 31

Leg length differential
Fused Ankle
Floyd's Bike Fit
Lower back pain
Post-op Knee problem
Mono and its effects on racing and HR
Ball of foot
Power Output
High Heart Rate Threshold

Leg length differential

I had a rather disappointing summer where I managed to break both my neck of femur 3 months apart (bike crashes). As a result there is a 3cm differential in my leg lengths. Now 6 month post the last crash with the aid of customised shoes the associated problems are subsiding and I am once more looking to improve my cycling performance. Apart from building strength can someone please advise the best way to adjust for this on the bike and where to find it. I was in a comfortable position prior to this and rode with a flat pedal stroke, now on the left side I ride quite toey to compensate.

Jay Heather

Steve Hogg replies:

When there is a substantial difference in femur lengths, there are a number of things to consider.

1. You will need to place a shim under the left cleat. The femur never points straight down so you don't need to shim to the full difference in femur length. I would suggest 10mm to start with but don't be surprised if you need more than that. Look or Look Keos are ideal for this as they use 3 widely separated bolts that can secure a shim well and still hold the cleat in place. Don't use Shimano SPD - SLs as they use a low profile head on their cleat screws that cannot be obtained in longer lengths. If higher head screws are used they bite into the pedal platform. Best of all are Speedplays but if that is what you own, get back to me as there are some traps with them in this kind of usage.

2. Shimming a cleat moves that foot further from the pedal axle and causes the rider to work harder to stabilise the foot on pedal. For every 5mm you shim the left cleat; move it back an additional mm relative to foot in shoe compared to the other side. This will give you a much more solid feel under foot than if you don't do this.

3. Seat setback. You need to sit slightly 'too far forward' with regard to the right leg and slightly ' too far back' with regard to the left leg. Research the archives on CN about the 'balance test' and use this as your guide.

This problem should not prevent you from riding pretty much as you like if handled well.

Fused Ankle

I recently had ankle surgery that fused the joint. What would be the best pedal to use? I have been using Look pedals on my road bike while I'm using standard quill pedals with toe clips on my commuter & touring bikes. I ride approximately 3000 kilometres a year and participate in hill climb races as well as long distance road races in addition to my commute riding.

Steve Hogg replies:

The fused ankle means that you won't be able to reach as far at the bottom of the pedal stroke with that leg. That means that you will need a shim to help work around this. You need to experiment with how large a shim. Experience with people with fused ankles suggests that 5mm is a good starting point but don't be surprised if you need more.

As to ideal pedals. I would try Look or Look Keos with the red cleat. As a 3 bolt system they are easy to fit shims to securely. Don't get Shimano SPD - SL as the low profile flat headed screws that they use to secure the cleat are impossible to get in longer lengths that will be required with a shim. Screws of sufficient length are available but have higher heads which dig into the platform of the pedal. This is not a problem with Look of Look Keo.

Speedplays will work very well too, but you will need a bit of guidance with the shimming procedure for them. If you end up with Speedplays, let me know.

Your clip and strap pedals may be an issue if you ride a lot or ride hard in them without compensation of some sort.

Floyd's Bike Fit

I am a 47 year hold Cat 4 racer doing road races and hill climbs. I just had my bike refitted for my aging body (a 57 cm Bianchi titanium XL reparto corse with an Easton SL fork) at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. They replaced my flat 120 mm stem with a 110 stem with a 15 degree rise and placed the levers high on the bars. This has resulted in a fit where holding the levers is the most comfortable and default riding position. While I was skeptical, they insisted that this more upright position will give me more power and avoid back pain.

In watching the tour, I noticed that Landis appears to ride with a stem with a rise and the hoods very high on the bars. My questions: is Landis unique in his use of a stem with a rise and hoods placed high, and second, is this position preferred over the classic long flat stem with a long reach to the hoods? Finally, if so, why are most of the pro bikes still fitted that way?

Terence C. Gill
Denver, CO

Steve Hogg replies:

Landis is far from uncommon in the pro scene in having his bars high. In my experience with pro bike riders, they have just as many structural issues as the rest of the population. Three factors that you and I don't have allow them to get away with their structural inadequacies.

1. They are too some extent protected by youth. We are adaptable organisms and most of us who are reasonably functional have more problems at 40 than we did at 30 and more again at 50 than we did at 40. This is because all of us are a minefield of compensatory mechanisms that take time to exact a price in terms of discomfort, pain or injury. What I'm saying is that many of us can assume positions at 25 that we can't at 45.

2. They have time on their hands. Sure they train a lot harder and longer but they rest and lay around a lot more too. The daily massages when stage racing don't do them any harm either. For too many people who try to train and work and raise a family etc, lack of time means that the rest and structural maintenance is what they never find the time for. This increases the severity and likelihood of problems

3. They are to some extent self selecting. If they couldn't do what they need to do to earn their living, they wouldn't be there. Judging from the TV coverage of the Tour, I think that approximately 1/3 look really good on their bikes. Another proportion look okay and the remainder look anything from ordinary to awful. Armstrong and Indurain were two recent champion riders who had their bars on the high side too. Both looked as though a bit of time had been spent working out efficient positions given their body types and structural condition.

I had a customer named Tim come in recently who had been riding with one of the tour groups that ride around during Le Tour time in France. He is a young guy who has a good engine but a few structural issues. The ride leader for their group was Kevin Livingstone, the American ex pro. I have Tim's seat lateral offset from the centerline 12mm and the seat nose pointing off centre a touch. Tim tells me that Livingstone asked about the lateral seat offset because he hadn't seen it before. The telling part of his conversation as Tim relates it was something like "plenty of pros don't have their seats pointing straight ahead."

Lower back pain

Much of the fantastic advice you have given to others in the past has helped me immensely on the bike, in terms of positioning and comfort, many thanks! I would, however, appreciate some advice (if you have any) on curing lower back pain. I am a recreational rider looking to take up road racing early next year. I currently ride roughly 150 – 190 miles a week; I am male, 30 years old, 166cm tall and weigh 60kg. In the past I have had issues with comfort on the bike – I suffered with pain at the base of my neck for a long period of time. I sought help by paying for a full Serotta fit session and had my position altered and LeWedges placed above my cleats to correct a varus tilt in my feet. After a period of roughly a year riding in the new position (feeling more but not entirely comfortable) I suffered a nasty broken wrist as a result of collision, which subsequently kept me off the bike for about 6 months.

On getting back on the bike again, after having returned to a sedentary level of fitness, I found I couldn't get comfortable. I felt like I was expending a great deal of energy by simply propping up my torso, which seemed to me to be the result of being quite far forward on the bike and spinning the pedals at a high cadence, which was something I was accustomed to doing before the accident. I searched through your archives for advice on positioning, and having discovered several relevant articles, made changes to my position. I moved the ball of my foot forward in relation to the pedal axle to roughly 7mm, I moved my saddle position back and lowered it fractionally, and I lowered my handlebars. The result of the changes being that I have started to tilt my pelvis forward slightly, my back is now much straighter and my upper body more stable, which has eradicated my neck pain, I feel most comfortable riding in the drops, I don't feel like I'm propping my torso up any more, my feet feel planted on the pedals and as a bonus I seem to be very low and in a pretty aerodynamic position.

Finally to the point: though I am now more comfortable on the bike than ever I do suffer with lower back pain when pushing bigger gears and riding hard. My usual rides are 50 to 60 miles long on a hilly (usually windy) route. I will average around 17 – 19 mph, which feels like a good workout at a comfortable pace, but if I want to increase speed, push bigger gears or climb hard I suffer with pain and stiffness in the lower back. I feel like I'm unable to develop power because my back is weak. When pushing bigger gears, I don't feel as if I'm overloading one muscle group in my legs and my torso feels quite relaxed so my effort is expended pretty much through my legs but my lower back just tightens up. Is this a common problem? Can I expect to develop strength in my lower back over time or is there something else going on here? And is it plausible that having ridden for a couple of years with a relatively upright pelvis and arched back that my legs have developed a small amount of cycling specific strength in this position which my back hasn’t?

Steve Hogg replies:

Given what you have told me, there are a number of potential reasons for your problem. In no particular order, the likely culprits are:

1. Are you tight in the lower back and hip flexors? If you are unsure, then it would be a good idea to find out and address this if need be as that may well play a part. Do you stretch your whole body regularly ?

If the answer is no, then the above is likely.

2. In big gears or when pushing the pace on climbs, everyone relative to their natural technique drops their heels to a greater degree than they do at higher rpm's. If you have set your seat height by what felt right on flat to undulating roads, then you may find that you are still 3 -5 mm too high and indirectly, that may be the source of your pain. You say that when you moved your seat back you lowered it fractionally. Assuming you wanted to keep the same seat height, you need to have dropped the seat 1mm for every 3mm you moved it back. Ride up a steep hill in a big gear. Not so big that you sacrifice technique but in a gear that makes you work hard muscularly. Set your seat height 3 - 5 mm lower than the height you can do this test at.

3. If your bars are too low then you may have to flex your lower back slightly too much to reach down or out to them. I would try lifting them 10mm as a diagnostic measure and see if that makes the severity of the pain lessen.

4. If you have your seat too far back, that could cause back pain as well for a number of reasons. Hip flexors too cramped up, low back hyperflexion etc. Set seat back is like a circle. Too far back and leverage is good but spinning fast is not. Further forward again and both are fine ( ideal seat set back) Further forward again and spinning is good, leverage is poor. Further forward again and leverage is good again but spinning is not.

5. How level is your seat? It should be within a degree or so of level. If you have it too nose up, then again the lower back will have to flex too much.

6. Any combination of the above.

Post-op Knee problem

I am 43 years old, ride 1000 km per month with lots of hills, weigh 80 kg, 182 cm tall. I was operated on for chrondromalacia two years ago, and the surgery went well. However the doctor told me to ride slowly. What's that doc? I chose surgery precisely so I could do the opposite, to ride as I used to do.

When I hammer I still feel the pain. The doctor tells me everything is okay, just don't hammer. Since medicine doesn't have the answer, here goes my question:

If my knee cap is above the axle of my pedal when the cranks are at 3 pm, I suppose I am in the right position. But what happens to my quadriceps when my knee cap is above the axle or below? How do I minimize the pressure from my quadriceps so my knee cap does not get involved?

Andres J. Lenis

Steve Hogg replies:

You are overloading your quadriceps and having tracking problems with the knee cap. Firstly have a look at these posts and position your cleats as instructed - and That should help to some degree, large or small.
Next, buy some LeMond Wedges and experiment carefully with their use underneath your cleats.

Lastly, move your seat backwards 10 - 15mm and adjust your stem length so that you are not reaching too far to the handlebars. If you move your seat back 15mm, drop the seatpost 5mm further into the frame. This will give you the same overall seat height. Moving the seat rearwards will lessen the load on the quadriceps and cause you to use your hamstrings and gluteus muscles more. Doing that and the cleat position recommended above will help balance the forces on the knee from front and rear of the joint.

Mono and its effects on racing and HR

I a 23 year old Cat 2 racer who just got my upgrade at the end of June. I am 6ft and weigh 175 and consider my self an all-rounder. I can hang with the guys in the mountains and sprints, but usually take my wins in solo breaks with about 2-5 km from the finish in crits. About 3 weeks ago I came down with a headache (not the worst ever but it still hurt) and an elevated resting HR, a jump from 42 to 65. The doctor ran no test and passed it off as a tension headache. I raced that weekend (poorly) and then left for Wisconsin's Superweek the next week. My resting HR was in the mid 60's still. Racing was very tough and my legs were getting ripped off me. I thought that I was just out of my league. When I got home, I was still feeling very weak and my resting HR was still 65ish. I now had a sore throat so I went to the doctor and demanded tests. It turns out I was positive for mono. Here are a few questions.

1. Should I have demanded tests when my resting HR was high for a week?
2. How would undetected mono effect my racing?
3. How should I approach my recovery?
4. Any other things I should know?

Thanks for all of your help,

Chris Coble
Fremont CA USA

Scott Saifer replies:

1. No, though you should have rested and if the heart rate did not come back down within a few days, you should have requested testing.

2. Mono would totally explain your experience. It makes you weak in both the sprint and the sustainable speed.

3. Mono takes many, many (depressingly many) months to clear up. During the period of active mono, take naps and ride short recovery rides if you feel like it. Don't worry about losing fitness. You are going to lose it whether you worry or not, so why worry? When you think the illness has passed, start training very easily. Chances are the mono will not be gone yet and you'll get sick again. Repeat this cycle until you are actually able to train. Then start training just as you would coming off an annual rest period, with some time to develop a base and then a transition back to race intensity.

4. You have my sympathy.

Ball of foot

If my the ball of my left foot and right foot differ from each other because of the feet themselves being different in size (one is slightly longer than the other) should this effect the position of my cleat in relation to the ball of my foot guideline? As of now, I have the cleats positioned differently, but only slightly, but I can still feel the difference when I ride, though it does not cause me any sort of pain. I am just wondering If I should leave it be or change it and have both cleats the same. I really do not believe in the "if its not broken then don't fix it" attitude, so whenever you guys can give me a reply I would appreciate it, thanks

Giancarlo Bianchi

Steve Hogg replies:

Think of each foot independently and position the cleat in the same relationship to foot in shoe on each side. If this means that each cleat is in a different place on the sole of the shoe, then fine. What you want is for them to be in the same relationship to foot in shoe.

Power Output

I was using an indoor cycle in the gym the other day, and cycled for 25.00 mins at a set load at 95+ RPM. After that time, the machine said I had burnt 520kcal. This equates to 1450 watts. Assuming 20% efficiency in power transfer to cycling, that means I exerted 290 w to power the cycle, for 25 minutes.

How does this information compare with other cyclists? I suspect this is within the 'average' or 'below average' bands, but would you be able to give me some guidelines?

FYI I am 19 years old, 67 Kg.

James Cornford.

Ric Stern replies:

The main issue is simply going to be whether the indoor cycle is accurate or not. Most gym cycles I've seen have been terribly inaccurate (above or below the actual power output). There's also the question of whether the data is reliable or not (is 290 W on the unit, 290 W every time you ride it, or a different amount?).

If we speculate that the 290 W is correct (although it isn't likely to be) that effort for a 67 kg rider is good effort -- it's likely around what 2nd and 3rd category racers can do over a 10 mile/16 km TT effort.

High Heart Rate Threshold

I am 22 years old, live in the flat lands of Miami, FL. I have been cycling for close to two years now, but started racing competitively about 4-5 months ago. Am currently a cat 5 racer but am working on moving up soon. I hate the local cat 5 races, no one wants to pull and everyone is trying to win, so I just attack and if they want to go with me that's fine, it not I'll have fun doing what I do best, TT.

Anyways, on the last crit that I did I broke away solo early in the race, wasn't a breakaway, I just saw the peloton wasn't chasing the 4 guys up front, so I bridged the gap and once I got to them they were already toast, all after a one lap, 1 mile effort! Once I got to the front and started setting a fast tempo as the peloton was probably 5-7 seconds behind, I look back and am there all by myself. Decide to go full gas as the local crit races are 45 minutes plus 3 laps of one mile each.

Wasn't looking at my heart rate while riding but I knew it was up there. When I got home and downloaded the data I was amazed to see that I was actually above my TT avg hr the entire time while I was in the breakaway. Which brings me to my question, I know am young and can have maintain higher hr for an extended amount of time compared to my cycling buddies (All above well 30), but is it normal to be able to maintain such a high heart rate for a long time, or do the pros basically maintain a high heart rate like this in the TT's?

My favourite race is TT, as I am pretty good at them. I know when am doing a TT I can keep it at 192 bpm for at least an hour, if I start to go above 194 I start to feel it a bit and once I slow it down to like 190 I can feel am recovering... Do I have some kind of gift that my body can tolerate this? Its not in my direct genetics as everyone in my family is obese and so was I while growing up, until I I took a nutrition class, although I've always been involved in sports!

Freddy Viera

Scott Saifer replies:

190-194 bpm is pretty high for a sustainable heart rate, but not outside the normal range. Of course humming birds have sustained heart rates a hundred beats per minute higher without even pedaling. The more important question is how fast you can ride at whatever heart rate you can sustain.

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