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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 September 19, 2006

Altitude tents
Long cranks
Cramps in Calf
Crooked saddle, tight hammies and lower back

Altitude tents

I read on September 16, 2006, the WADA voted "not to add artificially-induced hypoxic conditions to the 2007 list" of prohibited substances and methods. What is the latest on whether altitude tents (for use while sleeping) and/or special masks (to be used while on an exercise bike) are of value for those who live near sea level?

I have heard this called the 'live high - train low' method of training.

Don Mason
Brentwood, TN

Scott Saifer replies:

There is no question that altitude tents, used appropriately, can help a rider to boost his or her hematocrit, with effects similar an actual train-low, live-high regimen.

Use of an altitude tent will not make the average rider into a superman, but will give a very noticeable improvement over what the same rider can do with the same training without the tent. Note of course that the effect is primarily on VO2-max and power at lactate threshold, and not on sprinting power or power for very short climbs, though sprinting will be improved if the rider arrives at the sprint less fatigued.

Note also that sleeping at altitude, actual or simulated, has a negative impact on recovery, so if recovery has been a challenge for you already, you'd have to be careful to use a tent only at times when recovery not an issue, such as when you are already well recovered from previous training.

Masks that decrease the oxygen content of the air breathed while training will not help performance at sea level. They can help an athlete prepare psychologically and tactically for competition at altitude, such as by allowing the athlete to test the pace, feel and power that can be maintained at a given altitude.

Long cranks

I am a 49 year old male, 6' 4" tall, roughly 36" inseam and 195lbs. I have been riding and racing bicycles since 1987 and had some success back in my late thirties, winning medals in the Districts on two occasions. However, when my kids came along my riding tapered off considerably, but now that they are older, I have time again to train and have regained most of my old form.

My plan is to hit the local 50's masters racing circuit hard next year. My question is about crank-arm length.

I am currently using 180mm crank-arms and have been for just about my entire cycling life. I am considering switching to longer cranks (190mm), firstly on a TT bike and then, if I like them, having a custom road frame built with a high BB to accommodate the cranks. Also, my racing style is a breakaway artist. Field sprints are not my thing.

Do you think this is a good idea? Will I realize any performance improvements? I know Indurain used 190's for his hour record but do any tall pros use over 180's on the road?



Steve Hogg replies:

Before you commit money to this project, have a look at this post of Scott's which is as good a way to determine whether you can cope with the longer crank as you will get short of spending money.

Basically, the last paragraph is the key; i.e. in your case drop your seat 10mm and see how smooth you are over the top of the stroke. If you are, then go get your 190's. If not, leave alone. You are long legged but how you function will probably play at least as large a part in your crank length choice as your inseam length.

Cramps in Calf

I have been a road bike rider for over 30 years. About six years ago, due to knee problems, I stopped running and focused exclusively on my road bike.

I ride about three days a week, 20 - 35 miles each time, 60 - 120 miles per week, with an average speed of 15.5 - 18 MPH depending on the terrain. I am male, 52, 190 pounds. Lately on the longer rides, 50+ miles, I have been experiencing cramps in my calves. First it happened just on the left, but now I am getting the cramps on both sides. I am convinced it is not a nutrition issue. I keep myself well hydrated, at least a 22oz. bottle every 45 minutes, plus I have a banana a day. I am wondering if it has anything to do with the shoes, pedals, clips or the positioning on the bike. I get the cramps most often when I am climbing. Last Saturday, I did a 75 mile ride with a group and had issues with cramps in my calves throughout the later half of the ride.

My bike is a Trek 2200. My shoes are Carnac, about 10 years old with the old style SPD clipless pedals. If the problems are due to equipment, please recommend the best type of shoe and pedal to address this issue.


Steve Hogg replies:

The first thing that occurs is cleat position. Have a look at this post and this post and position your cleats accordingly. If your cleats are too far forward or much too far back, calf cramping can be one of the problems in susceptible people.

Also consider your seat height. When riding hilly terrain, we drop our heels more, relative to individual technique, than we do when riding on the flat at slightly higher cadences. If your seat is a touch too high, again, cramping in the calves can be a problem for susceptible people.

Another matter that may exacerbate your problem is your choice of shoes. Carnacs of the vintage that you have, have a lot of heel lift in the last. This means that under load, many riders have to use more ankle movement than they would with a lower heel lift last to rotate the cranks. This too can push some over the edge.

Carnacs like yours also had cleat mounting holes that were not in the same proportional place for every size. Basically, the larger the shoe, the further back the cleat mounting holes proportionally. This can be a major problem for 3 bolt cleat systems in size 42 or below and a lesser problem for sizes 43 - 45.

If your SPD's are the road version (single sided) of Shimano's mtb pedals, then it is likely that you will have enough adjustment to gain the cleat position recommended in the posts above. But because of the high heel lift, add a millimetre or two to those recommended cleat positions.

The initial left side occurrence suggests that either:
1. Your cleat position is worse on the left foot.
2. You are tighter on the left side.
3. You extend the left leg more.

Crooked saddle, tight hammies and lower back

My LBS owner had me sit on the trainer and took a look at my pedalling. I am a 35 year old, cat A cross racer and occasional road racer. I am 5'10", 170lbs and am mostly a power rider with respectable climbing ability for my size.

I live in a mountainous area with lots of wind. I tend to sit back on the saddle when doing big efforts and have my bike set up with a 1.5 inch drop from saddle to bar. I do about 8-10 hours per week and notice that I need to stretch a lot to alleviate recurring tightness in my right hamstring and lower back.

What my friend at the shop noticed is that my saddle is worn more on the right side and it seems to be bent down slightly on that side (it's a Sella Italia Flite). He also noticed that my right knee comes closer to the top tube than my left.

Other complicating factors are that my right foot is close to a full size smaller than my left (ball of my right foot is slightly rearward of the pedal axle, but not on the left). My right hand is a few millimetres shorter than my left too. This leads me to wonder whether my right leg is shorter than my left.

I also had an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction on the left knee about 15 years ago and the leg muscles tend to weaken late in the season - I seem to favour the right as the riding season progresses. If I lift weights during the winter, I can usually correct this.

Even if I don't have a leg length discrepancy, with the shorter foot I wonder what things bike fit wise I can do to alleviate the tightness, possibly improve my efficiency on the bike, and also avoid future problems. Thanks for taking a look.

Tre Hendricks

Steve Hogg replies:

Have a CT scan or waist down standing load bearing x ray done with legs measured from joint centre to joint centre and get back to me with the results. That way we know what we are dealing with rather than guessing.

From what you have written, it is obvious that you are dropping the right hip. The question is why?

It may be leg length, it may simply be due to being tighter on the right side, it may be due to having to reach further with the shorter foot, or it may be that in the past you have developed a pattern of pedalling that favours the right side in an effort to protect your old left knee injury.

Have that scan or x ray and let me know the result and we can proceed from there.


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