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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 October 2, 2006

Cramps and bike geometry
Small bike
Recumbent for lower-back pain?
Saddle fore/aft position
Leg length discrepancy and asymmetry
Knee and hip questions
Susanne Ljungskog's cleat position
More advice on cramps after time off

Cramps and bike geometry

I am 32 years old, male, and have been road cycling more or less on and off since 2002. I weigh about 80kg (176 pounds) and I'm roughly 5'10" tall. I have always ridden an old, hand-me-down Trek 1200 (size 56 frame), but recently purchased a brand new Trek 1500 road bike (size 54 frame).

The problem is almost each time I have gone out on a ride on the new bike (which seems to be the right size as per the bike shop that sold it to me) my quad muscles cramp (especially when I get out of the saddle to climb hills) and my hips get a little bit sore as well as my hamstrings. I'm worried because I really like the bike but I can't be getting cramps every time I ride. I have never had any problems like this with the old bike.

So, can you recommend anything? Do you have any ideas about what is causing this and what can be done about it?

Travis Suggs

Scott Saifer replies:

Since the cramping problem showed up when you switched bikes, it is a near certainty that the fit of the new bike is contributing to the problem. (I'm assuming here that you didn't suddenly stop taking water bottles, change your diet, increase your mileage or decide to never use the small ring again.) Therefore, the simple solution is to do everything you can to make the fit of the new bike match the old bike if you still have it. When I say match, I mean that the seat height, seat setback, seat tilt, horizontal and vertical distance from the saddle to bars need to be within a 1-2 mm of the same. A difference much larger than that is enough to cause problems.

If you no longer have the old bike to match, dig through the archives to find Steve Hogg's complete suggestions for fitting a bike and follow them. One other possible issue: If you got new shoes or new cleats with the new bike, set the cleats according to Steve's suggestions as well.

Small bike

I have some questions about fit. I normally ride a Specialized Tarmac Pro, size 54, with a top tube of 548mm. I got the bike when I was still pretty green and had unresolved tension in my back - long rides or races gave me hard back pain by the end of the ride. I knocked the stem down to 100mm from 120mm, but I'm loathing shortening it much more as our coach told us it negatively affects steering. I just did a couple of rides on a friend's Orbea Onix, size 51, with a top tube of 535mm, and a much smaller stem, in the neighborhood of 80mm. It felt great - despite riding 130 miles and 50 miles, my back felt great. I could reach the drops a lot better and it just felt nicer. I am now very tempted to get a smaller frame, as it is so comfortable.

I wanted to ask if you can have a frame that's too small, and what the problems will be. My feet hit the front wheel if it's turned very far, but that seems to be only a low speed issue. I will probably end up with a lower position; this may actually be nice for criteriums and flat road races, but will it decrement my climbing (already not one of my strong suits-I can't afford to hurt it more)? Is there something I'm overlooking entirely?

For reference, I'm 5'10", weigh 165lbs, with a 30in inseam. I've so far done well in power riding, time trialing, and sprinting.

Joakim Kristoffer Vinberg

Scott Saifer replies:

Yes, a bike can be too small. It can't really be too short vertically since you can always put in a long seat post on a low bike and get to the same position and weight distribution as on a taller bike. It can be too short in the top tube. As the top tube gets shorter you can put in a longer stem to get back to the same body position, but a short-top-tube, long-stem combination puts more weight on the front wheel than a long-top tube, short stem combination. Weight on the front wheel affects bike handling. The torque with which the front wheel direction returns to center after being disturbed depends on that weight. Changing the weight on the front wheel changes a bike from twitchy to sluggish or vice-versa. Somewhere in between is a fabulously-handling bike.

Experience suggests that fabulous handling will occur when somewhere between 43% and 48% of the total weight of bike plus rider rest on the front wheel in a normal, riding the drops position. Note that this means that one person's fabulous handling bike can be another person's dog. If one rider has the arm and shoulder development of a sprinter or the gut of a beer-swiller, and another has the string-bean arms and sunken chest of a road racer, they will have very different amounts of weight on the front wheel. They might be comfortable with the same relative positions of bars, seat and pedals, but would still need different bikes to get those positions and have the bikes handle really well.

Now that I've answered the question that you asked directly, I'll answer the implied questions as well. If you are uncomfortable on your 54 and feel great on the 51, the 51 is your size, or at least closer to it. If you could corner and sprint with confidence in your bike handling on the 51, buy one. Don't worry about toe overlap. I've never had a bike that didn't have some toe-overlap, and also never had any problem as a result in over 300 races and close to 100,000 training miles.

Recumbent for lower-back pain?

I realise recumbent bikes are not discussed a lot on this site, but any help here would be greatly appreciated.

I've been road riding for four years until this past March when I hurt my lower back moving furniture. A physio diagnosed it as a bulged disc (very low in my back - I don't remember the medical description of the location). I went through six treatment sessions (traction, electrodes, and ultrasound) and I iced it regularly. I do all the exercises prescribed and I have been able to resume all my daily activities - except biking. My back will just not accept the bent-over riding position. I've tried a high-rise stem, a shorter stem and I've tried moving the saddle lower, but nothing helps. I've even borrowed a friend's comfort/pathway bike on which I bend over only slightly, but my back still aches for a few days if
I try to go longer then 30 minutes. I'm 33 years old and I ride for fitness and commuting. I was previously riding about 4000km a year. I would like to get back to being able to ride for up to one hour or so without regretting it the next day.

I am wondering if a recumbent might be the answer. Do any of you have experience with a situation like mine?

Calgary, AB

Steve Hogg replies:

I may not have had experience with people like you because I only know what you have told me which is not a lot. Let's assume that you are absolutely correct though, and there is zero chance of your riding an upright bike with any degree of forward lean of the torso. Recumbents usually work well for this kind of problem as having a back rest to brace against to resist pedalling forces minimises the requirement for stability of the rider and also tends to minimise any pelvic asymmetries as the back rest locates the rider fairly squarely in relation to direction of travel.

A couple of potential traps though. I have seen some recumbents with a seat back rest that has lost its tension leading the rider to flex their spine more than was good for people with touchy backs like yours. So make sure that the seat rest is well tensioned or can be re-tensioned. It might also pay you to consult whoever has been advising you on your recovery as to whether you have any special needs in the sense of some sort of non-standard, lower-back support fitted to the standard 'bent seat. The other one is to try before you buy. Once you have settled on a 'bent, endeavour to get a lengthy test ride in so that you know what you are in for. I think the greatest likelihood is that you will be fine but nail that issue down before spending serious money.

Saddle fore/aft position

I am 34 year old male mountain biker who tries to be as competitive as possible on the limited training time available to me. I have really found your site extremely insightful and Steve's recommendations have really solved a lot of problems for me. I need a bit more help, though:

I'm about 1.77m tall and weigh 76kg. I wear a size UK10 shoe and ride an Orbea Alma hardtail with a 73 degree seat-tube angle and with 175mm crank arms. Before reading Steve's recommendations the only way I could find the most powerful position was to move my saddle all the way forward on a zero off-set seat post. Needless to say, the biggest trade off was always a very chafed groin area. This steep position was probably because my cleats were way to far forward. It did however help me to stay balanced on steep climbs and climb at a high cadence of 100-120 rpm which I found suited me best on long steep climbs.

Because of constant tenderness of the skin in my groin area, I tried Steve's recommendations and the difference was amazing. My cleats are now further back, together with my Gobi seat which is now moved back about 1cm from its maximum on a set-back EC 70 Easton seatpost. I now sit very comfortably and despite the set-back, I still feel balanced on steep climbs although I had to shorten my stem.

My problem is now that I battle with my cadence. Initially when I changed my set up according to your recommendations, I set my cleats and seat about 3mm forward from now. It really felt good and powerful when climbing seated with no cadence problems, but felt less powerful on the flats and when pedaling whilst standing. I then moved only the cleats 3mm back which felt great when turning the pedals out of the saddle but less so when seated on both hills and flats. It felt like I could not get the power behind the pedal on the down-stroke and that my legs were moving up and down instead of circles. High cadence was also a problem.

I then moved my seat also 3mm further back. Now it felt great and powerful whilst standing and sitting on the flats but much less so on the climbs. Fast cadence is difficult and it feels like my hamstrings are taking too much strain. Raising the saddle worsened my reach and lowering it made my hamstrings feel cramped, and worsened the up-stroke. I can move my cleats 3mm forward again but do not want to loose that nice, solid feeling when riding out of the saddle. Do I perhaps need shorter crank arms? All of the above is when cycling at high-intensity levels. I prefer high cadences for climbing and anything from 60 -110 rpm for flats and rolling roads.

Rayno Peo
Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Steve Hogg replies:

How rigid are the soles of your MTB shoes? If they have too much give, as some low end MTB shoes do, then the cleats need to go further back than normal to feel 'solid' under foot. But this limits ankle movement and can lessen ability to ride at higher revs. When you moved the seat and cleats back, did you lower the seat to compensate? Assuming your original seat height was fine, you should have dropped the seat post 1mm further into the frame for every 3mm the seat moved backwards. If the cleat movement rearwards was substantial, then again the seat height needs to drop a few mm as the more rearward cleat position will cause greater extension of the leg.

Let's take your position as at the start of paragraph three as a base from which to work. How long between changes from that point? Often if a position is good, it will still take the body several weeks to learn the new motor pattern associated with changed positional parameters. I had a personal reminder of this recently. I changed road pedals from Campag to Speedplay. The Speedplay cleats were in the same relationship to foot in shoe as the Campags had been, meaning that the only change was lowering seat and bars to account for the lesser overall pedal and cleat height. For two weeks my pedaling style was rubbish. I couldn't pedal smoothly at anything over 90 rpm but gradually, pedalling fluency at high cadences returned to normal. You have made greater changes than that from your original more forward cleat and seat position. I would put everything back to what it was at the start of paragraph three. Ride for three weeks like that and then, if not happy, institute one change at a time and evaluate for several weeks before confirming it as positive or otherwise. In the early period after any change, don't go too hard. Often, too many changes in too short a period cause a rider to lose their way unless there is a low intensity period of 'relearning' their relationship to the bike.


I would like to have your opinion on how you would position someone on their bike who is a serious cyclist and competes in triathlons but with a history of prostate problems.

Steve Hogg replies:

By trial and error with various seats and seat, cleat and bar positions. Sometimes when positioning someone, an injury or sensitivity of theirs overrides everything else in the sense that the prime requirement becomes, at least in the short term, to relieve strain from an injury or touchy body part. It is impossible to give you more detail than this without knowing a lot more about you, i.e., how the prostate problem affects you, what you ride, how you ride etc, etc.

Leg length discrepancy and asymmetry

I'm a 35 year old former racer getting back into riding for about a year after around eight years of little exercise. I've made great improvement this year but struggle with minor injuries that I believe are related to fit. I generally ride 100-150 miles a week and stretch fairly regularly but do not consider myself very flexible. I need to drop about 30 lbs.

I've known that I've had a functional LLD since high school. I was using extra insoles for soccer and cross country before I'd ever heard of orthotics. I've always been very right footed (it's hard to kick with your long leg while standing on your short one without digging a hole). I can jump off my left foot much better than the right. I've always felt like my left and right hip/legs work differently. I've often wondered if it started with a dislocated right hip when swimming breast stroke at around 10 years old. I'm pretty sure I have an actual LLD but I suspect my pelvis is the source of most of the functional LLD and other problems.

I currently wear orthotics in my 'other' shoes and in getting them had my LLD confirmed by a sports therapist. I've been messing with homemade spacers (fridge magnets work well) and LeWedges for years with mixed results. Usually I can fix one problem but end up causing another. I've gone through periods of asymmetrical leg soreness and feelings of having a weak leg to having asymmetrical back pain. I've had occasional hand and foot numbness but raising my stem and hoods and the LeWedges seem to have largely corrected these problems.

Fun facts: Right foot seems larger by 2-3mm between heel and ball. Right leg shorter by 8-11mm (difference in lower leg). More developed right calf. Typically have right side lower back pain on long ride or ride with lots of climbing. Right side gluteal pain early in rides fades (as other things start to hurt more?) Knees seem even versus the top tube. Left heel seems to come closer to crank. Dropping right hip when pedaling. No apparent varus difference (measured at home, wife thinks I'm nuts). More saddle soreness on right side, frequent numbness of the naughty bits. Looking at my old saddle, it is bent down on the right a little. ITB soreness, mostly on left, less so since pedal spacers added 3 months ago. Current adjustments: ~5mm right shim (6 wedges 4in/2out) (Shimano, Look style) ~2mm left shim (1 wedge, thick side in); pedal spacers: 3mm each side.

From reading your other articles, it sounds like I could benefit from offsetting my saddle (my current post will allow about 4mm) and/or having it point off center. If I need more than the 4mm I'll get a K-force. I've always tried to force myself to be more symmetrical with shims and cleat position but never tried any asymmetrical saddle tricks. I videoed myself and saw that my right hip was dropping lower. I moved the saddle left 4mm and it reduced it considerably. When I looked at my legs vs. the top tube and seat post it seemed square. I feel pretty good on the saddle but 30 min on the trainer isn't going to be the test. If I offset 4mm to the left, I'll need to increase shim on the right, right? What about pointing the saddle? OK, I couldn't wait! I tried my saddle 4mm to the left and the nose pointed slightly to the left. Only rode 20 minutes (in the rain and dark) but my legs felt pretty 'even'. It feels like the pointing of the saddle achieved more than the offset but it's hard to say. It still looks even between legs and top tube. I was moving around on the saddle somewhat, trying to find the spot but I'll have to give that a week or so before deciding anything. I still feel more saddle pressure on the right sit bone but no numbness! The extra right saddle pressure may be a result of a pronounced callous courtesy of a saddle sore from two weeks ago. Please let me know where you would start (or continue). I'd love to be symmetrically sore just once! Even saddle sore!

Atlanta GA

Steve Hogg replies:

On the information you have given, I think you are on the right track with what you have done to date. If you have a measurable lower leg length discrepancy of 8 -11mm (and it would be worth having a scan or x ray to nail that down so you are dealing with facts rather than guestimates) then you probably should have a larger right cleat shim than you currently have. As you have described the right stack of wedges, it is 3.5mm high on the outside and 5mm on the inside. The lower leg points more or less downwards when we pedal, meaning that lower limb discrepancies need to be compensated for close to the actual discrepancy. I say that with the caveats that differences in tightness between left and right glutes, hammies and lower backs can change that picture somewhat. Have a play with a few mm extra, reassess, and act on your feelings by adding or subtracting. Pointing the seat nose to the left brings the right hip closer to the pedals and moves the left hip further from the pedals and you felt more even for that. Generally, a right hip drop is accompanied by a twist forward of the pelvis on the same side. If that is what you are doing, moving the right hip forward further by twisting the seat nose to the left and reducing the distance the right leg extends by doing so is probably indicative of you needing a slightly different approach.

Try this:

  • Establish that you are twisting the right side of the pelvis forward. To do this you will need an observer standing on a chair above and behind you while you pedal at reasonable load on a trainer with your shirt off and stripped to the waist.
  • If you are twisting forward to the right, then add more shims to the right shoe (and make sure that you move the right cleat back an extra mm relative to foot in shoe for every 5mm of shim you add) and try twisting the seat nose slightly to the left. The idea, if you cope with it, is to square up the pelvis more and allow you to bear your weight more evenly.

The advice above is contingent upon you having a measurable LLD. If you find after an x ray or scan that this is not the case, then you need to do what ever it takes to achieve more functional symmetry. Shims are often needed to work around functional LLDs too, but better still is to sort yourself out so that you don't have a functional LLD.


Knee and hip questions

I'm a 36 year old Cat 4 road racer and I've been riding a bike for about two years. I have a left knee problem that started long ago in my teens while playing basketball. When I went to the doctor back then it was diagnosed as chrondomalacia. I've always been active, but I got really active again when I started riding. Initially the bike was helpful, but as I've built up miles and hours it tends to hurt regularly again. My right hip has also been sore, and it seems like the pain is at the rear of the ball of my hip. In addition, I've recently noticed a blue spot above my kneecap when I'm pedaling, especially when I'm pedaling hard. It appears to be a pool of blood or blood vessels. My questions are: 1. Is this 'blue spot' normal? 2. I'm assuming the knee and hip pain are related to my positioning on the bike. How do I close in on fixing the positioning problems? 3. Is there any proof that glucosamine and chondroitin work for issues such as mine?

Matthew Cain

Steve Hogg replies:

Re your questions 1 and 3: I am the wrong person to comment with any authority. Re 2: I need more information. What shoe brand and size do you use? What pedal system do you use? What brand, model and size of bike do you ride? Can you be more specific about where the knee pain is and under what circumstances it comes on?

If you set your bike up on an indoor and pedal under load with your shirt off, do you drop one hip? (You will need an observer standing above and behind you to determine this). Which knee (if any) sits closer to the top tube than the other? If you look back between your legs while pedalling, on which side (if any) is the gap between inner thigh and seat post greater? If you can get back to me with that info, I will attempt to help.

Matthew Cain responded:

Hi Steve, and thanks for getting back to me. I really appreciate all that you do. What shoe brand and size do you use? Specialized w/carbon soles, size 45. They're two years old, and I think they're called something like 'Pro Comp'. What pedal system do you use? Look Keo Carbon pedals. What brand, model and size of bike do you ride? Cervelo Carbon Soloist, size 56. Can you be more specific about where the knee pain is and under what circumstances it comes on? The pain seems to be underneath the upper area of my left knee cap. It is usually the worst when I first begin to ride until I get warmed up, and also when I'm climbing or pushing a large gear. Also, there are times on and off the bike when, if I turn or move in the wrong way, something seems to happen and my knee aches for a day or two. My right hip aches generally, however there is a main area of pain at the rear of the ball of the joint. Neither the knee nor hip have an acute or sharp pain, they're more achy and stiff than sharp.

If you set your bike up on an indoor and pedal under load with your shirt off, do you drop one hip? I couldn't do this as I'm away from home this week, but I'm going to assume that I drop my left hip, as there are many times that I finish riding when I have a crease from my cycling shorts on the right side of my butt. Does this make sense? My wife says that in fact I really don't have much of a hip drop, but the right side seems to hang over just a little bit. Which knee (if any) sits closer to the top tube than the other? My right knee is definitely closer to the top tube. If you look back between your legs while pedalling, on which side (if any) is the gap between inner thigh and seat post greater? The gap is greater on the left side. My right thigh is closer. If you need to wait until I'm home over the weekend and I can give you definite answers on the hip drop and seat post/inner thigh situation, just let me know and I'll resend the e-mail on Sunday. I'm not sure which pieces of the puzzle are the most important. In any event, I'm thrilled with any help you can offer. Thanks again. You're spectacular.

Steve Hogg replies:

No, I'm skinny, bald and am peeved that I can't find time enough to ride my bike. Regarding the further info you have provided, the big picture is that you are hanging or rotating to the right (wife's observation, larger gap between left inner thigh and seatpost). A lot of people who do this end up with a left knee problem because the plane of movement of the left leg is constantly challenged by the right hip drop/rotation. The pain behind the right hip I'm not sure about but if you are tighter in general in and around the right hip, then that is the likely reason you hang that way.

Here is a plan of action:

1. Establish whether you have a pronounced degree of forefoot varus on either side. From what you have told me, I suspect that this is noticeably worse on the right side. You will have to visit a podiatrist or a bike shop that has a Lemond varus/valgus gauge to establish this. If, as I suspect, you do have a noticeable forefoot varus on the right, then play with some Lemond wedges with thick side facing the centre line of the bike to establish what number feels the most stable underfoot. If you have a noticeable left forefoot varus, underdo the wedging on that side a bit initially. When a rider hangs to the right, this often changes the plane the left leg moves through and can mean that, until the rider sits more squarely, it is very easy to cause more problems by overdoing the wedging. It may even be that you need to fit a wedge with the thick side to the outside on the left.

2. Position your cleats as suggested here and here. If there is a substantial movement of the cleats to the rear to do this, drop the seat a few mm to compensate for the extra extension of the legs.

3. If you are one of the lovely people who respond to the above well, that will probably be enough or close to enough to solve or noticeably minimise your issues, at least on the bike. If you are not, then it might be worth your while laterally offsetting your seat to the left. If you do this, you may need to drop the seat a few mm as well. This article of mine will give you the info to go about it.

4. Most of all, see a good physio or get on a first name basis with your local yoga, Pilates or other bodywork instructor and start to even your self out functionally. The more symmetrically you function off the bike, the better that symmetry is transferred onto the bike.

Matthew Cain responded:

I'll stick with spectacular myself. Thanks for the very helpful info. Two more questions arise for me; 1. What exactly is forefoot varus? 2. My bike has only one seatpost position available - aero seat tube and post. I suppose there is no way to simulate the lateral offset?

Steve Hogg replies:

Forefoot varus is a measure of the plane of the forefoot versus the plane of the rearfoot. A perfect foot has forefoot and rearfoot in a single plane. Unfortunately, that describes about 3- 4% of the population. 90+% have a forefoot varus meaning that the forefoot rolls inwards relative to the rearfoot. The implication is that when load is applied (walking, pedaling etc) the varus forefoot causes a lateral or rotational load to be placed on the knee, at least in theory. I say in theory because most people with a notably varus forefoot or forefeet don't experience knee pain under most circumstances. This is because at some autonomic level they evolve compensatory self-protection mechanisms.

Before I tell you about that, I need to state that my experience is that a notable right forefoot varus with little or much less left forefoot varus is very common and I have my own theories about why that is so. The three common self protection mechanisms - one is to load up the lateral aspect of the foot when applying load. The tell tale is a layer of callous underneath the 5th MTP, the base knuckle of the small toe. By loading up the lateral aspect of the foot, the knee will track straight or nearly so. The second is to internally rotate the hip. I have to be careful about describing this as its most obvious manifestation is a knee pointing in towards the centre line of the body when the feet are pointing straight ahead while standing, which is not a natural posture for most people. Left to their own devices, most people like this will point the foot outwards naturally when standing causing the hip to externally rotate. The third common compensation is to make no little or no adjustment on the right side and to make all the adjustments on the left side and this can often cause changes in pelvic function, none of which help pedalling symmetry.

Most people with a notably varus right forefoot exhibit more than one compensatory mechanism to differing degrees, so it is not as simple as X degrees of forefoot varus = Y number of Lemond wedges and so on. There are also a lot of other potential compensations, some of them fairly uncommon. Addtionally, forefoot varus can't be taken in isolation. Ankle function and hip function play a part in this too. That is why I suggested that you get some wedges and have a play and choose a number based on what gives the greatest feeling of stability of foot on pedal.


Susanne Ljungskog's cleat position

Steve, thanks for your response to this question.

I've tested this 'theory' in so far that I've moved my cleats as far back as they can go on my Specialized body geometry MTB shoes (ball of foot around 2.5cm in front of pedal axle). I've tested it on one ride so far and the comfort levels are unbelievable. I found it was a lot easier to use a high cadence 100+. I normally ride with a cadence between 95-110 rpm. I found that I didn't fatigue as quickly and I was surprised about my out of the saddle efforts where I could apply a lot more power and had no problem with the high cadence out of the saddle. I'll let you know in a month how things are going. One thing I did feel during the ride that I wanted to change is that I wanted my foot to be a bit further forward on the pedal, but the cleat holes in the shoe won't allow that. I'll test my road bike next weekend which should be interesting as I'm more sensitive to my road bike set up.

Paul Nielsen-Mazewski

Steve Hogg replies:

Subsequent to our previous emails being posted I was contacted by Gotz Heine from Switzerland who is the gent behind SL's cleat position and the shoes that allow it. He made the offer to provide more info and I have taken him up on that but have not had his reply yet. I was also contacted by a gent from South Africa named Ian Rodger who had some previous interaction with Gotz Heine. He sent me the torque curves that Gotz Heine had sent him comparing a rider with unspecified conventional cleat position and the foot over arch position. The foot over arch position showed higher peaks and lower troughs on both legs. That would translate to more power at the same rpm with more un-weighting of the pedal on the rising crank. One example does not make an argument, so I await more info from Mr. Heine. I will post or pass on as I receive it.

Paul Nielsen-Mazewski responded:

That's fantastic news; I look forward to the info from Gotz. I've also received an email yesterday evening from Klas Johansson (Susanne Ljungskog's partner) saying that they will also send me their data from their tests. Naturally I'll forward these on to you when I receive them. I've responed to Klas and Susanne providing a link to the fitness Q&A page. One question that has been popping up in my brain over the last couple of days, with the riders that you used the forward shoe position for (backward cleat position), why did they change back to their 'normal' cleat position?

Steve Hogg replies:

Why did I move their cleats back to my more usual centre of the ball of the foot in front of the centre of the pedal axle from waaaay back? Firstly I have to stress that my experience with 'arch over the pedal axle' cleat positioning is limited to probably a dozen people total, may be a couple less, over quite a few years. In each case they had a significant problem (torn calf muscles, really bad plantar fasciitis, recently ruptured achilles tendon or similar) and had posed the question "is there some way I can ride even slowly rather than get off the bike for a period" to me. In each case my reply was "possibly, let's find out". By moving the cleats radically back to the arch of the foot (which is a pain on most shoes because the shape of the sole is all wrong for a cleat, meaning substantial modification as well as drilling new holes and fitting threaded eyelets), ankle movement is much reduced. This relieves strain on calves, achilles tendons and plantar fascia. I also found that it meant that forefoot varus/valgus compensation in the form of wedges or fittings inside shoes was more or less unnecessary.

So it worked in the sense of getting injured people mobile again at low intensity. Some of them took their time getting back here once over their injury and I kept notes on what they perceived as the pros and cons of their arch over pedal axle, namely enormous stability on pedal but jerkiness at high revs, particularly when off the seat. One bloke re-injured himself doing cadence drills once recovered from his previous injury. I have an open mind about this but suspect that it is not necessarily the best solution for everyone or even the majority. We will probably never find out about that one way or the other because of the practical problems of implementing that problem without custom shoes.

More advice on cramps after time off

I recently saw this question from Viktor in Sweden about getting cramps after time off the bike. I happen to have the same symptoms, and I am not entirely comfortable with the reply of Steve Hogg. In particular, I wonder how the cause could be a high saddle and/or not enough foot over pedal when I only experience the symptoms when I take a break after longer periods of regular training. In certain cases, I even experience the pains while walking. I have been experiencing muscle pains that no one else in my riding group seems to have had before.

I am a 46 year-old male road rider and I have been riding for over 10 years, the last 4 years of which have been pretty competitive. Over the last 4 months, I've followed a very structured training program based on Joe Friel's cycling training bible. It peaked with a 4-day 500km stage race, with lots of climbing over the last two stages. I did very well in the prep races and the stage race, surpassing the goals I had set.

After the stage race, I started to taper off my riding frequency and intensity, and about a month after the stage race stopped riding completely for about a week due to work commitments. About 4 days into the week when I did not ride, I started to experience severe muscle pains in my thighs when I would walk even relatively short distance. Now that I am trying to resume riding, I get the same pains. Even with the lowest intensity rides, my thighs hurt so much that I can't pedal after just 10 minutes. What is causing this problem, and how can I prevent and treat it?

Robin Valdes

Steve Hogg replies:

I had some further correspondence with Viktor that made me equally unhappy with my reply as you were. From what he told me subsequently, something is going on that is almost certainly not position related.

I think Dave or Kelby would be better equipped to answer your query than I and Viktor is likely interested as well.

David Fleckenstein adds:

I have had two riders in last five years that have reported odd cramping (only both of them experienced it in their quadriceps) and did not respond to any mechanical or nutritional changes. They were subsequently diagnosed by two excellent rheumatologists (who also ride) with true muscular myopathies. I would highly recommend having this further examined - not all musculoskeletal pain is truly mechanical and there is an odd pattern present in both of these cases.

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