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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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 November 13, 2007

Compact crank arm length
Bike fitting
Recovery from races
Spin Scan analysis
Posterior knee problems
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy risk for cyclists?
New bike fit

Compact crank arm length

My road bike was built with a Campy Record group with a standard double crank which has served me well for the past five years. I'm looking at purchasing a compact crank because my knees are not getting any younger and I now live in a very hilly area. I'm 6'8" and my crank arm on my double is 180mm. Campy's maximum compact crank arm length is 175mm.

I've talked with many "fit experts" in bike shops and everyone has their opinion on correct crank arm length. Some say I need to stay with 180mm (which Campy doesn't make). Others say it's OK to go with the shorter length - 175mm. Some of these experts say I can mix a Shimano compact 180mm crank arm with my Campy group (heresy in my book). Others say it is not a good marriage. I've researched Specialties TA who make a crankset called the Carmina that has 180mm and 185mm crank arms. The bike shop that sells Specialties TA swears by them, but all of the "fit experts" either haven't heard of TA (which is surprising) or don't hold TA in high regard.

What are the physiological and performance issues that I will have to contend with if I drop down to the 175mm crank arm length? Or is the 175mm length too short and out of the question? I've been researching this for a long time and just when I think I've got the right answer someone else gives me their expert opinion and I'm back to square one again. Any advice/opinion/expertise on this issue would be greatly appreciated.

Bill Kraft

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Bill,

You are an exceptionally tall bloke and probably with exceptionally long legs as well. Stick with what you know works for you and get the 180mm TA Carminas. The only difference you will find between them and your Campag cranks is that they have a 150mm Q factor measurement when used with the 107mm TA bottom bracket compared to the Campags' Q factor 145.5mm. If you can move your cleats a couple of mm further outward on your shoes from your current position, which will bring your feet inwards on the pedals by that amount, you will have the same foot separation distance as you currently use.

The Carminas come as two crank arms and have a replaceable chainring spider and obviously you are going for the 110 mm bcd 'compact' spider. One tip is for you to request that whoever you buy them from fits the spider themselves and checks that it is parallel and that the chain rings don't oscillate. I have seen some poorly fitted spiders when the work was done by the owners.

If you have really large feet, say size 48 Euro or larger, you may want to consider the Carmina 185mm version. If in doubt, stick with the length that you are used to.

Bike fitting


For all those cyclists considering the idea of a new bicycle for next season I'd like to pose a question to the bike fitters in the panel.

We all come in different shapes, sizes, and proportions, but most of us fall within a standard deviation or two. In your bike fitting experience, do you find that most bodies can achieve a reasonable position on a stock frame (as opposed to a custom job) from one of the many manufacturers? Are there certain areas that you are more concerned with (i.e. reach vs. seat-tube length)?

Bike shops can measure, fit, and recommend a frame to a cyclist, but I often wonder what constraints or motivations might come into play. What would you recommend to those who may not be able to shell out for a fully custom frame?

Thanks for your thoughts.


Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Tyler,

I would suggest that the way a rider functions plays more part in the position they should ride than how they are proportioned. That aside yes, the great majority of riders can gain a good position on a production bike. Probably 2% or so would struggle in the sense that their requirements are not met by what is available in mass produced bikes. A larger but still small percentage of riders will be able to gain a good position on a production bike but the price of that may be less than ideal weight balance over the wheels which may affect steering and handling.

More people want a custom frame than need a custom frame. A custom frame has more reasons for existing than whether the rider can fit a production bike or not. The rider may want the pleasure of owning an item that is designed for them alone. They may want to move away from the compromises inherent in production frame design. They may want a bike to steer and handle a particular way or have an added or lesser degree of frame stiffness than a production bike offers.

What areas to be most concerned about?

Everything is a compromise. What we all need to do is arrive at the best combination of compromises for us. Sometimes this is a process rather than an event.

Recovery from races

Hello, my name is Giancarlo Bianchi. I am a 23 yr old cat 3, 5'7" 134 lbs. While riding back from the morning ride today I was thinking about something that I knew I could count on you guys to answer.

Let's say you have to compete in two races in one day. Examples include a master competing in a 30+ and then the pro race later on, or a time trial in the morning or a RR, CRIT, etc. in the evening, a junior race in the morning and the cat 3,4,5 race later on, a track qualifying and the finals later, etc. I have two questions regarding this situation so I will number them for clarity.

1. How do you go about recovering for them? Obviously it depends on the time in between races but what should be the protocol? 24 oz carb drink if its 30 minutes or less? a bar if 30-60 mins? A sandwich? A meal? I imagine that there is probably a simple line graph that could be constructed...

2. Would you need to warm up for the second race? Again I see how it could depend on the time in between races, but what should be the protocol? If it's right after then no need, right? If its 30 minutes then a simple roll around would suffice?

This would be a great wealth of knowledge for everyone. Thanks in advance and hope to hear from you soon.

Giancarlo Bianchi

Carrie Cheadle replies:

Hi Giancarlo,

This is an excellent question. I don't know what you need recovery wise for nutrition, hydration, and warm-up - but one thing that is often neglected when people talk about recovery from one race to the next is mental/emotional recovery. It's imperative that you line up for your 2nd race with a clean slate from your 1st race. If you are focused on the events of the previous race your head is not in the moment and where it needs to be to perform in the present. One way to work on this is to come up with some sort of ritual for yourself to symbolically choose when you stop thinking about the last race and focus on the next one. If your race didn't go as well as you had planned - take time to be upset and think about what you learned from it as you drink your recovery drink. When you finish your drink - you're finished with that race.

Using imagery is a great way to transition between races as well. Imagery can be used to visualize your muscles recovering as you eat and hydrate. You can also use imagery to ride through the next race - see yourself on the course, see potential scenarios that may play out and how you will react in those situations. If you're stuck thinking about the 1st race - this will help you move forward and get focused on the next race.

Spin Scan analysis

I'm a 25 year old competitive cyclist. I see many bike-fit facilities offer a Spin Scan analysis to determine accurate seat height and pedal efficiency. Does it determine correct cleat position as well? I would like to know if the spin scan analysis is really worth a try, or is it a waste of time.

Thank You!


Ric Stern replies:


There is no exact method of determining seat height, so, Spin Scan can't do this. I'm not certain what you mean by pedal efficiency (perhaps the profile of your pedalling style?), but, (thermodynamic) efficiency can only be measured by determining your expired respiratory gases, and this will almost always shows that at a given power output a lower cadence is more efficient than a higher cadence.

On the other hand, if by pedal efficiency you meant how you pedal through your pedal stroke then, again, Spin Scan does not really measure this. For that, you need force instrumented pedals to see how you pedal. However, it appears that there is no particular style that is any better than any other. All that really matters is that you generate more power.

Lastly, Spin Scan doesn't have anything to do with cleat position.

Dario Frederick replies:

Hello Juan,

I agree with Ric that Spin Scan does not directly determine a cyclist's saddle height or cleat position. In my experience, the main benefit of using Spin Scan is as a feedback tool for training "physicial intelligence," or improving the awareness of how we use our body - in this case pedaling. Some find it helpful to have a visual model of their pedaling style so that they can better visualize and feel what they are doing with their pedal stroke out on the road, on the dirt or during a fitting. If this increased awareness improves one's sensitivity to changes in saddle or cleat positioning during the fitting process, it can be useful. I find that a rider's feedback is an important aspect of proper fitting, and the ability to provide feedback varies considerably with physical awareness to changes in position and pedaling mechanics.

Posterior knee problems

Hi. I'm a 24 year old, keen, competitive mountain biker riding for around five years now; however I ramped up my training and was beginning to compete in races last year to gain my fourth category road racing licence. After a break in September 2006, l started to train for the following season however had to stop when l injured my left soleus and posterior part of my left knee. I had noticed a slight weakness in the knee approximately a year previous to the injury, but after some rest the pain disappeared. The pain came on in a ride where l was pushing on into the wind, and I admit, pushing too big a gear.

Much to my downfall, I decided to keep riding. The pain persisted, and so I began to seek treatment through physiotherapy, without much success. Unfortunately the trouble persists to this day, almost a year later. Due to various commitments I have been unable to stay with a single physiotherapist, and as a result I have only recently received a diagnosis that I have flat feet. I have been fitted with orthotics which seems to have cured the pain I was getting in my soleus muscles. The sharp pain in my knee is now in two distinct areas, either side of the centre of the knee as seen from the back. The pain occurs during walking as well as cycling, and so affects my day to day activities. My current physio believes the issue is being exacerbated due to my knees, which are able to hyperextend when walking. This has caused the posterior capsule to become lax, and the popliteus tendon and ligament to strain.

I am awaiting the results of an MRI scan on my knee, however am now at the end of my tether due to not being able to ride consistently over the past year, and not at all over the past month following advice to rest.

Dropping my seat height by around half an inch, and moving it forward, together with has helped, but do you have any other specific advice that may enable me to get back riding? I am worried that an injury that has persisted for this long will not heal at all, and my riding days will be over.

If it helps, I ride a Cannondale R1000, 56cm (c to c) frame, 90mm stem, with a BB to seat height of 730mm (after dropping the seat). My inside leg is 79cm, and I am 1.76m.


Dyfan Evans

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Dyfan,

The basic problem is that you are overextending the left leg. The big question is why? There are a number of potential reasons. 1. A measurably or functionally shorter left leg. 2. A tendency to favour the right side which will mean a tendency to drop and / or rotate the right hip forward. This in turn causes the left leg to reach further as the rider isn't centred on the seat.

The reason that dropping your seat and moving it forward relieved the symptoms is because you reduced the distance that the left leg had to reach to the pedals. Equally, moving the seat forward reduces hamstring enlistment and the hammies and calves work in concert across the knee joint, meaning in turn, less stress on the calves.

What to do about it?

It depends on exactly what the problem is. The most common pattern of asymmetry in cycling is a tendency to favour the right side which takes the form of a perceptible dropping of the right hip. If the rider is reasonably flexible and functional, this tendency will be minor. But any challenge to the seat pelvic stability, meaning seat too high, too low, too far forward, too far back will exacerbate this asymmetric tendency.

Here is what I would do in your position.

1. Have a long leg X ray or MRI to accurately establish leg length. Armed with the results of that exercise, you will be dealing with facts rather than supposition. 2. Set your bike up on an indoor trainer and warm up thoroughly with your shirt off. Get an observer to stand on a chair or stool above and behind you. What he needs to tell you is whether you are dropping and / or rotating the right hip forward. If this is the case, get back to me for a few measures to help.

Once you have the answers to the 2 points above, the solution to your problem could be anything from dropping your seat to fitting a 5mm shim underneath your left cleat. Don't give up just yet. Problems of the sort you describe are not usually hard to resolve.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy risk for cyclists?

I am a 47 year old male recreational road cyclist, typically riding 4-5000 kilometres a year. I ride regularly with a group of friends, ranging in age from 36 to 60. After the recent and well publicized death of runner Ryan Shay in the New York City Marathon, speculation has risen that the cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart). Then last week, a friend of mine who is a strong marathon runner (sub 3 hr) lost consciousness after a 1K jog from the car to the start line of a local marathon. He suffered a concussion from falling, but doctors are at a loss as to why he passed out. Early suspicion is that he may have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. With all the talk of this condition and sudden death in endurance athletes, our spouses have voiced concern that we may be putting ourselves at risk.

My question is does hypertrophic cardiomyopathy present a serious risk to cyclists? It seems to me that the majority of cases of sudden death involve runners. Is there something inherent in running to exasperate this condition, or is it just that so many people run compared to other endurance sports?

Ira Birt
PEI, Canada

Scott Safier replies:

The media did a terrible job of covering the death of Ryan Shay. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a genetic disease. You cannot get it by exercising. Individuals with HCM have a mutated gene for one of the contractile proteins in their heart muscle. Because of the mutation, the muscle does not contract as well as it should. As a result, the muscle grows in an attempt to handle the load it is required to handle. The enlarged heart in HCM has a thickened wall and reduced stroke volume because the muscle actually gets so big that it takes up what should be the pump chamber of the heart. There are many different mutations that lead to HCM. Some of them make the muscle so inefficient that it grows so quickly that individuals with that mutation all die in the childhood. Some of the mutations work more slowly and cause deaths later. Some are relatively benign, leading to a slightly thickened heart wall but rarely death.

The enlarged heart of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is entirely distinct from the enlarged heart of an athlete. The enlarged heart of an athlete has a thickened heart wall, but also an increased pump volume. The enlarged heart is HCM is irreversible. In fact, the thicker the heart wall becomes, the less efficient the pump leading to yet more thickening. The athlete's enlarged heart will shrink within a few weeks if the athlete stops training.

People with the deadly varieties of HCM are almost certainly going to die of their condition. The only question is when. It might be during exercise or at might be at home later. If you, or your spouse, are concerned about HCM, talk to your physician. The conclusion from the medical establishment again and again has been that HCM is so rare that testing for it routinely in the healthy population is a waste of money and time. Anyone who has a family history of HCM or other genetically influenced heart disease or who has any symptoms suggestive of heart disease should be working with a physician to track his or her own condition.

New bike fit

My team is getting new road bikes for next season, and I need to figure out which size frame suits my needs best. I am a 31 year old, male racer, and have been riding for about 2 years. I race both criteriums and road races, with a slight emphasis on criteriums.

I have been professionally fit on my current Fuji bike. It is a size 58 (seat tube, C-T), with a 57 cm top tube (C-C). The seat tube angle is 73 and the head tube angle is 73.5. I have it fitted with a 100 mm stem, making the effective reach 670 mm.

The new bikes will be Ridley's. Both the size M and L, fitted with different stems and seat post lengths will give me the needed dimensions, but both have their advantages / disadvantages.

The size M has a 560 mm effective top tube length (with a seat tube angle of 73 degrees), so fitted with a 110 mm stem will give me the correct reach. But the seat tube is only 540 mm (C-T), which would require 225 mm of seat post for my saddle height of 765 mm. The head tube is also only 175 mm, which would require 40 mm of spacers below the stem to raise the handlebars as high as I require.

The size L has a 585 mm effective top tube length (with a slacker seat tube angle of 72.5 degrees), so fitted with a 90 mm stem will give me approximately the same reach. It would require 195 mm of seat post and the head tube is 205 mm, which would only require 10 mm of spacers under the stem.

My questions are what is preferable: a longer top tube with a short stem, or a longer stem with more spacers on the steer tube? I have heard that shorter stems can affect the way the bike handles, and that additional steer tube length can affect the stiffness of the front end, and thereby affect handling as well.

Matthew Triska

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Matthew,

What are the head tube lengths of your existing frame and the two you are contemplating?

Are you using your existing stem in the lower position of flipped to the higher position?

Matthew responded:


The head tube length on my existing bike is 169 mm, and the new bikes are: size M - 175 mm; size L - 205 mm. I am using the stem flipped to the higher position. I have relatively poor flexibility, which is why the need for a shorter reach and high bars.

Matthew Triska

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Matt,

Given that you are racing on the bike and not cruising slowly around the countryside, I would suggest the larger frame with the 90mm stem. Not because it will steer wonderfully, it will probably steer acceptably only, but if you are adaptable, you will be fine. What concerns me is a 40mm stack of spacers underneath a stem that is being heavily leveraged by you yanking on the bars while off the seat.

A couple of things I would suggest is to firstly, to consider a shallow drop, short reach bar like the FSA Wing Pro Compact. Depending on what you are using now, a short reach bar like that may allow you to use a longer stem (which won't change steering characteristics while you are in the drops because your hands and any weight borne by them will be in the same place as a shorter stem with longer reach bar.) but will be more aesthetically pleasing. And secondly, the shallower drop, again depending on what bar you are using now, may allow you to use a lesser head seat spacer stack or to flip the stem to the lower position.

If the FSA bar is substantially shallower and shorter than your current bar, you may want to think again about the smaller of the two frames you are contemplating. If you do end up with the smaller frame and considering the amount of seat post you will be showing, I would suggest using an aluminium post as most carbon posts with that length, flex too much under pedalling forces for my liking.


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