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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 March 18, 2008

Climbing vs. TT Max HR
Sore legs and cramping
Power vs. weight
Leg length
Shoe stiffness


I am a club rider, 44y/o, 5'8" 180 lbs. We just rode a 40 mile club ride with three hills and a total of 4,000 feet of climbing. On the very first hill I was in the middle of the fifty person pack until I noticed my heart rate got stuck at 155bpm which is way below my normal 168bpm anaerobic threshold, and I felt like I was having a heart attack all the way up the hill.

Of course I was dropped by the group early. Once over the top and down the other side I gave out a long series of burps. After that I could do the other two hills at my normal 165bpm comfortable rate but once in a while I would get an urge to burp again and the heart rate would drop momentarily and then spring back up again. This doesn't happen every time but often enough especially right at the beginning of a ride and when I am starting to go hard. What is happening, and how can I avoid this event from occurring again. Also, is this common among other cyclist?

Carson, CA

Scott Saifer replies:

I've only heard of anything similar to this one other time, to a rider who was forcing himself to take a stack of gaggingly awful nutritional supplements before races. He couldn't race until he had thrown up. Needless to say, I soon convinced him to quit the supplements.

Burping is expelling gas from your gut. The question is how it got there. Either you are swallowing air or the gas is produced by fermentation of something you are eating. Do you have the problem more after certain meals? Do you have the problem more after wolfing breakfast? On days when you are more anxious? When you figure out where the gas is coming from, you'll have your solution.

Climbing vs. TT Max HR

I've recently been trying to be more scientific with my training, by keeping a more detailed training log with info on the rides, HR avg/max, how I felt etc... I also consider myself, at about 6', 170lbs, to be a good TT rider, and only every so often an average climber. I've noticed that I can ramp myself up to 190, and sit there for ~10k for time trials, but that I cannot push myself past 180 to stay with a group while climbing.

Are these two types of riding different enough that I should expect to see different max HRs? Or do you think this might just be mental thing - I certainly do think "wonder where I'll get dropped on the climb today" vs. having good confidence heading into TT rides/races.

Irvine, Ca

Scott Saifer replies:

Is your bike position the same? If not, I'd suggest looking into how the climbing position might be inhibiting your effort. If it is, you attitude towards the value of suffering in a particular situation might be the problem.

Sore legs and cramping

I am 21 yrs old, racing as a cat3 in Ireland. And I have been racing for the last two years, last year was my first real competitive racing season and it went fairly well, I was one point away from moving up a category.

This season I put in decent winter training and I felt as if I was going considerably well and dying for the racing season to start. However 3 weeks into the racing season I feel as if I had done nothing over the winter! The weekend before the first race I got the 'bonk' quite early on into a spin and from then on my legs have felt like weights, even when I am not on the bike. My calves have also been cramping up as early into a race as 15 miles and I am making sure I'm drinking enough water.

I just can't understand why my form has been so bad and why my legs seem to be always tried.

If you could shed some light, on why I could be cramping and feeling sluggish, and offer some suggestions that would be great.


Scott Saifer replies:

How's your diet? Bonking is generally a sign that you are not getting enough carbohydrate. Bonking early in a ride usually means you are not getting enough carbohydrates between rides, or that you bonked on the previous ride and didn't allow enough recovery time between rides. Possible? Have you been trying to cut weight?

There are many causes of cramping. Being underfed is one of them, so I'd address that before considering other possibilities.

Power vs. weight

Please help me settle a disagreement with my physical therapist. I'm a 39 yr old Cat 2 roadie/expert mtb'r/BMX'r, and also a physician. I have been doing physical therapy for tight hip flexors lately. My therapist is a pretty knowledgeable guy, and even has a degree in exercise physiology. Today he asked me to do a 5 mile test on his Precor bicycle ergometer. The test is basically 5 miles on a computerized ergometer, similar to those found in most health clubs. To make it more interesting, he told me how long it took a very famous NHL hockey player to complete this test. I told him that the speed on this ergometer did not take into account the rider's weight, so was therefore arbitrary, and a very large professional hockey player would probably do quite well on this test, since his power output is probably pretty high.

However, this hockey player probably weighs 250lbs, so his power to weight ratio would cause his speed on the ergometer to be artificially high. At the same ergometer speed, my power output per pound body weight would be higher (since I'm only about 158lbs) so my speed would be artificially low. Just as we concluded this exchange, the same NHL player walks in and agreed with the therapist. Now, this player is a real big guy and I was not about to argue with a legendary professional athlete that I admire, so I said I'd ask an expert for their opinion to settle this dispute.

So who is right? If the hockey player and I both get the same time for 5 miles, who really won the test? To be fair, this player could probably shred the local crit with hairy legs and denim shorts, but I'd like to know who was correct.

Steven Sherman, MD
Cary, NC

Scott Saifer replies:

A PT should know to defer to an MD, no? How about you both won? Many years ago my little sister challenged me to a race across the pool, with the winner to buy the loser an ice-cream. I let her swim across the pool while I dawdled, and then demanded my ice-cream. She was surprised, but I pointed out that she hadn't said if it was a slow race or a fast race.

You have to define competitive criteria before you can say who won your contest. In the absence of any other discussion, I'd say whoever went faster on the ergometer won. That would be like the assumption that any race is a "fast" race unless otherwise stated. Now if you want to use the ergometer to say who would ride faster outdoors, you'd have to further define the outdoor course to which to compare. Chances are the NHL guy would not match you in an up-hill TT, but he'd do okay in a flat TT. I'm not saying who would win there since I have no idea how good a TT rider you are or he is. What you and I both are getting at here is that the ergometer measures power, but flat speed depends on the power-to-drag ratio which favours big guys, but favours those with an efficient position as well, while hill climbing depends on power-to-weight ratio and favours the lighter rider when two riders have similar power.

David Fleckenstein replies:

The truth is that the two of you are looking at two different variables - absolute power and power to weight ratio. The ergometer is measuring absolute power output. The real world takes into account power-to-weight ratio with increasing bias to power-to-weight ratio as the gradient of the road increases. If you both generated identical times, and thus identical wattage output, in the real world you (as the lighter rider) would be in front of the other rider, given identical frontal area, rolling resistance, etc... I hate to disagree with a fellow therapist, but I have to here. An indoor ergometer with absolute power alone doesn't represent the real world.

To find out more accurately what might happen in the real world, you can go to and plug in the exact information to see who would actually be in front. Or you could go mano a mano out on the open road. Just wear your mouthpiece and realize that being checked into the barriers with 50m to go is generally frowned upon...

Leg length

Dear Steve, several months ago we corresponded regarding some fit issues I had been dealing with. Just to re-cap I am 42 year old fast club rider. I am 6'3" tall and am in pretty good condition (better now than when I first wrote). I was experiencing a solid left leg, right leg had more movement i.e. out on the way up and in on the downstroke. Lower back pain more on right side, right side IT-band troubles, piriformis pain on right side as well as trochanteric bursitis in right hip. My hips wanted to ride more on the right side of the saddle and right shoulder was twisted down and slightly forward.

I was on a mission! I purchased your video, which was incredible, changed my setup accordingly and started to get really serious about getting my fit dialled in and getting to the bottom of my asymmetry issues. I started to see a reputable physio therapist/ chiropractor here in Chicago and discovered some things. He said I had weaker right hip flexors and a stronger right glute and the exact opposite on the left. My abductors were looser on the right but stronger than the tighter weaker left ones. He said my left leg was slightly shorter due to a shortened psoas and right QL. I did about 4 months of intense core training and stretching plus an aggressive hip routine to equalize all the muscles. I bought Kit's book and was religious about stretching. Focused on good posture, I did some Feldenkrais stuff, foam roller work, stability work with lunges on a slide board, bought a product called the scaro-sacro, theraband side lunges etc. I finally got myself equalized on both sides and felt much more even on the bike and added a ton of power. My core was excellent (I can do the push-up you do in the video) but I still didn't feel 100% solid on the bike.

Then my bursitis came back and I went to an orthopaedic specialist in sports medicine. He gave me a cortisone shot and was amazed that as flexible as I was I had this issue. He took a closer look and suggested orthotics from the podiatrist on staff there. I saw the podiatrist and after I told her of my issues she suggested a scanogram to see what was up before she took the cast's. Now mind you I have seen 4 chiropractors over the last 18 years and they all said my left leg was shorter because of the muscular imbalances. The scanogram results came back and my left femur is 5mm shorter than the right and my left tibia is 5mm shorter than the right making my left leg 10mm shorter! It was quite a relief actually. She said that you would never hold a chiro adjustment that long with that type of discrepancy and that right hip has been taking the weight so long it's wearing down. She made the orthotics with a 5mm lift in the left heel. I haven't actually picked them up yet.

Now, I know that these orthotics aren't going to help me in the least bit with cycling so ultimately my question is about what's next. I wear Sidi's, size 47's and the LOOK delta (red) cleats are pushed back as far as they will go. The podiatrist will give me the info on the forefoot varus/valgus if any from the lab when she has it. Given all the info I gave you what would you do? I think my body is equalized and the bike is as close to what you suggest as I can get it. In my possession right now if have the specialized varus/valgus inserts and a box of LE-WEDGES. I currently have the over the counter heat mouldable footbeds in the shoes. My q-factor is narrow right now because when I pushed the cleats all the way back I had to move them toward the centre of the shoe because too much of the cleat was hanging over the inside of the shoe. Looking down I have about 5-8mm between the shoe and the crank arm which is a campy ultratorque double crank.

This was long but I think I had to be detailed for you to asses such a situation.

Chicago USA

Steve Hogg replies:

Interesting story. A number of things stand out.

Firstly, congratulations for getting off your backside, educating yourself as to what your issues are and improving the way that you function. As you have found, posture is the key to everything on and off a bike. Posture determines strength because it determines how efficiently the feedback loop between brain and body work. To have and maintain good posture, adequate core strength and flexibility is necessary. Many riders accept this in an intellectual sense but aren't prepared to do the work necessary to improve their posture.

The source of all problems on a bike is that riders butt up against the limits imposed on them by their structure. This will happen to every rider on the planet if they ride hard enough or long enough. An effective bike position will improve their capacity to cope with volume or intensity or both. That is one part of the performance equation. The other part is that what the rider does off the bike to improve their structure will increase their capacity to cope with a high training load at least as much as an effective bike position.

Your unfortunate experience re assessment of leg length is a common one. I have no faith at all in assessments of leg length based around measuring from bony landmarks or other external assessments and have seen some horror stories where people were consistently told that they had a functional leg length difference (as you were) and turned out to have a marked measurable discrepancy or alternately, were told one leg was short when in reality it was the other leg. The only thing I will believe is a scan, x ray or MRI and even then there are traps that can cause a less than accurate result.

Ultimately, I often don't know with any certainty or even care for, whether a client has a leg length discrepancy. What I care about is that they sit as squarely as possible on the seat and that both legs reach through the bottom of the stroke with power and control. Any measure that moves a rider towards that goal and doesn't create further problems is fine with me.

The problem is that many riders don't and can't sit squarely on a seat which means a judgement has to be made as to what is achievable and that is my advice to you. Given that you have a 10mm shorter left leg with the difference evenly divided between upper and lower legs, there are various 'rules of thumb' about what size of shim to use under your left shoe. In my view, the reasoning behind these 'rules' is shaky because all focus on the leg in isolation rather than also taking into account whether the rider sits squarely on the seat.

Your previous history of having your right knee move outward on the upstroke and in on the down stroke means that your were favouring and protecting your left leg by dropping the left hip on each left side pedal downstroke and sacrificing your right leg. Assuming you are as even in a functional sense as you say you when riding a bike, your solution should be as simple as shimming up the left cleat whatever the appropriate amount is. Even with even flexibility between left and right sides, there may be vestiges of the hip dropping technique as habits that take years to create can be hard to break out of.

Here are some things to look out for.

1. Seat height is crucial. You have a history of dropping the left hip. Whatever size shim you choose and you will need to experiment with that, you will favour your left side if your seat is even a few mm too high. Set your seat height conservatively.

2. Choose a firm seat for the time being. We sit on well padded seats with diffuse pressure. On harder seats it is obvious where and how we are bearing our weight and often they can give us enough feedback to 'correct' ourselves. Probably the best seat for this (and it isn't for everybody) is the SMP Composit (correct spelling). Shape rather than padding is the key to comfort with this seat and it suits most riders if the nose is lower than the high point at the rear where they kick up by 3 - 5 degrees. The shape of the Composit dictates that the rider sits noticeably further back on the seat relative to the length of the seat than is common on other seats. What that means is that it is likely that a Composit needs to be 10 - 15mm further forward (as measured by distance of nose of seat behind bottom bracket centre) to maintain the same body position as with whatever seat you currently use.

3. As you shim up the cleat on the left shoe, move the cleat back slightly relative to foot in shoe to minimise rocking torque. About 1 mm further back for every 5mm of shimming is about right.

4. Use the BFS Cleat wedges in preference to the Specialized in forefoot wedges. On this forum, when we speak of forefoot varus or valgus, and if I want to be pedantically accurate, it is almost always the rearfoot that needs correction not the forefoot, as true forefoot varus or valgus is relatively uncommon.

The BFS cleat wedges work well because they cant the shoe and hence the entire foot, whereas the Specialized in shoe wedges cant the forefoot only. Really, they cant the entire foot but need about twice as much correction inside the shoe to achieve the same amount of correction as BFS cleat wedges do outside the shoe because they are positioned under the forefoot inside the shoe. Some times susceptible people don't cope well with the Specialized wedges as they can put a torsional load through the midfoot.

5. Counterstacking BFS wedges to make a shim doesn't work that well beyond a certain level because they can slip. Either glue them together once you have established how much you need or have a shim made. If that isn't possible, contact me privately. I don't know how much shim you need but it needs to be enough for you to sit squarely, reach through the bottom of the stroke evenly with both legs and not cause problems at the top of the stroke. Don't be surprised if you need 6 - 8mm though it may be less.

6. The reach down and out to your handlebars needs to be that which you can sustain under high load and intensity with ease. This means conservative but not ridiculously so. If it is more than this, it will destabilise you on the seat, meaning you will tend to fall back into old habits like dropping the left hip which is not what you want.

7. I'm not crazy about one legged pedaling drills but they have their place. If you find that even with a suitable height shim in and your evenness of flexibility on either side that you are still dropping the left hip, then I would be tempted to advise one legged drills for the right leg only.

8. Lastly, when you have got what appears to be suitable sized shim, spend a few weeks smelling the roses and avoiding high intensity.

Shoe stiffness

On a few occasions I have seen articles on the website that say stiff shoes can lead to numbness. Why would stiffer shoes do that? How would one determine the best stiffness?


Steve Hogg replies:

Shoes with rigid soles have less give which in turn means that any shortcomings in cleat position or foot morphology can be magnified in some circumstances.. It is not rigid soled shoes per se that are a problem, more that they can be less forgiving than shoes with more flex. That is the price we pay for the increased performance that rigid soled shoes generally provide.

It is only in rare cases that any problems heightened by riding with rigid soled shoes can't be solved satisfactorily.

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