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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.

Jon Heidemann ( is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.

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. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions.

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.

Steve Owens ( is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

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.

Michael Smartt ( is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete™. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.

Earl Zimmermann ( has over 12 years of racing experience and is a USA Cycling Level II Coach. He brings a wealth of personal competitive experience to his clients. He coaches athletes from beginner to elite in various disciplines including road and track cycling, running and triathlon.

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 August 5, 2008

Leg cramps
Recovery from mononucleosis
Training in high temperatures
Knee - arthritis from overuse
Knee pain
Crank length
Sastre and crank length


Hey, I am 47 years old and into fast riding although I used to race more than 12 years ago. I took a about a 10 year layoff and started riding again early last year; actually I had a brief start the year before but did not stick with it.

I moved to Colorado 2 weeks ago, coming from the low altitudes of Memphis TN. I am adjusting to the altitude but recently have started experiencing shoulder cramps during fast rides either when exerting myself during a long gradual climb and even more recently on a hot and dry 84 degree day up and downhill into a headwind; my head was down a lot. I try to hydrate and sprinkle water on my body to stay cool. I never have cramped like this on my bike; my rides average about 1 hour. What do you think is going on?


Pamela Hinton replies:

Cramps can result from dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or simple muscle fatigue. In general, if the cramping is localized to a particular muscle, fatigue is most likely cause of the cramp. It certainly won't do any harm to stay adequately hydrated, but I suspect that the shoulder cramps had more to do with the extended time off and the hard effort in a different position on the bike.

Leg cramps

I am a 44 year old male 6'1" 190 lb recreational cyclist training about 100-150 miles per week. I recently completed a century ride, and about 2 hours post ride as I was getting out of the car, I experienced severe leg cramps then fainted. I regained consciousness before the paramedics arrived, and my vital signs and hydration level seemed adequate to them so I did not go to the hospital.

In order to put my family at ease and continue riding, I have agreed to see a doctor specializing in sports medicine for an evaluation. What kind of examination or tests would you recommend that I undergo?

My most recent physical with my family doctor was completed last December. There were no issues at all during the physical which included an EKG. I am not on any prescription medicines nor do I take any OTC for chronic use. There is some history of heart disease in my family, but those affected were lifelong smokers.

During the last 20 miles of the century, I experienced some mild cramping that I was able to spin through without stopping. It was in the 90's so I ate well and consumed roughly 1 bottle of water and one bottle of sports drink per hour. Immediately after the ride, I ate a big lunch, took some Aleve and applied Aspercreme to my legs in an effort to aid recovery.

Don T.
New Jersey

Scott Saifer replies:

I'm glad to hear you are consulting with physicians as that is the right thing to do any time you experience odd and potentially dangerous symptoms. In this case, it sounds like you probably fainted from low blood-pressure on standing, and were cramping from dehydration or electrolyte imbalance after a long hot ride. Having a large meal drew blood to your gut and away from muscles and brain, making the dehydration effect worse. No matter what the EMTs said, 2 bottles of drink and water per hour is not enough for a rider your size on a 90 degree day.

To avoid the same problems in the future, you'll need to drink more on long, hot rides, and probably consume more electrolyte replacement to maintain blood volume and blood pressure. Tell your doctors what you experienced and ask for whatever tests they suggest, but the main test I'd suggest is getting weighed before and after rides and drinking more exercise drink until you lose only one pound or so on a long ride.

Finally, if you've been avoiding salt in your daily diet and you don't have high blood pressure, stop avoiding salt. Start salting your food routinely in the hot, sweaty cycling season.

Recovery from mononucleosis

I am a 45 y/o Cat 3 male who developed fever, chills, swollen glands in my neck and a sore throat that lasted three weeks. Tests proved mononucleosis (after two rounds of antibiotics failed). I hardly did any exercise for 2 weeks after the diagnosis (6 weeks after onset of symptoms).

After a week without a sore throat and with less fatigue I did back-to-back 2 hour rides with a few, short, hard efforts. The next three nights I had a fever and night sweats with horrible fatigue. Now I feel better again. I don't want to experience the night sweats and fatigue again; when can I start training?


Scott Saifer replies:

I know this will come as a major bummer, but typical times to get back from mono to the point where you can train without getting sick again are in the range of six months to one year, and even then some people take longer.

Training in high temperatures

I live in the Middle East and at this time of year have to train in temperatures of up to 40 degree's centigrade and humidity's of sometimes 80-90%. How do conditions like this affect the body under load and are there any down or upsides to training in this environment, apart from the need to drink ridiculous amounts of water and to wring out your clothing after every ride.

Andrew Greenhalgh
United Arab Emirates

Scott Saifer replies:

There are several interesting effects of training in high temperatures and high humidity. Principally at such temperatures the dissipation of heat becomes unavoidably the limiting factor to performance. That means the speeds or powers one can put out in extreme heat are less than what one can do at lower temperatures and one simply cannot train as hard or as effectively.

The reasons are that humans use sweat evaporation as the principle mode of cooling and that we cannot function with body temperatures more than a few degrees above normal. Dissipating heat by evaporation of sweat requires delivery of heat from the core and working muscles to the skin. That heat is moved from the core to the skin by blood which would be flowing through muscles at lower temperatures, so the first problem is that there is less blood available to deliver oxygen to the muscles. Then, evaporative cooling is less effective in high humidity, so one simply can't effectively cool oneself by sweating in those conditions. The brain will shut down muscle activity to prevent overheating. Overheating causes coma and death, so not overheating is a better choice. I don't mean that you can't use muscles when it's hot, but that the effort required to make a contraction force that would feel easy in cooler temperatures becomes greater in warmer temperatures.

So, to answer you question directly: The downsides of training in 40 degree Celsius (104F) and 80-90% humidity are that it is relatively ineffective and you are at risk for death by heat-stroke. The upside is that if you ever race somewhere warm, you will be well adjusted to the heat.

If you want to train effectively you need to do the same things that your competitors who live in snow country do in the winter: Find someplace safe to ride where the temperatures are more conducive to physiologically effective training: Get out the indoor trainer and ride somewhere air-conditioned.

Knee - arthritis from overuse

I hope you maybe able to give me some advice. I am a 50 year old (5.11" and about 77kg) recreational cyclist but have done some sportifs and audax events. In the summer I do about 200 miles a week, less in the winter.

I have not had a problem with my knees until a couple of weeks ago when coming back from a weeks cycling and noticed my right knee was swollen, it hadn't ballooned out but was noticeable. There was no pain in the knee but it was stiff and I could not bend it fully. I used RICE and the swelling went down and flexibility increased.

However, I can still not kneel on the leg as there is pain across the area just above the knee. I have also noticed when I walk either there is soreness in the calf (as it the muscle is tight) or the hamstring. When I cycle there is no pain in the knee during or after cycling.

I have been to a physio (does not have a cycling background) who thought (after feeling both knees) it was arthritis due to overuse. All he could suggest was making sure I eat portions of oily fish, beans/pulses and cutting down on the mileage.

I would not want to cut down the millage and was wondering what your view was? I try and eat a healthy diet and include oily fish, pulses etc. I also take cod liver oil as a supplement. Is there anything else I can do?

I have read the answer to a question in 2005 but it related to Rheumatoid Arthritis and so am not sure whether it is applicable.

Many thanks

Euan Bull
London, UK

Scott Saifer replies:

Thanks for the inquiry. There are many causes of knee soreness and inflammation, including arthritis. I would suggest that if you are concerned about arthritis you have a proper diagnosis by a physician who can order appropriate tests.

Meanwhile, whether or not you have arthritis, there are things all cyclists need to do to keep knees from getting sore. Among them: a proper bike fitting by a competent fitter; avoiding low-cadence/high-force pedaling; keeping your knees warm in cool weather; stretch; always build up mileage gradually and build again gradually if you take more than a few days off; and use arch support or wedges if needed. If you have done all these things and still have knee pain, you probably have arthritis and will need to back off mileage while the cartilage heals, and then build up very, very gently again after several months. If you have been breaking any of these rules, you may get off easy, just by beginning to obey them and recovering more quickly.

Knee pain

Hello I am a 27 year old cyclist, currently trying to regain some fitness after losing a lot of form after bad weather and other commitments impinged on my cycling time.

Recently I have been suffering from a recurring pain in the outside of my left knee, Previously I have experienced pain and inflammation in the centre of the back of the right knee, consistent with overextension - a reduction in saddle height has corrected this. However the new pain occurs initially in the outside of the back of the left leg, centred around the large tendon in this region. The pain then appears in extreme circumstances in the outside of the front of the knee, between the outside shin joint and Patella.

The pain does not appear to occur in the centre of the back of the knee joint as consistent with ligament inflammation from overextension, and a small saddle reduction has not yet alleviated the problem.

I feel I have quite a good position and smooth pedalling style - both knees almost rub the very narrow top tube on my bicycle at the start of the downstroke, the small gap is very even between left and right legs.

Compared to many other cyclists who display prominent asymmetries and even bow legged knee-out positions, I am pretty happy with my position on the bike. My flexibility is very good, being able to easily touch the ground with open palms and bring my knees to my shoulders.

However I have noticed that more of my weight is carried on the right side of the saddle- I gave a noticeable pressure point around the right sit bone which is absent on the left hand side.

In general, I suffer from no other problems on or off the bike.

Kieran Latty
Sydney, Australia

Steve Hogg replies:

Your being able to bring your knees to your chest indicates good glute flexibility but touching the toes indicates nothing other than good ability to flex the lumbar spine. Unless you can touch your toes with an extended lumbar spine, which is very uncommon. Re your problem. The type of pain you have and where you have it confirms that you are not sitting squarely on the seat. Your comment about loading the right sit bone is almost certainly the cause of your problem.

Why do you load the right sit bone?

Common causes are - pelvic asymmetries, leg length differences and unresolved foot issues. The first thing I would do is contact a good structural health professional and get knocked into shape.

Crank length

I read your page on a regular basis and it is very informative. I have a question that may be very basic but I can not wrap my head around it. What is the difference in performance between longer and shorter crank lengths? Are shorter lengths better for climbing?

Marco Biagini

Steve Hogg replies:

The answer to your question is an individual one. There are so many factors the influence choice of crank length that the answer to your question that works for you may not work as a general recommendation for others. Generally, people contemplating a change in crank length are looking at going up or down 1 size; i.e. 2.5mm. A marginal difference in crank length usually makes a marginal difference in performance, though there are occasional exceptions.

Sastre and crank length

I watched Sastre in the final TT and noticed he right knee wobbled to the outside on the downstroke. I thought it was interesting too that such a finely tuned athlete at this level could perform with such a glaringly odd pedal stroke.

Re crank length: isn't it possible that the inability to comfortably turn a longer crank arm is learned over years of riding and is more likely due to inflexibility (or some other developed physiological factor). I ask this because my understanding is that you should ride with the longest crankarm possible. I am 5'10", a powerful rider, and believe I generate more power to the road with longer arms (I run 175mm on all my bikes - road, cross and MTB). How about Leonard Zinn's writings on this matter, recommending very long (up and over 200mm) crankarms, particularly for tall riders?

Steve Hogg replies:

Re your comment about Sastre: It is unlikely that he is a perfect specimen in a structural sense, so don't expect perfect technique. Another thing is that if you watch Sastre on his road bike, he internally rotates his right hip. As a rider adopts a more prone torso position, such as on a TT bike, any asymmetries of function from the pelvis down are magnified.

Somewhere along the line there is a trade off of aerodynamics vs. performance. His TT ride was pretty good, so it would seem that his position hadn't pushed him to the point where he suffered a performance drop or injury, at least over that distance and time. Add in the effects of racing for 3 weeks and what you saw was a strong rider, probably tired, doing his best to turn the pedals within the positional parameters he has chosen and the structure that he has.

Re crank length: what you say is eminently possible. There is a lot of talk about proportionality regarding crank length but my view is that the functional ability of the rider is at least as important, if not more so, if exploring the use of long cranks. And by long cranks, I mean relatively speaking, not in absolute terms. You're 5'10' and I have no idea of how functional you are or what your leg length and proportions are but 175mm doesn't seem extraordinarily long.

While I don't have any magic formula for crank length here are a few comments formed from observation of many riders over many years.

1. A rider should be riding the longest cranks that allow them to pedal comfortably at cadences that they routinely need to sustain.

2. Generally, the shorter the legs, the proportionally longer the crank that the rider will cope well with. Conversely, the longer the legs, the proportionally shorter the cranks that the rider will cope well with.

3. I have yet to see a rider cope really well with crank lengths above 180mm for all around use and racing, unless they also have a foot size of size 48 or greater.

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