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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 26, 2008

Aerodynamics and calories
Crank length and height
Recumbent biking
Anti inflammatory
Tyres and wheels
Spinal stenosis
Hip replacement

Aerodynamics and calories

I have two unrelated questions. First, taking wind speed and direction out of the equation, at what speed does aerodynamic position take effect? When riding on some of the local hills, I can power up a few of them. It feels good to sit up on the hoods and engage my hamstrings, but am I sacrificing speed by allowing my body to drag? What is the break-even point?

Secondly, I know heart rate monitors are not accurate gauges for measuring Caloric output, but is there a range of accuracy that I could use to say to myself, I burned at least X amount of Calories on this ride? For example, if my HRM said that I burned 1000 Calories, could I say that I burned at least 850 Calories?

Scott Saifer replies:

The answer to your first question depends on how accurate you want to be. As a trained physical scientist I'd have to answer that if you are moving through the air, there is wind drag. There is no lower cut-off speed below which aerodynamic drag doesn't matter at all. In a race, a difference of less than 1% in total energy output required to cover the distance can make several places difference. Practically speaking, I'd say if you can feel the wind on your arms, hear the moving air, or if your clothing is flapping, efficiency demands that you assume an aerodynamic position. That brings up another matter: If you can't engage your hamstrings in the drops, your bars are too low. Set your bar height such that riding comfortably in the drops is the lowest you can go and make your best power.

The answer to your second question also depends on how accurate you want to be. The scientific answer is "no", there is no number of Calories beyond your basal metabolic rate that you can say with 100% confidence that you burned based on the numbers from your HRM. If you have tachycardia for instance, your HRM would rack up large numbers of Calories burned even while you are sitting still. Practically speaking, your proposal that you actually use at least 85% of what the HRM says is perfectly reasonable.

Crank length and height

Hi, I've been having some knee problems when I increase volume and/or intensity in my training. I worked on my flexibility but the problems continued. Since then I paid more attention to my fitting on the bike and I've noticed that I've been training and racing with 175mm cranks on both road training bike and MTB competition bike.

I'm a 22 year old male, 1.66 meters and 77cm inside leg length, MTB XC racer.

1. Are my cranks to long for me?

2. I know that a bigger lever leads to an increase of wattage, but is there an increase of power to the same energetic cost? In example: To the same heart rate, let's say 170 beats/minute, I'm riding at 300w at 95 RPM, with a 175mm crank in a 53/15 gear, to keep that same 300w at 95 RPM in a 170mm crank I'll need a lower gear, let's say 53/13 gear right? Therefore, the only "inconvenient" of a shorter crank length is that we need to put a lower gear for the same RPM's?

Steve Hogg replies:

Are your cranks too long for your leg length?

I have no way of knowing for certain but it is probable that they are. I'm not a believer that crank length should be proportional to leg length. I think functional differences between otherwise similarly proportioned people play a larger part than simple leg length. However, if you want a comment re leg length, you are riding a very long crank relative to inseam. Obviously you're making it work but the question you need to ask is whether a change in crank length will boost performance. My standard advice re crank length is that if there is any debate or uncertainty as to the best length, err on the side of conservatism.

Re your second question; I've inserted some comments in your query.

"I know that a bigger lever leads to an increase of wattage."

Why? I wish it were that simple. What about rpm's, what about how well (or not so well) the rider can get the longer crank over top dead centre etc? If longer was necessarily better, we'd all ride extra long cranks.

"...but is there an increase of power to the same energetic cost?. In example: To the same heart rate, let's say 170 beats/minute, I'm riding at 300w at 95 RPM, with a 175mm crank in a 53/15 gear, to keep that same 300w at 95 RPM in a 170mm crank I'll need a lower gear, let's say 53/13 gear right?"

I should gently point out that 53x13 is a higher gear than 53x15, not lower; around 13% higher a gear. You will need to pedal the 170 mm crank 3% faster than the 175's to produce the same power as there is a 3% difference in crank length.

"Therefore, the only "inconvenient" of a shorter crank length is that we need to put a lower gear for the same RPM's?"

No. for the same RPM, you would produce the same power if you are in the same gear, but would have to work harder (produce slightly more torque per stroke, again 3%) to make up for the difference in crank length. If you are in a lower gear (lower ratio = larger rear cog) you would produce less power at the same RPM. Again, this deficit could be made up by pedaling faster. Depending on the situation and the rider, pedaling faster may be more efficient or less efficient.

Sight unseen, and knowing only your inseam length, I'd suggest shorter rather than longer. There is probably a case for even shorter than 170mm, but experimentation is the only way to find out and make a personal judgement.

Recumbent biking

I'm new to the world of recumbent biking and am starting to experience some knee pain both during and after riding. I work out at a local gym three times a week, both on the treadmill and on the elliptical machines, plus do weight training, so I thought I was in good physical health before I started biking. Do you have any words of advice or thoughts on why I might be experiencing this knee pain? I originally thought that I needed stronger quad muscles, so I've been trying to increase my strength when I go to the gym. I'm enjoying the bike so much but now I'm worried I may not be able to keep riding without sustaining damage to my knees. Anything you can provide will be greatly appreciated!

I'm age 50, female, and ride the recumbent around my neighbourhood for now. I'm planning to do longer trail riding in the future.

Betsy White

Scott Saifer replies:

The causes of knee pain on a recumbent are similar to those on an upright: Poor bike fit, use of excessively high gears/low cadences, excessively rapid build up of riding time, or pre-existing arthritis or other knee damage. If you are just riding easily around your neighbourhood and you have no pain during or after your gym workouts, we can rule out arthritis and rapid build up of miles. Are you pushing hard on the pedals, or turning them smoothly with little effort? If you are mashing the pedals, try using lower (easier to turn) gears. If you are spinning easy gears already, you need to consider bike fit. Ideally you'd visit a competent fitter, but in the meantime:

1) If the pain is front centre around the knee cap, increase knee extension by increasing the saddle-pedal distance

2) If the pain is to the front but off to one side or the other of the knee cap, consider increasing extension but also pay attention to whether the angle of your foot on the pedal matches the natural angle of your foot, or if you are twisting your knee by the positioning of the foot on the pedal.

3) If the pain is in the hamstring tendons or behind the knee, decrease knee extension by decreasing the saddle-pedal distance.

Adjust about 5 mm at a time. If the suggested adjustment makes things better but not good, or doesn't change things, try adjusting more. If the suggested adjustment makes things worse, go the other way. When you get it right, you'll know almost right away. If you have no pain between rides, your knees are in good enough shape that you should have no pain riding appropriate distances and cadences on a well adjusted bike.

(You didn't mention how tall you are or how long your cranks are, but if you are very short in the legs and small in the feet, you may not be able to get a good extension with longish cranks.)

Anti inflammatory

I'm taking a course of anti inflammatory medication for a rotator cuff shoulder injury, (diclofenac 50mg twice daily) for the past three weeks and have noticed markedly decreased performance on the bike. Symptoms are mainly longer recovery time, feeling of lead legs even on recovery rides, no "snap" out of the saddle, lower average training heart rates, and general tiredness after only an hour or so training. Could the anti inflammatory be affecting the process of muscle healing between training sessions? As I've noted that when I stop taking the medication for a few days my energy, my 'legs' and my training becomes closer to normal. The anti inflammatory is not a long term medication (just awaiting MRI results and a specified treatment) but I was curious whether anyone else had had this experience.

Pamela Hinton replies:

There is some evidence from placebo-controlled studies in young adult men that non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs; e.g., ibuprofen, indomethacin), taken at the maximal recommended dose for 7-10 days, inhibit skeletal muscle protein synthesis after high-intensity resistance exercise. These drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme that produces chemicals that trigger inflammation. These same chemicals also play a role in muscle hypertrophy.

There is less known about the effects of NSAIDs on muscle regeneration following endurance exercise. However, one study found that 4 days of NSAID treatment interfered with a key step in muscle repair following a high-intensity aerobic exercise bout (36-km running race) in trained males.

Therefore, it is possible that the anti-inflammatory may explain your delayed recovery. You should return to your usual form when you discontinue the diclofenac.

Tyres and wheels

I was looking at the late Sheldon Brown's gear calculator recently How is it possible, that when all other factors are equal, 700 x 23 tires will be faster than 700 x 20 tires? Wouldn't thinner tires have less of a contact patch, roll easier and be more aero?

I recently bought Ksyrium SL wheels because I wanted good stiff wheels for climbing. I've heard that box rims climb better so, after comparison with other wheels in the class, that was my choice; subsequent to that, someone told me his carbon aero wheels climb better than box wheels; since he's a more experienced rider than me, I have to question whether that is true. Would low to mid profile aero wheels climb better because they're stiffer? I've also hear that aero wheels only help if you're doing 20+ mph. Will they have any impact on performance under 20 mph?

South Central, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

Wider tyres roll faster up to a point. Using your comparison of 23mm vs 20mm and assuming we are talking the same brand and model of tyre so that their are no variables in construction, here is why the 23mm tyre has less rolling resistance. The rounder a tyre can stay while absorbing road irregularities, the faster it will roll. A 20mm tyre rolling over the same irregularities in the road surface will deform to the same degree as a 23mm tyre. But that deformation is a greater percentage of it's cross section, i.e.; it will be less round more often than the wider tyre.

If aerodynamics is the prime consideration, which it may be on smooth surfaces (where bump absorption is less important) and at high speeds, then a 20mm tyre may be faster because of its' lower cross section catches less wind..

Re your question of carbon aero wheels vs. box section aluminium wheels for climbing. If your friend's carbon aero wheels are superior for climbing, it probably has more to do with them being lighter than it does with any aerodynamic advantage when the road steepens.

Spinal stenosis

I'd been diagnosed with spinal stenosis approx 5-6 years ago and now a surgeon says I should have surgery with some fusion. He says I won't be any stiffer or less flexible than I am now. He, however, says he doesn't think I should be doing long bike rides as this could be causing or exacerbating my condition. This is surprising to me since most info I've been able to get says that low impact aerobic exercise is good, & they usually recommend riding an "exercise bike."

I'm not sure what his parameters are. I find that standing or walking usually results in pain after 20-30 minutes. I can ride the road bike ('06 Orca) 1-2-3 hours & usually feel better after, than before. Top of the bars are approx 2" below saddle, (shallow drop Deda 215) & I can also ride comfortably in the drops. If I sit up no hands to stretch my shoulders etc., I very quickly feel some pain in hips like when standing, but when back down on the bars I'm immediately ok. I told my shop on set-up that I'm more comfortable in the lower rather than upright stem position. This all makes sense to me & I'm of the adage that if it's painful (walking, standing, running etc.) don't do it, but if it feels good, it's ok.

I'm not looking for you to contradict what the surgeon is saying, but I am questioning the difference between an "exercise bike" and riding on the road. I see the difference in the possible "jarring" on bumps one might encounter on the road, but other than that.....? I'm confused because he also recommends walking instead, which is totally counterintuitive to me and what I've researched on this. (I will be seeking a 2nd opinion, although this guy is reputed to be "tops" in my area). I'll issue my own disclaimer in that I don't take your answer to be any specific medical advice in "my" case, but I'm curious as to what info, thoughts, and experience you might have encountered on this subject. I saw nothing in the previous comments on "recovering from spinal stenosis" that advised against riding the bike. I don't want to be in "denial," but I'm reminded of the whole "prostate scare" that arose a few years ago when some urologist claimed bike riding is destroying us all, which turned out to be bunk scientifically, & was more his own personal unsubstantiated peeve.

Thanks for a great and informative column you're running there.


Dave Fleckenstein replies:

It is difficult to comment on specific cases, but my general experience in the clinic and in working with surgeons in my area would both contradict and agree with your surgeon. I had a number of emails from other individuals following last week's post and I think that it is important to differentiate between lateral stenosis (narrowing of the opening where the nerve root exits the spine) and central stenosis (actual narrowing of the spinal canal). You describe decreased pain with flexion based activity, and this is typical of both types of stenosis, as the opening for the nerve root and canal are generally increased with flexion (note that this is not an absolute). Conversely, the openings are narrowed when we extend (backward bend), which happens subtly in standing and walking. This closure can be accentuated by tight hip flexors, restricted lumbar musculature, and weak deep abdominal stabilize rs.

If you have a fusion, you have reduced the number of segments that can contribute to motion, thus increasing the stress on the adjacent segments - they have to make up for motion lost in the now-fused segments. Your surgeon is correct in stating that walking should be an integral part of your initial rehab for multiple reasons - it will help you to gently regain extension, it will improved circulation to the surgical area, and it will help to gently activate your spinal musculature. Provided that you have a rigorous rehab including restoration of your stabilization musculature, normalization of hip girdle mobility, and a bike fit that emphasizes a mid range spine alignment, you should be able to ride for the durations that you stated. It is important that you not progress too quickly to longer rides - you must have correct spine mechanics and stability before increasing the demands on it.

As an aside, (and no offense to your surgeon), I generally encourage a minimum of two opinions for surgery. Techniques and approaches differ considerably among surgeons, and I have had clients who opted with a surgeon's decision not to perform surgery have excellent long term outcomes.

Hip replacement

I am inquiring as to whether it is safe or whether there are any long-term effects from cycling with a hip replacement. I love to cycle and I do long distances. I'm limited in what I can do sportswise (next to swimming). I'd appreciate some feedback or advice.

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

With the advances in prosthetics and techniques you should be able to ride as you wish, although this should be cleared with your surgeon. I would emphasize that, with athletes, the tendency initially is to push aggressively and this often prevents healing and slows progress. Let your surgery heal appropriately, and then your rehab should emphasize hip abductor strengthening and restoration of your hip range of motion to the tolerance of the prosthetic. I have found that some clients have difficulty with saddle selection due to ischial tuberosity sensitivity after the surgery. This typically abates with time and as the glute max regains normal size.

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