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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 September 23, 2008

Crank length
Achilles tendon rupture
Is a 'neutral' cleat positioning always the best?
Set back seat posts
Cycling and volleyball
Medical mystery
Thoughts on Rutul bike fit

Crank length

I saw the question on switching to a shorter crank arm and it got me thinking... I have been riding my cyclo-cross bike more and more and I am finding that the crank arm length gives me a bit more torque and power (maybe this is in my head and I am completely wrong). Since my femurs are a bit long, are the longer crank arms just fitting me better?

I normally ride a 172.5 on the road because it is what I have always ridden, but now that I have a 175 I am considering switching my road machine too. My major concern is that when racing crits I will clip a pedal in a turn trying to pedal through it. Your expertise would be greatly appreciated.

Patrick Baldwin

Steve Hogg replies:

While I doubt that changing crank length by 2.5mm will change your life, it may be an advantage to you. The only way to find out is to try it. If your cyclo-cross bike has dual chain ring cranks, why not put them onto your road bike for a trial around your local criterium circuit and see.

Failing that, add 2.5mm of Blu-Tack to the bottom of your pedals and colour the surface with a marker pen. After your next criterium, check the Blu-Tack and see whether there is any abrasion as a tell tale that you have touched down.

Achilles tendon rupture

I am a 39 year old recreational cyclist (17-18mph over rolling terrain) who loves it for the outdoor activity, fitness and friendship. I just had surgery for an Achilles tendon rupture that occurred in a city league basketball game. Beyond listening to my surgeon and doing all the physiotherapy I'm prescribed and then some are there any cycling specific things I should do or warnings I should note when I return to the bike?

It seems like all the information I've gotten to date leads me to believe that over time I'll be able to return to riding as before, but I want to make certain I do it correctly and safely.

Jeff Steen

Steve Hogg replies:

Check your cleat position. If you don't have much foot over the pedal, you will load your Achilles tendon more than necessary. Have a look at these posts:

Cleat position and
Ball of the foot,

then position your cleats accordingly. In the short term, moving them further back will do you no harm providing you lower your seat to compensate for the extra extension of the leg that will occur.

Is a 'neutral' cleat positioning always the best?

I'm a 50 year old cyclist in decent shape: lean, long-limbed and with good flexibility. I put about 4k+ recreational miles on per year that included four centuries this year, with plenty of hilly terrain. My custom bike and cleats were fitted by a very experienced and well respected professional fitter.

When my cleats were fitted, I was encouraged to allow my feet to travel naturally, which resulted in a foot position with both heels close enough to the crank arms that they click them every now and then. Normally, this position feels just right. However, when I get into significant climbing (+5% for miles at a time), I find that my right knee occasionally bothers me (a bit of scar tissue under the patellar tendon from landing on my knee on asphalt years ago; an MRI revealed no significant damage). To remedy the discomfort and continue riding with no further problems, I merely need to pedal while holding my right heel a bit further away from the crank arm. I'm not entirely sure why this works, I'm just glad it does.

But, is my remedy truly permanent or merely expedient - by moving out of my natural position, am I risking greater complications further down the road? And, is the natural position always best, or might this be an example of where the rule of neutral positioning should not be followed? (And, by the way, thank god for pedals with float!)

Portland, USA

Scott Saifer replies:

There are definitely cyclists out there who do better with a fixed cleat or with the floating cleat set up to limit movement one way or the other. You may be one of them. If turning your foot as you have discovered keeps your knee from getting sore, I have no argument with your doing it.

Turning the foot far from the neutral position can cause knee pain in lots of other riders though, so I would be concerned that your solution might cause new problems. If new problems do arise, you may be able get fixed up by adding wedges between the cleat and shoe. I hesitate to say which way the wedges would be positioned without actually seeing you. Your very experienced and well respected professional fitter should be able to help with that.

Set back seat posts

Does anyone make an aluminium seatpost with a decent amount of setback (>25mm: measured centre clamp centre post). I am not a big carbon fibre fan and it seems most setback aluminium posts have up and vanished in the last few years.

East Lansing

Steve Hogg replies:

I'm not crazy about the way seat post manufacturer’s measure setback because the exclude the horizontal length of the seat rail clamp. The seat rail clamp horizontal length plays a part in determining how far back or how far forward a seat can be adjusted.

Using any Campagnolo or Shimano seat post as a relative measure, they have seat rail clamps where the forward most edge bisects or is close to bisecting the seat post shaft as viewed square on from the side. I call this 'standard setback'. The aluminium post with the greatest setback by comparison is the Selcof BiPosition. Compared to Campag or Shimano it will allow a seat to be 22mm further back.

Another way to sit further back is to move to an SMP seat. They have the longest rail length out there as well as seat shoulders that are much further rearwards than on most other seats. The combined effect of the rail length and upper design means that the rider can achieve a position much further back (25 -35mm further back) than on many other seats if they desire.

Cycling and volleyball

I’m a semi-pro volleyball player. I also love cycling and feel that it allows me to keep a good level of cardiovascular conditioning. However, I worry that the two sports are not compatible. Whereas volleyball (same goes for basketball, hockey, football, etc.) requires good reflexes and explosive muscles (fast-twitch fibres), cycling is all about working the slow twitch-fibres. Am I hurting my volleyball physique when cycling? Is there a specific way I should train and/or things I should avoid while cycling so as not to affect the other sport?


Scott Saifer replies:

This is a great inquiry, getting at the fundamental question of what makes cross-training valuable or detrimental. The answer is not simple. Cross training becomes valuable when you're already doing as much specific training for your sport as you can stand. That could be as much as you can stand for the day, the week, or even the year. That could be as much as you can stand because you are losing interest, because injuries are not healing or because you've mastered your main sport to the point that more training won't help. Once you have reached the level of doing as much volleyball training as you can stand and benefit from, then it makes sense to consider cross training. Cycling will improve your stamina.

It will not detract from your explosiveness provided you never do enough of it to miss or slack off in an explosive volleyball workout you would otherwise have done and benefitted from. If you ride hard and end up tired such that you can't do as much work in your volleyball training as you otherwise might, cycling will detract from volleyball. If your volleyball training leaves you tired enough that what you really need to do is sleep, cycling rather than sleeping is an error.

In short, so long as you can keep up your volleyball-specific training, cycling is not hurting.

Medical mystery

I'm a 38 year old female, Cat 2 road racer. I started having right quad cramping since the beginning of the season. It would generally cramp during high intensity such as hill climbing or sprinting and had to back off and the pain would go away in about 10 minutes. I've worked on hydration, taking electrolytes (sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium) and stretching. I recently took a couple of weeks off thinking it was overuse, but since I've been back on the bike it is much worse.

It starts after about 10 minutes of simple pedalling on a bike path – and goes away when I slow down. Riding at 98rpm there are no symptoms but ramping it up to 110rpm the cramps start with a tightness, and heavy feeling, followed by heavy breathing – but not necessarily shortness of breath; just breathing harder than I think for that type of activity.

I've had my back evaluated and a Venus Doppler ultrasound was unremarkable. Lab work within normal limits determined a heart murmur which has been present for years. No pain at rest - except a little achy. Even my doctors are at unsure as to what steps should be addressed next.


Scott Saifer replies:

You'd need more tests to confirm this of course, but it sounds like you have a circulation impairment in that quad. Heavy breathing comes as a response to by-products of anaerobic metabolism entering the bloodstream. It sounds like your quad is "going anaerobic" because it is not receiving enough oxygen to support even low power pedaling at high cadence.

When you say the Venus Doppler ultrasound was unremarkable, that suggest the circulation is normal but doesn't really prove it since there may be only a small area of muscle with impaired blood flow. Total volume of blood moving though the total quad mass can be normal with localized abnormality.

The tests you'd need are somewhat beyond my area of expertise. I suspect that comparing the pH of blood returning from the two legs during exercise would confirm a difference in the metabolic processes and guide a physiologist to a diagnosis.

Thoughts on Rutul bike fit

I have just been to a Retul bike-fit guy and had my entire set-up changed.

I would like to hear your opinion about the Retul system and the way Retul seems to have a blue print on how to set-up a rider.

I know you can't answer questions about what will be the best position for me personally, but it would be interesting to hear your though about the system and about their approach in setting up a position for a customer.

In my case the guy made a brief physical examination to determine bone structure and flexibility.

After that it was the actual bike fit, with all the bells and whistles, which resulted in that he positioned me further forward and up in all aspects.

The cleats went from almost a full reward position to a full frontward position. The saddle went higher and more forward and the handlebar went 20mm more forward. So all in all he positioned me more forward, around 20mm, and further upwards, about 12mm.

I do feel fine in this new position, especially when I'm in the drops. My calves and quads however feel more tired after a training ride.

I do worry about my ability to climb long mountains. The fact that I'm being positioned more forward worries me, because I don't believe I can sustain climbing power in this position in contrast to my previous position when I was positioned more rearward and could engage the gluts and hamstring much more.

I asked him if he did set up riders differently if they were a tri or a road guy and he gave me the answer that he positioned everyone the same, it is like Retul has a mould to fit every rider in.

What is your opinion about the Retul system?

Steve Hogg replies:

I can't answer your question in quite the way you would like because I don't know anything about Retul as a positioning system. I do know about Retul as a movement capture system. Movement capture is a method to enable bike fitters to see patterns of motion of their clients that they may not be able to see or make sense of with the naked eye. Movement capture is a tool and ideally the bike fitter uses this tool in the same way as he would use other tools and that is as an aid to help get the best result for his client.

What you’re saying is that to some extent the final position was pre-ordained in the sense that you were almost aside from the process. When you say that your positioning guy said that he sets everyone up in the same way, I take it that as further evidence that in least in his case, the result for his clients is predetermined to a large degree. I have to be a bit careful here because while for instance, I would not say that I position everyone the same way, I would say that I position everyone using the same principles. So perhaps you're misinterpreting what your bike fitter said or maybe I'm misinterpreting what you mean.

If there is no misinterpretation, then personally, I don't think that is the best way to approach a bike fit.

Ultimately, you’re fairly happy but worried about hill climbing ability and quad and calves tiredness. I would give the new position a month. During the first 3 weeks I would suggest riding at low to moderate intensity because we adapt best to changes at these levels. Up to 75% or max HR on the flats and if you have to ride up a hill to get where you're going, no more than 85% of max HR. At higher intensities we try to fall back into patterns of motion that we are used to which you can't do because your position has been changed. From the 4th week on, you should be able to ride hard. If after a couple of weeks of normal intensity training, you are still having problems with quads and calves or struggling on the long climbs, I'd suggest talking to your bike fitter again and asking him to find a solution.

I would be interested to hear how you fare over the next month or so.