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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 October 28, 2008

Arch pain
Crank length
Weight loss goals
Better starts
Elements for knee pain and hip ailments
IT Band problem
Frequent untrue wheels

Arch pain

I wonder whether you could offer any suggestions as to how I could address a lingering problem.

I have been riding a carbon frame road bike about 3 ½ years. I am 48 and average about 200-250km per week. I do not compete but regard myself as a reasonable amateur and like to go hard in recreational events such as Tour Down Under Challenge rides and various other amateur rides.

About 12 months ago I started developing arch pain (especially near the ball of my left foot) whilst riding on longer rides of over 100km. The tendon (plantar fascia?) feels like it gets inflamed from the repetitive pedal stroke. On some occasions it gets to a point where it feels like a hot poker is being inserted into the base of the foot - not pleasant and it prevents you from doing anything other than riding slowly home. The pain soon passes and by the next day it feels ok again and will not "flare" until the next long ride.

I have tried ordinary physio (massage) without success, and have been shown how to tape the foot arch (which certainly helps to support the tendon/arch, but does not eliminate the problem.) For example, I completed a 'Grand Slam' Bicycle SA ride yesterday (which was 200km) but by the 150km mark the tape alone was not enough to keep the pain at bay, and I was unable to really push or get out of the saddle without real discomfort.

I wear carbon sole cycling shoes with wide load bearing cleats.

Should I be looking at:

-My bike position? I have previously been ‘fitted’, but maybe not carefully enough.
-Cleat position?
-My cycling shoes?
-Arch support/orthotics/shims?
-Specific stretching exercises?

I have not been to a podiatrist as yet, but am a little sceptical about orthotics unless they are designed with the needs of a cyclist in mind.(I have no pain walking or occasionally running)

Ideally it would be good if you could recommend someone in Adelaide who might be able to help, or at least suggest the order in which I might attack the problem. I have heard and read lots of good thing about Steve Hogg in Melbourne, so I would certainly consider visiting Melbourne for an assessment if that was the best option to fix my stupid foot! Any ideas/suggestions will be gratefully accepted.

Carey Goodall

Scott Saifer replies:

I have suffered from what sounds like a similar problem at times and I know what worked for me. There may be other solutions and perhaps some of the other panelists will jump in. In my case I managed to clear the similar pain by strengthening the muscles that support the arch of the foot, or at least that's what I think I did. In any case, here's the exercise:

Extend your ankle with no resistance as hard as you can while simultaneously curling your toes. When my feet were weak, this caused what felt like a cramp in the sole of my foot within seconds. Doing that extension and curl just for a few seconds a few times for a few days cleared the cramp, and a few days after that the arch pain was gone. Before doing the exercise, I could balance on the balls of my feet, but not on my toes. After the exercise, I can lift up and balance on my toes.

I don't know if this exercise will help you. It seems unlikely to hurt and might fix your problem. If it does or does not fix the problem, please let me know so I can recommend it to others, or not.

IT Band problem

I'm getting close to my wits end and I'm hoping you might be charitable enough to point me in the right direction. If money were not an issue I would be on a plane to Australia this morning for a fit session instead of typing an email to you. I've been following your advice in the Cyclingnews Fitness and Form column for some time now and have actually corresponded with you earlier (I had asked if you had peers here in North America that followed the same structural approach as you). I'm a big believer in your approach.

My issue is that I've been struggling with an IT Band problem for about two months and it doesn't seem to be improving. My ride this weekend ended with me not really able to push the pedals any more. I've been seeing a chiropractor and physiotherapist for treatment and I've backed off my riding fairly significantly.

Do you have a laundry list of things you would look for in a rider with IT band problems? I must be missing something. I've read about 100 articles on IT Band Syndrome and bike fit and most simple chalk the problem up to a too-high seat or too-far back seat (which would really be the same as too high I guess).

I believe my fit is pretty close to what you advocate: my saddle position allows me to be balanced (i.e. pedalling on the trainer in a relatively big gear I can take my hands off the drops and stay balanced and my quads/hams seem to be recruited evenly) and my cleats are about 1 cm back on my shoes (I'm a 43). I believe my saddle height is reasonable as my stroke is not erratic at the top or the bottom.

I've had a couple of people look at my fit and both have found no significant problems, though I'm sceptical of both. The first was so wed to the KOPS system they used a level to check that the crack was exactly at the 6:00 position before using the plumb bob. The other told me that it was good to keep my knees close to the top tube. I'm trying to get an appointment with the Specialized rep in Montreal, who apparently is the best around here.

Here are some other details which may or may not be pertinent:

I have a leg length discrepancy of just under one inch on the left side (same side as the IT band issue), entirely at the hip (documented, x-rayed, MRI'd) from a childhood condition. As a result I'm also slightly duck footed by a few degrees - but nothing the Speedplay cleats can't handle.

I have two of the Speedplay shims under the cleat. I had never used shims until after I started having the IT Band problems. They haven't made any improvement to the IT band problem but they have helped balance my stroke and effort between my legs.

The problem seemed to come on after a week which began with some work on my hip by my physio (to maintain/increase range-of-motion), then a short 15km time-trial on the Wednesday and a criterium on the Saturday.

I usually aim to ride about 8 hrs a week (2-4 Saturday, 3 x 1- 1.5 during the work week, extra on Sunday if possible), and I just started time trials this summer (and the crit mentioned above was my first - a club race...not too intense).

My fitness level has improved somewhat notably this year - without much effort I've dropped from about 175lbs to 160-165 and lost 3 inches from my waist, and gone from a middle-of-the-pack club rider to comfortably staying with the fast group.

I'm 41 with no other known health issues. I've been increasing stretching, starting to use the foam roller (just this weekend). I tried using a Specialized footbed to stabilise my knee, which seemed to help a little but then seemed to make it worse (I rode one day with the stock footbeds, then put in the Specialized one and my knee instantly began to hurt more).

I have Sidi shoes (a 43 might be one size too big - I might be a 42) and I've been trying to get orthotics, but the Sidi last makes it hard (it's not flat so the orthotics take a lot of work to get them right).

Any ideas or suggestions would be much, much appreciated. After my Saturday ride I decided to hang up my bike for two weeks to focus on stretching, NSAID treatment, and some strengthening exercises.

David Mackay

Steve Hogg replies:

There is nothing that stands out in what you've told me other than the left leg bone length discrepancy. A lifetime of compensating for that will leave you either:

a) Noticeably tighter on the left side and with or without an anterior left iliac crest, or

b) Noticeably tighter on the right side, with or without an anterior iliac crest.

Can you tell me which side is your tight side?

When their are known bone length differences, as many people drop the hip of the long leg as drop the hip of the short leg. Even if you are sitting fairly squarely, and I would be pleasantly surprised if you are, I think 2 x 3mm shims probably isn't enough to compensate for 25mm difference in femur length.

Also, it may be relevant that this first appeared after your phyiso attempted to mobilise your (left? You don't state) hip. If as I suspect, you are tighter in the left hip (short leg) this adds to the 'effective' discrepancy. So your physio worked on that area which would have temporarily tightened it and then you raced a TT. My best guess is that you are over-reaching on the left side. Either because you have not shimmed your cleat enough or because under load, you favour your right side. Favouring the right side will challenge the plane of movement of the left leg and increase the distance it reaches to the pedals. Either will potentially load your left ITB more.

Have someone stand behind and above you while you pedal under load on a trainer with your shirt off. Which hip do you drop?
On which side do you sit forward?

If you can get back to me with that info, I'll attempt to advise further.

Crank length

I'm a 40-year-old male recreational cyclist, averaging 6,000 miles/year. Despite having an almost-93cm inseam, I have to have the seat rather far forward - tip about 3-6 cm (depending on saddle) behind the BB - just to get my knee over the pedal. (Yes, I know most of you don't subscribe to the KOP theory... I'm just using that to illustrate how out-of-wack my leg proportions are. That being said, if I go just a couple mm further back, my speed drops like a rock.)

This got me to wondering: if my thighs are that much shorter than normal, compared to my lower leg and/or inseam, would it make more sense to go with 170 mm cranks instead of my current 175's?

Paul Kossa

Scott Saifer replies:

I'd be much more comfortable answering your query if you had given approximate upper and lower leg measurements. I have had a client 190 cm tall who couldn't pedal smoothly on anything longer than 172.5 cranks, but he had tiny feet (size 39!). I believe that if you can find a saddle height that lets you pedal smoothly through the bottom of the pedal stroke and pedal smoothly one-legged through the top of the pedal stroke, your cranks are not too long. If you can't find a position that lets you do both of those, your cranks are too long.

Weight loss goals

I am a 31-year-old female who currently has 100 pounds of excess weight to lose. I am making 'goals' for myself, and I need some advise before getting started.

Considering my age, and the amount of weight needing to be lost, is 15 pounds a reasonable goal to lose each month?

Beth Murphy

Scott Saifer replies:

The short answer to your question is "no" unless you plan to exercise a lot. You might lose 15 pounds the first month, but you cannot possibly continue to lose 15 pounds per month and maintain your health. Here's the problem. Your basal metabolism might be 1400-1800 Calories per day and if you exercise only one hour per day, that might add 200-500 Calories per day. That makes a total of 1600-2300 Calories per day that you might expend on the high end, and it might be less.

There are approximately 3500 Calories in a pound of fat, so if you ate nothing at all, you would in fact lose 1600 to 2300 Calories/day x 30 days per month / 3500 Calories/pound equals 11-19 pounds. The problem is of course that to lose 100 pounds at this rate you'd have to eat nothing for six months, and you'd suffer massive organ failure.

You can only lose weight by metabolizing fat or muscle tissue. To maintain health and vitality you have to replace the carbohydrate you use for energy each day. The brain for instance can only use glucose as fuel. If you eat no carbohydrate at all, your brain doesn't work. To maintain a functional body, you also need a small amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. As a rough estimate, you need about 1200 Calories per day at an absolute minimum to stay healthy long term. That means that your Caloric deficit can't exceed 600-1300 Calories per day or 5-10 pounds of fat per month.

I've watched a lot of people lose weight and it is indeed possible to reach these theoretical rates of weight loss for people, such as yourself, who have a lot of weight to lose. As you approach a healthy weight though, it will get harder to lose. The final 20 pounds or so usually come off at no more than 1 pound per week. Good luck.

Better starts

I am asking a question for my 17-year-old son. He is mainly a mountain biker and rides in the junior expert (cat 1) category. He seems to do well in most races, but always states he has a bad start. I found by that he means he has difficulty getting into race rhythm for the first quarter or half mile. Can you recommend a pre-race routine to help him have a better start?

Karl Stottlemyre

Scott Saifer replies:

Does you son use a heart rate monitor and know his maximum and LT heart rates? If so I can send a detailed warm up routine. Here's a generic routine in the meantime:

Start on a trainer one hour before the start of the race. Use a road bike or put a slick-tired wheel on the MTB to avoid making the neighbors crazy.

Spin easy for 15 minutes and then a nice, endurance pace (like you would for an all day ride) for ten minutes. Then take ten more minutes to ramp up very gradually to a level where the breathing gets noticeably harder and hold that (near LT) for two minutes. Then take three minutes of easy spinning, two more minutes on the edge of breathing hard and three more easy minutes. Do one more hard interval and one more easy interval. Now you have ten minutes to get dry clothing, food, etc, change the wheel etc and get to the line. At a big race where you need to get to the line sooner, start the process sooner. If the course is available, the final hard interval could be done as a preview of the start.

Carrie Cheadle replies:

Your pre-race routine should get you mentally prepared as well. Your race doesn't start on the starting line, it starts when you start preparing for it. Some athletes need to get themselves psyched up before a race and some athletes need to get themselves more relaxed.

The first thing to do is figure out where your optimal intensity zone is for racing and then figure out the tools for getting into that optimal zone. For example, if you find that your mind isn't 'race ready' and you have a hard time transitioning into the race, you might use imagery to see yourself on the course riding aggressively into the first turn, passing someone on the descent, etc. Or if you find that you're really nervous before the race and can't concentrate you might work on diaphragmatic breathing and controlling your thoughts to counter-act your stress response.

However, the first thing your son should do is make sure that he is prepared physically to race, which means looking at Scott's suggestions for his warm-up. I would also look at his pre-race nutrition and make sure he is properly fueled to race too.

Elements for knee pain and hip ailments


Could you elaborate further on what you have observed about the linkages between digestive function, liver function, knee pain and hip ailments?

Russell Harris

Steve Hogg replies:

Let's say that this is a working theory rather than a fact. I've noted over many years that there is a preponderance of right side issues amongst cyclists that manifest as a dropping right hip or a tendency to sit with the right hip forward or both. There is a left sided version of the same thing but that seems to affect 10 per cent or less of the cycling population. There is no correlation with 'handedness' or 'footedness' as left-handed and left-footed riders are just as prone to having a dropping or forward rotated right hip as right-handed and right-footed riders.

For a long time I guessed that there was a neurological component to this and found some evidence for that idea but it wasn't conclusive. Often I am the first port of call for people who properly, should be seeing a health professional before they ever get to me. What I'm saying that I see a lot of people with problems and their reason for seeing me first is that their various issues affect them significantly on their bikes so they think that they have a bike problem. In reality they have significant problems on and off the bike but they are only aware of the on bike component of this.

That means that I work around their issues and refer them on to a network of competent health professionals that I've built up over 20 years. These people are physios, chiros, osteopaths, podiatrists, naturopaths, sports physicians etc and have one common quality. They are outstanding in their professional competence, very open minded and look for root causes rather than symptomatic relief. Importantly, they try and give their clients the knowledge and tools to manage and improve their own conditions.

I'm finding that a lot of these riders who drop or rotate their right hips (which in turn can cause issues of just about any sort from the lower back downwards on EITHER side depending on the compensatory measures enlisted and individual differences) have digestive issues of one sort or another. These include simple stuff like not drinking enough water or eating enough fibre, to food allergies like gluten or lactose intolerance and other similar things. Once these problems are diagnosed, understood and acted upon, almost always there is a significant improvement in the riders symmetry on seat.

As to the mechanisms involved, I can only speculate. I have picked a lot of brains and read widely and have a few ideas but can't say whether they are accurate or not. It is more a case of observing a relationship but not knowing the exact mechanism(s) involved with any certainty.

Frequent untrue wheels

I am writing in regards to my frequent misalignment of wheels as of late. I was running Bontrager Race Lites, and now I am using Shimano WH-R550 wheels, and I am having similar problems with both: frequent out-of-true wheels and broken spokes. I am a bigger rider (6'4", 195 pounds), but there are professionals that are that big, and certainly smaller riders who have more power than I do. Can I chalk this up to two cases of poor wheelsets, or am I missing something, with regards to spoke count, wheel strength, and the like? I was thinking of just getting some Mavic Open Pro wheels built up from scratch, with a 30+ spoke count, just so I could have something that I shouldn't have to true every two weeks (which is the case right now).

Daniel Gaz

Scott Saifer replies:

You are heavy enough to wreck wheels, and pros have mechanics who follow them around, so the fact that some of them are bigger than you doesn't mean they're not having the same problem. I'd suggest you build up set of something heavy with a high spoke count for training, and save the light wheels for racing. If the light wheels come out of true after ten rides but you true them up before each race, you're fine. I don't advocate particular brands or models, but for the heavy, high spoke count wheels, I'd even use something heavier than an Open Pro.