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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 February 25, 2009

Stretching and flexibility
Knee brushing top tube
Eating on the bike
Power pedaling problems
Donating blood
Heel drop and hamstring pain
Uneven saddle wear
Leg length discrepancy/ITBS
Junior cyclist coaching

Stretching and flexibility

I'm a firm believer that flexibility (or lack of) is the cause of many cycling issues. I bought 'Stretching and Flexibility' as recommended by Steve Hogg. My question is: What are the 'must do' stretches (they're numbered) for cyclists from the book? I couldn't possibly do every stretch shown in the book, but I certainly could find time for a short list.

Maybe that list could be added to his website for reference. Forgive me if that list is already there and I missed it!

Jim Breen
Massachusetts, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

While I stretch regularly, I'm the last person to consider myself an expert on stretching but here is the best answer I can give you.Use the book as a self discovery tool. By that I mean you will have found that it is structured as a series of stretching lessons for different parts of the body. Perform the stretches in first chapter most days and once, twice or three times per week, do a longer session of the stretches you have found yourself to be poor at as you have worked your way through the book.

Add in any stretches that are good for areas that you have a low level issue. For instance, if you have tight calves or hip flexors, make sure that you include various stretches for those. If a particular stretch is beyond you, leave it and stick to the ones that you can perform at some level with reasonable form. As you improve at those, the tougher ones are likely to become more accessible to you.

Lastly, stretch long, not hard. There are some posts of Dave Fleckenstein's in the archive that cover this aspect very well.

Dario Fredrick replies:

In addition to Steve's comments, perhaps I can recommend some yoga-based stretches and techniques that I have found essential in teaching yoga to cyclists over the past 12 years, and in my own experience as a cyclist. One of the most important aspects I teach in yoga poses that provide increased flexibility and mobility is to first mantain alignment of the joints - particularly when moving them through their potential ranges of motion. This includes both proper orientation of the joint and allowing appropriate space. Stretching just to increase flexibility without proper alignment can increase the risk of injury, which has unfortunately become a concern in yoga classes these days.

If we take a step back and examine what the body does on the bike, we see right away that the upper lumbar (low back) and thoracic (upper-mid back) spine become chronically flexed forward, while the cervical spine (neck) becomes sharply extended with the head held forward. Practicing alignment of the spine and improving flexibility/mobility in the thoracic are ways to help remedy this imbalance.

Start by simply standing with your upper back (thoracic), back of the pelvis (sacrum) against a wall and your heels at the baseboard. Notice if your head is far forward from the wall. If so, relax the neck and try to allow the back of the head to come to the wall without tilting your chin up. Most of us draw our heads forward, whether on the bike or at the computer. Notice the overall shape of your spine -- how your neck (cervical) and low back (lumbar) curve inward and your upper-mid back (thoracic) curves outward or rearward. The outward curve of the thoracic becomes exaggerated and the muscles around it tighten in most cyclists, so increasing mobility in the thoracic can help.

One way is to lie on your back with knees bent and place a foam roller (or similar) perendicular to the spine under the mid-thoracic spine (lower than the backs of the shoulders, but higher than the low back). The prop should lift the center of your chest from underneath. Be sure not to place the roll under your lumbar spine. You can use some support (e.g. a pillow) for your head to start with, then gradually lower the back of the head toward the floor to increase the stretch and depth of the thoracic back bend. In addition, you can extend the arms back in this pose to increase the mobility in the shoulders. I recommend pressing open palms together when doing this to properly align the shoulder joints. Be aware of your low back, and reduce the depth of the pose if you feel excessive tension in the lumbar. Use less support under the thoracic if necessary.

Moving to the lower body, to stretch the backs of the legs (hamstrings), hip extensors and external hip rotators (glutes, etc), you can start by lying on your back on the floor, stretch one leg out on the floor and take the other upward, holding a belt or strap across the heel of the foot. Be sure to extend the leg without bending the knee. Extend the heel away from you through the resistance of the belt. Be sure not to force the stretch. Breathe and hold the stretch for 10-12 breaths. Then, hold the belt with the opposite arm (e.g. right leg/left hand) and take the upper leg across your body bringing the foot to the floor or onto a prop if the floor is too low. Extend both legs and breathe. You can follow the images of these two poses here (called reclining big toe pose).

Repeat each side twice. I recommend stretching the hamstrings on your back rather than standing and bending forward. While standing forward bends do stretch the hamstrings, they also deeply forward-flex the spine, which is what we want to counteract as cyclists. Lying on your back puts the spine in a more neutral alignment so that you can isolate the work of the legs and hips without exaggerating the "cyclist's spine".

To work on the quadriceps and hip flexors, start with a bent-knee "runner's" lunge. Have your forward foot under your knee and between your hands (which are under your shoulders), with your other leg behind you, the back knee bent on the floor and the back foot against a wall. Press your back heel into the wall and release your hips forward away from the wall. Repeat on the second side...To isolate more stretch in the quads, take the lunge closer to the wall, bending the back knee more, taking it to the baseboard of the wall, with the lower leg up the wall and the toes of that foot pointing upward. To increase the depth of the stretch, bring your forearms up onto the forward thigh. Keep the forward foot under its knee.

As Steve said, stretch long, not hard. The body's proprioceptive response to hard stretching is immediately to tighten and protect. If you start gradually and hold the stretch for longer, the muscles will release and lengthen more effectively. Also, we have another proprioceptive response in the body called reciprocal inhibition. This is where opposing muscle groups that create opposite actions at a joint avoid working against each other. For example, if you contract your quadriceps, your hamstrings relax. Try this while stretching the hamstrings to see what happens.

There are almost endless ways to stretch and move the body, so I have included only a few that I have found very useful for cyclists (including myself). Let me know if you have any questions about these poses/stretches.

Knee brushing top tube

Returning from a right fractured patella six months ago, I find my left leg inwardly angled and brushing the top tube in my normal position. My right leg is good although still without regaining normal muscle size after injury. I have left anterior hip and left low back/gluteal soreness after riding. I also notice significantly less power from the left, (my polar power readings confirm this). I notice if I rotate my saddle slightly to the left my left leg appears straighter.

During my six months lay off, I did a lot of landscaping, shovelling, etc, using my right side. Would I have a muscle imbalance causing this problem? How should I proceed? I am a competitive road cyclist of 15 years at 45 years of age.

Rob Gaggini
Adelaide, Australia

Steve Hogg replies:

Set your bike up on an indoor trainer making sure that the bike is leveled between axle centres Strip to the waist and get on the bike and warm up until you are working hard and have a sweat up. Have an observer standing above and behind you on a chair. What I need to know is:

1. Are you sitting squarely on the seat or is one hip further forward than the other? If so, which side is forward?

2. Do you drop one hip more than the other on the pedal down stroke of that side?

3. Do you extend one arm more and tend to have that elbow more extended than the other side? If so, which side?

4. Do you have a feeling that you are bearing more weight on one hand than the other? If so which side?

5. Look down between your legs while pedaling at the gap between each inner thigh and the seat post. On which side is the gap narrower?

If you get back to me with that info, I'll attempt to help.

Eating on the bike

Thanks for all your tips in Cycling News. I emailed you recently about whether a fixed cleat position might not be preferable at times to a floating one, and you encouraged me to continue exploring options before I would accept that conclusion. Indeed you were right: changing cleat position and adding a wedge really made a difference and I'm riding completely knee pain-free in the cold months for the first time that I can remember.

My newest curiosity has to do with a comment you made in the Feb 18 edition of the Fitness Q&A column, in which you wrote: "...most riders can absorb something closer to 250-325 Calories per hour, with larger and fitter riders able to absorb more."

This implied two things to me:

1. Not only does eating too much food make a person nauseated, it doesn't improve performance because the body can't process it fast enough.

2. That the recommendations on most energy bar products about calorie uptake are on the generous side. My brand, for instance (240 calories per bar) suggests eating one every half hour and supplementing it with gel packs every 15 minutes. That would total something like 800-900 calories per hour - more than the body can process (for, say, a relatively fit rider, 6'2" and 168 pounds) than you suggest.

I would love for you to expand on this topic. Thanks again.

Andrew Oborn
Portland, OR

Scott Saifer replies:

I'm glad my previous tips helped you get rid of the knee pain. It looks like in your first question you meant to say that eating more than you can absorb can make you nauseous and can't possibly boost performance. That would be correct. Food sitting in your gut makes you uncomfortable. The calories have to get into the blood stream to do you any good.

You are right on number 2 as well. If the bar company is pushing you to consumer more than you can absorb, their trying to improve their results and not yours. The amount of carbohydrate that individuals can absorb varies a lot. The factors in favor of ability to absorb more carbs are: higher aerobic fitness, larger body size, pleasant (not hot) weather and being lucky genetically. I'm not aware of any studies on where the bell-curve drops off, but the typical absorption rates quoted are in the vicinity of 150 calories per hour for small, un-fit people, up to 325 or so for large, fit, genetically endowed people on good days. I advocate people trying up to 350 for larger more fit riders because you'd rather have a few too many than calories than a few less than you could absorb, but not so many that you end up feeling full or carrying unneeded weight.

Eddie Monnier replies:

I will add a few points to consider to Scott's thoughts. I generally recommend for longer races / rides (3+ hours) that athletes who have stomach distress eating too many bars or gels, consume "real food" early in the ride, then graduate to bars and then to gels (roughly first third for real food, bars for middle third, gels for last third of duration). The types of real food that work for riders will vary, so you need to experiment in training, but things such as jelly or honey sandwiches (some people like to add a bit of almond butter), fig bars, etc.

Also, I've seen more people who experience stomach distress with gels solve their issue by changing brands and/or flavours, and, often, by switching to water when consuming gels instead of an energy drink. I'm particularly fond of Carb-boom gels (I am not sponsored by them) and have found most athletes tolderate these quite well.

The other point is that I think it's safe to say that most people do not consume adequate water/liquid during long rides and long races.

Power pedaling problems

I am 32 and am in my third year of cycling. Finally I feel I am able to compete with the guys at the top level locally here in Thor Hushovd's backyard in Grimstad Norway - that is, when Thor is not riding!

I train about 12 hours a week divided over five or six days. I do about two interval sessions a week and the rest is primarily base training now during wintertime. I am wanting to supplement my current regime with a bit more powertraining. I feel that it could benefit my TT and max power output, and give me that little extra that I need to take teh next step. However when I try to do powerpedaling with low cadence and high resistance I tend to get knee problems after a couple of weeks. I figure it is probably better to drop it if it is hurting me more than it is gaining me. Is there anything I can do to replace this training, or any other way I can do it that is more gentle on the knees?

Michael Morland
Grimstad, Norway

Scott Saifer replies:

First off let me say you are smart to drop the low-cadence work if it is making your knees hurt. Each time you ride in a way that makes your knees hurt, you increase the chances of doing some irreversible damage that leaves your knees sensitive for the rest of your riding career. That being said, it sounds like you have enough base that you should be able to handle some low cadence riding so most likely one of two things is wrong.

First, no matter how well prepared you are, it's best to ease into low-cadence work to give your connective tissues a chance to respond to a more mild challenge before really abusing them. I'd suggest a month or more of 70 rpm for one or two rides per week before doing anything lower cadence. Do anyhthing lower than 70 as intervals of just a few minutes at a time. Second, there's a decent chance that your bike fit is less than perfect. It may be good enough for higher cadence, lower force riding but be not quite perfect for lower cadence. If you'll check the archives, you'll find plenty of material on how to set up your bike depending on exactly what sort of knee problems you are experiencing.

Donating blood

A follow up question to Scott Saifer's response about donating blood... Recently I started donating plasma. Could you explain the implications for donating plasma on any serious cycling training regiments? You are also able to donate plasma much more frequently (once every two weeks, as opposed to once every three months for whole blood). Any recommendations on the frequency for donating plasma?

Chris Hui
Melbourne, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

First, you are a hero for making a donation of blood or any party of blood. Donating plasma can be done more frequently because replacing plasma is much quicker than replacing red cells. When you donate plasma you reduce your blood volume which decreases the amount of blood your heart can pump. It's sort of like being dehydrated but not exactly since plasma includes proteins and electrolytes that need to be replaced along with water. So long as you are getting generous amounts of protein and the needed electrolytes, you should be back up to speed in a week or less. If you give frequently, your training is impaired in the few days after a donation each time so you could be compromising racing performance. I'd suggest giving not more than once a month and just planning to give at the beginning of what would be an easy week anyway. Then you can save lives and race well too.

Heel drop and hamstring pain

I'm a 23 year-old male Cat 4 racer, in the middle of base training for the 2009 season.

Recently, I've been dealing with a strain in the medial hamstring group of my right leg, where it attaches to my knee. My doctor has given me a treatment plan, so I've got that well in hand, but now I'm starting to think about the cause. Here are the facts:

1. This injury first cropped up a few weeks ago on the rollers. I've never experienced a knee injury of this kind before, and I've had a few. Thanks to previous experience, I've avoided making this one worse by pushing too hard, so it's been irritated rather than painful. The damage isn't too serious yet. I have already raised my saddle a bit (I stupidly dropped it when the injury first appeared).

2. In January, I moved my saddle forward by several mm. I had been well behind KOPS - as in, close to two cm behind KOPS - and wanted to see if I could get more comfort by being more directly over the BB.

3. I've had a long-standing sensation on my right foot of not being able to get my cleat back far enough, even though my feet are the same size. Obviously, the problem is not that the left shoe has greater adjustability for cleat position than the right. Yet, this sensation persists.

4. I noticed on my ride home today that, while my left ankle remains relatively stable and my foot angle relatively consistent throughout the pedal stroke without effort, I have a distinct tendency to drop my right heel on the down stroke of that pedal. It takes some focus to maintain a relatively stiff ankle and avoid dropping my heel - that is, I must activate the muscles of my lower leg to do this. On the left, no such effort is required. Focusing on not dropping my right heel makes pedaling feel better.

5. I have flat feet, and my right foot appears to have greater pronation than my left. I am using OTC orthotics, which has essentially erased previous knee pain associated with over-pronation.

So, here's my hypothesis: my injury is the result of this tendency to drop my right heel under power, which of course puts more strain on my hamstrings. My over-pronation might explain why the injured part is my medial hamstring group, rather than the strain being more evenly distributed. My saddle being so much further back would explain this not being a problem in the past, since this would effectively change the vector of the pedaling force through my leg and require me to pull my heel up as I pushed the pedal over the top and through the downstroke, making both for a reduced "cantilever effect" on the end of my foot (so less force for my ankle to resist) and causing me to keep my toes pointed enough to avoid straining my hamstring.

The tendency of my ankle to "give way" when balancing on the ball of my foot or just behind it, as you effectively must do when putting the power down on the pedal, would explain the unbalanced feeling of my right foot, even with the cleat rammed all the way back on the shoe. If this is correct, sensible treatments would include raising the saddle even a bit more to encourage me to keep my heel higher than my toes, and more importantly, strengthening whatever it is that is deficient in my right ankle, be it muscles/tendons or just the neural pathway involved in keeping that ankle immobile. Continuing to improve hamstring flexibility would also be a smart preventative measure.

So, here are my questions for you:

1. Could this be correct? Is my understanding of the physiological and fit issues going on here sensible, and does this explanation account for the symptoms I've been experiencing?

2. Is this something you've heard of before, and are there effective exercises to strengthen my ankle and prevent further injury?

3. Do you have any other thoughts, questions or suggestions?

Greg Colby

Steve Hogg replies:

First a question to you: if you have never had this problem before and it has only appeared since a minor ("several mm") change in seat setback, why don't you change your seat position back to what it was before?

Was there a problem or did you become concerned only when you found that you were 20mm behind KOPS? (and KOPS as a general recommendation has no basis anyway)

To answer your questions:

1. Could this be correct? Is my understanding of the physiological and fit issues going on here sensible, and does this explanation account for the symptoms I've been experiencing?

Yes your hypotheis is in at least partly correct for what you are experiencing but only goes part way. The three most important pieces of info you've given are that:

A) You drop the right heel more than the left
B) That your right cleat doesn't feel as far back as the left cleat even though your feet are the same size ( and I assume proportions?)
C) Your right foot/ ankle pronates more than the left.

To explain, I think it is very likely that you are overextending or under extending on the right side. Why?

Assuming the same relative cleat position on each shoe (that the foot on each side has the same relative relationship to the pedal axle) dropping the heel more on one side than the other is a compensation that develops because there is a measurable or functional leg length difference. If the affected leg is measurably or functionally longer the heel can stay lower than the heel of the other side at the bottom of the stroke in an effort to gain more extension of the leg. If the affected leg is functionally or measurably shorter, then there is an explosive heel drop through the early part of the pedal stroke and then the rider either points their toe at the bottom of the pedal stroke or 'switches off' through the bottom of the pedal stroke by not applying torque so as not to injure themself.

It is this heel drop that makes your right cleat feel further forward than your left cleat because as you drop the heel more, you are rotating the mtp joint heads further behind the pedal axle than on the other foot where the heel doesn't drop as much.

2. Is this something you've heard of before, and are there effective exercises to strengthen my ankle and prevent further injury?

The larger question is why you are dropping the right heel. The possible key to that is in what you say about the greater degree of pronation on the right side. Often this is associated with a leg length difference or a lateral pelvic tilt and it isn't a hard and fast indicator as to which leg is shorter to which side of the pelvis is higher, just that something is awry. Do you sit squarely on the seat?

And before you say yes, has anyone ever checked?

A quick check is to set your bike up on a trainer and check the gap between inner thighs and seat post while you pedal. Do this on a A frame trainer or similar, not on rollers as the A frame trainer keeps the bike from moving much and makes this easier to gauge. Is there a difference in the gap between inner thigh and seat post between sides. The side with the least gap is the one where your pelvis is twisted forward or your hip drops or both. If you try this and are unsure, have an observer stand above and behind you on a chair and observe which side of your lower back is forward or drops on each pedal stroke on that side. Get back to me with the answer.

Do you have any other thoughts, questions or suggestions?

You don't mention anything about lack of performance or comfort in your previous position so rather than chase your tail with further changes, put the seat back to where you didn't have a problem. Once you have done that, get back to me with the answers I've requested and we'll see what we can do. Also, go through the archives and you will find a lot of relevant info.

Uneven saddle wear

I have several bikes, similarly set up, and several pairs of shorts. In each case, the right side of my saddle seems to drop after a while and the right side of shorts wears more - do I need a shim under one of my shoes? It's getting a bit expensive!

Michael Matar

Steve Hogg replies:

A shim is one possibility but the most important thing is that you find out why your seat and knicks wear this way. The most likely conclusion is that you are dropping your right hip but why is the question that needs answering. Common possibilities are and or any combination of,

* Short right leg
* Tighter right side hip and lower back
* Autonomic self protective measure that allows you to work around another issue

The last two have any number of other possibilities that cause them. Self knowledge is indispensable so firstly, have an x ray or scan to see whether there is a leg length difference or not. Then have a good structural health professional give you a global structural assessment. Get back to me once you have done that and I'll attempt to advise further.

Leg length discrepancy/ITBS

I have learned a lot from you guys and would like just a little more. This is a two part question, the first to help me with chronic IT band pain and the second to continue discussion on foot wedges.

First I would like your help recommending shims to correct a leg length discrepancy. This will be my 4th year racing, I'm 6' 0" with 34.5" inseam, 165-175lbs, Cat 2, a little bit flat footed, and very flexible. I ride 8-10,00 miles a year, usually in two or three 3-5 month blocks with long breaks in between; I'm inconsistent. I need the cleats right under the ball of my foot to feel that my leg is aligned. I've always had recurrent knee pain, especially ITBS on my right knee, though with a lot of stretching I can usually ride pain free for a month or two. This time of the year in the build up to the racing season is always hard. My right leg is stronger than my left (as evidenced through one-leg pedalling drills), and in the past I know I was guilty of dropping the right hip. I've been working deliberately to keep my hips level and pedal smoother circles for a year now, and I am much more stable on the bike, but still have periodic swelling of the right IT band. I have had left knee pain but only once or twice and goes away quickly.

I had suspected a leg length discrepancy because I used to need the right cleat further forward than the left to ease the IT stress. I finally had my girlfriend look at my legs with my back/hips against a wall and it became very obvious that my right leg is slightly less than a centimetre shorter, just in the lower leg. My femurs are the same length. So it adds up to me that since my right leg is overextending, the LLD is causing the IT stress, even now that I'm not dropping my hips so much. I'm nervous about experimenting with shims now because I have some heavy weeks planned and racing starts in April. On the other hand, I feel like shimming my right cleat could end this chronic issue and so I'm very interested. I think I've read that shims should be as thick as half the leg length difference. What can you recommend about this process?

Secondly, I have a little to share about my experiences with shoes. I started Specialized road and mountain shoes with a varus wedge. I had to pedal with my heels in, so much so that they brushed the crank arms, and my knees were far from the top tube. I never could get the cleats in a comfortable place for my knees, though after a painful winter of adjustments I could usually be stable for the duration of the spring racing season, as I mentioned above.

Three seasons later I bought Shimano mountain bike shoes to replace my Specialized mountain bike shoes, and was able to ride with my feet straight and experienced much less knee pain, so I avoided my road shoes until I could buy a non-varus wedge pair, which were Adidas, a few weeks ago. These shoes had a foam shim under the insole on the lateral side of the shoe, creating a valgus wedge. Wearing these shoes, my knees were so far in that they brushed the top tube and my heels wanted to be significantly further out than neutral. I removed the lateral shim and they now feel flat and neutral like the Shimano shoes, my knees move straight up and down. I feel like there's a very linear relationship for me between knee and foot position and the angle of my shoe's sole, is this the case for the majority of riders? I see clearly how you could use this to correct positions for some riders, but my experience leads me to be very cautious with any canting of the foot.

Thanks in advance for any input, and apologies for the lack of brevity.

Brian Williams
Missoula, MT

Steve Hogg replies:

I think your choice is pretty simple. You can struggle on the way that you have been or you can fix the problem. If you are convinced that your right lower leg is shorter, then no amount of training yourself to sit squarely on the seat is going to change that. The likely cause of your right side ITB issues is that you are overextending the right leg or compromising pelvic symmetry on seat so that the right leg can reach the bottom of the pedal stroke.

I understand your concerns re your upcoming racing but you can't have your cake and eat it as well. You either go and race and address this issue at the end of your season when you can 'smell the roses' a bit by riding at low intensity and experimenting with a shim stack to see what height works best or you can take the crash through or crash approach. The third and possibly unpalatable choice is to delay your entry into racing this year until you have experimented with a shim stack.

As to the size of the shim stack; your lower leg points more or less down during the entire pedal stroke. Use the shim stack that allows both legs to feel 'even' and that doesn't compromise your stability and symmetry on the seat or cause issues over the top of the pedal stroke. The stack that you need is likely to be close to the measurable discrepancy if the difference is all in the lower leg providing you sit as squarely on the seat as you say you do. Place the cleats in the same place relative to foot in shoe on each side and then move the right side cleat back 1mm further again for every 5 mm that you shim it up. One word of warning. Adidas shoes have historically had their cleat mounting holes much further forward than any other brands.

And lastly, give away the one legged pedaling drills. We rely partly on force feedback from the feet on the pedals to train our nervous systems to fire muscles in an appropriate sequence to allow us to pedal smoothly. One legged pedaling is inimical to that goal. If you want to train yourself to apply pressure through the greatest amount of crank arm arc, try 60 - 70 rpm strength/ endurance efforts up hill with both feet in the pedals. The coaches on the panel should be able to advise you in detail about that.

Junior cyclist coaching

I have a son, just turned 13 in Feb '09, that has an interest in cycling. He raced in a mountain bike series in 2008 and won his age group for the series. He entered one road race - Tour de FCC in PA - and came in third overall and winning the crit stage (race consisted on a road race, TT, and crit). I just found out that two of the kids he beat in the crit came in second and 18th in the nationals, for 2008.

I know nothing about cycling and can not keep up with him. Would a coach be appropriate for his age or should I just let him enjoy riding with me at my pace. If you think he should have a coach could you suggest a few for his you age? Thanks.

Phil Mago

Dario Fredrick replies:

I run a junior development team with kids of similar ages and abilities as your son, so I can personally relate to your question. What I recommend is that you find someone locally with experience, who is good with kids and who recognises the importance of keeping it fun. It's useful to teach him the fundamentals of riding and racing and even gently guide him in training, but he is a young kid after all, and maintaining the joy of riding is most important. I can see if I can find a good local mentor/coach to recommend.