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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 fitness@cyclingnews.com. 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 (www.carriecheadle.com) 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 (www.peaktopeaktraining.com) 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 (www.davepalese.com) 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 (www.trainright.com) 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 (www.velo-fit.com) 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 (www.physiopt.com) 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 (www.cyclefitcentre.com) 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 (www.wholeathlete.com) 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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com) 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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com) 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 (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) 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 (www.cyclecoach.com) 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 (www.cyclecoach.com) 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 (www.wholeathlete.com) 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 (www.wenzelcoaching.com) 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 April 30, 2009

Unrelenting back pain
Iron deficiency
Commuting & recovery rides
Shorter leg questions
Distance between pedals
Mountain biking and back pain
Changes in maximum heart rate
Leg length discrepancy
Recovering from Colles fracture
Midfoot cleat position data
Maximum heart rate

Unrelenting back pain

I am 50 year old avid recreation cyclist riding about 100 to 150 miles per week on rolling terrain. I average about 10 to 20 miles per hour. I am 5'11 at 160 lbs. I ride a 56 CM Cervelo RS stacked at 25 mm and a 110 mm stem.

I began to experience persistent right sided lower back pain in 2004. I had injured my right lower back the previous fall by hurling some cast iron pipes and suffered some ensuing back spasm shortly after. The pain usually starts about one hour into riding, at times preceded by intense heat like sensation in the offending location which is at L4/5 and the level of iliac crest centered at the lateral edge of the right para-spinus muscle.

When severe, I can pinpoint it to the para-spinus tendon. The pain is quickly relieved by stretching and extension and only to return shortly after riding resumes. Higher riding intensity brings on the pain sooner. I suffer no other neurological symptoms or pain radiation to my thigh.

I have had multiple bike fittings with gradual raising of the stack height hence the RS.

After several years of suffering, I elicited the service of various professionals, each with different opinion. MRI was ordinary for a man of my age with the typical mild degenerative changes and slight disk bulging and no major findings.

Despite rigorous core training and stretching regimen, the pain continues to worsen. It is now chronic, the right paraspinus now bulges asymmetrically when compare to the left, it is palpably tense and my therapist repeatedly noted that my left leg is visibly shorter by up to one inch. The leg discrepancy seems to correlate with the degree of pain I have for that particular week.

My questions are:

1. What are the potential causes for this ailment?
2. Is my right and the symptomatic side or is the left that is causing contra-lateral or compensatory reaction on the right?
Let the truth be told, if it takes a trip to Down Under to solve this, I will gladly book a flight on Quanta's.

Jerry Yuan
Atlanta, GA

Steve Hogg replies:

To answer your questions;

1. What are the potential causes for this ailment?
You are dropping and / or rotating one hip forward on each pedal stroke on that side. As to root causes that set you up for this - who knows. Accidents of birth, development or misadventure and the compensatory patterns evolved to cope with all of any of those.
2. Is my right and the symptomatic side or is the left that is causing contra-lateral or compensatory reaction on the right?
It could be either. A hypertrophy of the paraspinus muscleson one side is always the result of an asymmetric loading over time. It can be on the hip dropping side or the non hip dropping side. I've seen plenty of both.

What to do?

Before you consider getting on a plane, here is a "To Do' list.

1. Get hold of a copy of "Stability, Sport and Performance Movement" by Joanne Elphinston. Brilliantly accessible book on a complex subject. Daily I see people who can often demonstrate superior core strength in static positions but lose it totally once they get on a bike and start applying force to the pedals. There are many potential reasons and combinations of reasons why this is so and this book, used properly, should give you some or all of the tools you need to diagnose and resolve your issue.

2. Which hip do you drop on the bike?
You mention, or more accurately,imply,that the more pain you are in whilst riding, the functionally shorter your left leg becomes. That means that something is pulling your left ilium up. The likely culprits are the psoas and QL on that side. Does that sound correct to you?

3. When you are having a good day; i.e, pain free, have an x ray taken.. You need to be standing with both knees locked out. What I want to know is what the relative heights of the femoral heads are. This doesn't need to be a giant film. You just need a straight on shot of the pelvic area to determine femoral head height and a side on shot to determine whether either ilium is posterior or anterior to the other.

4. Do you have a history of digestive disorders or food allergies?
Do you feel bloated after certain types of food.

5. How dissimilar are your feet?
Is one significantly longer or wider than the other?
Do you have a callous under the 5th MTP joint on either side?
Do you have a lower arch or do you pronate more one side than the other.
Do you have a larger 1st MTP bunion on side than the other.
Does the big toe point on one foot point away from the centre line of your body more on one side than the other.

6. Do you know any people with a talent for observation?
It probably helps if they have some sort of anatomical knowledge. Wait until you are having a 'good' day. Set your bike up on an indoor trainer making sure that the bike is leveled between axle centres and warm up thoroughly. 15 minutes working up to around 80% Max HR is good.Once warmed up set a resistance and cadence that you can sustain with effort for say 10 mins..You will need your shirt off. I need your observer to tell me ( and he/she will need a chair or stool for some of this) -
a. Which hip do you drop and / or which side of your pelvis sits forward under light load while warming up?
b. Once you are riding hard and starting to fatigue, does the degree of hip drop/ rotation change markedly?
c. What cadence are you doing
If so how?
d. When you are fatiguing, I want your observer to focus on your lumbar spine.It is likely that it moves more to one side of the centre line than the other. Which side?
e. Do you lock on elbow more than the other and do you thrust one shoulder further forward than the other?
f. Is there any obvious difference in pedaling technique between sides?

Let me know the answers to all of that and maybe we can make some headway.

Iron deficiency

My stats:

Male, 58 years old, cycling for six years in NH, March - November, hit the gym weights four days a week all year round. I cycle about 150 - 200 miles per week in season and race maybe three times a year in 20 - 60 mile road races.

My weight is 137 - 148 pounds depending on season and body fat is 7.5% - 12% again depending on season. My current weight 138 pounds and body fat is 7.5 - 8.5%. The numbers vary widely daily but are trending downward and I'm looking for about 6.5 - 7.5% for a goal.

This winter I started spin classes for the first time and decided to work on cutting out junk food and eating healthier. My goal is to get down to around 135 pounds while maintaining my strength. This winter I kept the winter weight off for the first time ever and my weight stayed close to my season ending 138 pounds all winter long. I've switched over to all 100% wheat grains in any pasta or breads I eat, lots of fruit and try to graze all day long in addition to making a fruit shake with milk, fruit juices fresh fruit and added protein mix daily.

My problem is I always seem to be slightly iron deficient. Even when taking a multi vit. My doctor has told me to take an iron vit of 325mg 3 times a day for the next 6 months. Do bikers tend to run on the low side with iron? Will a slight iron deficiency affect my performance at all? I try to eat a good variety of foods and lots of salads with baby spinach …

John Cahalane

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

This is an topic slightly out of my area of expertise, but I do have some personal experience in dealing with iron deficiency. Interestingly, my iron issue was first revealed through a significant progression of restless leg syndrome, in which iron deficiency is thought to play a role.

First, have a specific panel run to determine your current iron state. Second, iron is absorbed best on an empty stomach, or in combination with an acid and vitamin. My regimen is to take my supplement with a small glass of orange juice first thing in the morning and then eat breakfast a little later. Finally, iron is toxic in high doses, so make sure that you run a follow-up panel to monitor ferritin levels, etc…

After obeying the rules of iron absorption, I have found my RLS symptoms have decreased and I do feel better on the bike.

Again, I defer to anything that Pam would add in, but I have encountered enough athletes with these issues that self-manage incorrectly that it is worth adding my novice observations.

Pam Hinton replies:

What tests have you had to determine your iron status? There are several indicators of iron status, and they look at different aspects of iron metabolism. Hemoglobin and hematocrit look at the functional iron in red blood cells, while ferritin is an indicator of iron stores. Hemoglobin and hematocrit are used to diagnosis anemia. Ferritin is used to determine if your iron stores are depleted and you are at risk for anemia.

There isn't much information on the prevalence of iron defiency in adult male athletes, just because it's so much more common among women. We did do a small prevalence study (n=120) in endurance athletes--mostly cyclists and triathletes--several years ago. We found that ~5% of men had iron deficiency without anemia compared with 35% of women.

You didn't mention any meat in the description that you provided of your diet. Are you a vegetarian? Meat is the best dietary source of iron because it contains heme iron, which is much more bioavailable, i.e., better absorbed, than non-heme iron. Only a very small percentage of non-heme iron, which is the type of iron in plants and dietary supplements, is absorbed. So, if you are a meat-eater, increasing your intake of lean red meat is another way to increase your iron intake.

If you decide to take the iron supplement, be sure to follow up with your doctor in a couple of months. Iron cannot be actively excreted from the body, so it can accumulate to toxic levels. Your doctor will be able to monitor your iron status and determine when the supplement is no longer needed.

John Cahalane then responded:

David,

Thanks for the advice. I've started researching on line and I've found a lot of good info. This is my second time with this issue a couple of years ago I had it as well but it was never to the point where my physican was concerned about it enough to do anything but recommend iron vitamins and retest.

If I get on a good vitamin and eat correctly (right foods and combos) it has gone away in the past. I do a lot of hitting the gym weights as well as riding and I've read where this can cause a loss of iron. But heaven forbid I change that at all. Off to get vitamins this weekend and start the vitamin C routine as foods as well.

Pam,

My doctor took blood samples and determined I was low via that method. Is there anything specific I should ask? From what you said below I'm assuming I should be asking about Hemoglobin, hematocrit and Ferritin as a starting point.

I'm not a vegetarian I eat a lot of chicken, 6 egg whites every morning, top round steak a couple times a week. Usually chicken or steak at least once a day. It's not unusual for me to have chicken or steak at night with a really big salad with lots of things in it.

My doctor wants me back in 6 months to run another blood test.

I read on the internet that recommended daily allowance for iron is 10 milligrams for men yet he has me taking 325 mg three times a day. Something seems way off here. Maybe what I read online (10 milligrams) is incorrect as it was just from a forums post by someone.

Commuting & recovery rides

Knowing full-well the benefits of recovery rides, I'm curious to know if there's any evidence that several shorter rides can be as beneficial as one longer ride?

My daily life has me commuting short distances (about 15-20 minutes) several times most days, and I'm wondering if it's possible these can serve as recovery rides, assuming I keep the pace nice and easy. If I log 45-90 minutes in a day with these short rides, would they equal (or come close) to 45-90 minutes of recovery riding, or should I get out and do a 'regular' recovery ride on top of this (on the days I ought to do a RR, of course)?

Thanks for any input,

Dave Shishkoff
Victoria, BC Canada

Scott Saifer replies:

Great question. The purposes of a recovery ride include dilating blood vessels so that blood can flow into muscles to provide nutrients and carry away wastes, and also to stretch the muscles through their normal range of motion. Both of those are well accomplished by a 20-minute ride.

A 20-minute ride does not do much to enhance competitive fitness since you are essentially training to warm up repeatedly rather than training the energy systems that are used when you are already warmed up. For instance, by 20 minutes into a ride, your body is just beginning to mobilise fat for use as a fuel so a series of 20 minute rides won't train fat metabolism like a longer ride. For recovery though, little doses of riding will work.

Shorter leg questions

I contacted you a few years ago about an issue, but wanted to find out a bit more on another subject.

I have been riding with orthotics in my cycling shoes, and today have been told my right leg is much shorter than my left. I have now put a 7mm shim in my regular shoes. We might be going all the way up to 10mm or 1 cm. I am using 175mm cranks on both road and mountain.

I am using look keo pedals on the road. Should I put a few lemond wedges under the cleat and then add more to the orthotic inside?

What do you do with time atac pedals?

Cheers and thanks for assisting cyclists around the world.

Stuart Laing

Eddie Monnier replies:

Do you know if the 10mm shortage is in the tibia, femur, or a combination thereof? The reason I ask is it affects the amount of stack I would recommend to use. If your shortage as all tibia-related, I would try 5mm of stack (half the shortage). If the shortage is in the femur, than I would try about 3m of stack.

Steve Hogg replies:

By the sound of it, you are looking at a large shim under the cleat of the right shoe. If you are using a 7mm lift and contemplating 10mm in your walking shoes then it is likely that you will need plenty under your right cycling shoe. You can make a shim yourself or you can use BFS cleat wedges (formerly Lemond wedges) in a counterstacked fashion, though the number you are likely to need means that there is the risk of them slipping unless glued together and having the cleat fixing screws torqued very tight.

Alternately get hold of purpose built ones. If you elect to do the latter, contact BikeFit Systems in Seattle. They have 3mm shims of my design for just this purpose. The key with a large shim is that the larger the shim, the greater the metabolic cost of stabilising foot on pedal with the shim stack. The solution to this is to move the cleat further approximately 1mm further back relative to foot in shoe for every 5mm of shim stack. Sometimes more than that is necessary. What you are looking for is a similar feeling of fluency for both legs with shim stack in place.

This may not be achievable with Look Keos on some shoes. If you run into problems, change to Speedplay pedals and use Speedplay part no. 133300 which are a pair of aluminium adaptor plates that replace the standard plastic ones and have much more rearward adjustment potential than the standard version.

Lastly, with your Time ATAC's it isn't practical to shim up an mtb cleat more than 5mm or so because of the relatively small contact area. The best solution is to use your road shoes to determine the best size shim stack. Once you have done that, find a good bootmaker and have them remove the sole from your right mtb shoe; fit a full length build up of dense EVA foam to the underside of the upper and then reglue the sole. Properly done, at a glance it will be indistinguishable from a standard shoe.

Distance between pedals

It seems to me that riders come in different heights, weights but also widths. Shouldn't riders of different hip width have a different pedal width?

Giovanni Reggioli

Eddie Monnier replies

A proper fit assesses many aspects and one is certainly the rider's horizontal alignment of knee and foot. For many riders, we can achieve the proper stance width by moving or manipulating the cleat. Sometimes when we need to move the feet out to position them under the knee, we add a washer to the pedal spindle.

There are even adapters called Knee Savers for much large corrections (unfortunately, they only work with pedals that tighten using a pedal wrench). Speedplay recently came out with pedal spindles of varying lengths allowing a great deal of customization. Finally, sometimes we change cranks as there are variances in crank width, so that's another area to possibly address.

Mountain biking and back pain

I have a question about mountain biking and back pain. I've been training and racing road and mountain bikes seriously for 3 years and have had problems with my lower back.

I'm 6'4" tall and ride a 62cm road bike and 21 inch mountain bike. When I ramped up my training three years ago I was struck with a bad back injury that kept me off the bike for three months. After lots of physiotherapy I was told I had weak core muscles, poor flexibility in back/hamstrings and a slight scoliosis in my spine. I now work my core twice a week (static and functional exercises) and stretch pretty much every day as well as using a foam roller once or twice a week.

Most of the time I dont have any back pain at all. I can do a 5-6 hour hilly road or mountain bike ride without problems. They only time I seem to suffer is when I race my mountain bike or when it's exceptionally bumpy. The way I would describe it is chronic back fatigue, it is really quite painful and I loose the ability to push hard on the pedals. I ride a Scott Scale carbon, 21 inch. Last year it happened on two long bumpy climbs in a 90km marathon race and this year on a flat bumpyish race course after one lap. I have had the bike two years and have tinkered with the position and feel I have it dialled.

I keep on top of my flexibility daily and feel the core work has really improved my efficiency on the bike. I have been thinking of getting a full suspension race bike to try and get rid of this back fatigue. Do you think this would help or is there anything else you could suggest?

Michael Coward

Steve Hogg replies:

This is an interesting problem that you have in that most people who own an mtb and road bike have more problems on the road bike than on the mtb. The more prone position of the road bike tends to exaggerate the effects of any structural shortcomings the rider has but your experience is the opposite. So that leaves me wondering why your back gets a workout on bumpy courses.

Possible reasons are a lumbar spine that is too flexed; either because the seat is too bar back, the bars too low or the reach from seat to bars being too short. Equally it could be a reach to the bars that is too great. Do you find your self creeping forward on the seat under high load for sustained periods?

If so, something is compromising your stability on the bike - seat height too high or an overly long reach to the bars are the obvious possibilities. Does any of this strike a chord?

Michael Coward then responded:

Steve,

Thanks for the reply. When I first bought the bike it had flat handlebars and as I had to have the saddle up high the drop to the bars was quite far, I now run riser bars, the drop from the saddle to bars is 85mm, does this seem like a lot for racing? I dont feel like I'm reaching too far for the handlebars, my flexibility has improved quite a lot and I feel comfortable on the bike.

The only time I find myself sitting on the tip of the saddle is climbing on the mountain bike and going really hard on the road bike; for example, when chasing someone down in a race, as we say 'on the rivet'. It may also be worth mentioning that I have all my saddles with a slight angle down tilt, I did this originally to ease pressure in the lumbar region of my back, it is something my physiotherapist (also a cyclist) suggested and seemed to work.

I also spoke to my physio after my latest bumpy race and he suggested that the saddle could have been too high. It's quite frustrating when the legs and fitness is good, I'm riding well then the back gives up.

Steve Hogg replies:

Whether 85 mm is too great a drop between seat and bars on your mtb is impossible to tell via email. A couple of things though. I except that it is 'normal' to slide forward on the seat of an mtb on steep climbs in lower gears just to keep the front wheel down, but you mention being 'on the rivet' (moving forward on the seat) on your road bike during severe efforts as though it were normal.

For mine that is abnormal and always a consequence of a less than ideal riding position or compromised degree of structural function or both. Even on an mtb, longer than 'normal' chain stays can make is less necessary to slide forward on the seat when climbing because the further back the rear axle, the harder it is to rotate around it.

Assuming you run the same seat on both road and mtb, your mtb seat height should be lower. I say this because some people think they should be the same and usually end up with problems on the mtb. You have problems on bumpy courses on the mtb but don't have problems at lesser loads on mtb or road bike. Seeing as your physio has mentioned seat height too, why not drop it 5mm and reassess?

Changes in maximum heart rate

I raced regularly from my teen aged years until around the age of 35. At the point I stopped my max heart rate was around 190bpm. Just "cruising around" at 150bpm was almost no effort and in serious climbing I could hold 180-185 bpm for quite a while.

Now fast-forward 15 years to today at age 49. I have started back into serious riding again and I am finding that my max HR seems to be 170-175 bpm. 140 bpm is quite comfortable but at 160 bpm I am really huffing and puffing. So, my question is: is this just a normal part of getting older?

On a sustained climb I can put out 300W on my PowerTap at about 155bpm. Do you think that this change in HR is due to age or just being out of training for so long? Will this improve over time as I get more miles under my belt?

Dave Walker
Central Point, OR

Scott Saifer replies:

Conventional wisdom says you should expect to lose 0.5 to 1 bpm off your maximum heart rate each year as you get older. That would explain the drop from a max of 190 to 175. Hitting your ventilatory threshold somewhere below 90 percent of max (below 160) is also expected. Well trained athletes don't "huff and puff" however, they breath more deeply and more rapidly. If you are really gasping, that would be a sign that you need to regain some fitness.

Dave Walker then responded:

Scott,

Thanks for the amazingly quick reply! I didn't literally mean 'huffing and puffing' but, rather, a change from deep regular breathing to deep but much faster breathing. It sounds like it is just what is expected. So, I guess that I need to just live with getting older and keep working on fitness.

Scott Saifer replies:

When you say "much faster breathing", that sounds like you are describing hyperventilation. Currently well trained athletes don't do that. They breathe deeper and a bit faster, but not a lot faster. The problem with too rapid breaths is that they don't exchange air deep in the lungs. Well trained athletes achieve an efficient balance of deeper and more rapid breathing that does effectively exchange air from deeper in the lungs. You can learn to do this voluntarily, but it also happens automatically when you train consistently.

Leg length discrepancy

I recently fractured my hip and had it repaired with screws (they used the loose ones from my head). The doctor says as per the x-ray that my leg is 1/2" shorter now than before. The fractured leg was already a bit shorter.

I know you can use spacers between the Look cleats and shoe sole. I use regular Look pedals but have two sets of Keos that were sent to me for warranty issues with the older ones. Because the Keo has less stack height can it be used on the longer leg and an older Look pedal be used on the shorter leg?

I want to avoid too many shims as I understand it creates instability. Also, is using two different crankarm lengths a good way to resolve this?

Thanks for your help always and your innovative approach to fitting.

Harvey Perersiel

Steve Hogg replies:

Eddie and I will have to agree to differ on this one. My experience is that it doesn't matter about establishing where the discrepancy in leg length is because that knowledge is only important if a formula response to it is planned. I think it best to take individual cases on their merits.

To that end, what matters most in accommodating a leg length discrepancy is that the rider sits as squarely as possible on the seat and has both legs reaching through the bottom of the pedal stroke with comparable power and control without their being problems on either side at the top of the pedal stroke. With that background, let me address you concerns:

"Because the Keo has less stack height can it be used on the longer leg and an older Look pedal be used on the shorter leg?"

Yes. There are two potential negatives with doing this. The first is that you then have a fixed 'effective' shim height. This may be too much or too little in your case. The second potential negative is that the weak point of all Look Delta cleats is that the contact point of cleat on pedal is also the contact point of cleat on ground when you walk on them.

That means that over time the Delta cleat abrades giving rise to vertical slop between cleat and pedal and a lower 'effective' shim height as the cleat wears. By contrast, Keo cleats have walking 'platforms' at front and rear. The area the contacts the pedal does not contact the ground until these walking platforms are abraded away after which is it is good idea to replace the cleat anyway

You need to understand that there is no difference in stability between using an older Look pedal and cleat as an 'effective' shim of 5 - 8mm (depending on which Keo model of pedal and cleat you are comparing to which Look Delta model of pedal and cleat).

"I want to avoid too many shims as I understand it creates instability."

That statement isn't correct in the context that you have used it. The pedal axle moves 360 degrees through a circle as does the foot on the pedal. They are separate and translated circles in that the foot sits above the pedal axle and so doesn't move through the same circle as the pedal axle.

The closer to matching each other that these two translated circles are the better in the sense that it takes less effort to stabilise foot on pedal when the two circles are closely matched than if they are not closely matched. That is why pedal manufacturers have reduced the effective height of their pedal/ cleat systems and shoe manufacturers have reduced sole thickness over recent years.

When you use two different pedal/cleat systems to form an effective shim on one leg, there will be no difference in stability of foot on pedal of the shorter leg than if a shim of the same 'effective' height is used. The only caveat that I'll place on that is that the shim is larger than the cleat and provides an effective platform for the cleat. You can make one from any suitable material or you can purchase pre made ones in varying thicknesses.

The other advantage of using a shim or shims is that the height of the shim stack can be varied easily, whereas with two different pedal systems you have a fixed non adjustable 'effective' shim with no ability to experiment (other than to add a shim!).

Shimming a cleat does create a greater demand for stabilising foot on pedal than not shimming but the way around that is to move the shimmed cleat back 1 mm or so for every 5 mm of shim height that you use. Of course moving the cleat further back on the shimmed side causes a fraction more leg extension on that side, but somewhere in there is an effective compromise.

"Also, is using two different crankarm lengths a good way to resolve this?"

Not unless all other options have been exhausted and having differing crank lengths is the least worst option left of only bad options left. You have different length legs that at some level are going to have to work at different levels of muscular contraction to produce the same amount of torque on each side. Why add to that difference by introducing differing crank lengths?

That will only place a greater demand on the shorter leg pushing a shorter crank if the desired outcome is both legs working as evenly as possible. They won't ever be the same because of the leg length difference and likely other functional and neurological asymmetries between left and right sides, but I see no value in increasing asymmetric function unless it is a better option than alternatives. A shim or shims is the best option. If by lucky coincidence the shim stack you need is the difference in stack height between a Keo and Delta pedal, then that will work fine. If not, use a shims or shims.

Best of luck and thank you for the positive thoughts.

Recovering from Colles fracture

I wrote a couple of years ago about sprinting, and you guys were a tremendous help... I'm a cat 3 woman - racing age 40 - no road racing last season due to a major surgery in my family last summer - cross season was a blast, though. This road season was supposed to be a sort of comeback season, if you will.

On March 1, I hit the deck playing hockey with my child and sustained a Colles fracture - actually - I also broke off that little pokey part on the tip of the Ulna as well. I had a cast for one month. I've been cleared for training and racing with a wrist brace. I borrowed a recumbent bicycle for about three weeks after the fracture and used my trainer with my road bike. Now, I've been riding my upright bikes for almost three weeks. I have done two local spring crits.

My problem is soreness and weakness. All those muscles that run parallel to the ulna pretty much disappeared during the cast-month. I've been working hard to restore as much range of motion and strength as possible. I've got about 75% of my range of motion back... But, the lack of strength in those muscles along the ulna side of my forearm is clearly limiting. I cannot get ideal leverage on the handlebar, and after I hit fatigue in those muscles, I can no longer even get decent leverage on the handle bar.

I get this funny cramp that runs from my wrist crease to my elbow at the point of fatigue, and I have to say, this is... well... an unpleasant sensation (it hurst like bloody ^&*$). Time to fatigue continues to lengthen.... I mostly have difficulty with standing climbs and sprints.

So, my question is this - are their cycling specific exercises I should do to improve strength/endurance?

Also, I'm about a month behind (at least it feels this way) in my training. I was able to keep my base, but my "high end" really stinks. Any advice as to how I might make a jump in that regard? And, I have to admit to feeling nervous on descents.... I find it difficult to stay in the fold, so to speak. In fact, at my crit of last night, I was dropped on the descent of the second-to-last lap... So advice there would also be most appreciated.

Lee Penn

Carrie Cheadle replies:

That's great that you are already back on the bike and have a couple races under your belt. I can address feeling nervous on the descents.

Sometimes when we are coming back from injury we feel a little more vulnerable and fragile. Often our body has healed before our confidence has, so when we get into situations where we think about the potential of getting hurt, we elicit our stress response out of a fear of getting reinjured. It's your brain's way of trying to keep you safe. Unfortunately in sport, it can have the opposite effect - making you tense which means you have less balance, less coordination, and are slower to process information and make adjustments if necessary. All of these things make it MORE likely for you to get injured! In your situation the nerves are coming out on descents. For other people it might come out during the final sprint of a crit.

Since you've only been riding upright for 3 weeks, some of your confidence will come back with time. The more experiences you have riding successfully down descents at increasing speeds, your brain gets the message 'See - we're fine. We can totally do this.' You can help speed up that message by doing a little proactive work on your mental game. The 1st thing to do is to make sure that your body is relaxed. Make sure that you are breathing. If you are holding your breath while you are descending - it will send your body into stress mode. So #1 - Breathe.

You can also remind your body to relax. Periodically during the descent, remind yourself to relax your hands and face. Just focusing on relaxing those two parts of your body will send a little message throughout the rest of your body to relax as well. Next you need to work on relaxing your brain - which means working on choosing your focus and your thoughts during the descent. Keep your focus in the present moment and your thoughts on what your need to do to descend successfully.

As you approach the descent, that's probably when the nerves start to kick in. At that point your focus can be on your breathing and saying to yourself 'I have the skills and I'm confident in my ability to descend.' As you descend, pick out specific things to focus on in order to descend smoothly. Focus on your breathing, your positioning, etc. Your brain can only process one to two pieces of information at a time. If you choose to focus on your breathing, positioning, etc., you don't give your brain the space to focus on feeling nervous. The more you practice, the stronger your confidence will become.

Midfoot cleat position data

My name is Jerry Gerlich and I have cycled since 1986. I began using Time clipless pedals on a 1989 Somec Columbus SL frame and added some Shimano SPD pedals to a Fat City Wicked ATB in 1990. Like many cyclists set up in a bike shop, all of my cleats were positioned directly under the ball of the foot. I kept that position until almost three years ago when I moved the cleat 10 mm back and dropped the saddle a bit per your suggestion.

This made a huge difference in comfort. After reading your postings on Cycling News I have been intrigued with the midfoot cleat position but like the rest of the naysayers, I folded my arms and stood my "traditional position" ground waiting for some peer-reviewed research data. After all, if the position is so special, why don't we see the likes of Eddie, Lance, and Miguel riding with their cleats in the middle of their arches?

My attitude began to shift in early 2008 when I read Joe Friel's blog about the position. Joe, like yourself, seems to know a thing or 2 about cycling and bike position. Then there was another shift in early November of 2008. I watched my 7 year old son riding up and down the sidewalk.

At that age, heart rate, watts, efficiency and recovery are not even in your vocabulary. But, there he was, going as fast as he could with his foot centred on the pedal. I generally don't take too much cycling technique/position advice from kids too young to ride in the front seat of a car but I noticed how fluid his feet and legs were moving. So, I took the plunge and sacrificed some old ATB shoes to the midfoot cleat cause and the adventure began.

After a few days of measuring/marking/measuring/marking/measuring/marking, I started drilling holes. The first few rides were a little iffy. I had to get the position right without the shoe hitting the crank and the cleats making too many creaking noises. After 3 trys, 11 cleat wedges and about a half of bottle of Gorilla Glue, I found the non-creaky wonderful new midfoot position. WOW! I enjoyed the position so much that I immediately began measuring/marking/measuring/marking my $250.00 Diadora road shoes get to try and get to a midfoot position on my Time RSX carbon pedals. The timing of this experiment could not have been worse as I had promised a friend that I would ride the Tour Das Hugel, an Austin area century climbing festival, just 10 days away. To make a long story short, the ride went awesome and I was chuckling to myself as we went up each of the hills in the Austin area. The ride was windy and my bike felt really solid as I had lowered my saddle by 35 mm.

But, what about some data? I work at a local Austin gym (Castle Hill Specialized Fitness) where we have a small bike shop and an awesome cycling simulator called a Velotron. For those readers not familiar with a Racermate Velotron, it is the big brother to a Compu Trainer. The Velotron data report is identical to a Compu Trainer's report. The Velotron ergometer measures actual electrical watts via the rear wheel running through a box containing electromagnets. Thus, the Velotron is the most accurate commercial watts-meter currently available. We have been using this unit since 2003 for fittings, testing and training.

I have attached two Racermate Velotron data reports comparing my personal forefoot/midfoot cleat positions. The report is based on a 8.79 mile simulation ride of L'Alpe d'Huez. The graph illustrates a middle, pinkish heartrate line, a lowest green watts line and a highest, purple Spinscan analysis line. Spinscan is a measurement of the fluidity of a rider's pedal stroke. As a rider produces a higher Spinscan number, he/she is turning over a smoother pedal stroke. For those of you interested, my threshold heartrate is around 152-156 bpm at 270-280 Velotron watts. I have been told that the Velotron watts feel 15-25 watts higher than an SRM (250 Velotron watts feel like 270-ish SRM watts).

The first graph, from June of 2008, shows a ride time of 1:06:46 with an overall average Spinscan of 89 (90 for the left leg and 88 for the right) was performed with the cleat 10 mm behind the ball of the foot. The second graph, (midfoot ride) from April of 2009, shows a ride time of 1:02.06, roughly 4:50 quicker than the 2008 ride . Upon inspection the average heartrate is a bit higher 151 bpm compared to 146 bpm for the previous ride. However, peak heartrate is only 2 beats higher on the quicker ride. The real difference between the 2 rides shows in the Spinscan analysis. The quicker ride shows 97 for both left and right legs. This is an indication that things flowed much better. At a casual glance, most should notice that watts, heartrate and Spinscan are more consistant on the quicker ride. Here's the kicker, the faster ride felt easier on the body in general. Get rid of all of the technology mumbo jumbo and I would still keep the midfoot position because my hamstrings are sore after rides and the quads and gastrocs feel awesome. And the unintentional icing on the cake is the higher speed handling improvement now that my 6'3" body is sitting 35 mm lower into my Pinarello carbon frame.

The midfoot position is not a be all/end all for everyone. Folks not exposed to toeclip overlap will have a wake up call on where to have the feet when doing u-turns. This issue works itself out within a few rides. Anybody with experience riding a track bike should figure this issue out quickly. The front of the foot will come closer to the ground while pedaling through corners. I felt my foot scrape the ground a handful of times so I just slightly adjusted how and when I pedal through the corners.

This issue reminded me of learning how to pedal through the corners with clipless pedals years ago... just pay attention and listen for a little scraping sound. Since the calf muscles are just about shut down in the midfoot position, sprinting ability is reduced. However, my sprint packs as much punch as a handful of glitter so I never relied on sprinting in the first place. I am more of a distance type rider who motors along the whole time. Since things shift forward as the saddle comes down, the stem may need to be lengthened and/or lowered to maintain the same back/knee/elbow relationship.

Thanks so much Steve for your suggestion to move my cleats to the center of my arch. Like yourself and Joe Friel, I will stick with midfoot from here on out. My legs feel better, my back feels better and my shoulders feel better as well due to the fact that I'm using less upper body to steer. My efficiency is up and my heartrate is down. I know this is not published, peer-reviewed data but I do have degree in Kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin, have worked extensively with the Velotron simulator (modified with a Mikkelsen sizing frame) since 2003 and have performed somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 bike fittings since 1989. Thanks for reading this far and have a great day.

Jerry Gerlich
Austin, TX

Steve Hogg replies:

Thanks for taking the time to commit your experience to print. Yeah, I'm a convert, some of my customers are and they have had similar experience to yours. In some, the improvements are greater and some lesser. Some show no improvement in heart rate vs output but anecdotally at least, recover more quickly from hard rides or hard efforts within a ride.. So midfoot is a valid choice if a rider wants to go to the trouble. It is a pity that some larger cycling shoe manufacturers don't offer a shoe with midfoot drillings as an option. It would make plenty of riders life easier as well as encouraging more to experiment.

The real credit for this shouldn't go to Joe Friel or me though, but to a German gent named Gotz Heine. It was through meeting him that my curiousity was tweaked enough to experiment. I think Joe Friel also met Gotz and had a similar experience. Gotz Heine has some very interesting and simple ideas for improving cycling performance without drugs and deserves a greater audience.

Maximum heart rate

I am a 45 year old club cyclist of average standard. I started cycling again after a 20 year lay off about 8 years ago. I have been delighted with my achievement having set a PB for a 10 mile TT of 22.49 and 57.37 for a 25. I have seen my max heart rate once at 190 but accepted 185 as the norm. I would expect to time trial at 175.

In the last couple of years I have struggled to achieve my best and to sustain a max heart rate of more than 165 and my legs feel, tired and stiff just after starting a TT.

Significant changes to my cycle habits which might have had an impact are;

1) I changed clubs two years ago and my riding regime changed from: October - December for winter miles January - March for winter miles and a high intensity 30 miler and turbo during the week then racing To: October - March for pretty hard Saturday ride of 65 miles, an easy Sunday ride while introducing midweek turbo session in the new year then racing from March
2) I used to train with my son who stopped riding for a couple of years. He was a competitive training partner
3) Large family and commitments
4) Run a business which in current climate has been quite stressful but I have always coped with this

Other issues:

a) I have less motivation now to race but love riding the bike, not sure whether the motivation to race came after the drop in performance or the other way around
b) I am constantly fussing about position and I am preoccupied by this when riding which does possibly effect my 100% focus on performance training. I feel that I have got on top of this but may need a good deal of gentle mileage to re-educate the body.

Resting heart rate normal at about 48 beats.

As I say I love just riding but on the last couple of performance efforts I feel like throwing my bike in the ditch!

Any efforts appreciated.

Simon Checkley

Scott Saifer replies:

There's a good chance that you rode too hard through the winter and are now paying the price. Riders can usually go hard (above LT long enough to get tired) one or two days per week for about four months with a good base before they burn out. Three days or more hard and they burn out sooner. It sounds like you used up your hard months for the year over the winter. Could be? If not, write again and we'll sleuth out what actually happened.