Your fitness questions answered
Topics: Hamstring problems, RE: Shaving your legs, Gracilis cramping, Seat setback, Recovery products, Position dependent leg length differences
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RE: Shaving your legs
Position dependent leg length differences
I have been experiencing a lot of pain in the belly of my hamstring muscles. After a day or two of recovery from a hard threshold session they hurt less. When I do these threshold efforts I usually notice the burn the most in the hamstrings. I have had a bike fit done so my position is at least reasonable. Are my hamstrings weak or should I look into another bike fit. I do stretch, but could do more. Any help would be much appreciated. I feel like this is really holding me back from doing more workouts.
Steve Hogg says:
If the hamstrings are overloaded, either the seat is too high or too far back. Or possibly both. Normally, if having the seat too high is what causes the hamstrings to load up, discomfort is felt either very high in the hamstrings or very low, not in the belly. This is not a 100% occurrence but it is more likely that your seat setback is too great as more often than not, when this is the reason for hamstring problems, it is the belly of the muscle group that feels the pressure.
The info on these links will help.
Seat set back
Thank you for your reply,
I've realized that I said belly of hamstring in my previous email when I've realized in actuality the pain in the hamstring was mostly high in the hamstring. So I decided to lower my seat a bit, and move it back a bit. The new position feels a lot better - especially when I try to ride at higher cadences. I ended up doing a 140 mile ride the other day and noticed some soreness in the upper calf/quad/and psoas muscle definitely no hamstring/glut fatigue like I usually experience. I think I might need to move the seat up just a bit to take a bit of the load off the quad/psoas. I have been reading a few of your bike fit articles and they seem match so well with my experience on the bike unlike a lot of the information I have read in the past. Thanks again.
Steve Hogg says:
Move your seat back to your original position and then lower it only. You have lowered it and moved it back. Moving it back increases seat height which at least partially offsets the positive effect of dropping it. The upper calf soreness means that you are either too high or your cleats are too far forward. Your psoas soreness means that they are too tight to start with and also that either your seat is too far back or that your bars are too low.
Only change one parameter at a time. See this post for a detailed explanation as to why.
RE: Leg Shaving
In a recent post, you commented on leg shaving.
The questioner raised one possible merit : "looking great under tough conditions," and you mentioned one clear demerit: "ingrown hairs"
To this demerit I would add
-- the time required
-- the risk of infection from nick and cuts
I would like to ask: What, if any benefits other than "looking great," accrue from shaving one's legs? The answer might be broken into several parts (if there is a difference)
-- benefit to the elite (pro or semi pro) cyclist
-- benefit to the amateur racer
-- benefit to the endurance rider
-- benefit to the recreational rider
Your comments on the merits and demerits of this practice to various levels of riding interest would be sincerely appreciated.
Scott Saifer says:
I have in the past answered this question in great detail in the forum, soI'll give the brief answer here. You are on the right track asking about benefits to different kinds of riders. For pros, the big benefit of shaving legs is being able to receive a massage or apply sunscreen, warming rubs etc without without getting hair pulled.
Most non-pros don't get massage often enough to need to shave for it, though being able to easily apply sunscreen is still nice.
Gracilis cramping post-ride
I have suffered gracilis muscle (inner thigh) cramps for several years. These cramps almost never occur on the bike (unless I’m really tired and over-doing it). Almost always occur several hours after the ride, often when rising from the couch, or getting out of bed. By that time, I have rehydrated, eaten, and often done other activity. When questioning other riders and sports med physicians, nobody else had heard of this type of cramping (although web search does come up with some discussions elsewhere). The cramps are bilateral (although often only affect one or the other leg), excruciatingly painful and very difficult to “stretch out”.
I do sweat profusely when riding, and I know that my sweat is fairly corrosive (evidence on the bike), suggesting it’s a high-salt solution. The cramps do not appear to be related to the time of year, but are somewhat related to the exertional effort (e.g. lots of hill climbing, racing etc). I find it hard to believe that it’s a matter of “undertrained” muscles. I do not currently take any electrolyte replacements prior to riding, but usually pre-hydrate, and try to stay hydrated as possible when riding (with water).
Is this a common problem for cyclists? Would specific electrolyte replacement or pre-treatment be of benefit?
Thanks for any advice.
Scott Saifer says:
There are numerous possible causes for your problem, but electrolyte issues are certainly a possibility and easy to check.
Start taking a calcium based antacid tablet each morning, and an extra one before rides, plus start using an exercise drink that contains sodium. Those two changes will stop cramps for many riders within a few days. If you try them and are still having the cramps after one week, please write again.
I’m a 25 year old grad student in China. After a long struggle with my weight, I took up running, and eventually cycling about three years ago. Before this year, cycling was a way of supplementing my running and providing a change of pace, so my on-bike intensity was quite low and my mileage was rather limited. But even then I experienced some discomfort mainly in the form of forefoot numbness. About a month ago, I read in this fitness Q&A section that someone experienced similar numb feet problem as I do, and Steve’s recommendation was, vastly simplified, to drop seat height. I tried this and it relieved a lot of the numbness I felt.
Recently, I have had to re-adjust my position, because the old saddle I used was an Allay Sport Racing. The air filled cushion didn’t help me so much as the massive-setback rail on the saddle. The setback option allowed me to achieve my ideal position as defined by Steve’s “No Hand at medium intensity test”. However, the complex shape at the side of the saddle meant it was shredding my shorts to pieces. But I’ve found that almost all the other saddle and seatpost combination I can get my hand on and/or afford simply would not allow me to go that far back. I’ve managed to find one combination which I could manage to be as close as possible. I guess my question here is: is the setback I need a function of my core strength and/or flexibility? If it is, would improvement in one or both allow me to move forward while still being able to maintain a stable position?
I have a quite noticeable right leg bias as in I drop my right hip a lot even if the intensity is not really high. It is most obvious when riding no hand sitting straight backed in the saddle.
The inside of my left knee sustained a serious strain/tear when I was in high school: someone practically sat on it while my left leg was extended to the side. As a result, my left leg feels shorted than my right. I’m not clear whether it’s functional or mechanical, as I’ve never had it tested.
For some unknown reason, my lower leg metabolism doesn’t seem to work properly. I experience some level of chronic lower leg fatigue at all times. Compression socks helped and, more recently, rolling a foam rolling under my calf and my ITB area seemed to resolve this problem.
Thanks for your advice!
Steve Hogg says:
I'll tackle the bike position aspects of your mail and leave Scott to answer the training related part.
RE seat setback; your self-description of right hip drop, a possible short left leg and something awry with the lower legs means that I would be surprised if you could pass the balance test well, without having your seat too far back. I may be wrong on this as I can't see you, but what I'm suggesting is the most likely possibility. So you may want to experiment with your seat further forward.
RE your right hip drop: There a myriad of possible reasons for this. Have you got access to a good structural health professional?
If so, have them conduct a global functional assessment. It wouldn't hurt to take your bike and an indoor trainer with you so that they can see what is going on. If the right hip drops markedly at even low intensity, you need to find the root cause(s) and work to resolve them.
If the seat needs replacing and you genuinely need a lot of setback, have a look at SMP Dynamic, SMP Lite 209, or SMP Glider. Not only do they have long rails but the shape of the seat dictates that the rider sit further back relative to the length of the seat than almost any other seat. The Dynamic and Lite 209 are better in this regard compared to the Glider but not by that much. Choose the Glider is you are a large, heavy person.
RE your point 2: When you see the structural health professional, talk to them about your left leg as well.
RE your lower legs: Are you sure that your seat is not still too high? The ITB pain indicates that you are rocking your pelvis on the seat. Have a look at this post about seat height for more info.
Additionally, what may well be playing a part is your cleat position. There is more info about that here.
Lastly, if you have been heavy for a long time pre weight loss, I strongly advise you to start a stretching and core exercise program.
I am looking into the use of protein based shakes and supplements to improve recovery, however with the number and variety of products on the market it can be difficult to differentiate between the science and the marketing hype and work out what is best to take, and when. I am purely looking to maximise my recovery, rather than gain or lose weight, and I have already given some thought to my diet, sleep, stretching and compression clothing. I usually ride five days a week, including one race, for a total of around 10-12 hours. I think I generally recover quite well and have no trouble training on consecutive days but I am keen to investigate whether there is something extra to be gained from the use of supplements and shakes.
The two main sources of protein in supplements seem to be whey and milk, and it is claimed that these release protein at a different rate. There are also supplements for additional amino acids, particularly glutamine and creatine. Some products offer these elements in isolation, others have combinations or an all-in-one approach, and some offer a blend of protein and carbohydrates in varying ratios, and even extra vitamins and electrolytes.
Can you offer any clarity on the matter and suggest how these products can best be used from a cyclist’s perspective? I assume that the body’s needs immediately after a ride are different to several hours later in the day, and before bed.
Thanks in advance,
Scott Saifer says:
What products to use depend on what you are looking to recover from. According to the research, protein in recovery drinks does not help with glycogen recovery unless the total calorie intake in the recovery period is inadequate. That is, when protein is added to a small dose of carbohydrate, it increases glycogen formation, but when you compare the protein plus carbohydrate drink to an equal number of calories of carbohydrate alone, the advantage of protein disappears. The important thing is to get enough total calories, with most of it coming from carbohydrate.
When you are looking to recover from soreness, the best done research says that protein doesn't help there either.
If your problem is too much money in your wallet, protein-containing recovery drinks are very helpful.
Thanks for your answer Scott.
I'm a student so it certainly isn't a problem of too much money! I just noticed that recently more products aimed at endurance athletes, not just gym-goers, advertise their protein content and wondered what the theory was behind this.
With regards to what I want to recover from, every now and again I find that I get on the bike and my legs don't feel 100 per cent, a bit empty. Not sore, but I feel that I'm working harder to reach my usual average speeds. This might typically happen after I've had a rest day, following a few consecutive days of hard training or a race. Does this sound like glycogen depletion? I probably eat less on a rest day because I'm not burning as many calories, but should I be maintaining my usual intake as my body is still recovering its glycogen stores?
So essentially, would you say that recovery drinks are just a convenient way of getting the calories that you need after a ride, without having to stomach a meal if you don't feel like eating? I find if I eat properly during a ride then I'm not immediately hungry when I get home, but I have heard that the body is most receptive to calories during the first 15-30 minutes after you finish.
Scott Saifer says:
I agree with your assessment of recovery drinks: They are a convenient way to get the calories you need. They don't contain any magic that is different from what you'd get from real food and water. You are right that the body is in the ideal state for glycogen formation shortly after an exercise session, but the research says that by 24 hours post exercise, glycogen stores will be no different between people who take advantage of the "glycogen formation window" and those who eat similar total calories spread over the following hours. If you are doing two workouts in one day a few hours apart, eating (or taking a recovery drink) right after a ride can be important. If you are not exercising again until the next day, then the timing of your calorie consumption becomes much less important.
The feeling you describe of needing to work harder to reach your usual speeds could be glycogen depletion, dehydration, electrolyte issues or a variety of other things. Depending on your size your body can store somewhere around 1000 Calories of glycogen. If you exercise to exhaustion of that supply, you'll need to eat about that on top of what you usually burn on a rest day to restore. Be aware though that you cannot 100% restore completely depleted glycogen stores in one day, no matter how much you eat or what you eat. That takes closer to three days, so avoid running your stores all the way down if at all possible.
Pamela Hinton says:
In addition to glycogen repletion, another important aspect of recovery from endurance exercise is protein synthesis. During aerobic exercise, such as cycling, protein breakdown in increased and protein synthesis is decreased, resulting in negative protein balance. By contrast, during recovery from exercise, synthesis of the skeletal muscle proteins that are needed for repair of muscle structures and for adaptation to training, e.g., mitochondrial proteins, is markedly increased. Consequently, protein balance during the post-exercise recovery period should be positive (i.e., a net increase). However, this aspect of recovery requires both adequate cellular energy and amino acids (building blocks of proteins). In other words, provision of dietary energy as carbohydrate without co-ingestion of amino acids will not allow optimal post-exercise protein synthesis.
The branched chain amino acid leucine plays a critical role in regulating skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Leucine directly stimulates protein production by increasing the cellular machinery needed to make proteins. Fortunately, the amount of leucine required to stimulate protein synthesis ( 2-4 g) can be easily obtained from a high quality protein such as cow’s milk ( 16 ounces) or whey protein.
To have the ingested leucine available to skeletal muscle during post-exercise recovery, it should be consumed within a window of 1 hour before exercise and up to 3 hours post-exercise.
Position dependent leg length differences (LLD)
Is it anatomically possible that leg lenth difference (LLD) depends on hip angle?
I have been assessed for LLD three times for various reasons (by an orthopedic doctor, a bike fitter and a physical therapist), and each time I was told I don't have a LLD. However, each examination took place either standing upright or laying flat.
What puzzles me is that if I lay flat with legs up against a wall in a 45 degree angle, I consistently see that my right heel is about 0.5-1.0" lower than my left one. I can rule out the trivial explanation that I'm not perpendicular to the wall since it is very reproducible, and I checked the alignment of the exercise mat relative to the walls, and my position relative to the exercise mat. I have to lay at least 10deg to the right (i.e. visibly non-perpendicular) to level the heels.
What are the possible explanations, is this something that should be compensated on the bike, and - if so - how? It seems the 45deg hip angle is much more relevant for my position on the bike. Although I frequently have some pain and tightness in my left quadratus lumborum, this is much more pronounced after sitting for too long, and much less so while or after riding my bike. If I get saddle sores, it is always on the right though.
My data: I'm 51, 5'7", 138lb, athletic, riding since 7 years and doing about 150mi / 8-10h / 10,000-15,000 ft climbing per week. I'm very sensitive to bike fit (each bike fitter independently ended up almost exactly at my empirical fit).
Steve Hogg says:
Firstly, competently taken external measurements of leg length have a plus / minus error factor of about 5mm. Next, even x rays and scans have to be taken with care to be accurate as there are some traps.
The totality of what you describe including the left QL pain suggests that you are dropping your right hip on the bike. The next thing to do is to confirm that by having an observer stand above and behind you while you pedal on an indoor trainer with your shirt off. It is conceivable that you are dropping your left hip but the greater likelihood is that it is your right hip.
Once you have established the state of play, find a good structural health professional (chiro, physio or osteopath) and have them direct you on how to resolve the functional LLD (assuming that is what it is).
This link will give you and idea of what is achievable with the right advice and treatment.
The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel
Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is head coach, CEO of Wenzel Coaching.com and has been coaching cyclists professionally for 18 years. He combines a master's degree in Exercise Physiology with experience in 20 years of touring and racing and over 300 road, track and MTB races to deliver training plans and advice that are both rigorously scientific and compatible with the real world of bike racing.
Scott has helped clients to turn pro as well as to win medals at US Masters National and World Championship events. He has worked with hundreds of beginning riders and racers and particularly enjoys working with the special or challenging rider. Scott is co-author of Bike Racing 101 with Kendra Wenzel and his monthly column appears in ROAD Magazine.
Steve Hogg has owned and operated Pedal Pushers since 1986, 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. He can be reached at: www.stevehoggbikefitting.com
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.
Pam 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 associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of energy balance on bone health. She has published on the effects of cycling and multi-day stage racing on bone density and turnover.
Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is a three-time Missouri State Road Champion.
James Hibbard progressed from the junior to the professional ranks as a rider and has over 15 years of competitive cycling experience. He is a former Collegiate All-American track cyclist, trained as a resident athlete at the United States Olympic Training Center, earned international medals as part of the U.S. National Team, and was a member of the powerhouse Shaklee and HealthNet Professional road cycling teams.
He has earned 13 National Track Championship medals, as well as numerous junior, U-23 and elite California State championships on both the road and track. Since retiring from full-time racing in 2005, James has focused on his development as a coach.
David Fleckenstein, MPT, OCS (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Eagle, ID and the president of Physiotherapy, PA, an outpatient orthopedic clinic focusing in orthopedics, spine, and sportsmedicine care.
His clients have included World and US champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his Masters degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University and is currently completing his doctorate at Regis University.
He is a board certified orthopedic specialist focusing in manual medicine and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilisation musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.
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.
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.
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.
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