Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - March 3, 2011

Your fitness questions answered

Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to fitness@cyclingnews.com. Emails may be edited for length or clarity, but we try to publish both questions and answers in their entirety.

Determining float

I was wondering if there is a way to determine the correct amount of float. I've read you should look at the feet hanging off a table, see the angle they naturally maintain, and use this as your neutral/starting position. Does this have any merit? I noticed mine were a bit toed out when doing this but I have medial knee pain issues.

Thanks,
Bennett Fallow

Steve Hogg says:

Bennett,

What I'm assuming you mean is a method to determine what angle to place your cleats at on the sole of the shoe?

If so, the method follows but before that, it's imperative that arch support be addressed. Very, very few cycling shoes have any real arch support and this lack can be the cause or part of the picture of many cycling related injuries including medial knee pain. Superfeet are popular and deserve to be but only really work for those with low to moderate arches. The best solution is ESoles Supportive which have modular replaceable arch supports in 4 different heights. Sadly, they have recently discontinued the black arch support insert which is needed by something like 20 - 30% of the people that I see; the ones with high to very high arches.

The correct amount of arch support should feel mildly intrusive when standing. That is mildly intrusive on a 3 point scale consisting of Not Intrusive, Mildly Intrusive and Very Intrusive. Mildly Intrusive when standing if judged correctly will not be felt as anything other than supportive after 15 minutes of cycling. Now to the method of determining cleat angle.

1. Place your bike on an indoor trainer and pedal for 10 minutes, warming up until you are riding with reasonable load. The load needs to be heavy enough for you to be working hard but without sacrificing technique. Observe the angle of your feet on the pedals. It may be toe in, toe out or straight ahead. It may vary between feet. Make a mental note of that angle.

2. Step off the bike and determine where the centre of the 1st MTP joint (ball of the foot) is on your bare foot. You should be able to feel the joint hollow with your finger or thumbnail. If in doubt, dorsiflex the big toe several times while your nail feels for the spot. If in doubt, place a pen dot on where you think the joint hollow is and dorsiflex the toe again. If the spot is correct, the mark should not move or should barely move.

3. Get a aluminium cable crimp; the bizzo that is fitted to brake and gear cable ends by bike shops to prevent them from fraying. Also get some packing tape. Cut a piece of clear packing tape 3 or 4” long and place the cable crimp in the centre. Place the tape over the foot in such a way as to position the cable crimp vertically, exactly over the mark you have made on the joint space of your 1st MTP joint. Now reenter the shoe and feel for the cable crimp and place a mark on the outside of the shoe where you can feel the crimp protruding.

Repeat the process on the other foot. (I've used a lot of methods to mark the centre of the joint space of the 1st MTP joint. The method described above was first shown to me by Jerry Gerlich and is at least as accurate as any method I have tried and has the advantage of being less time consuming than many I have used)

4. Remove your shoes and place one of them in the pedal. Make sure that crank arm is forward and horizontal. Viewing from the opposite side of the bike (so that you can see the pen mark on the shoe and its' relationship to the pedal axle), make sure that the shoe is leveled between where the sole joins the upper at mid heel, and where the sole joins the upper underneath the ball of the foot.

With many shoes this will give the appearance of being heel down but what we are trying to achieve is leveling the foot inside the shoe. Most shoes have a ‘heel lift' in the shoe last shape and a sole that is thickens underneath the cleat mounting area, so the heel will appear to be down when the foot is level.

5. Again viewing from the opposite side of the bike, use a T square or rule held vertically, to determine where the pen mark indicating the centre of the ball of the foot is in relation to the centre of the pedal axle. Make sure that the shoe is being held in the pedal at the approximate rotational angle that you observed from above when pedaling under load. Measure the axle centre to pen mark distance and adjust forwards or backwards as necessary until you achieve the desired placement of the axle line relative to the centre of the ball of the foot (the mark on the shoe)

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the other shoe.

7. Now go for a ride and find a clear stretch of road without traffic or obstacles, accelerate to at least 30 - 35 km/h and stop pedaling with the right foot forward. Take care to keep your foot from swiveling as you stop pedaling. With the foot forward, attempt to turn the heel inwards. Is there available free play?

If not, stop and adjust the angle of the cleat. Remember: if you want your heel to move in, the nose of the cleat needs to point in towards the centre line of the bike.

If there was inward movement, continue again, accelerate to 30 - 35 km/h, stop pedaling again and attempt to move your heel outwards. Is there available freeplay?

If not, stop and adjust the angle of the cleat. Remember: if you want to move your heel outward, the nose of the cleat needs to point more outwards from the centre line of the bike.

Keep repeating this until under load, you foot position angle on the cleat allows you free movement either side of where your foot naturally wants to sit under load.

8. Repeat step 7 on the left side.

Explanatory note:

Some pedal systems, notably Shimano SPD – SL with yellow tipped cleat and Look Keo with grey cleat have so little rotational adjustment range that the above process can be frustrating and time consuming. With Look Keo's, if this is a problem, it is cheap insurance to use the red cleats instead of the grey cleats as the red version have double the rotational movement. With the SPD –SL's, there is no extra free play option. The bottom line is that you need to be patient to get the best result possible.

9. Ideally, the centre of the midfoot should be below the centre of the knee as the knee extends. If your hips are noticeably naturally externally or internally rotated (that is toes pointing out or toes pointing in) to a large degree while pedaling, this can be hard to achieve with most three bolt pedal systems, particularly the 2 mentioned above as angling the cleat also uses up the potential to move the cleat across the shoe.

If you develop problems because of this, I would suggest Speedplay pedals because they are the only road pedal that separates the rotational and lateral cleat adjustment functions. Additonally, Speedplay make 5 different axle lengths which between them will accommodate most riders needs. If you need more axle length than the longest (plus 1/2") Speedplay option, then BikeFit Systems and others sell fittings to space the pedal out further. There are 20mm, 25mm and 30mm options

Bike fit

Hi,

My left foot wobbles from side to side at the bottom of each pedal stroke. I sometimes get pain in the inside-front of my left knee after a long ride. My right foot does not wobble at all. How can I fix my problem?

A bit about me:

* I'm 6' 5" tall.
* I weigh about 85-90kg.
* I'm 43 years old.
* I commute on a 22" steel hard-tail mountain bike.
* I ride a 65cm steel road bike with relaxed seat tube and head tube angles on weekends.
* Both bikes have Shimano SPD pedals fitted to 175cm cranks.
* I wear cheap Shimano commuting shoes with SPD cleats.
* I live in Melbourne.
* I am reluctant to have new frames built.

I've followed your cycle-fit work for many years and greatly value your opinion on cycle-fit matters. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Regards
Jon Thornton

Steve Hogg says:

Jon,

You're overextending on the left side which is why your foot wobbles around as the extension of the left leg is poorly controlled. This may be because:

1. You are not sitting squarely and the left leg has to reach further than the right leg.
2. You have a shorter left leg.
3. Your left arch is dropping under load causing you to have a functionally shorter leg when pushing hard.

A simple test is to drop the seat 5mm. Once you have done this, reassess the left foot stability and get back to me.

John then responded:

I needed to drop my seat height by 10mm to completely remove the wobble from my left foot. This simple change made a huge positive difference to my comfort and power. Thanks very much for the tip.

Steve Hogg says:

Jon,

Glad to be of help. You have no idea how many people sit too high because they either set there seat height by a formula or after a ride around the block on flat terrain.

When we sit too high, always, at a level below conscious thought, we will choose a side to save (by leaning towards that side) and decreasing the distance the leg has to extend) and a side to sacrifice (usually but not always the left) by leaning away from from that side and increasing the distance that leg has to reach. This is without even considering the challenge to the plane of movement of the hips and knees.

So 10mm it is then. I suggested 5mm because that is the smallest increment that will make a marked difference in 'feel'. An observation - most people sit too high and most really tall people sit too low.

Aiming to improve

Hi,

I'm 39 years old, weigh 68kg and I'm 1.75m tall. Although I've cycled all my life, I've only been taking it seriously for just over a year. Last season I made big improvements and am looking to improve on them this year.

Last summer I did the Alpe D'Huez in 1.15. My target for next year is the one-hour mark, to be done as part of a week's cycling in the Alps.

Unfortunately, as I'm holding down a job, my training time is limited. I'm doing 8-10 hours a week of base training, half at zone 2/aerobic, and half in sub-LT speed, muscular endurance or hill sessions. For the last 15 years I have also done another 10 bike commutes a week, each of 30 minutes at aerobic or tempo pace.

Although my HR recovery and general RPE on the Alpe was good, I need to turn a bigger gear, so I'm also doing about three hours of weights a week, focusing on leg and ab muscles.

I have found your advice to other riders really useful, and I'm trying not to overcook it so that I can be ready for the serious work after Christmas. I have two questions:

1. Should I count my five hours commuting a week for anything? (i.e. does it add to my fitness/do I need to count it when considering overall mileage/overtraining?)
2. What's the biggest area I could improve in over the next four months?

Any advice really welcome, thanks.

John
Edinburgh, Scotland

Scott Saifer says:

John,

Yes, commuting time counts when considering total training hours, especially since you mention that you sometimes do the commute at Tempo pace. If by tempo you mean up near but below LT, I'd suggest you think twice about doing it on a 30-minute commute. Most riders find they need at least 20-30 minutes to be warmed up enough to do a high-quality, tempo-level workout.

On a 30-minute commute, you should basically be doing tempo only into the parking lot at the destination, but not earlier on the ride. One way to make the commute more valuable is to go out of your way so you can warm up for 30 minutes, and then launch into the heart of your workout for the day.

One thing you can definitely due to improve your time on long climbs is lose about 5 kg. By itself with no change in training time or quality, that would take about 6 minutes off your Alpe d'Huez time. Aim to lose that weight at 1/2 kg-1 kg per month to avoid losing power.

This time of year, do all your training in zone 2/aerobic, bringing the tempo work in later. You haven't mentioned goals before the summer tour, but in any case, if your goals are steady paced climbs and TT type efforts, you'd do well to do as much base as possible now, introduce tempo work with three months to go before your events, introduce shorter (a few minutes) LT intervals about two months before your events, and then start doing event-simulations about one month before your events.

By doing harder stuff now, you are taking energy and time away from base training, and gaining types of fitness which can be optimized in plenty of time for the summer even if you start later.

You haven't mentioned cadence, so here are some thoughts for you one that topic. You'll be much faster on a one hour climb if you can learn to make good power at 90-110 rpm than if climbing always makes you mash a bigger gear, so work on making power at higher cadences a few days each week, but also take one or two days a week to push on the pedals at 70 rpm in the endurance zone. That gives you an opportunity to practice pushing harder on the pedals, without getting you caught up in exhausting workouts.

Twisted pelvis

Hello, I have read your articles about riders who have a twisted pelvis. I was fitted by a reputable fitter (Fitwerx in Vermont). The fitter discovered that my left knee in the 9 o'clock position was about one inch behind where my right knee would be in the same position (3 o'clock). The fitter placed 8mm shims under my left cleat.

My pedal stroke always felt blocky. The shims made my stroke smoother. Do you think that by placing the shims under my L cleat could/would affect my back?

I ask you these questions because you are the only source that I have read about concerning twisted pelvis.

Thank you,
Paul

Steve Hogg says:

Paul,

I can't answer your question definitively without knowing more about you than the info you have provided. Ideally if would be nice to have an xray or scan to determine whether there is a functional leg length difference. I also strongly suggest that you get some ESoles Supportive insoles and fit them to your shoes with whatever arch support option feels mildly intrusive. In the absence of any info re LLD the left knee sits rearward of the right knee because either:

1. You have a shorter left femur and are sitting square (though the subject heading of your mail suggests otherwise
2. You twist forward on the right side of your pelvis with or without an LLD
3. You don't sit over the centre line of the seat with or without an LLD
4. Possibly a combination of any or all of these things

If it's 1 is the case, a shim will help long term.

If it's 2 then a shim may be of benefit in the short term but the best long term solution is to find why you sit with right hip twisted forward and resolve the issue.

If it's 3 you need to re-train your skewed awareness of where 'centre' is. Probably the best way to do this is to cut a 40 or 50mm (1.5 - 2") long piece of electrical conduit of 20mm (4/5") diameter and tape it with bar tape. Then use packing tape to place it in the rear centre of your seat.

What you are aiming to achieve is for that piece of taped conduit to fit within the cleft of your backside. It needs to be intrusive enough to alert you to any tendency to sit off centre but not so intrusive as to cause pain. This is not a joke, I am deadly serious. In the past I have used modified seat posts that allowed the seat to be positioned at a tilt or off the centre line of the bike in an effort to get the rider's butt on centre, but the best solution is to retrain the rider's awareness of where a centred position on the seat is.

If this is what you need to do, then ride at low intensity for a month and then build up intensity gradually. Once you have been able to ride hills for a couple of weeks without feeling like you are moving off centre, remove the "biofeedback device" and see how you go without it. You may need to refit but if you do, every couple of weeks remove and reassess.

Upper body strength training

Your answer about the potential benefits of strength training in the Fitness Q&A was very interesting and very useful. I have read that strength training for the legs doesn't necessarily bring benefits because of the relatively light strength needed to turn the pedals – although the other couple of benefits you listed were interesting to hear.

But what about strength training for the upper body? I have heard sports medicine experts stress the importance of keeping the whole body in condition, even muscles that are relatively unused for the particular sport. This keeps the body “in balance” and reduces the chances of injury. Clearly a cyclist doesn't want to develop large and hence heavy upper body muscles but should you spend some time in the gym on upper body muscles eg using light weights but multiple repetitions?

I don't include core muscles in the question and already do three sessions a week to work on them.

To provide some context, I am 45 and have been cycling regularly for a year. I stopped playing squash 4 – 5 times a week and now cycle that frequently. With cycling I do not have the problems with my back and other aches that regularly afflicted me with squash.

Sorry if you have answered this in previous Q&A sessions – if you have, please point me in the right direction!

Many thanks,
Andrew

Scott Saifer says:

Andrew,

Thanks for the inquiry. I do recommend upper body strength training for most riders for the reasons you suggest, plus a few more. The only people for whom I don't recommend a program of upper body strength training are those who have an injury that makes lifting uncomfortable, and those who are overweight where a part of the overweight is large upper-body muscles. Not counting massive, body-builder or power-lifter types,

It's almost impossible to lose muscle mass on a muscle thats getting any sort of regular workout, so no upper body lifting for people who are trying to lose weight from the upper body. People for whom upper body strength training is precluded by injury should actually still be doing a workout, but it should be rehabilitation under the guidance of a physical therapist.

When you are cruising along at moderate power, the upper body doesn't contribute much to the effort, but during an all out sprint or hard, low-cadence climbing, the arms and shoulder can get involved in making power so upper body workouts can help beyond simply maintaining balance and preventing injury. I agree with your idea of doing relatively long sets with lighter weights to maximize strength from existing muscles rather than adding mass.

Full Specifications

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: stevehoggbikefitting.blogspot.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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