Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to email@example.com. Emails may be edited for length or clarity, but we try to publish both questions and answers in their entirety.
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.
Steve Hogg says:
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.
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
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.
Steve Hogg says:
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:
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
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.
Scott Saifer says:
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.
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.
Steve Hogg says:
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!
Scott Saifer says:
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.