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I've had a problem with a sharp lower back pain, usually around the left sacroiliac joint, while cycling for a number of years that comes on after about one hour of riding and gets worse the longer I ride. It's especially a problem on steeper climbs - i.e.- over 10 percent gradient and more than once has forced me to abandon a ride or seen me drop off the back of the bunch.
Assorted stretches/exercises/bike fit changes over the years have given varying degrees of relief at different times but nothing has fixed the problem or proven to be a longer-term fix. After years of seeing a long list of doctors, chiropractors and physiotherapists, I recently visited an osteopath for the first time - he tells me that I have a significant difference in muscle size and texture between my left and right glutes with the right glutes being the smaller and the texture being described as 'ropey'.
He described the left glutes as'normal'. No mention of which specific glute muscles are smaller so I take it that it's all of them. Other than that he rated my overall condition, strength and flexibility as good, including core strength, apart from a slight lordosis of the lower back, left leg 8mm longer and a slight pelvis tilt. These issues apparently disappeared after what I'll describe as a minor manipulation.
He asked that at some time I lie face down and lift my right leg off the floor and time how long I can hold it up then try the same thing with the left leg for comparison. When I did, the right leg lasted one minute 51 seconds and it was shaking wildly by the end and the left lasted three minutes eight seconds but wasn't shaking much at all at the end.
So it seems he may be on to something, whether or not it's a cause of the back pain.
He has suggested I take up glute extension exercises which I've done(single leg bridges and standing glute extensions with an inner tube providing resistance) but it's early days (1 week) and there haven't been any noticeable improvements with the back pain yet.
The osteopath though does admit that he knows nothing about cycling and hasn't treated cyclists specifically so I'm looking for your advice and suggestions on how to treat the glute strength/size imbalance.
Some information on me.
My bike fit was done by a local sports institute tech and has remained largely the same for the past 4 years. I stretch several times each day, focussing on my lower body (piriformis, psoas/hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, etc) . I also start each day with a routine of push-ups and crunches.
I have some slight narrowing of the L5-S1 but no other spinal issues noted.
I'm a recreational roadie, 54 years old, 195 cm and 101kg who rides with a local bike club. Torso length is 70cm, arm length is 69cm, shoulder width is 51cm, inseam is 93.4cm, foot length is 31.2cm and thigh length is 43.6cm.
I have a history of low back niggles stretching back some 40 years as well as assorted old injuries from 35+ years of playing basketball up to Div 1 level. These injuries include a right ACL replacement some 20 years ago. I used cycling as cross-training for basketball but took it up as my main exercise activity some 15 years ago.
Currently my riding consists of a faster four-hour group ride over varied terrain on Sunday, a couple of aerobic one-hour spin sessions on the trainer during the week (HR<80% of max) and one mid-week road ride-cum-time trial over rolling terrain of one hour. Additionally, I do a couple of one-hour gym workouts that comprise 30 minutes rowing (7600-7800 metres covered) and 30 minutes walking uphill on the treadmill (7% grade @ 7km/h).
I take one or two days off the bike each week and over Spring/Summer/early Autumn I increase the intensity of the hard workouts each week for two or three weeks before taking a week or so to recover and then repeat. I don't worry too much about heart-rate during any one workout but instead focus more on weekly totals per zone. Over the past 10 weeks 12% of my exercise time has been spent in 85 – 95% of MHR, 20% at 80 – 84% MHR, 62% at 60 – 79% MHR and 6% at less than 60% MHR.
Steve Hogg says:
If you have a functionally short right leg and after manipulation the difference resolves, I would be surprised if the adjustment 'sticks' for any real length of time unless the underlying causes of why the right side gluteals aren't firing is addressed.
The location of the pain makes it likely that what you are doing on a bike is dropping or rolling forward on the right side pedal down stroke because the right leg it is functionally shorter. In many cases this will put posterior pressure on the left sacro iliac joint which I'm assuming is the cause of the pain.
Luckily for you, there is a gent in Adelaide named Eric Pierotti who is a bit of a whiz at sorting out similar problems to yours. If you contact me privately, I'll give you his details. Once you're on top of your structural condition, and given your history, a quality bike fit is probably needed as well.
I hope this helps.
Vegetarianism and cycling
Being a vegetarian I have always wondered if this diet would deliver me the wants and needs to compete with my Carrion eating fellow racers? I guess I would need to eat a truck load of tofu etc to gain the same levels of protein that a piece of steak can deliver. I think from memory Robert Millar and the Linda McCartney team were the only vegeterians in the peloton.
Scott Saifer says:
It is entirely possible to be a champion bike racer on a vegetarian diet. You do need to be careful to get enough protein, but it's not particularly difficult. In fact, many meat-eating athletes get far more than the ideal amount of protein so you don't really want to get the same amounts of protein that they are getting from a piece of steak.
There is another element of meat that you can't get from a vegetarian diet however: Creatine. Creatine is found in meat and you need it for short, high-force efforts like sprinting. Except for extremely highly trained athletes or people who are pathologically low in creatine, muscle creatine levels are not important for aerobic performance.
Your body will make its own creatine when if you don't get it from meat, but muscle creatine levels in vegetarians generally are lower than those in meat eaters. Creatine is available as a supplement and I sometimes recommend it for vegetarian athletes, particularly if they have the aerobic power to get to the ends of races but seem weak in the sprint and in strength-training type efforts.
Eating on longer rides
I am a 44-year-old male cyclist and I weigh 200lbs. I'm 6'2" tall. I've been a road cyclist for six years. I am hoping you can help me with a problem that I've been having over the past few years when it comes to rides that go over 90 miles and are especially challenging such as ones that include large amounts of climbing.
What happens is that as I approach, on average, the 85-mile mark, I begin to get almost nauseated and lose my energy and barely feel like keeping my head up, it seems. Once at this point, I don't feel that I can get any food down and water doesn't seem to help. An example would be this weekend on a 90 mile ride through some of the bigger climbs in my area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As if on cue, at around 84 miles, I suddenly had nothing left in my legs and the weakness just continued right up my body and into my neck and shoulders.
Throughout the ride I drank plenty of water, all in all, four full bottles. Then at the first store stop I had a chocolate milk and a pack of salty pretzels with some cheese (Combos) as a quick snack. After ascending a couple of other mountains we had a second store stop to load up our water bottles which I did and also drank a small Gatorade G2 and a Lifewater with electrolytes drink. Here I also had a Snickers peanut butter candy bar.
Granted I know these aren't the greatest of nutritional items, but I only ever have these on a ride and only because they are easy to get at convenience stores and provide a lot of carbs and some protein. Further, about an hour into the ride, I also had an Accel gel pack. I feel that this sudden nausea and rapid loss of energy (bonking) is likely due to me not getting enough calories. However, as mentioned, I did eat a gel pack in the first hour, more food at about 2.5 hours, more at about 4.5 hours and at these store stops I felt that eating much more would be too hard for me to process and digest and I would get sick from "too much" food.
The average speed that day was a little over 17mph. Finding out if it's the lack of food that is causing this to happen almost always at the 85-90 mile mark, and how to correct this problem is very important to me. Besides helping me be better on normal rides, I have a strenuous ride coming up, the Assault on Mount Mitchell, in a couple of months and this happened to me on that ride last year.
I was feeling well, my ride was going according to plan and my time was looking good. I had hoped to come in under seven hours. However, about 87 miles into the ride, I bonked. And what's worse, I got nauseated, just to the point of thinking I would vomit, but never did. I tried to force some food down, but couldn't make it happen. Needless to say, I missed my goal of going under seven hours.
During that ride I drank probably six bottles of water, an FRS energy drink, had two flasks of Hammer's Sustained energy supplement, ate a banana, a few cookies at one of the brief rest stops, two Accel gel packs, and possibly another energy bar. Again, not huge amounts of calories for someone of my size, but I don't know how I can get down many more calories during a ride without getting sick from "trying" to get a lot of calories down, or if this is even my problem.
But again, to re-iterate, the two biggest problems are the nauseated feeling and my legs just dying and not bouncing back after a tough climb. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Spartanburg, SC USA
Scott Saifer says:
You are not eating enough. You are not eating often enough and you are making bad food choices. It's no surprise you'd be bonking. I can't promise that eating better will prevent the bonk, but pretty much anyone who ate the way you have been eating would bonk, so at least you've got a good chance.
Here's your new eating prescription: from the beginning to the end of the ride: have a few big bites of something high in carbohydrate, with a small amount or protein or no protein at all and minimal fat every 15-20 minutes. Someone your size should be able to absorb about 300 Calories per hour. In 15-20 minute chunks, that's 75-100 Calories per chunk. Do not go more than 20 minutes without a bite. Forget the cheese.
You can use athletic energy foods, or choose from among these long-time cyclist favorites: pretzels, fig bars, bananas, potatoes, PB&J, crackers, bagels, rolls. Eating every 15 minutes is going to require carrying several hours worth of food. Recharge your pockets at your store stops, but don't do your eating there. Eat on the bike to save time.
Drink enough that you need to urinate a few times during one of your long rides and that when you urinate, the color is pale, in the lemonade rather than the apple juice range.
Riding after a disaster
I wonder if you can help me adjust my mindset in time for a race in less than two weeks. I live in Christchurch, New Zealand and on February 22 our city was struck by a powerful earthquake that has pretty much destroyed our CBD. I was in our office that day on the first floor and for the first time in my life I was convinced I was checking out that day as I was waiting for the three floors above me to come down on top of us.
I emerged unscathed to find utter chaos and multiple deaths in the street that day. I was one of the lucky ones; close to 200 people in our city that day were not. I work for the local electricity network, listed as an essential service and ever since that day I been living a "new normal" - coming into the CBD through a police and army cordon to work in what appears to be essentially a war zone to do my day's work.
The CBD that I now work in is in total lockdown. On the first day of work we were working in the street, out of the back of cars, under canvas, with fire fighters, search and rescue teams and army helicopters flying overhead. After that came the sounds of dogs searching for bodies and then the large trucks and cranes removing buildings that were no longer safe. It just goes on...
Here's my issue, I guess; up until that day I was training well and making great progress towards a goal that I had set for a race coming up on April 2. Since then life has seemed so very different and the motivation to continue training for at least 10 days after the quake largely disappeared.
I have got back on the bike because it is something that I both love and need to do but my performance feels like it has gone backwards by something approaching six months. Of course I know, and you will be able to confirm, that a drop off in performance over such a short period is not that pronounced. Hence I believe I've just got to get my head around things and focus again even though this seems so trivial compared to the hurt endured by our city and indeed the enormous loss being dealt with in Japan.
I almost feel guilty as my home was pretty much untouched and my family and friends are all safe and well (one brother was a bit grumpy that I couldn't get the power back on at his house sooner... I think he's over it now).
Any tips or mental exercises that I could perhaps employ to get me back on track? Or should I just go the event with no expectations and just enjoy being out of the shakey city for a couple of days? I would really appreciate your thoughts.
Carrie Cheadle says:
In the face of an emergency, different things become important. It's normal to feel like certain things in life are trivial and to even question your participation in certain things when you know how much other people are suffering. It's normal to feel a sense of guilt and to even feel like, 'Who am I to be able to ride my bike and be concerned with my fitness when other people have lost everything?'
It is difficult to hold onto in times of crisis, but life is for living and if biking is something that you love, you don't have to feel guilt for it being a part of your life. The reality is that your motivation and expectations for your upcoming race might need some adjustment. How you adjust exactly is up to you. You can go in with the attitude of just accepting where you are at and feeling immense gratitude for racing. You can go in and embrace your love of being on the bike and ride for the people who can't. You can also bag the race entirely and look forward to the next one.
You need to be patient with yourself. You will be back in race form in no time - but right now you don't need to be concerned with that. You took the time off that was necessary and there is nothing wrong with that.
Even if you haven't lost all of your fitness, going through that kind of stress takes a tremendous toll on your body and mind and that can have a great impact upon your racing form as well. You can't base your race goals on the fitness level you had or would have had going in, you have to base them on where you are at right now. This goes for anyone that has had to make a major adjustment during their race season.
There will be seasons that don't go as expected because of illness, injury, emergencies, or just life - and that's life. The people who are able to make and accept the adjustments are the ones who thrive and keep moving forward. Whatever you decide is OK.
You and everyone that was impacted by the earthquake have gone through a tremendous traumatic event and it takes time to recover from that. You might not have the same fitness you would have had if you were able to continue with your training, but you can still love to bike and enjoy your race if you adjust your goals before you go in. Trust your gut and you will know how to approach your upcoming race.
I'm a 49-year-old guy from Norway and I have some problem with my position on the bike.
In every pedal stroke, my left femur touched my stomach/torso at the top of the stroke. Because of that I feel the pedal stroke is not optimal and disturbs my rhythm.
I was racing in the '80s and I cannot remember having a problem like this.
Here's some data about me:
Height: 179 cm
Weight: 73 kg
Inseam: 87.5 cm
Seat height: 76.4 cm (from BB to top of saddle).
Crankarms: 172.5 cm
Shoe size: 42 (EU)
Bike size: 54 cm, with top tupe 54.5 cm
Stem length: 10 cm
Distance from top of bars to top of saddle: 82cm
Reach from saddle next to stem: 52.3 cm
Saddle setback: 7.2 cm
Cleat is about 2 mm behind ball of the foot.
When sitting on saddle and heel on pedal: My right leg is about 4mm "shorter" then the left leg (left leg touch the pedal, but right leg has some air between heel and pedal. Because of that I have two shims between cleat and shoe).
I hope you can give me some advice here.
Ole - M. Davidsen
Steve Hogg says:
This is a tough one based on the information that you have provided but there are only a finite number of possibilities. Firstly, I assume that the left upper leg only contacts your torso when you are riding with hands placed in the drop bars?
If that is correct, then either your left knee is rising higher at the top of the stroke or that you twist your torso down to the left. Or possibly both.
You think your left leg is shorter and have shimmed the cleat but you don't say by how much. It may be the shim stack on the left side that is causing that knee to rise higher at the top of the pedal stroke. A simple way to find out is to remove the shim and see what happens.
Additionally, have some one stand behind you while you pedal reasonably hard on a trainer. They need to tell you whether you sit twisted forward on one side. Let me know the answer.
I am hoping you can help with an ongoing bike fit problem I have. I wrote in a couple of months back about calf soreness and moved the cleats on my shoes as per Steve Hogg's advice this definitely helped my calf, except that on hills with the ball of foot 11mm in front of pedal axle my left shoe was pushing into the front of my ankle and I felt that I had no real movement available in that ankle. I moved the cleat forward 5mm and that fixed the problem.
Did I just need to drop my seat more or move it forward or back or had I just moved my cleat too far back?
Anyway, now to my current problem. On a ride yesterday that started flat I had no problem - I rode at a good speed, felt that I had good control and technique but when I came to ride up a local hill of 7km with an average gradient of 7 percent I had no speed. I could either spin or change up a gear and maintain speed but I had no power - I was 3km/h down on normal speed and I just put this down to it being a 35-degree day or having bad day, etc... but when I got to top of the hill my speed went back up and I felt good.
Two areas of pain stand out from the hill - burning feet and a pain in right quad, running along the top to a point approx 5in from my knee and then feeling like it runs around the leg.
I have also some pain in the front of my hips which is worse on the right and when I move the seat back. When I move it forward however, I get pain in the front of my shoulders - the left at first then the right if I move further forward.
My apologies for being long-winded; after re-reading this email I think I will just book into an retirement home
Steve Hogg says:
Don't book into the retirement home just yet. It sounds like you're chasing aches and pains around your body but there is likely to be a simple explanation to everything you mention. I may be wrong, but may not be and it will be simple for you to find out.
First, a bit of background info. Any challenge to a riders' position will cause the rider to compensate for that challenge. A challenge is any factor that destabilises the rider at any level. Compensating doesn't solve a problem, it just shifts the load elsewhere as you have found.
The most common challenge to a rider's position is seat height. As someone who sees hundreds of people a year who need help with their position I can safely say that more people ride too high than too low. Most set their seat height under flat road, moderate intensity riding whereas they should set seat height as being the height necessary to ride up a solid hill forcing the gear a bit. Under those conditions, all riders, relative to whatever pedaling technique they display, drop their heels more and hence extend their legs more than they do on flat road / moderate effort riding.
I would just about bet your seat is too high. Why do I say this?
You moved your cleats rearward following something you read that I had written. That reduced your calf pain which is good. Moving cleats rearwards almost always causes the rider to increase their leg extension and I almost always mention this. Did you drop your seat height a touch?
I'll bet no, giving yourself Challenge number one. So seat height is now too high post-cleat movement. When the seat is too high, over 90 percent of riders will tend to drop the right hip or increase an existing tendency to drop the right hip as a compensatory response to the challenge. That causes the left leg to extend even more than the right and probably feel powerless through the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Challenge number two. The common compensation for this is to explosively drop the left heel early in the pedal downstroke in an effort to gain enough momentum to be able to coast through the bottom of the pedal stroke. This increased and exaggerated heel drop causes the top of the upper of the shoe at the front to bite into the front of your ankle.
Challenge number three. To relieve this pain, you moved the left cleat 5mm further forward (effectively lengthening the left leg) and assuming your feet are close to similar size, gave your self a differential cleat position, which in turn causes a differing pattern of muscular enlistment on each side.
Challenge number four. Then you went for a ride and felt good on the flat. Most people do, even with poor positions, because momentum plays a much larger part in carrying them through the bottom of the pedal stroke on flat roads than it does on hills. When you hit the hill, you struggled because momentum drops and with your too high a seat height and asymmetric sitting position and pedaling technique, you couldn't comfortably reach the bottom of the pedal stroke with power and fluency.
Now to your pains resulting from the hill.
1. Burning feet were caused by you stabbing at the pedals up a 7% grade in an effort to get through the bottom of the stroke. I'll guarantee that you felt anything but smooth.
2. The right quad pain resulted from you dropping your right hip even more under these conditions and working the right leg very hard because it was not possible to use the left leg nearly as hard for reasons already explained.
3. When you moved the seat back you increased your effective seat height again - Challenge no. 5- unless you dropped the seat. Did you?
I'll bet no. This gave you a greater effective seat height again and the pain you describe is likely from forcing the hip flexors to work very hard indeed because of the increased lumbar flexion needed to reach the bars with the seat further back and the effective further increase in seat height.
The pain was worse on the right side because you are dropping the right hip and cramping up the RH hip flexors more than the LH hip flexors. With the dropping right hip, the angle between femur and torso on the right was more acute than the angle between femur and torso on the left.
4. When you moved the seat forward, you transferred body weight forward with it. You are already unstable on the bike and moving the seat forward causes you to enlist upper body effort to support that weight and to stabilise yourself. You felt it initially in the left shoulder because you are closer to locking that elbow because the left side of your torso has to reach further to the bars than the right side because of the dropping or twisting forward of the right hip.
Eventually the pain shifts to the right because autonomically, you are bracing against the movement of the right hip with the muscles of the right arm and upper back.
How can I make such detailed picture from what you've told me and be sure that I'm right. Well I'm not sure, but I would say the chances are better than 90 percent. I am told similar stories by clients several times each week, year in and year out.
So, how to fix?
Put everything back to where it was before you moved your cleats. Now go and ride up your 7% grade. Can you ride up fluently on the seat? If not, drop your seat in 3mm increments until you can. Now move your cleats back and repeat the exercise, again dropping the seat in 3mm increments until you can ride up the hill fluently. That should do it.
What went wrong?
You made one change: cleat position. It didn't feel right so you made another change that didn't feel right. So you made another change and so on until you entered bike fit hell.
Next time, when you make change and it doesn't feel 100%, think hard about what effect that change may have had and if necessary, go back to square one rather than making consecutive band aid changes which as you have found, just compound the error.
Let me know what happens.
As a quick overview, I'm a 38-year-old 'always played sport' person who has taken up road cycling following a knee reco. One year in and I'm loving it and looking to upgrade to a new bike. I'm planning to start racing shortly with a local club, however, most of my riding is fitness/social based with mates before work and on weekends. We generally try and do a few decent climbs on the weekends and enjoy the undulating terrain.
I currently have a 52/39 and 11-26 cassette, but wondering whether I should consider a compact crack (50/34) with maybe a 12-28 cassette to provide some additional lower gearing for climbs.
Would greatly appreciate your opinion.
Scott Saifer says:
The question of whether to use compact cranks is an interesting one. When you go compact you gain a gear or two at the low end, but give up a gear or two at the high end. Whether that is a good idea depends on whether you need those gears at the high end, and that depends mostly on the terrain on which you will race.
With a compact with a top gear of 50x12 you can hit about 37 mph or 59 kph pedaling at a reasonably comfortable 110 rpm cadence, and you can sprint about 20% faster, assuming you've developed your spin. That means a compact is generally fine for flatter races. On a long, fast descent with a tailwind, the 50x12 could be limiting however, especially if other riders in your pack have 53x11, allowing them to get up to 42 mph or 68 kph at a comfortable cadence.
So, what to do? Consider the races you'll be doing. Are there long fast descents where you might exceed 37 mph or 59 kph in the pack? If you're not sure, ask your riding buddies about the gears they carry and whether they've ever been spun out? If you are still not sure, get the 12-28 cassette, but keep your 52/39 cranks for a while.
Eating on a six-hour ride
Nice, short and simple: what should I be aiming to eat on long rides, and how much?
Scott Saifer says:
On a long training ride, endurance event or race you should be eating very high carbohydrate foods with a little protein and almost no fat. This is where your athletic energy foods, bananas, fig bars, yams gels and sports drinks come in.
If you eat enough during an event or hard training ride, you should not be ravenous immediately afterwards. If food makes you feel better at any time during the ride, you waited too long to eat. Food should maintain your energy, not bring it back up.
If you drink enough you should need to pee within the first half hour after getting off the bike. Your urine should be C&C (Clear and Copious). Gel-type energy foods give you a big rush and a big crash, so be sure to carry enough for the whole race or session if you use them; roughly one every 25-40 minutes from beginning to end, or start using them later.
Carry enough food that you can begin eating about 45 minutes in and have a big bite every 15-20 minutes throughout the event or session. A total of 250-350 calories per hour works for most athletes but you'll have to find your own level. More is better so long as you don't end up feeling full or bloated. See below for a list of recommended foods and drinks.
Recommended Training and Racing Foods (Test any possible race food in training several times before using it in a race. Race foods need to be easy to open, not too messy, easy to digest and tasty enough that you will eat them with enthusiasm. )
Boiled potatoes (in plastic bag with salt)
Yams (Microwaved until very soft)
Sandwiches (PB & J, Jam and cheese, meats only on cold days)
Energy bars (but not protein, zone or balance bars)
Energy gels (but plan to use one every 20-30 minutes once you start)
Fresh fruit (tends to be low-calorie so combine with other foods)
Cookies Banana/Zucchini or other bread-cakes
Recommended Training and Racing Drinks (Test any possible race drink in training several times before using it in a race. Race drinks need to contain carbohydrate and electrolytes and taste good enough that you will drink them with enthusiasm):
Any athletic energy drink (not recovery or protein drink)
Diluted fruit juice with a small pinch of salt