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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - November 2, 2011

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Cycling News
Published:
November 02, 2011, 2:40 GMT,
Updated:
November 02, 2011, 2:43 GMT
The peloton rolls through the Southland countryside

The peloton rolls through the Southland countryside

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Topics: Spinning, One leg bigger than the other, Comparing personal BikeFit with the Pros, Tabata session workload, Strength training, In depth from Steve: How does saddle position affect reach to bars, and drops?

Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to fitness@cyclingnews.com. Try and include as much relevant information as you can think of. Remember, the more details you can provide the better the panel can tailor their response to your question.

Emails may be edited for length or clarity, but we try to publish both questions and answers in their entirety.

To find advice that relates to you more easily:

Spinning

One leg bigger than the other

Comparing personal BikeFit with the Pros

Tabata session workload

Strength training

In depth from Steve: How does saddle position affect reach to bars, and drops?

Spinning

Hi Cyclingnews,

I’m currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. There is some great riding in Cambodia but around Phnom Penh it is flat, dusty, busy and dangerous. Basically, it’s no good for training.

As a result, I have been doing most of my training on Spinning bikes.
I'm not feeling as strong as I might expect from the work I have been doing. Is it possible to get race fit purely on Spinning bikes? If not, what sort of balance is required?

Cheers,

Laurence

James Hibbard says:

Hello Laurence,

My concern about training exclusively on a spin bike is that many have a flywheel mechanism which can allow one to simply “float” through the recovery stroke. This stands in contrast to a set of rollers, or even a trainer, where one’s pedaling is quite similar to actual riding and one has to engage their posterior chain much more on the recovery stroke.

I am not sure about the logistical possibility of this for you, but for someone in your situation it would be best to have your actual bike and at least a trainer (if not a set of rollers and a trainer).

The rollers would be a great tool to work on your pedaling technique, while a trainer works well for longer and/or more power-oriented efforts.

Best of luck!

One leg bigger than the other

Hello,

I'm 22, 6' 3" and weigh 155-160 lbs. I have been riding/racing road for almost 5 years and cyclo-cross for 3 years. I have also been running for about 2 years. My problem is this; my left leg is smaller than my right leg and not in length. My left calf and quad muscles are noticeably smaller than my right. When I first noticed the difference I tried to change my pedaling style, thinking I favored the right leg more. But even trying the change there was still no difference. When I run I try the same theory, leading with the left leg and changing my stride to try and get both legs to do the same amount of work.

I don't notice that one leg is stronger than the other, they feel equally strong when I'm riding or running. After long hard rides I can feel my right (bigger) leg is much more tired than the other. Is there anything that can be done to get both legs at an equal size? Is this a common problem and is it a problem? Any information or tips on the matter would be a great help, thank you!

Sean

Steve Hogg says:

G'day Sean,

I see this from time to time. What it says is that no matter what you feel, you are functioning asymmetrically. Here's a few suggestions.

1. Have an x ray taken to determine whether there is a disparity in leg length. I know you have said that you don't, but there is certainty with a well taken x ray or scan. Anything else is conjecture.

2. It is much more common for cyclists to favour and overemphasise their right leg than their left leg and there are a variety of reasons for this. Read this link for more.

The Right Side Bias http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/04/the-right-side-bias/

3. Another common one is too high a seat height. If the rider is too high, it is exceedingly uncommon to sit squarely on the seat and equally overextend each leg. What happens is that the rider hangs towards their favoured side, usually but not always the right, and sacrifices the other leg which is usually but not always the left. This 'sacrificing' takes 2 basic forms. Working the left leg just as hard as the right but through greater extension usually causes pain anywhere from the Achilles tendon to the lower and upper back. The other, and what you may be doing, is not using the leg in danger of over extending as much. If this is the case, you will end up with a larger right leg than left leg. These links will give you more about this.

Seat Height. http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/02/seat-height-how-hard-can-it-be/

Addendum to Seat Height. http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/05/addendum-to-seat-height-how-hard-can-it-be-2/

4. Lastly, any tendency to self protect one side, whether consciously or unconsciously, will potentially lead to what you describe. A simple one being like a dropping arch on the right side. If the right arch collapses during the pedalling action more than the left arch, a common pattern of self protection is to do whatever is necessary, which usually involves shifting the pelvis on the seat, to protect the right side issue. This comes at a cost to power production on the left side. In addition as above in 3.

In your shoes, what I would do is, firstly - establish that you are sitting squarely on the seat. Don't assume you are because you feel you are. Most people don't sit squarely. Only the level varies.

Secondly, find a bike fitter using torque analysis. Velotron, Computrainer and others highlight differences in left / right power and torque output. Find someone who uses that kind of equipment and see what the state of play is regarding not only power output but the way that you produce it.

I would be interested to hear what happens.

Comparing personal BikeFit with the Pros

G'day,

As a long time rider and racer, I have watched with interest the changes in the bike fit of the pros over the years. And, thanks to your pro bike features, the various rider positions are listed.

I have kept track of the (12) riders whose height is the same as my own (180cm), and averaged out the measurements. When I applied this to mine, the obvious difference was saddle height, it averaged 2 cm lower then my own, so as a experiment, I dropped the height and adjusted the setback a few mils, the reach remained the same as were the cleats were kept the same, a little behind the metatarsal. The first thing I noticed was that my whole leg seemed to be more involved the usual, especially the calf muscles. My pedalling action, which I thought decent, became much smoother and I felt I was generating a more consistent power throughout the stroke, whether I was climbing or a rouleur. I could rotate my hips easier and as a plus, my lumbar quit aching for a change. There is a bit of tightness in my gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata, but nothing that doesn't stretch out. The quads and hammies are fine.

I have retained this position for the past few weeks and I believe it has been of a benefit to me, I know it's not exactly the way it's done, but I'd be interested to read the reactions, either I have been fit badly over the years, or this is closer to how I should be sitting.

Many thanks

Steve Hogg says:

G'day Steve,

That's an interesting exercise you've undertaken and while I don't doubt your conclusion about improved performance in the slightest, your methodology of linking rider stature to seat height leaves a lot to be desired for individual application. Even so, by far the most common major issue (as distinct from minor) issue that I see with first time clients' positions' is too high a seat height. Over 80% of fit clients leave here with a seat height lower than when they arrived.

Too high a seat height is common because people set seat height on a new bike after a ride around the block on the flat where momentum plays a large part. Better to set it while riding uphill under reasonably hard load as a realistic test for how far the legs can reach with ease. Too many bike fitters set seat heights too high because instead of taking an individual approach to the task, too often the goniometer or a tech version of the same thing is consulted to conform to someone's ideal of what an average angle of bend in the knee should be.

Lastly, many riders when questioned will tell you that they have a strong leg and a not so strong leg. Almost always seat height is the major reason for this. If the seat is too high, almost no one will sit squarely on the seat and equally overextend each leg. They will compensate by hanging towards one pedal (mostly but not always the right one) and overextending the other leg (mostly but not always the left). So the right leg will be 'stronger' for those who hang to the right because it can reach the pedal with ease. The left leg will be 'weaker' because is over extending and the left foot skates around on the pedal to varying degrees.

Other consequential fallout is ITB discomfort on the side away from the favoured hip dropping side, the knee of the non favoured leg moving outwards on the upstroke and inwards on the downstroke, one shoulder being thrust further forward than the other and one hand going numb more than the other. Oftentimes other factors play a part but almost always too high a seat height is the major reason or major contributor.

Tabata session workload

Hi there,

I'm in the middle of the cross season which means two races at the weekend, a rest day Monday and Friday, easy session on the rollers Tuesday and Thursday, and a tabata session, (8*20, off 10), as a mid week interval workout. I'm finding this keeps me fresh for my cross races and helps maintain my fitness from the earlier MTB season.

My question is should I be aiming for a constant power output throughout my 8 intervals, or should I be going flat out from the first and noticing a considerable drop off of power on the last few intervals?

Thanks,

Philip

Scott Saifer says:

Hi Philip,

If you are racing twice each weekend, you are getting plenty of high-intensity exercise for the week, so the Tabata interval sessions probably aren't really adding to your performance. If you do choose to do intervals of any sort though, it's generally a good idea to quit the workout when you can no longer maintain the power you made on earlier intervals. Beyond that point you are sort of practicing to go slower than you could, so if you goal is maximal 20 second power, go flat out and quit when you lose power. If your goal is more repeatable power, pick a power you can repeat 8 times for your Tabata set, and still quit the workout when you can no longer maintain the effort.

Strength training

Just completed a road race of 228km and felt I lacked pure strength. I could climb with people far less fit than me yet I couldn’t stay with them. I feel I am lacking strength what exercises would you recommend to improve leg strength.

Regards

Jason

Scott Saifer says:

You can improve leg strength by doing low-cadence, high-force pedaling such as long rides in zone 2 alternating 5 minute intervals at 40 rpm with 5 minute intervals at 90 rpm. Appropriately structured gym work could also develop pure strength, but nothing you've written suggests that pure strength is going to help you. Pure strength translates into sprint acceleration on the bike, which is not what you are describing as lacking. Strength work also improves anaerobic endurance or the ability to maintain an above LT power output, by a few minutes.

What makes you think the guys you can't stay with are less fit than you? If you'll describe the terrain and effort of the race up to the point where couldn't stay with them, perhaps we can help you figure out what you really need to work on.

In depth from Steve: How does saddle position affect reach to bars, and drops?

Hey guys,

I'm a 43 year old male, fast recreational cyclist (6,000 miles/yr.), 187 cm tall, 91 cm inseam, with a relatively short torso. Despite 20+ years of serious cycling, I still have an obsessive/compulsion thing about constantly fooling around with my position. During my latest round of experimenting, I noticed something weird. With the seat obviously too far forward, I had to have the bar fairly high (no more that a 2-3 cm drop), and rather close to the seat (about 52 cm seat tip to bar); any lower or further forward and my speed/power dropped dramatically. Conversely, when the seat was apparently too far rear ward, I had to get into a rather low and long position (at least 8-9 cm bar drop, and 58 cm seat to bar); if I sat anymore upright, my power dropped way off. (I did a few rides that way, and ended up with one of the few backaches I've ever had in my life!)

Isn't this the opposite of the way it's supposed to work? (Don't time trialist move their seats forward - or slide to the tip while pedaling - so they can get lower?) If so, does this just mean I'm an oddball - or does it indicate a serious flaw in my setup?

I adjusted the seat by moving it 5 mm at a time - alternating height and fore/aft numerous times - until arriving at what allowed me to pedal the fastest at a moderate, steady pace. Currently, seat height - BB to seat - is 80 cm., which is pretty much "heal-on-pedal", if that matters. (I had a few fittings done, all of which place the seat 1-2 cm higher, which I'm 99% certain is to high for me.) Fore/aft is tip of seat 9.5 cm behind BB, which is 5 cm forward of the point where I need to get into that extreme low position in order to generate full power. (This is also 15-20 mm behind where I can pass the "hands-off" test. I'm sure that test places me too far forward, as there is then enough pressure on my hands to make them sore and numb within a half hour.) Bar drop is 5 cm below seat, reach 55 cm tip to bar. (This is the most I can go at full power - just a cm lower and/or further, and my speed/power drops like a rock.

I know power is supposed to be lost when getting low, but is it normal for it to drop so sharply at a given point? Or can that also indicate a fit problem?) This position is definitely the most comfortable I've ever had. And, on my MTB I can better handle the rough stuff. It's probably about the fastest position I've had. On average the seat is now much further rearward and somewhat lower than the many other positions I've had over the years. I used the "hands off" fore/aft for quite some time, but after trying this position, that definitely doesn't feel right anymore. Any ideas?

Steve Hogg says:

G'day Paul,

You've covered a fair bit of ground there. Firstly, you sound really happy with your current position. So even though it will be hard for you to avoid the temptation; leave it alone.

To address your comments one by one:

Q: "With the seat obviously too far forward, I had to have the bar fairly high (no more that a 2-3 cm drop), and rather close to the seat (about 52 cm seat tip to bar); any lower or further forward and my speed/power dropped dramatically"..........(. you ask why?)

A: This is predictable. We need to balance the metabolic cost of maintaining a position against the metabolic cost of producing power. Each rider has a finite capacity and they can choose to use it for a low metabolic cost positionor a high metabolic cost position. The 'aero' line of argument often pushed hard by the marketing guys, can be summed up as "Yes you will produce less power but you will go faster anyway because of better aerodynamics". I think an overly high priority on aerodynamics is a major reason for poor performance in many riders / triathletes. If the seat is too far forward, stability is compromised. To produce power optimally, the rider needs to be stable. When too far forward the rider has to shorten up their reach to the bars to try and regain stability as well as invest effort in bearing weight because as the seat moves forward, there is a transfer of body weight forward with it, that has to be supported somehow. Three things result.

Firstly a lot of effort that should be going into pushing on the pedals is diverted into weight bearing. This is pretty basic stuff. A stable position is needed to provide a platform to resist the forces that pedalling generates. The higher the metabolic cost of achieving stability, the less available effort is left to propel the bike.

Secondly, because the seat has moved too far forward with a weight shift onto the handlebars that needs to be supported, a lot of this effort is upper body focused and enlists muscles that need to relax to allow full breathing. If they are carrying tension due to weight bearing, then they cannot relax to allow full breathing. There are 20 torso muscles used in breathing. 18 of them have postural implications. That means that they can be used to breathe with, but to do so need to be able to relax. Or they can be used to bear weight and / or resist pedalling forces with, but in so doing, they carry tension and cannot fully relax. Translation: you won't suffocate, you will just ride more slowly.

Thirdly, the shortening up of your upper body reach to the bars that you noted is a consequence of needing to bear too much weight forward but has the consequence of shortening your 'effective' torso length. Again, this is to the detriment of breathing efficiency because your lungs don't have as much room to expand into.

Your too far forward position needed a lot of effort to maintain the position and the reason that your power dropped off dramatically if you went lower or further forward again is that you pushed a poor poor position into a more extreme version of the same thing. Because your seat position was basically poor, you had to raise your bars and shorten your reach in an attempt to regain some modicum of stability.

If you are interested in the detail of this subject, here is 3 links for you.

TT Rider http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/07/tt-rider-rod-and-bikefitter-discuss-the-secret-of-speed/

Ironman Position - How Marketing Overcame Reality For Some http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/blog/2011/08/ironman-triathlon-position-how-marketing-overcame-some-peoples-reality/

And best of all, an expose' confirming what a lot of people have been saying for a long time but have been drowned out by the marketing effort devoted to pushing aerodynamics. It is about how Pro teams have found that too often they are paying big bucks in wind tunnel costs for an aerodynamic improvement only to have riders perform worse. http://www.bikeradar.com/racing/article/aero-position-isnt-everything-31165

Q: " Conversely, when the seat was apparently too far rear ward, I had to get into a rather low and long position (at least 8-9 cm bar drop, and 58 cm seat to bar); if I sat any more upright, my power dropped way off. (I did a few rides that way, and ended up with one of the few backaches I've ever had in my life!) "..........(you ask why?)

A: Again, this is predictable and normal if you want to push a rearward seat position too far. It is the exact opposite of your first situation. The key to understanding what happened is that pelvic angle has a large effect on how efficiently you can apply force to the pedals. You have pushed yourself way too far back BUT if you reach low enough and far enough to the bars you are forced to roll your pelvis forward enough so that you have good muscle enlistment and your power is good. Unfortunately your back can't cope. This highlights why using power as a single criterion is a poor basis for judging a position on a bike. The reason that your power output suffered when you sat up is that your pelvis was rotating rearward as you sat up. This changed the relative enlistment of the power producing muscles and revealed your seat poor position for what it was; a poor seat position.

Q: "Isn't this the opposite of the way it's supposed to work? (Don't time triallists move their seats forward -- or slide to the tip while pedaling -- so they can get lower?) If so, does this just mean I'm an oddball . . . or does it indicate a serious flaw in my setup?"

A: No, this is exactly the way things work if a position is pushed too far. The Ironman Position link that I gave you above is a large part of the answer to your question. But if a rider has to slide forward while making a TT effort, then there is something wrong with their position. I know that sliding forward is so common that it has become 'normal'. It is NOT normal. It is a human body deciding at a level below conscious thought that it cannot maintain a position on a comfortable part of the seat with weight borne on the rear of the pelvis while applying the pressure the rider desires to put out to the pedals. So it moves forward; either because the riders bar position is too low and has been set at low load rather than under pressure OR that the riders's seat is too far forward to start with leaving them with an unstable position. Under load the rider HAS to regain stability somehow and the only method left to them while riding is too shorten up. The aero bars aren't going to come to them, so the rider has to move forward on the seat. This common, but is not normal nor desirable from a performance perspective or a procreative perspective.

As to whether this indicates a serious flaw in your set up; of course it does. You were experimenting with poor positions pushed to the extreme in either direction of seat movement.

Re your comments about seat height, I agree completely. Most riders set their seat height too high which is excusable because in many cases they don't know what they are doing. And most bike fitters set their clients seat heights too high for the same reason. Rather than watching how the client functions under load they try and achieve a theoretically appropriate average angle of bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. This is fine in theory, but takes zero account of how that client functions under load and is an exceedingly poor way for someone being paid to do a job to determine seat height..

As to your comments re the balance test and your power dropping dramatically if your bars are a touch too low -

The balance test was an attempt by me about 6 years ago to give questioners on this site a simple means to work out ideal seat setback. It is not a perfect description because so much depends on how functional the rider is, but it was the best written description I could come up with. One of it's shortcomings is that some unusually long legged / short torso'd riders can to end up too far forward and some short legged / long torso'd riders can end up too far back. In almost every case I have seen to date, the people in these categories whom the balance test fails have poor posture and limited functional stability. I assume this describes you and mean no aspersions if it does. I am trying to give you a genuine explanation. You're the best judge of whether what I've just said is accurate or not in your case. The reason your power drops off dramatically if you drop your bars even a centimetre is because you are probably close to the limit now with the bar height you have. Dropping it that little bit more pushes you over the edge.

Finally, you sound like you use power as a major determinant of the effectiveness of a position on your bike. I understand why you do this but be wary of using a single criterion for judging position. A good position on a bike is a compromise between often contending requirements. To ride well, over time and with minimal chance of injury, power is a poor choice alone. I think you must be pretty close to ideal when you say "This position is definitely the most comfortable I've ever had. And, on my MTB I can better handle the rough stuff. It's probably about the fastest position I've had."

If you are comfortable and have a reasonably good position you will produce good power over time. If you are powerful but not comfortable, either your power will drop over time or you will get injured. That is just the way it works.

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: 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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