Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for April 3, 2007
Since cyclists only apply force through the balls of the feet, not the heels, is arch support important for cycling shoes?
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Scott Saifer replies:
In a word, the answer to your question is "yes", for at least a significant fraction of cyclists. Here's the biomechanical explanation: The force delivered at the ball of the foot is generated by muscles at the hip, thigh and lower leg. It has to pass through the lower leg and foot. The foot acts as a lever.
In many but by no means all riders, delivery of force down the lower leg and into the foot causes at least a small amount of collapse of the arch, which in turn causes medial rotation of the tibia (the lower leg turns inwards a few degrees). This changes the relative orientation of the upper and lower leg bones where they contact in the knee.
In many riders, that change puts the bones in an orientation that causes excessive strain on the knee leading sooner or later to an overuse injury. In susceptible riders, an arch support can prevent that arch collapse, the internal rotation and the injury. For these riders, arch support makes the difference between pain-free riding and inability to ride consistently.
The other thing an arch support does is simply take up space in a shoe so an otherwise ill-fitting shoe can feel secure, allowing the rider to relax the feet and lower legs or not to have to over-tighten the shoe straps.
I have done Ironman, multi-sports etc over a period of time on a very basic level but during the last few races my abductor muscles seize up during the rides to the point I have stopped and done nothing for a year.
I decided to get my fitness and health back in order and after one month of base training (general) I decided to get back on the bike.
After one ride the pain is back, I truly think it is something simple, but have been to chiros/physio and acupuncture and nothing works.
Steve Hogg replies:
You are unstable on the seat. There are a wide range of potential reasons but they fall into two categories.
1. Less than ideal bike position.
2. A body that is inflexible in the hips and lower back.
Or a combination of both.
If you have a low forward position and you are reaching too far to your aero bars, what you describe is not uncommon.
I've been plagued with a rash in a somewhat "sensitive" area for the past few months. Last summer, a new pair of shorts gave me a wicked rash on and around my sit bones after a few rides. I've always "greased" the chamois, and am aware that, as bikers, we have to put up with the odd discomfort associated with many long miles in the saddle. But this rash has stayed with me since then. Can't get rid of it.
I can tell that the skin is broken because I have traces of blood on the tan-coloured chamois and it stings and burns when I shower. Now, my winter training is affected. I can hardly put as much time on the bike as I should or would like to. I've tried applying many types of ointments, creams and gels, but it just won't go away. Any ideas or solutions to help me with this?
Kelby Bethards replies:
I hope this has been taken care of for you already. If not, the rash to me, sounds as if there is a fungal component (yeast infection) that sort of "took" advantage of the wet area and broken down skin.
I would suggest you have it looked at.... or at least try an antifungal, over the counter, cream on it. See if that helps.
I just read your reply to JS concerning gastric distress after rides, and I have a similar problem. I am 47 years old, and I have been riding and racing for about 10 years. I too have stomach pain, bloating and a lot of gas after a hard ride. But I also gain weight at a alarming rate.
For example, on most Saturdays I do a team ride in a very hilly part of New England. We ride for about 60 miles, 3 to 3.5 hours. I am not that talented a rider, and I ride with some of the best guys in New England. So I spend a lot of time just trying to hang on. It is pretty much a zone 3/4 ride.
After the ride I don't eat 5 bowls of ice cream or sit on the couch with chips and dip. However, I always gain about 4 or 5 pounds, and it takes a few days to get back down to the weight I was the morning of the ride. Also, my stomach sticks out a mile, and I look like I am pregnant.
I do not lose any weight ever from these types of rides. In fact, in the summer when I am riding 200+ miles a week, if I use an energy drink, I gain weight. A few weeks ago, I rode by myself so I rode mainly zone 2 and some zone 3, for almost 5 hours. I got in and did not eat everything in sight, but as you can guess, I was hungry.
I went to a program that tells you how many calories you burn while riding, and I figured I could have consumed close to 6000 calories to break even. I wasn't even close. I gained 7 pounds. I took about 4 days to get my weight back down. That day I used Perpetuem by Hammer nutrition, but I rode yesterday with my team using only orange juice and the same thing happened.
I don't know if this is enough information to go on, so here is a little more. I get up at 6 and eat a few eggs and a bagel, and maybe a small bowl of cereal. I am done eating at say 7, and I don't start riding till 9. I am lactose intolerant, but I drink soy milk and rarely have any dairy. If you guys can figure this out, you get a medal.
Kelby Bethards replies:
In order to gain weight that fast, it seems mostly like water weight. Most humans won't gain 5-8 pounds in an evening, and you should have, as you have correctly ascertained, burned some calories on the ride, thus need calories to maintain a steady weight. Granted if you can eat 4 lbs of spaghetti that eve, and drink 2 lbs (a quart) of fluid, well then yes you will gain weight, for a temporary period, but this is not weight "put on" the body.
Are you starting the rides dehydrated? (Yellow urine prior to riding - not right after drinking coffee).
I was wondering if you need to use sole inserts such as the ones from Specialized to overcome pronation if you already are using Lemond shims to counteract this?
Thanks in advance on any insight you can give me.
Steve Hogg replies:
The Specialized forefoot wedges and the Lemond wedges are two methods to achieve the same or similar result. So the simple answer is no, providing the overall amount of wedging stays the same.
I was wondering if Steve could elaborate on the FSA seatpost capable of lateral adjustment once a minor modification has been made. I have a FSA K-Force with DATA seat clamp and have reservations about trying to modify it. It would appear the modification required could potentially compromise the seat clamp's structural integrity. Perhaps FSA changed the design since Steve's original article.
I have a functional leg length discrepancy and associated muscle imbalances. I discovered this when I herniated the disc between my L4 and L5 while doing squats in the off season two years ago. I have suffered at least some form of mild to severe sciatica since. I have seen multiple orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists etc with some improvement. However, I still have a tendency to drop my hip while riding and if you drop a plum line from my knee in the forward position the intersection is different from one side to the other.
My sciatica off the bike has improved to almost nonexistent, but usually still appears while riding. What I assume to be my right piriformis gets aggravated and then pain starts to shoot down my leg. My sciatica seems to now be a muscle issue as opposed to a disc. The pain and discomfort often prohibits me from training and racing at a level I was capable of before the back injury. I am a 34 year old male and a cat 2 on the road.
I stretch religiously and do pilates. I have even tried unilateral exercises. I have the book Overcoming Neck and Back Pain as well as numerous other references. I have spent significant amounts time and energy to correct this problem off the bike, but have come to the conclusion that perhaps the only option left is finding a bike position which will compensate for my issues.
I discovered while riding indoors that if I sit off to one side on the saddle the hip and leg don't bother me as much. I repeated the plum line from the front of the knee and found while sitting off to one side I can eliminate the difference. Obviously sitting off center of the saddle will cause saddle discomfort issues over time. I read all you advice and articles with much interest and recall your comment about modification of the FSA seatpost for lateral saddle adjustment.
I am very interested in exploring lateral adjustment further. My only concern is will this merely be a short term comfort solution while ignoring the root cause? Could I possibly slowly move the saddle back to center over time as a long term solution to help correct my pelvic dysfunction?
Steve Hogg replies:
There is no compromise to the structural integrity of the Data Head clamp providing you have the correct one. If you do, it is an assembly of 3 aluminium pieces plus two allen bolts, two countersunk washers and two tubular nuts. On the upper half of the seat rail clamp (serrated upper surface) there are two small projections that locate the upper part of the seat rail clamp laterally underneath the top piece (serrated lower surface) that the allen bolts screw into.
Grinding the two small projections off should not compromise the posts integrity in any way as they serve no structural purpose and are used to centre the clamp. That said, and if you want to proceed and you feel there is a problem, then don't do it.
Yes, it is ALWAYS better to solve root cause problems than to effect mechanical solutions. My experience is that many of the people that I have laterally offset need to become more centered over time because of their own efforts off the bike to improve how they function; the removal or partial removal of a stressor(s) by having the seat off the centreline in bid to become more functionally symmetrical on bike; or both.
Steve Hogg mentioned in the March 6 Form & Fitness Q&A that the combination of Speedplays and Northwave shoes do not have enough rearward adjustment to get the ball of the foot properly setup.
Can you recommend pedal(s) and/or shoes that allow the ball of the foot to lie ahead of the axle the appropriate amount? I guess one should go shoe shopping with the old pair to compare mounting hole lineups.
I am struggling (besides a hip twist/pedaling symmetry issue) with getting the ball ahead of the pedal axle the appropriate amount with Time RXS pedals and Diadora shoes.
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Steve Hogg replies:
The shoes that I rarely have a problem with fitting a 3-bolt cleat to where I would put it (Speedplay aside) are Specialized, Nike, DMT, Shimano, Sidi, Diadora and Gaerne.
Speedplay have about 5 mm less rearward adjustment on their 3-hole baseplate compared to other systems but they do make an alternate adaptor (part no. 13330) that redresses this with 13-14 mm more rearward adjustment potential than their standard baseplate.
I would like to see the rationale for this statement in the March 13 Q&A
"Assuming you are using 53/39 chainrings, a fairer test would be to add just under 3% to your chainring size. For the 53 you have now, that would equal a 54 tooth if you want to be conservative and a 55 tooth if you want to be less conservative. For the 39 ring, replace it with a 40. Then go and ride for a period with similar foot speed and a slightly higher gear at slightly lower cadence and you will be making a fair comparison don't understand the relation you're driving at with this post."
Given the same power, longer cranks = slower cadence. If one is to increase the chain ring size and keep the same cadence this yields greater power and greater stresses on the body. I would think that crank arm length is of more import to fit than "speed".
Steve Hogg replies:
Many people who try longer cranks struggle with them. Sometimes it is because the cranks are too long for their particular case and there are a lot of proportional and functional reasons as to why that can be so. But that is not what you are asking. I am not suggesting that the rider gear up proportionally and ride at the same cadence for increased power. I was suggesting to someone who had tried long cranks and wasn't happy, that they should explore one more aspect of changing crank length before they discontinue their experimenting.
If crank length increases, for some, all that happens is that they pedal the same gear while moving their legs through a greater range of movement for no gain other than a marginal improvement in leverage needed to push that gear but with greater effort needed to control the larger range of motion. Some people in this situation compensate by riding a gear higher to lessen the requirement for coordination.
Unless the crank length change is extreme, increasing crank length is not worth a tooth of gearing at the back and a lot of people strain themselves by doing so. If this is the case, the solution is to gear up the chainring size proportionally to match the increase in crank length. That way, cadence (and the requirement to coordinate the increased range of motion) can be lower for the same power out put and road speed.
It works for some, not all, and is worth trying if you ever change your crank length.
My riding friend has noticed the following in my pedal stroke:
"Basically your right knee comes out from the frame at top of the pedal stroke and comes back in to the frame on a down stroke. At the same time your pelvis rocks a little bit as the right legs pushes down on the pedal. Your upper body remains reasonably stable when all this happens. This pattern is present at all times - a bit more on high load and a bit less on light load."
And I wonder:
1. If it needs to be addressed, and if yes,
2. How to best achieve a better pedal stroke.
At the moment the only noticeable discomfort I have is a bit of pain in the knee, on the left front patella side.
Steve Hogg replies:
The most likely reason is that you are dropping your left hip under load. This isn't the only possibility though. Which knee is hurting - the left?
If so, you may want to experiment with some Lemond wedges under your left cleat. A common reason for knee pain is uncorrected forefoot varus. If, and I say if, that is what is happening, then that would potentially explain the left knee pain as well as the lateral movement of the right knee.
At 41 years of age I guess I am a bit of a latecomer to cycling, but the bug has bitten me and for the first time in my life I am enjoying an individual sport instead of a team sport.
I bought a new EMC2 bike in January and had it fitted using the "Dialed In Motion" system. I guess this was a pretty basic setup to get me going and not deal with the finer points of bike set up.
Everything was going fine until the first race that involved big hills. I managed to complete the race but after dismounting my bike I had a lot of muscular pain along the inside thigh muscle on my left leg. I was hobbling along for a couple of hours, but it gradually worked itself out and I was fine the next day. This happened each successive Saturday to either leg after putting in a maximum effort on my bike.
The average race length I am competing in is between 35 and 40kms. I am 176cm in height and 81kg. I am doing about 80-100km a week for training and vary the intensity. My guess it is something to do with my setup. Your help would be appreciated.
Napier, New Zealand
Steve Hogg replies:
It sounds like you are loading your adductors up. If so, that would mean you are unstable on the seat, particularly under the kind of loads you describe. The most likely reasons are that your seat is too high OR you are extremely inflexible in the hips and lower back.