Form & Fitness Q & A
Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.
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.
Jon Heidemann (www.peaktopeaktraining.com) is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.
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.
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.
Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.
Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.
Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.
David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.
Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, 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.
Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.
Pamela 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 assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.
Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.
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.
Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.
Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.
Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.
Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.
Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.
Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years
Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.
Michael Smartt (www.wholeathlete.com) is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.
Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Breathing, cycling and swimming
Different size feet same size legs
Specialized Body Geometry 3D Fit vs. Retul
Arch cleat position
Interval recovery and shims
Knee pain associated with knee dive
Hamstring tendon strain below the left knee
Reach to levers when in drops
I am a 42 year old Cat 4 racer that races mostly cyclo-cross and some MTB. On numerous occasions I have tried swimming as means of cross training but I just can't seem to do more than two laps without feeling like I am totally winded. I know that I am in good shape and I can sustain my heart rate on the bike well above LT threshold for a considerable amount of time. For some reason, however, in the pool I just can't seem to breathe efficiently enough to swim long distances. This makes me wonder if I am breathing efficiently on the bike. My question is two fold:
1. Any recommendation for transferring my fitness to breathing more effectively in the pool so I can swim longer?
2. Is there a recommended rhythm that you suggest for breathing during intense physical periods on the bike similar to those that are experienced during either a cyclo-cross or MTB race?
Dave Palese replies:
Here are my two cents:
1. Swimming is very different than cycling. What you are experiencing in the pool is very common and relates to the specificity of sport. Your body is tuned for cycling and performs most efficiently when it is cycling. When you get in the pool you are using different muscles and the same muscles differently. Your body is just working harder. So you get winded more easily. Have you ever gotten winded just walking up the steps or running for a plane in the airport? Some of the pros I work with almost drop over dead just trying to catch their flights between races! The more you swim, the better it will get.
2. As far as breathing strategies... just relax. Don't try to overly control your breathing. Doing so can disrupt the bodies natural rhythm and actually make things harder. When you do get a chance to recover, on a downhill, or while sitting in after a hard effort, try some nose breathing. Take 10 deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Breathing through your nose activates the diaphragm, and results in a deeper, higher volume breathe. Try this the next time you tag on the back of the lead group after bridging up.
Back to the swimming for a second. The other thing that I know happens with most competitive athletes when they cross train is they go to hard at the start. Whenever you are doing a sport or technique that you don't usually do, go easy to start. If you are winded so much so that you can't continue with your workout, then slow it down. Many times this could mean going at a pace that is guilt wrenchingly slow. That is OK. As your body adapts and your technique improves, it'll get better. I do suggest taking a swimming lesson from a good tri or swimming coach. I did this, and realized that although I can 'swim' like I learned when I was 5, and can get from one end of the pool to the other and back again, there is a whole lot more to swimming technique then just kicking and dragging your arms. I was really inefficient! Take a lesson, it'll be worth it.
Thanks for the quick and thoughtful reply. I will keep at it.
Here is another question that has been the centre of debate between me and some of my riding buddies.
I have been a huge proponent of yoga for some time now. The type of yoga I do involves holding poses for long periods of time and really builds on muscular endurance. Other friends recommend doing weights which involves fatiguing the muscles through repetitions. Which do you think is better for improving cycling?
Dave Palese replies:
In and of themselves, neither will "improve" your cycling. Both will improve the strength component of your general fitness (although, I haven't read any studies directly related to yoga and strength gains). And when your general fitness is better, the cycling specific fitness you build on top of it will be of higher quality, generally speaking.
But, if I had to pick one that would yield the best bang for your time investment, I'd go with an appropriately designed strength training program using weights, or resistance training.
The motion of strength training like this is more specific to cycling because of the multi joint movement involved. The static nature of the yoga you describe, I don't feel would yield the results you are looking for.
I've seen you touch on this point before but not in a way that has been too helpful for me, so I am writing. I'm trying to sort out the best setup at the pedals for me. My left shoe is a 42 and my right is a 40 (that's what I wear to try and keep shoe height differences to a minimum in street shoes, but the right foot is a little smaller), but my leg lengths are the same (I've been tested). I've set up my position usually by splitting the difference in foot length at the axle, meaning the left foot is a bit forward of the axle, while the right is just a hair behind. This has been fine but I feel power-wise it puts my right leg at a disadvantage and may mechanically be over-stressing the back of my leg due to the setup being a little unstable compared to the left. I've been exploring my pedal stroke on my road bike and on my commuter (old fashioned platform pedals, no straps) and how I do other physical activities and now am wondering if I have it all wrong, that maybe I should just be fixing the balls of my feet at the same place over the axle.
Here is my rationale for changing my position, please tell me if I'm correct:
1. Different foot length will effect knee position when the foot is flat, but the foot is seldom flat, and the ankle/pedal rotation should naturally resolve this for such a small difference
2. Leg + foot length may be affected at parts of the pedal cycle, but resolved in the same way as issue #1
3. Stability and power should be more balanced between legs if they have the same ball/axle relationship
4. I do everything else fine with this discrepancy, so a radical change to my effective anatomy on the bike could mean I am losing useful adaptations I have had all my life
5. On my platform pedals, I naturally position my feet at closer to the same point over the axle, though the right foot does want to come in more
6. Shimming would have more problems than benefits, such as the length being too short at parts of the pedal stroke (but harder to compensate for naturally because it may cause an over-extended drop, vs. rise of the heal without), and instability at the foot pedal connection due to the higher stack height
So, what I am thinking is, bring both my feet over the spindle, maybe push the left foot out a hair if my cleats will allow. I know I could just give it a try, but I'd like your opinion about it before I go through the trouble and risk of a position change. Also, I'm curious about theoretically what would be best. Probably what is keeping me the most from giving it a try is not understanding at which point in the foot is it most important to have alignment between the two feet, at the ball, ankle, or heel?
Thanks in advance for your help.
Steve Hogg replies:
Two shoe sizes difference in length should mean that your feet are approximately 12mm different in length. What you are saying about each leg feeling like there is a different muscle enlistment pattern is correct. Different relative cleat position will always cause that. Despite what you say in your point 6, don't discount it in a theoretical sense unless you have tried it. And that is what I would advise as the empirical test is the only one that matters. I would try a small shim of 3 - 5mm under the cleat of the smaller foot with cleats positioned with centre of the Ist MTP slightly in front of the pedal axle on each foot.
What are your thoughts on the Specialized Body Geometry 3D Fit System versus the Retul Fit System? I am considering getting a fit with one or the other and would like to make an informed decision. What are the pros and cons of each?
Thank you for taking the time to answer.
Steve Hogg replies:
I can't answer your question in the way that you have framed it. What I will say is that the quality and experience of the person performing the fitting are much more important than whatever system they subscribe too. No system caters to everyone meaning that deviation from the 'norm' is often called for. That makes high level fitting a matter of judgement not brand name.
I would ask some questions of the various people you are considering and base your choice on what answers you get.
What a great service you people provide. Some time back Steve Hogg talked at length about arch cleat position. I haven't seen anything about it for months and was wondering why he has gone quiet on the idea. Is he still using that cleat position and what has been his experience to date?
Steve Hogg makes a lot of sense in other areas and arch cleats kind of makes sense too. I need a little more convincing or information before I try and go to the trouble.
Steve Hogg replies:
I haven't gone quiet about midfoot cleat positioning. I respond to reader queries about it and you are the first to ask for some time. Anyway, I have been using midfoot cleat position for close to a year now and won't be changing. All the benefits that I have spoken about before are still there. I am not trying to convert the world but for those interested, it is worth the trouble.
My experience to date can be summed up succinctly like this:
1. Can pedal comfortably at higher cadence if I choose to.
2. Can hold a higher gear for longer if I choose to.
3. Recover from hard efforts / training sessions / races more quickly.
4. Descending improves because centre of gravity is lowered noticeably.
5. For first 2 weeks, riding off the seat felt like riding a step machine. After 2 weeks felt 'normal' again.
6.Can ride off the seat up hills at high intensity for a lot longer than previously without cracking.
7.Increased toe overlap was initially a pain but soon adapted. A good excuse for a custom frame with a longer front centre eventually.
8 Initially lost my jump in a sprint though I found total elapsed time for say a 400m sprint to be much the same. Wind up more slowly, finish faster. Drag race sprints are great with midfoot. I have found over the last couple of months that my jump seems to have returned. It only took 10 months but then I wasn't really practising.
I think the most telling thing is that of my customers who have shown interest, none of those who have converted show any inclination to change back.
Hi, First I wanted to say thanks to all of you, I have learned a great deal from reading other questions and answers. Because of my schedule during the week in winter I can only fit in 1 hour rides on the trainer using a power tap. Two of the workouts I do involve a 10 minute warm-up and 20 minute intervals at my threshold power or at tempo power with a 5 minute recovery in-between followed by a short cool down. I realize it's not optimal but it's what I can get a way with until the weather warms up. Most of the books I read suggest 10-15 minutes recovery at these levels. The only issue I might be having is going at a slightly lower power level to compensate for the short recovery. Is there any benefit or issue with the short recovery?
Second question is I often see other rider's questions regarding shims for their cleats. I'm fairly certain my left leg is slightly bowed out resulting in my left foot rolling onto the outer edge I also notice a bit of hip drop on the left while my right leg/foot feels perfect at this seat height. What would you suggest I use for a shim, and where do I get them? I've never seen them offered.
Eddie Monnier replies:
If you're doing the intervals at functional threshold power (FTP, the power you could sustain in an all-out effort for about 60 mins), then 5 mins recovery should be adequate. If you're not feeling that the recovery is adequate, then you may be doing them at a higher than appropriate intensity (not an uncommon mistake).
You can keep the wattage the same but alter the duration and recovery interval for a change of pace. For example, you could do 6-8 x 5-mins at FTP with 1-min recoveries. You could also do 3-4 x 10-mins at FTP with 2.5 min recoveries. Don't forget to use a high power fan to help keep you cool.
Regarding wedges, you can buy The Wedge (formerly known as Big Meat Wedges and LeWedge), in many local bike shops, or directly from Bike Fit Systems at www.bikefit.com.
I have persistent problems with a knee that seems to rotate outward too much during the pedal stroke - what some refer to as "knee dive." My pain is at the head of the left fibula. After seeing a couple of orthopaedists and physical therapists, no one is too sure of the root of the problem. One bike shop recently pointed out that my left knee rotates outward during the pedal stroke, and I've now seen that myself on video tape. If in fact the "knee dive" is the root of the problem, what should I do to fix the dive? I use Speedplay pedals, which allow the maximum degree of float. I've tried inserting a few shims, to no avail (measurements at a good bike shop called for using three wedges, the number I am using). I have also tried (briefly) wearing the custom orthotic I use to prevent excessive over-pronation when running. Can you suggest other steps I should try? Stick with the orthotic for a longer period of time? More shims? The Body Geometry shoes from Specialized? Other things to try? Any help will be very much appreciated.
Steve Hogg replies:
Does you left knee move outward on the left upstroke and inward on the left downstroke?
Yes, thanks - I should have given that info. My left knee moves outward on the left upstroke and inward on the left downstroke. Some other things I should have mentioned:
1. A physical therapist did identify my left hip as being tighter than the right, and we worked on it for a while (actually making more progress in loosening up the right than the left), and I continue to do the basic stretch and lunge exercises he gave me. It doesn't seem to have helped so far, perhaps because I haven't made any progress in loosening it up.
2. I've also tried moving my saddle down and forward (making the adjustments separately), to no avail. I will very much appreciate any suggestions you can offer.
Steve Hogg replies:
The cause of your left knee moving outward during the left up stroke and inward on the left down stroke is that you are dropping and / or rotating your right hip during the right side pedal stroke. You will find that as the right hip drops or rotates forward on the right down stroke, the left knee has to move outward on its upstroke as a consequence. As the right knee rises the pelvis rebounds more or less towards the centre of the seat. This coincides with the left down stroke and the left knee then rolls in.
If your left leg is tighter and you don't say where, it is likely as a consequence of habitually overextending. Get your physio to check your right psoas and also find out whether you have a varus right rear foot. There is a high correlation between either or both of those things and what you describe.
If either is the case, work towards resolving that. You won't solve the left knee 'dive' as you call it without resolving the right side reasons that cause it.
I am a 62 yr old recreational cyclist and my physician is recommending that I try testosterone injections to improve my sex life, energy levels, etc. My question is: how will this affect my cycling training. I participate in about 6 centuries and 6 metric centuries annually and ride about 100 to 150 miles per week in the warm months and supplant my cycling with running in the winter. I also lift weights 2 to 3 times per week to stave off osteo problems.
Scott Saifer replies:
Cool question. I'm glad you listed centuries rather than racing as your cycling interest. The testosterone you are considering taking will probably help you increase your cycling ability by allowing you to handle and recover from higher workloads in training, but also makes you ineligible for any racing you might have been considering doing.
I am 31, race 5s and spent the winter riding instead of slacking. I had worked up to a point where 3-4 hour rides were the norm on Saturday, with another 2-3 on Sunday and trainer work during the week. I had not started speed work outright, but had been training harder going into late January. Then I made a mistake and took a new bike on a training ride with three guys that race 2s. We were out for about 4 hours but the intensity, especially when we did one of the few more or less sustained climbs in Oklahoma, was higher than what I was regularly training at.
The new bike was fitted very much like my old bike. Saddle height, in fact, ended up being identical when measured from the center of the BB. The saddle came forward just a bit from the previous position, and this actually turns out to be much more comfortable.
Steve Hogg replies:
The basic story is that you injured yourself after riding harder than you are used to on a bike that you weren't familiar with. The injury you have suffered was most likely caused by overextending the left leg riding those hills at higher intensity than you are used to. If you were forcing the gear a bit, you will have dropped your heels more which in turn means greater leg extension. Probably adding to that is that 95% of riders favour and protect their right legs and sacrifice their left to varying degrees under severe load. The rest favour and protect the left.
There is enormous variation though. For many riders with a reasonable degree of function and pelvic symmetry what I have just described is low level and generally doesn't have any major implications. If you are not particularly flexible and have some pelvic asymmetries, then almost certainly the left leg was injured because under the unaccustomed load, you were dropping your right hip. This meant in turn that the left leg had to extend further. Often the rider doesn't rebound quite to the centre of the seat or alternately, adopts a seating position with the right hip twisted forward relative to the left.
The 100% solution to preventing a recurrence is to make sure you function more symmetrically on and off the bike. The short term solution is to drop your seat 3 - 5mm.
I have a question regarding the reach to the brake levers when in the drops.
My situation is this: When I ride down long mountain roads, anywhere from about 5km to 15km, I need to keep my hands in the drops to apply enough force on the ends of the brakes levers to control my descent and stop in an emergency if necessary. But, and this is the problem, my hands are small and my fingers are short. To have a good grasp of the levers I must "rotate" my shoulders forward and stretch out my hand and fingers to grasp the brake levers so that I can squeeze them with sufficient force. If this were only for a few seconds, it would not be problematic, but going down long mountain roads, this can last for many, many minutes, up to 20 or minutes. What commonly results is a sore and cramped lower back, and especially so because before the descent I had to spend a much longer time climbing. The option of having my hands on the hoods does not work because I cannot apply enough force to the brake levers to come to a stop or reduce enough speed to get around sharp corners and hairpins.
I want to be able to reach my brake levers comfortably from the drops while at the same time be able to apply sufficient force. My question is: Given the same handlebar, which manufacturer's reach to the lever from the drops is the shortest. Is it:
3. Shimano with the rubber pads that insert above the brake lever
5. SRAM Red when the levers are adjusted to their closest position to the bars.
I have not been able to find this information on my own on the internet, so I am asking for your help. In this day and age, I still use friction shifters on my downtube simply because the shortest reach levers I have found are Cane Creek SCR-5C (short reach). They are only brake levers and do not have a shifting function. I would like to go to modern combined shift-brake levers which would make shifting while descending mountains and riding in groups a much more safer and stable action. I would like to know what my options are before I spend a lot of money on what would basically be a new gruppo.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my question. Hope you can help.
Dave Palese replies:
The issue that you bring up is a common one. Here are my suggestions:
First, position the lever on the bar so that riding on your most commonly used hand position is comfortable. For many, this is riding on the hoods. So set the levers on the bars so that that position is right.
Secondly, reach to levers is and issue with most manufacturers. SRAM Red has a built-in reach adjustment. I don't know to what extent you can adjust the reach, but some adjustment is better than none. Shimano does make a non-series lever set (10-speed compatible only) that you can install rubber shims of varying thicknesses to reduce the reach. By 'non-series' I mean that isn't Ultegra, Dura Ace, or 105, etc. I believe the name of the parts group is R700. The shims that come with those levers, I haven't been able to get them to fit any of the series levers. Maybe someone else has had better luck.
A few of the my clients with small hands have had success make their own shims and gluing them in place on the lever. Just a piece of rubber and some super glue seems to have worked fine. It often isn't pretty, but it works.
Hope this helps.