Fitness questions and answers for February 3, 2009

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at...

Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. 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.

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.

Earl Zimmermann (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has over 12 years of racing experience and is a USA Cycling Level II Coach. He brings a wealth of personal competitive experience to his clients. He coaches athletes from beginner to elite in various disciplines including road and track cycling, running and triathlon.

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.

Lowered heart rate
Strength training
Illiotibial band discomfort
Explosivity training
Correct aero position
Causes of knee pain
Effects of Melatonin
Pedal setup
Foot vs pedal

Lowered heart rate

I'm a 48-year-old, male Cat 3 racer who's been competing for about 15 years. I primarily race criteriums and on the velodrome. I ride all year long and even manage to fit in three or four double century races each year. I can complete these in 10-12 hours depending on the course. Fitting in training around my job, I've averaged about 200-250 miles of riding per week in training so I have a very solid base.

I've done a yearly lactate threshold (LT)/max heart rate test each year before I begin my base training. For the last 15 years my max HR has been around 195-200 bpm while my LT will vary slightly from 83-88% of max HR. Power at LT is usually around 275-85 watts early in the off season, measured using a PowerTap. I record my resting HR and it's usually around 46-50 bpm but it's been as low as 42.

The test results before I began my training in early November '08 were no different than any other year. Max HR was 198. LT was 86% of Max HR. Power at LT was 277 watts.

About a month ago I noticed a change in my HR while training. My power output wattage while training at a given effort on a known course was not changing but the HR I was able to hit at that wattage was significantly lower than it had been (my RPE has not changed for the route either). This remained consistent for about a month so I arranged for a lab test to measure my cardio and metabolic output. To my surprise the power output numbers had not changed but the test now shows my max HR to be 174 bpm and my LT HR to be 147.

I've never heard or read of HR ranges changing so radically before. Could these be signs of overtraining? My power output or RPE hasn't changed (neither has my resting HR) but my HR just isn't getting up to the range I'm used to seeing.

Troy Raffelson

Scott Saifer replies:

You are not overtrained in the textbook sense. Overtraining is when you maintain or increase training and performance drops. Your performance is the same or better than ever.

You do however, have a very strange situation that is worth discussing with a physician. Did you by any chance start on beta-blocking medication? An unexplained loss of maximum heart rate by more than the usual beat or so per year in an already-trained individual needs to be explained.

Getting fit will cause the sort of changes you've seen, though usually not such big shifts, but it sounds like you've been plenty fit for a long time. Heart disease will cause a loss of maximum heart rate, but not usually the shift of LT to a lower heart rate with the same power.

Dario Fredrick replies:

Perhaps the most important concept to first establish here is "threshold." There are many ways to measure lactate threshold (LT) which can provide a wide range of results that don't always predict very well what happens outdoors on the bike (they tend to underestimate one's TT HR - the LT data you received from the VO2max protocol you performed is an example).

For the sake of this discussion, let's just call your average power and HR for your hillclimb ( 20 min maximal steady state climb) your performance threshold, or just "threshold" for short. This is a meaningful standard that you can replicate with your climbing field test and exists in the real-world, independent of laboratory testing.

From what you've explained so far, it sounds like you have seen a similar level of power, experienced similar perceived effort on each of your field test climbs, but your average HR has dropped by about 10-15 bpm since last Fall.

Assuming your field test was performed in a very similar manner each time (same time in the ride, similar workloads/warm up prior to the climb, similar level of cumulative fatigue/rested state leading into that day, similarly fed/hydrated state, riding the climb in the same gear and at a similar cadence and in similar conditions - temperature & humidity), you can compare the results with confidence. Otherwise, any of the details I mentioned can affect HR response at the same workload.

For example, if you do the climb early in a ride vs. late in a ride, you can easily have a difference of 10 bpm avg or more. Consecutive days of training can mute HR response to the same power output relative to after a rest day. Dropping your cadence by 5-10 rpm or more from your typical can reduce HR response. Temperature can have a large effect on HR response, as well as how much you're wearing. And hydration can have a significant effect on HR, easily by 10-15 bpm. If all these variables were kept constant, then as you mentioned, your threshold HR has dropped. However, I wouldn't worry about the change if you are healthy, sleeping well and your performance on the bike is consistent.

As we age our HRmax does indeed decline, and although less typical, one's threshold HR can decline as well. Usually, not by as much as 10-15 bpm from one year to the next, but I have seen similar changes among endurance athletes close to your age over a period of 2-3 years. I recommend that when you time trial or climb in upcoming races, use power and your perceived effort as a guide rather than any HR data you've received recently. Gather the HR data from your races and see what happened over the next few months. If your threshold HR stays where it is now, but your threshold power is consistent or improves, reset your HR training zones accordingly. Of course, see what your doc has to say and let us know.

Strength training

I just read with interest Ric Stearn's article on strength training. It's an intriguing topic both intellectually and for practical training planning.

I can understand how strength training may have little to no benefit for steady state endurance efforts (5+ minutes) due to the strength requirements of these efforts being so much lower than maximum strength limits.

However, greater max strength should benefit a rider during sprints as well as in certain situations faced in mountain biking like cranking over obstacles while riding uphill or choosing a steeper uphill line before you have time to shift to a lower gear. There are also broader health benefits of strength training such as increased bone density and muscular balance that a cyclist might be willing to pursue even if it means giving up some pure cycling performance.

So, if, for whatever reason, a well trained rider decides to pursue strength training throughout the season, what will the penalty to their endurance performance potential? Are we talking a few per cent or is it more significant than that, and has anyone developed a scientific model or conducted tests to determine this? Thanks for any comment on this.

Matt Emmert

Ric Stern replies

Even during maximal sprints by road cyclists for example, the forces are not that great and can be generated by most people. This is because the force decreases as the cadence increases at a given power. Thus, during sprinting when cadence is usually moderate to high the forces required are way below the maximal force that can be generated. Hill's Force-Velocity curve shows us that maximal force is generated at zero velocity.

As strength training can increase strength one of three ways (hypertrophy, neural, or a combination of the two) it is however, only when hypertrophy occurs, that maximal force generation transfers to another exercise modality.

When the strength gains are neutral, then these are limited to the joint angle and velocity at which they're trained. When there is an increase in muscle cross sectional area, then there is an accompanying increase in mass, and an increase in the distance from the capillary to the mitochondria, which would decrease aerobic performance (e.g. VO2max and lactate threshold).

I've never said that weights shouldn't be used - because they may be useful for strength, or possibly for increases in bone mineralisation (although I understand that perhaps running would be better for that than weights).

Lastly, I'm not aware of any data that shows that strength training increases endurance cycling performance in trained cyclists.

Scott Saifer replies:

I routinely recommend strength training in the gym for all the clients or my coaching company unless injuries or time constraints preclude that activity. Last season we had literally over a dozen and often more than 20 podium finishes each month with most of those successes achieved by the athletes who lifted. I can't argue scientifically from that data to a benefit of strength training, but it seems pretty clear that there was no major disadvantage derived from strength training.

There are theoretical disadvantages to strength training such as gaining mass, but if the rider lifts through the winter and loses weight through careful attention to nutrition, that supposed disadvantage doesn't play out in racing. There's no question that lifting slows down muscle contraction. In my experience however, that slowing down fades much more quickly than the strength gains. Generally supple spin returns within 3-6 weeks of ending extensive weight lifting, while studies show that strength gains last many months.

Illiotibial band discomfort

Two months ago I purchased a new frame and tried to duplicate the position from my old frame. I also switched from Specialized shoes to another brand six months ago. Although I tried to duplicate my cleat position I did not do anything to replicate the 1.5mm varus angle. Despite trying to keep everything similar I have developed localized discomfort on my outer left knee.

When I pedal I can feel what I assume to be the illiotibial band jumping back and forth. I am male, 26 years old, 62kg, 5'9"; I have some forefoot pronation and bow legs. I typically ride no fewer than 10 hours and in the past three weeks have been averaging 19 hours.

Have I unintentionally changed something to lead to the irritation? Is there a bike fit, shoe or orthotic, or stretch that I can do to alleviate the discomfort?

David Kuhns
Eugene, OR, USA

Scott Saifer replies:

Some of the other panellists may have other suggestions for you, but I'd start with making the position the same as before in every way that you can, and that would include setting the varus angle. The other thing that comes to mind is that a jump from 10 hours to 19 hours per week could cause sore knees even with an ideal position. You didn't say clearly if you jumped your mileage of if you've frequently done 19 hours in the past.

So, set the varus angle, apply ice after each ride, back off volume and do no intensity until you've been pain-free for several days and then build up again adding no more than an hour or so per week.

Dario Fredrick replies

In addition to Scott's recommendation about replicating your cleat setup, you might want to check your saddle height and setback. Do you slide forward on the saddle when going hard? Be sure you are neither too high, nor too far back. In either situation you might find yourself toeing down at the bottom of the pedal stroke and challenging the limits of the lateral (outer) quadriceps muscle (vastus lateralis) when your knee is extended, which is a common cause of IT band problems at the knee.

The IT runs along the lateral quad which works hard in cycling and can become very tight and knotted in sections. The IT is a tendon-sheath that runs along this muscle, and when the muscle becomes tight, it also reduces the movement of the IT which can cause friction along the outer knee. I recommend massaging the belly of your quadriceps muscles, especially the lateral quad. Also, since the IT originates as the gluteus maximus, stretching and massaging that muscle can help too. Here are some yoga-based stretches that I have found effective in reducing IT band problems. Let me know if that helps.

Explosivity training

I'm a competitive roadracer from the Netherlands. I'm 27, 1.93 m. 73 kg. I'm good on hilly terrain and climbing mountains lower then 2.000 m in altitude. Unfortunataly, The Netherlands is as flat as a pancake, so most races end up in a bunchsprint which is not my biggest talent.

Mind you, I know I'm not slow - I have a pretty high top speed. It's just that I take everybody with me. So this year, I wan't to work on my explosivity.

I've been experimenting with the legpress and weights for a while now - I make lots of sets with low weights and lots and lots of repetitions (for axeample, 15 sets of 80 kg and 30 repetitions). That really improves my pedalpower, but I don't feel more explosive.

So now I'm also experimenting with only 6 repetitions per set at the very max of the device (220 kg). That just seems to increase my legs and muscle.

So far, the power training has improved only my strength, and not my explosivity. I can ride harder and longer at an higher top speed, but still the sprinters are on my wheel.

I know I'll probably never beat a tried and true sprinter, but there must be something I can do to increase my explosivity right?

Can you give me some trainingadvice? How do I increase my explosivity?

Daniël Hoenderdos

Scott Saifer replies:

I have two thoughts for you. One is to do your lifting and your sprint training specifically with explosive effort, but the other has more to do with tactics. There are a only a very few riders who can literally ride the peloton off their wheel. The tricks to not having the field on your wheel and coming around you at the end have more to do with timing, sprinting from farther back, sweeping riders off your wheel as you move through the field, using the element of surprise to get a gap before anyone else knows you are sprinting.

Daniël then responded:

Thanks for the fast reply.

And thanks for the tips too, although they don't really answer my question. To make my question a bit more technical I'll explain what I'm trying to achieve.

I've learned that it is possible to convert a fast twitch fibre (type 2a) to a slow twitch type (type 1). It is quite possible that this has happend to Erik Zabel in the latter part of his career (where he just wasn't able to sprint like he used too). I've also learned that is not possible to convert a slow twitch fibre to a fast twitch fibre. Tough cookies for me, since I don't have a lot.

Now I know I can't convert my slow twitch muscles into fast twitch muscles. So I try to optimise the fast twitch muscles I got by training the creatine system by explosively pushing away a relatively low weight at a large amounts of repetitions. Secondly I try to gain more muscle by training with large weights, and few repetitions. More muscle = more fast twitch fibres, right?

My questions are:

1) Am I on the right track with my theories? Bear in mind that I only know what my cycling mates and trainer taught me, and what I read on the web and in some training books.
2) Do you have any training advice / tips or possibly exercises that I can use to optimize the few fast twitch muscle fibres I do have?

Scott Saifer replies:

I'm going to need a source on the type 2a to type 1 conversion in intact human muscle, but be that as it may, you are on the right track with your training theory. Your effort to optimise your sprinting ability should take account of several elements:

1. The same force on the pedals produces more rapid acceleration if it starts from a higher cadence (power is torque times angular velocity, or force perpendicular to the crank times pedal velocity). That makes the ability to sprint from a higher cadence and keep on spinning key. Professional road sprints are typically completed over 130 rpm and still accelerating. If you can't apply firm, smooth pressure to the pedals past 130 rpm, work on that. Then you can start sprints from 95 or 100 rpm and not get spun out.

2. More force on the pedals makes for more rapid acceleration, so strength training either on the bike or in the gym for the muscles that push the pedal during a sprint is appropriate. Three notes here:

a) On bike strength training is more efficient than gym work in the sense that you get more benefit in less time, but if you live somewhere that outdoor riding is really unpleasant in winter and you are burned on the trainer, so that lifting weights actually increases your training time, then efficiency is not an issue.
b) A "sprint" is generally 20-30 seconds at 100-130 rpm, so up to about 60 reps. When you do your gym work and you do your "low weight and large amount of reps", you should be using a weight that you can lift fairly explosively up to 60 times, but not a lot more. By 60 reps you should be breathing hard, sweating and glad it's about t be over. If you are lifting much less than 60 reps now, build up by adding 5 reps per week, and remember that you need to train in the gym at least twice per week on non-consecutive days to be effective.

3. Confidence and ability to suffer are essential. No matter how strong you get, you lose if you don't believe in your ability to win. Combine this with number 4 to be able to put it in effect.

4. Tactics trump strength: Sticking closer on a wheel for more of the race will do more for you than starting with a bigger sprint. Sticking on a wheel longer into the sprint will do more for you than starting with a bigger sprint. Dropping back to charge past someone in the sprint will let you beat a sprinter that you could not beat head to head or even coming off the wheel without dropping back. Paying attention to and working with wind direction, pavement conditions and so on let you beat stronger but less observant riders. I hope this helps.

Dario Fredrick replies

I agree with Scott that you will get more direct benefit from training on the bike versus weight training in seeking to increase your explosive power. Also, keep in mind that muscular adaptation is very specific to the type of training you do with regard to torque and cadence. Training explosive efforts on the bike can directly help improve those same types of efforts in racing. In addition, there is a progression to this type of training that can help, and a few specific workouts to consider.

How is your turnover at higher power? If you have difficulty accelerating a moderate gear quickly, I recommend starting with peak cadence/leg speed intervals to improve turnover. For example, start with 8x30 sec at maximum rpm while maintaining good form and stability in the saddle - be sure not to bounce. These are relatively undergeared efforts.

When you feel your leg speed and turnover are coming along nicely, then you can do a variety of short-duration/peak-effort types of workouts. It sounds like you may be looking to improve your breakaway effectiveness more so than your actual sprint finish (although both will benefit from the right kind of training), given that you say you have good "top end" and tend to take groups with you when attempting to go clear of the bunch.

Often, it's not the first attack or even the second or third that is successful, so you need to be able to attack, recover quickly and counter-attack or cover other people's attacks and counter those. On/off workouts can help with this ability. For example, try a 10 min interval, alternating between 10 sec peak seated effort with 50 sec recovery, continuous for the full 10 min. As you get better at these, you can increase the "on" time by 5-20 sec, and reduce the "off" time accordingly (e.g. 15 sec on/ 45 sec off, up to 30/30s).

Once you've done your leg speed work and your on/offs, you can start working on pure accelerations. I would train both seated and standing explosive efforts, as they are very different in terms of physical effort, speed and repeatability. Work on seated accelerations first, perhaps 9x10, up to 15-20 sec efforts, building to 12-15 repetitions. Full recovery between each effort will allow you to produce your best power across the set of intervals.

If you can increase your seated acceleration power and repeatability for a race, you save a large amount of energy for when you really need to produce explosive power out of the saddle. The power difference and energy cost between the two are quite large. When you feel you've effectively trained your seated power, you can work on your explosive sprint power out of the saddle. Start with short efforts, 8-10 sec, and build up to 15 sec max. Past about 10-12 sec, your power will likely start to drop a bit, and rather than specifically addressing the initial explosiveness of the effort, you begin working on your overall sprint power for the intended duration.

Regarding your questions about muscle fibre types, you may have confused type IIa with type IIb. The type IIb fibres are the 'explosive' fibre type. With the three main categories of fibre types (type I, IIa, IIb), the conversion from faster to slower twitch occurs in a stepwise fashion. For example, if you do not train your top end at all, but only ride at slow to moderate intensity, you'll experience some conversion of type IIb to IIa, and type IIa to type I. All three fibre types are recruited when producing explosive efforts, but the type IIb fibres are the "fastest twitch" and give us the most 'bang for the buck' at peak power. As we age, we lose some type IIb, yet can increase type I, which supports your hypothesis about Eric Zabel. Perhaps this article about fibre types and training will help clarify some of the training effects on fibre types.

Best of luck with your 2009 season!

Correct aero position

I'm a 23-year-old male and I just bought my first road bike with the intention of getting into triathlons. My first triathlon is scheduled for late July. The bike is a Motobecane Sprint purchased online. I added some carbon Stryke clip-on aerobars.

I had a professional bike fit done, but when I ride in the aero position I get cramps in my lower abdomen probably because my thighs are coming too close to my torso at the top of my pedal stroke. I was wondering what I could due to help alleviate this problem. I talked to the bike fitter and he recommended moving the seat back to stretch the body out a little more so that I am not so scrunched up. This did help flatten my back out a little more but I'm not sure it helped increase the angle between my thighs and my torso.

I'm affraid to move the seat back more because I don't want to lose power by not having my knee centered over my pedal axle at the 3-oclock position of my pedal stroke. Is it possible to improve this problem w/out compromising efficiency and power or am I kind of stuck with the problems of trying to turn a road bike into a tri bike?

Chris Nocera
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

A couple of things. To preface this reply I am going to assume that you have a road position that you perform well in and are happy with and and that problems only arise after adding clip on aero bars for tri's. Next when you say that moving the seat back, "it helped increase the angle between my thighs and torso." I can't see how that is possible and assume you mean the opposite. If any of what I've just said isn't the case, please correct me as what I'm about to say is in part based on that assumption.

Okay, so a problem arises in your lower abs when you fit aero bars to your road bike. I think it's very likely in general terms that the advice given by the bike fitter is incorrect and what you're feeling is more l the approach to take. The aero bar you have is one of the most adjustable out there. Rather than move your seat back (and just as an aside, "I don't want to lose power by not having my knee centered over my pedal axle at the 3-oclock position of my pedal stroke" is not really relevant for mine. It is the reductionist focus on a limb segment relationship that has an entire body attached, and other factors of proportion or function may mean that relationship can be anywhere along the curve from working well to working poorly) I would suggest extending and probably raising your aero bar position too.

What you are looking for is an aero bar height and reach that gives you the greatest amount of thoracic extension you can sustain comfortably. If you can achieve that, it is very likely that your abdominal issues will subside and you will perform better.

As you are using a road bike, the key is to have an aero position that still leaves you feeling anchored firmly on the seat but allows you the longest 'effective' torso length that is sensible. Do this an you will be able to breathe to your greatest capacity and will perform.

Causes of knee pain

Many posts in this forum refer to 'knee pain' and suggestions to remedy it but when I experience 'knee pain' what have I actually damaged/inflamed? At the moment I have some pain behind my right knee toward the outside which I suspect was caused by my saddle being set too low after a change of seat posts. What is the likely cause of the pain? Is it muscular or tendons/ligaments? What then is the healing process?

Similarly if the saddle is set too high what is the likely damage? Would the pain manifest in different areas of the knee?

Robert Daniell
Adelaide, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

Different fitting or riding errors cause damage to different anatomical structures. If your seat was too low, you are likely to have damaged the cartilage between the knee cap and the end of the femur, the quadriceps tendon or the patellar tendon. Too high a seat often damages the hamstring tendons where they pass behind the knee.

Tendons, ligaments and cartilage have poor circulation and heal slowly by "remodelling". Immune cells nibble away damaged tissue and the tissue itself regenerates to fill the space. The nibbling is accompanied by inflammation and pain. In some unlucky individuals the inflammation becomes self sustaining. That is, the inflammation releases chemicals that do further damage and cause further inflammation. That's why it's important to interrupt the inflammatory process with cold or medication if knee pain is not clearing up in a few days by itself.

Robert then responded:

Thanks for such a quick and informative reply. It would seem though that my 'guess' of the seat being too low was incorrect as my pain seems to be around the lateral hamstring tendon (don't we love google?). Along with rest, cold and anti-inflamatories, would physio help?

Scott Saifer replies:

Ice and anti-inflammatories are good for hamsting tendons too. That injury is usually seat too high, though dropping the heel while pedaling causes the same problem even while the seat height is good, and cleats to far towards the toe can cause heel drop, so cleat position can hurt hamstring tendons. In some cases, cleat angle can also be an issue.

Physio could certainly help if you get a good therapist. Getting the bike position and pedal stroke right is critical though. No amount of massage, stretching, electro-stim etc will make it better if you keep injuring it by riding a bad position or with a bad pedal stroke.
You didn't mention how or when you got your injury, but if your seat was just right on the verge of too high, you could actually get this injury by wearing a thick pair of tights that increase the effective saddle height.

Effects of Melatonin

I recently began supplementing occasionally (2-4 times/week) with Melatonin (2mg) to help with an on again/off again sleep disorder. The melatonin alleviates some of the anxiety and restless leg that prevents me from sleeping, and keeps me asleep all night. Surely this is aiding my recovery, but is there a half-life or some other detrimental effect on athletic performance from taking Melatonin?
Thanks,

Paul McCloskey

Scott Saifer replies:

Better sleep will improve your performance dramatically for anyone who generally undersleeps or gets poor sleep. I'm not aware of any negative effects so long as you take your melatonin early enough that it clears your system by the next workout. The half-life of malatonin is less than one hour, but the amount required to induce sleep can be far less than the normal dose, so it can keep you sleepy for 10 or more hours. The processing of melatotin varies from person to person so the only way you can know how fast you process it, how much you need to take to improve your sleep, or how long it will keep you tired is to experiment on yourself. Try to figure out the smallest dose that gives you good, all-night sleep.

Pedal setup

I want to let you know how much I enjoy reading the Fitness articles by Steve Hogg and Scott Saifer. I appreciate that the answers are technical and detailed in nature and give good explanations to the problems and the solutions. Now to my question.

First let me say that I have always believed that the human body is incredibly adaptive and will in many cases adjust and find an equalibrium point to a lot of problems which is partly the case with me.

I have a leg length discrepancy that at least partly is caused by my hips being rotated and out of alignment. My left leg is approx 3/4 inches shorter than my rightleg which over the years has caused my right foot to roll outboard to compensate.

For my cycling I have compensated in a couple of ways. First, I have three Dr Sholl type foam insoles in my left shoe to increase the effective leg length of my left leg. I have tried to use an external cleat shim on my left cycling shoe to get the necessary lift but for some reason with the shim it causes a hot spot and without the shim there is no hot spot.

Second, I have the cleat on my right cycling shoe set up so that the shoe is approx 1 centimetre farther forward on the pedal that my left shoe.

My question is this: When I am riding my left foot rolls inward and my right foot rolls outward which has caused me over the years to set up my cleats so my feet assume a heel inward attitude when I am clipped in. My heel runs within 5 mm of the crank arm when I am pedaling instead of a 'perfect' fore and aft attitude. This is the only way I feel stable on the pedals especially when I am out of the saddle but my right foot still has a tendency to turn and roll outboard. My left foot is stable with no turning or rolling.

I have thought about putting a LeMond shim under my right foot with the thick part closest to the crank to stabilize my right foot but I am concerned about what the added height might do to my leg length discrepancy and any thoughts you have on this will be appreciated. See below for my personal information. Thank you.

David Allen
Marietta, GA

Height: 6'2"
Weight: 210 lbs with a bit of a 'spare tyre'
Inseam: 36"
Bicycle: Litespeed Firenze
Size: 61 cm
Crank length: 175 mm
Stem length: 120 mm
Pedals: Look 395 (the older ones, not the Keo type)
Shoes: Sidi Genius III, Size 45

Steve Hogg replies:

You're right that the human body is incredibly adaptable, but for every compensatory mechanism we evolve, a price is exacted. If the price is high we feel pain, which is a good thing. A good thing because if focuses our attention; makes us realise that there is a problem which we then generally do something about. Often though, we pay a small price and feel no pain or perhaps only a small amount of discomfort. This sounds like a good thing but what can happen is that over years, when combined with the effects of aging and neglect, we butt up against the limits of what our bodies will comfortably cope with in the sense that compensatory mechanisms that have worked for a long time cease to work as well, or sometimes cease to work at all.. And after many years, the solutions aren't 5 minute solutions.

I say this because you are setting yourself up for a problem with a 10 mm difference in relative cleat position. That is enough to make the muscle enlistment patterns of each leg substantially different which means that you then set up a raft of sub compensations and sub/sub compensations and so on ad infinitum. Don't get me wrong. I would be surprised if there is a rider on the planet that pedals in a perfectly bilaterally symmetrical fashion, but bilateral symmetry in pedaling is a goal to be striven for and to work towards.

Now to your issue - the first thing that stands out is that you say, "I have a leg length discrepancy that at least partly is caused by my hips being rotated and out of alignment" What have you done or who have you seen to correct the hip rotation?

If the answer is nothing and nobody, then do something because you don't need to accept that this is 'just the way you are'. Consult a good structural health professional; manipulative physio, chiropractor or osteopath. And when I say a good one I mean one that is going to work towards a 'fix' and not apply a periodical metaphorical Band Aid. Failing that, get a copy of 'Overcome Neck and Back Pain' by Kit Laughlin. Not because you have neck or back pain but because that book goes into a bit of (accessible) depth about asymmetries, how they arise, what the solutions are and so on. The gent who wrote it has an 18mm ( 3/4") leg length discrepancy just like you do and a discrepancy of that order is unlikely to be resolved with three Dr Scholl's insoles.

Do you know what part of the discrepancy is caused by a shorter limb and do you know what part is caused by the hip imbalance?
If the answer is no, then find out. An X ray or scan properly taken and analysed, will tell you. Then you will know what is achievable. If the measurable difference is substantial, then you will need a shim external to your shoe. I know you have tried this and you developed a hot spot but the likely reason for that hot spot was the increased rocking couple created by the shim PLUS a cleat position that is too far forward. The way around this is to move the cleat 1mm further rearwards on the shoe for every 5 mm of shimming necessary

I can't offer you a quick solution to the left foot rolling in / right foot rolling out issue because there are several potential causes. The right foot rolling out may be because of -
1. You not sitting squarely on the seat and with your self description of rotated hips, this is very likely. If you hang noticeably to the left, in many cases the right foot will only feel stable when that cleat is further inboard meaning the right foot further outboard on the pedal.
2. As you suspect; an uncorrected right foot varus.
3. Compensations for asymmetric cleat position.
4. Any combination of the above plus any number of low probability but possible weirdo compensations.

The first thing you need to do is acquire more knowledge about your asymmetries. I would then advise finding a competent bike fitter with a proven history of resolving issues for people who function noticeably asymmetrically on a bike.

Foot vs pedal

I am a 22-year-old category 3 cyclist and medical student with a nagging foot issue. In the past season and a half I have destroyed two pairs of keo pedals due to some pedaling problem that I can't seem to pinpoint. Instead of normal cleat wear due to riding, I begin to see wear in the body of the keo pedal after about two months and it progresses until I can freely tilt my shoe right and left.

The wear is obvious over the pedal spindle and on the outside of the platform, but I believe there is also some wear under the pedal where the tooth of the cleat locks in place. The wear is the same for both feet even though I have a more toe in position for my left foot. This problem doesn't cause knee or foot pain, but the rocking that develops causes hot spots, numbness and frustration!

Currently I am using specialized '07 BG S-Works shoes with the grey keo cleats. My question is if I should consider another pedal style, or spend more time trying to discover what is actually causing this strange wear?

Drew Scoles

Steve Hogg replies:

I assume there is no pain associated with this as you haven't mentioned any. Almost certainly what is happening is that because of less than perfect alignment of feet or lower limb, you are loading the outside of the pedal platform in an autonomic attempt to do what is necessary to apply power to the pedals without injuring yourself.

The problem is that loading one side of the pedal means that you aren't that stable and it is that which causes your feet to move around creating wear by friction between cleat and pedal.

Contact bikefit.com or one of their dealers. Get some Cleat Wedges and experiment, starting with one per side and then two and so one. You will need the thick side of the wedge facing towards the inside edge of the shoe. Don't be surprised if you end up with a different number of wedges under each foot.

When you have found the correct number of wedges, your feet won't move around nearly as much in the pedals and your asymmetric pedal wear issue should disappear.

Back to top