Fitness questions and answers for June 14

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.

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.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

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.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

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.

Wedges vs. orthotics
Chocolate milk
Cleat question
Augmentin and performance
Heat treatment
Larger crank length
Medial ankle pain
Right knee track
Knee/ankle pain
Hamstrings
Hip replacement
Pedalling imbalance
Quad tightness/fatigue
Longer cranks
Ride-induced allergy attacks
Increasing speed
TT training

Wedges vs. orthotics

Hi Steve,

My right foot tends to pronate. So I get all the mumbo jumbo that goes along with that, i.e., increased varus foot, heel rotation toward the frame, vulgas knee, and knee pain under the kneecap. Can angled pedal wedges actually correct a pronating foot? My current experience suggest otherwise. I shimmed shoes about a year ago thinking it would stabilize the foot but my foot doesn't seem to care. The pronating foot seems to have an increased mobility which allows the heel to keep rolling, thereby circumventing the forefoot support.

Are orthotics able to stabilise the foot better? If so, this also brings up the question, what is the point of angled wedges if they are unable to correct a pronating/varus foot? Also, can pedals contribute to how bad a foot pronates? I ride with a pair of speed plays which allows my heel to rotate toward the bike as my foot pronates. Would using pedals with less float limit the effects of a pronating foot? Or would preventing the heel from rotating toward the bike without properly stabilizing the foot put more pressure on the knee?

Mike Kemp
East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Steve Hogg replies

Mike,

Firstly let's eliminate a couple of things. Do you sit squarely on the seat?

The simple way to check for this is to look at the gap between your inner thighs and the seat post. On which side is the gap larger? You will be tending to sit off centre towards the side with the lesser gap, assuming there is one. By asking this what I am trying to establish is whether this is a foot/ankle problem or whether other factors play a part.

Get back to me with that info because there is no general yes/no answer to your question. The right foot meanderings could be because of foot and ankle morphology, but often hip function and functional pelvic asymmetries in the sense of how squarely the rider sits on the seat play a large part in this. There are solutions, but I need to know what we are trying to solve in a slightly more specific sense than you have framed your query. If you can let me know about the inner thigh/seat post gap, I will have more to go on.

Mike then responded:

Hey Steve,

I believe that I'm sitting squarely in the saddle...ie, the gap between my inner thighs and seat post is equal. The only time this might not be true is when I'm hammering. Under these conditions my right foot roles inward forcing my right knee inward too. Hence under these conditions my right thigh might appear closer to the seat post but never when I'm just spinning or riding tempo.

I'm going to need a few days to get the definitive proof that I'm sitting square in the saddle. I'll digress here for a second and get back to way that is. I wrote you in the past and told you that I had a femur length difference and tibia length difference. I have since gone to see a chiropractor and via X-rays we found this to not be true. I did have a leg length difference but it was due to posterior inferior left ilium and anterior superior ilium (resulting in a short left leg and long right leg). I believe this to be what you would call a twisted pelvis.

The twisting of my ilium was also accompanied by my sacrum twisting down and back (posterior) on the left. Through a regimen of adjustments I've been able to equalize my leg length. However I'm still not sure whether I sit completely square on the bike. As a matter a fact I'm not sure I was ever sitting twisted but I may have just 'felt' like my body wanted to twist down and forward on the left. I believe this to be the case b/c my left chest/back/arm/ab muscles are all noticeably larger on the left side, which suggests to me that I was resisting the desire of my left hip to fall by bracing with my upper body.

In addition, since having my legs realigned and pelvis untwisted by my chiropractor, my upper body weight has been shifted to my right arm, which would further suggest to me that I'm sitting more squarely in the saddle. To prove this I'll try and take my bike and trainer into the chiropractor with me this week. Perhaps her trained eye will provide better proof than my girlfriend's. Any suggestions you might offer the chiropractor to make and accurate assessment of my sitting condition?

I'm asking questions about this pronating foot because of a change in riding style I've been forced to undertake. I recently moved from Tucson, Arizona to East Lansing, Michigan and the riding style has changed significantly. Tucson was very hill which suits this 135lbs twerp just fine. Most of my major powerful efforts involved me spinning up a 15% hill. However, in East Lansing the terrain is flat. The efforts here require pushing a really big gear and doing a lot of accelerations and jumps out of that same big gear.

Every time I do one of these acceleration and jumps my foot pronates and my knee rotates inwards. These repeated efforts seem to be causing some pain underneath my kneecap. I had noticed this pronation in Tucson but it may have not been an issue because when you're making a jump while spinning a 38X19 uphill it doesn't seem to put nearly as much pressure on your joints as hammering a 52X14 on the flats does.

Also, here are some other things that may help...

1) If I'm standing and I try to pronate my feet the right foot will rotate in further than the left
2) My right glut muscle is significantly tighter then my left
3) After hammering for a sustained period of time my left glut begins to burn

That's all I got right now. I'll get back to you with the result of my chiropractor visit.

Steve Hogg replies

Mike,

I was wondering whether it was you but the Michigan address fooled me. I remembered Dr Kemp as being a desert dweller and while I am no expert on US geography, I know that desert is thin on the ground in Michigan.

Interesting what you say about leg length. I regularly see people who have been told that they have a short leg or limb segment but after scans or x-rays, this is proven to be false. Occasionally it is the other leg that is short!

I'm going to propose a scenario and you can tell me whether you fit it. A pronounced forefoot varus on one side that either isn't present on the other side or is not present to anything like the same degree on the other side is very common. Usually the right side is affected but there are 'lefties' out there. In theory this should lead to knee pain on the varus side because applying force with a varus forefoot should load up the knee laterally or rotationally.

Most people experience no knee pain. What seems to happen is that they compensate in 3 common ways and a myriad of uncommon weirdo ways but the three common compensatory patterns are:

1. Internally rotate the right hip. This will keep the knee tracking straight but over time cause issues with the hip and lower back on the same side.
2. Load up the lateral aspect of the foot. This too will keep the knee tracking straight but the give away most of the time is callous under the 5th MTP joint (and sometimes the 4th MTP joint as well). This will keep the knee tracking straight as well but over time their may be discomfort on the lateral aspect of the foot, sometimes at the 4th and 5th MTP joints, sometimes further back.
3. The next most common compensatory pattern that I see is where the rider makes no adjustments on the affected side but has all their compensations on the other side. This usually takes the form of what you described as the way you functioned previously and can be also associated with a massive internal rotation of the hip on the non varus (or not nearly as varus) side and twisted sacrum.

It is this last that may be the case with what has been happening to you.

Now you say all is well in a pelvic alignment sense but the right foot is the problem. How many wedges have you used to date on that side?
It is unusual to need more than four but I have seen up to 15 needed in 'out there' instances. With the tight right glutes; are the psoas and iliacus tighter on that side as well? Are the right quads tighter than the left?

Chocolate milk

A couple years back, a coach of mine spoke of the value of chocolate milk as a recovery drink. Hoards of my teammates flocked to the tasty treat however I stayed true to some of those highly engineered recovery drinks and pointed to out the questionable and hydrogenated ingredients in some of the "kiddie brew" my mates were chugging down.

Flipping through a popular US cycling magazine, I saw an article heralding chocolate milk and how much better is does in side by side testing with the fancy (and pricy) stuff I buy.

What is the real scoop?

John Mattio

Scott Saifer replies

John,

The real scoop is in the ice cream, though I don't recommend that as a recovery food!

There may be subtle and potentially important differences between chocolate milk and the mixtures of isolated nutrients that are sold as recovery drinks, but the scientific jury is out on which one might actually be better, and for what.

One thing we can be pretty sure of is that any time you read about rapid absorption or the perfect balance of two components of a drink, you are reading hype, not the result of rigorous study. For instance, the much touted 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein is hyped based on clinical studies that compared 4:1 to all carbohydrate, placebo or other extremely different ratios, not to 4.5:1 or 3.5:1 ratios. That means there's no science at all to say that 4:1 would be better or worse than 3.5:1 or 4.5:1 or even 2:1 or 3:1. There's no reason to pay for someone to get the ratio "right" when they don't even know if their ratio is right.

There's also no research to support rapidly available proteins over slower proteins for recovery. One area where there is some research is in the glycemic index of the carbohydrates in the recovery drink, and here both the chocolate milk and the recovery drinks fall down. While it seems logical that you would want rapidly absorbing high glycemic index sugars in your recovery drink, the research on this topic is mixed, but never in favor of high glycemic index. Some studies find no difference in next day performance, and others find superior next-day performance after low or medium glycemic index recovery meals. The studies are not contradictory but the results come from different experimental protocols and different subjects.

The answer for now is that chocolate milk is probably as good as the powders, unless you want something you can leave in your car week after week to be consumed post-race.

Cleat question

Hey guys,

I'm a 19 year old racer currently in Belgium racing (and learning the hard way). I've read Steve's recommendations on cleat placement and I have a few questions. I ask because as I set up my cleats (SPD-SL) to my shoes (DMT Ultimax, size 44) I have trouble mounting the cleats as far back as is recommended. I'm worried that I'm measuring the ball of my foot incorrectly as I have the cleats as far back as possible on the shoes and it is still only 9mm (L) and 8mm (R). Any help would be much appreciated.

Justin Grisham
Washington, MO

Steve Hogg replies

Justin,

Have a look at this post. That should tell you what you need to know. If you need further info, just ask. I am surprised that you can't gain the ideal cleat position on that combination of shoe and pedal. DMT's ( along with Nike) have the most rearward cleat mounting holes. If you have very long toes, point your toes inward noticeably or have gone a size to large to get extra width, then any of those things would explain the problem. It may be too, that you already have the cleats back too far.
Let me know how you get on.

Augmentin and performance

I had a question about Augemtin and if it would have an effect on an athlete performance in a triathlon? I did a half Ironman last week in Hawaii and not only did poorly on the cycling section but became very dehydrated and performed poorly on the run. Essentially running out of gas. This is very off for me because running is my strength.

I was prescribed Augemtin for a repertory illness I had for a few days before had and it was probably an effect? I am a very fit 44 year old male and have run a 2:18 marathon etc.

Peter Warner

Kelby Bethards replies

Peter,

There are two things to consider (maybe more). First of all, and in my mind, the most likely culprit. You were prescribed an antibiotic for an illness just a few days prior. Although you may have been feeling better at the time of the event, it does not mean that you were completely recovered. Complete recovery and feeling good are not the same thing. People with illnesses tend to be dehydrated and just a little low on energy. Even an effect of a few "percentage" points of energy can cause huge differences in an effort where you need all that you have.

Another possibility is that the antibiotic had some untoward (not allergic) effects to your performance. The clavulanic acid component of Augmentin tends to give people diarrhea, and just a day of this would be enough to change your performance. Not to mention the medicine itself may have limited you some. I have had people on antibiotics that perform fine and have heard of others that don't.

Sorting out the cause is somewhat convoluted by the notion that if you were feeling perfectly ok, you wouldn't be on an antibiotic to begin with.

So, the reason for your decreased performance may be a combination of the above or something we are not considering.

Heat treatment

We're into summer here in North America, and it seems exceptionally hot in Colorado now. After doing a number of hot rides and races, I am beginning to realise that heat may be my primary limiter from a performance standpoint. When I stop to think about it, this has been true for a few years now as I have topped 40 years of age. How can one deal with this as a limiter? Assuming that one trains on one's weakness, how can I overcome it from a training perspective or mental standpoint? Are there tricks to cooling yourself when maxed at zone 5 in a race?

Matt Vawter
Boulder, CO

Scott Saifer replies

Matt,

There are things you can do both between races and during races to reduce the impact of heat. Between races if you are not doing so already, expose yourself to hot environments 24 hours per day. Hot does not need to mean sweltering, but warm enough to keep you sweating just a little bit all the time. It's okay to shop for a few minutes in an air-conditioned store, but don't sleep in an air-conditioned room.

If the ambient temperature is not high enough to keep you sweating a bit, add layers of clothing. You may have noticed professional athletes wearing warm, beanie-style hats on days when all the spectators are bare-headed. They are not covering up helmet hair. They are acclimating or maintaining acclimation to heat.

If you make a habit of living hot, your body will adjust by increasing plasma volume, allowing you to maintain adequate blood flow to the legs even when the body demands that blood flow to the skin for cooling. You will also become a more efficient sweater, pumping smaller amounts of sweat through more numerous sweat glands, using a smaller total amount of water to get the same cooling effect, or an equal amount of water to achieve a greater cooling effect.

Make sure you start your races very well hydrated, and make a habit of salting your food during the sweaty months. Ignore the advice to salt at your peril, unless you have a personal or family history of hypertension, in which case you should ask your doctor before taking this advice.

In the few hours before races, do what you can to keep cool. Especially during warm-up, find a shady spot or preferably an air-conditioned indoor spot. During races, sprinkle water on your jersey, through your helmet and on your shorts. Keep yourself cool and wet.

NO matter what you do to adjust, there is a genetic component to dealing well with heat, so you may not be able to completely eliminate your disadvantage, but taking the advice above will help you greatly reduce it, hopefully to the point that differences in other aspects of fitness or riding skill will become more important.

Larger crank length

Hi,

I would like to respond to Bill Caplice's question posted on June 5. I too am 6'5" with an even longer inseam than Bill's (100 cm). I switched from 175 mm cranks to 200 mm. I am light for my height (165 lb) and am more of a spinner than a gear masher. For decades on the 175's I turned a natural 105-110 rpm cadence. I bought the 200's late one fall and spent the winter on my trainer getting used to the new setup.

It took a few weeks, but I am very comfortable with the same 105-110 cadence on the longer cranks. For me, the only drawback to the longer cranks is less ground clearance in pedalling through turns. I don't race any more, so it's no big deal. A real bonus to the new cranks is a feeling of being more "in" the bike than perched on top of the bike. Handling is much better and the bike is much more comfortable. The cranks can be purchased through Zinn Cycles, and I think they are a great investment.

Dean Allison
Fort Collins, CO

Steve Hogg replies

Dean,

I wouldn't argue with you but not everyone is in the same boat. To illustrate what I mean, I will mention two customers that I have. One is a gent who is your height and has your 1 metre inseam. After much experimentation he is very happy with 200 mm cranks as are you. The other is taller again and has a 1040mm inseam. He struggles with pedalling fluency at anything above 180mm and so that is what we have put on his bike.

What I am saying is that inseam is one factor in choosing crank length, not the only one. The other things that need to be considered are:

1. Relative proportions of upper and lower leg. The greater the proportional length of the lower leg, the higher the knee will rise at the top of the stroke for a given inseam.
2. Foot size. Depending on pedalling technique under load, foot size can lead to an increase or decrease in seat height and hence, indirectly affect the choice of crank length.
3. Functionality. The less the range of movement in the hips and lower back, the shorter the practical limits on crank length.
4. Bar height. For those with superior flexibility who can have their torso very low when riding with hands in the drops, this places a limit on how high their knee can rise at the top of the stroke.
5. My rider positioning experience suggests to me that as a general 'rule', short legged people have less trouble with proportionally long cranks (and don't forget that 165mm can be a long crank if your legs are short enough) than long legged people. I can speculate but not say definitively why this is so.
6. Intended use. There is no getting away from the fact that it is easier to pedal a proportionally shorter crank really fast than a proportionally long crank.
All of the above doesn't consider limits on crank length such as ground clearance on and toe overlap etc that can happen with long cranks if paired with a production frame etc.

To give you a personal example. I have an inseam of 860mm and happily ride 172.5mm cranks which are 20% of my inseam length. I chose them because after several years of experimentation with every length from 170mm to 177.5mm many years ago, I found them to be for me, the best combination of leverage and pedalling efficiency. I say for me; I am not extrapolating my experience to the rest of the planet which is something that tends to happen a lot in cycling. I tend to be a bit of a pedaller rather than a big gear rider and no one would consider 172.5mm anything other than a conservative choice for a rider of my inseam length. Your 200mm cranks are the same 20% of your inseam length for you as my 172.5s are for me, so I find it easy to understand why you can spin freely with them.

Early year I met an engaging American gent named Ron Haney who is a believer in proportional crank length. At his suggestion I started to ride 185mm cranks and persevered with them for quite a few months. I set some PB's in local TTs and up a few hills I regularly ride but lost 7-8km/h in sprint speed! I just could not turn them fast enough under high load conditions. Interestingly, at low loads I could crack 200 rpm on them the rollers without problems but really struggled at anything over 115 rpm at high loads. 185mm for me is 21.5% of my inseam length which is very close to the 21.6% of inseam length recommended on several American sites as the ideal crank length / inseam proportion.

Now a bit more detail. I am very short in the upper leg and have way above average flexibility. My bars are 120mm below my seat and comfortable over distance at that height. With the combination of a proportionally long lower leg pushing my upper leg very high at the top of the pedal stroke plus my low torso position, the 185's were not the best choice for me. I managed ok, crit sprints aside, but had to double my stretching to cope with the extra stress of using them.

So I went back to my 172.5s which felt ridiculously short initially but I adjusted quickly. I missed the extra leverage though and continued to experiment. I now have 177.5s on the road bike with no negatives. I am doing similar times up hills as on the 185's but pedalling a few rpm faster to do it. I can't sprint as fast on the 177.5's as I can on the 172.5's but have a pair of those on the bike that I race local crits on. I don't find the transition between lengths a chore at all. 10 minutes and I feel at home after the change.

All of this is to say that anyone with an opinion on crank length tends to focus on the relationship between inseam length (which is not leg length and the relationship between the two seems to differ between the genders) and crank length because the world wants simple answers. My view is that it isn't that simple to determine ideal crank length. Scott's post last week is as good as you will get about how to determine whether a rider can cope with a longer crank than they are currently riding without going to the expense of actually buying one. Being able to ride a longer crank than a rider currently does is one thing but and being able to perform better doing is another thing altogether.

Scott Saifer replies

Dean,

I'm glad you had a good experience with longer cranks. Unfortunately it is not a universal truth that tall guys can turn long cranks. One useful bit of information that you have included and for which I am grateful is that it took you only a few weeks to adjust to a 25mm increase in crank length. That will give me confidence in telling other riders that if they have not "gotten used to" longer cranks in a month or so, they probably never will.

Medial ankle pain

Dear functional Guru;

I am a 37 yr. old male. I have been cycling for two years (training as hard as my body will allow, plus a little). I've lost forty pounds and am now down to a petite 197lbs! (5'11") I put in a good base over the winter (100-140 wk. mostly flat with some structured efforts and lots of wind). In the spring I ramped up to 150 per week with rolling hills and some fast pack rides with the local cat four crowd. A month ago we started doing some fairly hard hill rides once a week - 40 miles of big rollers ½ to ¾ mile length at 8% to 15%. This was my hard effort for the week. I seemed to be adjusting to this new load for the first three weeks then started to develop some pain in the medial soft tissue of the ankle.

I bowed out of the next hill ride and returned to the flatter course but the pain continued to grow. The pain was sharp like tight skin. It started at the top of my foot where the middle strap hits my foot and traced to the medial ankle (moderate swelling) and up to the medial knee, then a little further up into the hamstring. My doctor friend said I strained/small tear of the Flexor hallus longus (plantar flexion) due to the increase hill loads. Back off, ice, stretch, ibuprofen, etc… My question is, are there some functional things that are being signalled by this injury? BTW, I do most of my climbing seated.

Bike setup: Speedplay x-2 pedals, extra plate under left foot for leg length var., One LeMond wedge for each foot (tilting out); my friends say I sit square and don't drop one hip more than another. I have 172.5 cranks and two pairs of shoes (Shimano carbon and Sidi carbon). Cleat located at or just behind ball of foot. Seat has plenty of room to move back.

Fit issues: I have short legs (30" inseam) so seat post rides very low.

The only "event" I can think of that might have initiated the injury is an low RPM effort where I pulled up hard with my legs through the back of the pedal stroke to catch a hill sprint that I was a little slow recognizing. Any recommendations?

John Mitchell

Steve Hogg replies

John,

Did this occur in on one side only or both? What brand, model and size of shoes do you use?

There are two things you should try. Firstly, Speedplay cleats don't have the as much potential rearward movement as a number of other brands. This may be the issue or possibly that combined with the type of shoe that you have. Have a look at this post and this post on cleat position. Positioning your cleats as suggested there should make a positive difference. If you find that you can't achieve that, contact me directly because there is a solution.

The second thing is that assuming that your cleats are positioned as suggested above or that you position them as suggested with no improvement in the problem, add a wedge to the affected side. You should be able to determine fairly quickly whether that is an improvement or not.

Either way, let me know how you get on.

Right knee track

I've ran a search and know you've answered many related issues to mine, but I can't find one exactly the same, so here's my problem: When I pedal, my right knee tracks inward and lightly brushes my top tube on just about every pedal stroke. I've recently changed pedal/shoe combinations from Speedplay X/Specialized bg to Look KEO/Nike Poggio. I think my knee always tracked inward a bit, but it didn't seem to be a problem with the old combination as the increased pedal float on the Speedplays allowed me to position my heel to prevent this. With the decreased float on the Look pedals, I'm stuck with my knee contacting the top tube. I've had my wife watch me pedal and there is no noticable hip drop and I sit straight on my saddle. I don't have any pain associated with the problem either. The only possibly related structural issue I have is that if I allow my hamstrings to get too tight, my right SI joint gets a little out of whack and the right side of my pelvis rotates sligtly upward, but this is an off and on problem and hasn't affected me in months. Regardless, my left leg tracks perfectly straight. Would some type of wedge be the easy answer here? Thanks for the help.

Matt Baugher

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

Get hold of some Lemond Speedplay wedges and experiment starting with one under the right shoe with the thick edge of the wedge towards the centreline of the bike. If that is a positive change, try another and so on. How tight are your hip flexors on the right side? That could be a part or all of the problem.

Matt then responded:

My right knee tracks inward during my pedal stroke and is causing me some problems by contacting the top tube and creating a little pain on the inside portion of my knee. For several years I have been using Speedplay X pedals with Specialized Body Geometry shoes and although I always suspected my knee tracked inward slightly, it didn't pose a problem with that setup, maybe due to the free floating design of the Speedplays and the built-in wedge of the Body Geometry shoes.

However, I recently switched to Look KEO pedals and Nike Poggio shoes and the problem is now very pronounced. I don't believe I have any problems with my feet as evidenced by perfectly even running shoe wear, my left leg tracks perfectly straight, I sit even on the saddle and I don't have any noticeable hip drop when I pedal. It's just that my right knee doesn't track straight. Do I need to put a wedge into my shoe to correct this problem and if so, on what side does the thick part go? Thanks for the help.

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

You sound like a potential candidate for wedges. Get hold of some Lemond wedges and experiment starting with one. Place the wedge(s) under the right cleat so that the thick side is nearest the crank arm. If one feels good, try another and so on until you feel less stable on the pedal. If this happens, remove one.

This should make your foot feel much more stable on the pedal but may or may not bring your knee further from the centreline of the bike. If you do indeed have a notably varus forefoot on the right side, you will have compensated for this in a variety of ways. A common one of those will have changed hip and possibly pelvic function. What I am saying is to determine the success or otherwise of using wedges by how you feel on the pedal, not necessarily by where your knee ends up tracking providing it tracks pain and niggle free.

There is also the small possibility that a left forefoot varus is the issue and that the right side internal hip rotation is the compensatory mechanism for this. Have a structural health professional look at your sacro iliac joints with you lying flat on your stomach. If the left one protrudes more than the right, then almost certainly it is this last that is happening.

Knee/ankle pain

This is a continuation of Matt Eastwood's letter from last week's fitness Q&A page.

Hi Steve, thanks for your reply.

In answer to your questions, the centre of the ball of my foot is approx 5mm in front of the axle centre line, the cleat position was also set up by Bio-Racer (Although the centre of the ball of my foot can be over the axle centre line depending on how much I drop my ankle when pedalling)

My right inner thigh runs closest to the seat pin, but there's very little in it. However, my right knee brushes the top tube, while the left is about an inch away when pedalling.

It's probably also worth mentioning that under pressure (climbing/headwind) I get a pain in my left buttock, I presume it's working harder to keep up with the stronger right leg and to help the weak left leg?

Also I notice Speedplay pedals aren't particularly stable, in that there is a 'rocking' on the pedal. Could this be a problem?

I broke my right hip and thigh two years ago and had a femoral nail put in. Fortunately my leg lengths are nearly identical (2mm difference - measured by 2 different specialists). Despite this injury my right leg overtook the undamaged left leg in strength very quickly when I resumed riding. I've always considered my right leg to be stronger, there is more muscle mass on that side and it has always felt better and more natural on the bike, even after the massive injury it received. All my discomfort comes from the left leg.

From reading your other replies I'm guessing you'll recommend I move the cleats back a bit further on the shoe? How much seat drop do you need for every mm of moving the cleat back on the shoe? Do I need to move both cleats the same amount, even though the right leg feels good? Thanks and hoping you can help me sort this problem.

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

Here is a plan of action. You have a history of left side niggles which could be for any number of reasons which in turn could be left side problems or left side compensations for right side problems. Staying away from that for the moment.

1. Drop your seat 3mm and see if this is a positive difference or not. Get back to me with the answer on that.
2. If 1. was positive or unchanged have a look at this post and this post and position your cleats accordingly. That should allow you greater foot on pedal stability than you currently have and as it will slightly limit ankle movement, should be a positive for your achilles tendon. After doing this, you will probably have to drop your seat another couple of mm as the more rearward cleat position will cause you to extend your legs a fraction more.

Hamstrings

Hi,

I'm a 44 year old male at 5' 10'' 200 lbs who road rides about 100 to 150 km a week. My rides for the last year have been between 30 and 45 km at a time. The target weight I'm aiming for is 170 lbs; when I was in my teens to about 30 I couldn't get my weight over 160; amazing what kids, a desk job and a hypothyroid can do.

I digress…I just went out on a 60km ride which took me 2.5 hrs to do and I felt fine; but the next morning my hamstrings were very tight and sore to the touch. This was a new experience for me since all my rides are in a hilly area. Was it just the extra 20km? I only had a sport drink to replenish my fluids. Did I need a power gel to help the working muscles and reduce the chance of the hamstrings acting up? What's the next step? Take time off till the hamstrings feel better or do light work outs and keep the muscles working and try to reduce the soreness?

Ashley Barrie

Steve Hogg replies

Ashley,

There are a number of possibilities. I will assume that both hurt similarly because you don't say otherwise. If the site of the pain was high in the hamstring underneath the glutes, your seat is too high. If this is the case, dropping the seat 3 - 5mm will resolve.
If the site of the pain was the belly of the hamstrings, your seat is either too far back or your hip flexors are are way too tight causing reciprocal inhibition of the glutes which in turn will load the hammies.

Was the ride harder than normal?

If so, combined with the extra length that may be the problem which in turn means that any of the above could be the problem.
Another thing that can indirectly affect hamstring usage is cleat position. Where is the centre of the ball of your foot in relation to the centre of the pedal axle?

Hip replacement

My wife is 57 and is a keen leisure cyclist. However she has developed osteoarthritis in her left hip and is now waiting to have a hip replacement operation as the cartilage in the joint has all but disappeared. This has stopped her walking any distance and she is unable to get on her bike because it is just too painful. Can you give any advice about post op exercise that would enable her to restart cycling, do you know if it will be possible for her to return to cycling and how long it might take after her operation, in fact any help on this would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your help.

Tony Freeth
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Steve Hogg replies

Tony,

I would suggest that you be guided by what her surgeon or GP suggest. I have a customer who recently had a hip replacement and he was back on the bike (with doc's approval) six weeks after the op. Whether this is typical or not, I don't know.

Pedalling imbalance

Hello,

I am a 28 year old recreational cyclist who rides about 100 miles per week, and I have a question about my apparently imbalanced pedalling. After rides, especially those with bursts of high effort, my right quadricep muscles are considerably sorer than my left; I am guessing that this is caused by favouring my dominant (right) leg and pedalling harder on that side. However, if I simply concentrate on pedalling as hard with my left leg, I can't help starting to rock my shoulders and feel less comfortable on the bike. My question is are there any exercises or tips that you would recommend to "balance" pedalling effort? Thanks for your help!

Matt Lechner
Seattle

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

I need more info. Set your bike up on an indoor trainer, level the bike and pedal with shirt off under load. Have an observer stand above and behind you and what I need to know is:

Which hip do you drop and or rotate forward under load? Does the left/right power differential increase as the load becomes higher? Let me know those answers and we will proceed.

Matt then responded:

(I apologise for the considerable delay in responding - I have only recently had access to a trainer/spotter)

Hi Steve,

Thank you for your reply. My observer noticed that I drop/rotate forward my right hip under load, and yes, the left/right power difference does seem to increase as the load becomes higher. I have also noticed two things since I wrote: I think my saddle has been a little too low (I have just raised it 2 mm), and my right quadricep muscles are visually a bit more developed than my left. Please let me know if you can suggest any tips to balance my pedalling effort - I'm building up to two centuries (Sat/Sun) and figure I should be using both legs! Thanks again for your help, and for your great column.

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

What you say all tallies. The basic problem is that you sit off centre and drop the right hip under load which is a common occurrence. That means though, that the left leg has to reach further and is constantly challenged as to its ability to maintain its ideal plane of movement.

Have a look at this link. It will explain the best way that I have found to deal with your problem.
Once you have read it, get back to me with whatever queries you have.

Quad tightness/fatigue

I am a 44-year-old B Grade track and road cyclist (Australia).

Over the last month or so I have noticed that my right quad (particularly inner lower section) is tightening & subsequently fatiguing prematurely. I notice this during bigger geared, in the saddle efforts, especially on the indoor trainer and in some track races.

I have been checked by my chiropractor who his happy with my alignment.

The only thing I have changed in recent months are my pedals. I have moved from using Look A5.1 to Keos. I have modified the saddle height on both road and track bikes as recommended by Look reflecting the change in height of pedals approx 4 mm from memory. I had adjustable float set at 6 degrees on the old pedals but use the grey cleats now (4.5 degree float).

My right foot points slightly outward as a result of a broken leg back in 1990 and I believe that perhaps a minor restriction in movement at the bottom of the pedal stoke is taking place, gradually building up the tension in my quad.

I have been very careful in the changeover process to mark reference points on my shoes in order to successfully align cleats. Before I rush into any changes I'd like to ask your opinion as to whether 1.5 degrees less float could have such a dramatic impact?

Geoff Diamond

Steve Hogg replies

Geoff,

The effective difference between your older 5.1's and Keo's is more like 5 - 6mm. Given the location of the pain, it is likely that you are mildly overextending so it wouldn't hurt to drop your seat another couple of mm.

The other variables to consider are:

1. The 1.5 degrees less rotational movement will make no difference unless you don't have the angle of the cleat where it should be, with some available movement either side of where your foot wants to sit under load. Also too, there are plenty of people out there with SPD-SL's where the amount of freeplay in the freeplay version of the cleat is just not enough. I am finding the same thing with the grey Keo cleats. If this is the case with you, then the Keo red cleats would be a better option.Another thing that occurs is; on your old pedals, did you have the dial set at '3' or '6'? If it was '6', then you had 12 degrees of movement, not 6 in total. If this was the case, again the red Keo cleats with 10 degrees of float are probably part or all of the solution.

2. When you changed the cleats, did you quantify where the old cleats were relative to foot in shoe in a fore and aft sense and then take care to duplicate that same relationship?

If not, that too may be part of the problem. The other thing is don't worry too much about reference points when changing pedal and cleat systems. There is too much margin for error. The only way to determine correct cleat angle is to do some real world testing on the bike under load. Ride a hard gear, stop and coast, twist heel in. Is there movement?

If yes, fine. If no, adjust cleat angle. Repeat but this time move heel outward. Is there movement?

If yes, fine. If no, adjust cleat angle and retest until you are in the middle of the range of movement. Then repeat process on the other leg. Once done it is worth a recheck, because occasionally changing cleat angle on one shoe affects how the other foot comes at the pedal.

Longer cranks

Hi Scott and Team,

Having read with interest your recent reply to Bill regarding crank lengths, I would love to explore the question a little further.

I am a 48 year-old male masters racer who only relatively recently discovered the joys of cycling. I am now into my third club season and have recently progressed to the A grade bunch. Whilst not contesting any finishes yet, I'm usually staying with the bunch. I ride/train pretty much every day to a structured plan (and loving it) - currently averaging about 375km per week. This includes periodized blocks, recovery days, and prioritised events.

A fair degree of my focus (and priority events) are in the hills. These are always a good hit-out and provide the added bonus of spectacular scenery. I usually ride 172.5 cranks and have recently begun experimenting with 175mm cranks (800mm inseam). I looked at the various formulas but decided to revert to the functional approach - which you and your associates usually also favour. The only concession I made was to lower the seat height about 1.5mm. Contact throughout the entire pedal stroke feels surprisingly even with a strong sensation of 'drive'.

After some initial muscle soreness which I suspect is due to the increased range of movement (particularly at the top of the stroke) I am noticing some differences in strength, power, and cadence and am wondering if what I am observing is the predictable outcome when comparing only marginally different crank lengths. The main differences seem to be:

1. More power, but,
2. Greater strength required to maintain over time, and,
3. More difficult to maintain similar cadence, ie; slower (harder) to jump fast at the beginning of a sprint.

My question is, will these apparent downsides eventually disappear (or become less apparent) with training adaptations and therefore ultimately yield greater power? and, if not, is it worth persisting merely from a strength training point of view, and finally, is it just a question of specialization where 172.5's may be more appropriate for crits (sprints/accelerations) and 175's a better choice for TT's and hills?

Enjoy your practical and always provoking forum. Thanks.

Les Tokolyi
Australia

Scott Saifer replies

Les,

Your feeling of contact throughout the pedal stroke and sensation of drive suggests that the 175 mm cranks are not too long for you, but some of your other comments suggest that maybe they are. It's odd that you feel that you need more strength with the longer cranks, since theoretically the longer cranks allow equal torque and power with less force. How long ago did you switch cranks and has the muscle soreness cleared up? If you have not adjusted to the new cranks in about 4 weeks from the change, don't expect any more improvement unless you make some other change. It sounds like you might be riding a gear higher since you changed cranks. That would explain the need for more strength as well as the slower jump.

Les then responded:

Hi Scott,

Thanks. Appreciate your reply.

It has been three weeks since pedalling the 175's. General muscle soreness has now passed. Mild tightness high in the front of the right thigh. Could even be hip socket (in middle and front of leg) right at the top of stroke accompanied by mild tendon tightness along the inside of the right thigh (half to two-thirds down right thigh towards knee). I wouldn't describe either of these as pain. More like lingering reminders that something has altered and my body has not caught up with the changes as yet.

I am of the short muscle body type. Naturally not very flexible although I work on it daily. This physiology seems acutely aware of even minor changes in position. By contrast, some of my mates seem to adapt much more readily.

So, the six million dollar question. In your opinion can one make a definitive choice about optimal crank length, or, does the answer depend on the type of event? Is it unreasonable to try and compare three years of pedalling action to three weeks?

Scott Saifer replies

Les,

The ideal crank length does depend somewhat on the events in which it will be used, and then the riding style, and even then the final choice is a compromise in events that require a variety of abilities. Cranks that are too long in the sense of my previous posts may still give good power in a time-trial or sustained hill-climb sort of situation, but will be impossible to spin at high cadences achievable with shorter cranks so may be a good choice in a TT but bad in a crit, if you like to win by sprinting. If you win by riding away, the slightly longer cranks may work for you even in crits.

Meanwhile, it sounds like you are asking for an injury with that pain near the hip and down on your thigh. It sounds like your knee is coming too high and causing some problem with your hip flexors. If that problem is not gone in another week, you need to make some adjustment to open your hip angle, such as raising the saddle or moving it forward, or sell the long cranks. The saddle adjustments compromise other issues if the saddle is already set up just right, so may not be viable solutions.

I recently had correspondence with a gentleman who switched from 175mm to 200mm cranks and found that his body had adjusted comfortably in three weeks. That's part of why I say that if you are not 100% percent comfortable with your 2.5 mm change in four weeks, you probably never will be.

Ride-induced allergy attacks

Kelby,

I'm 34 year old male who races cat 4/5. After many of my races or longer rides my suffering begins. Literally, as soon as dismount I start sneezing uncontrollably. My noise runs, my eyes tear and I am having a full blown "allergy" attack. Or so I think. However, on the bike I'm fine, with the exception of very active runny noise.

Meanwhile, having experienced this about every time I go hard I've started taking Claritin, Flonase, etc. Worst of all, it affects me all day, all night and many times into the next day, and it's not seasonal. What's going on? How can I stop this? Thanks for your help.

Bryan Scott

Kelby Bethards replies

Bryan,

You have an interesting set of symptoms. Without knowing more about it, it seems that you either are not having true allergy attacks or for whatever reason, while exercising they seem to be suppressed.

Quick questions: do you get these symptoms from other sports? Are your symptoms mostly nose-related?

You may be getting something called vasomotor rhinitis. Runny nose from increased blood flow, etc. Another thing you could try, if you haven't would be Aestelin nasal spray. It's an antihistamine that goes right in the nose. Also, have you tried Sudafed (psuedoephedrine)?

Increasing speed

Hi,

I am a 39-year-old male, weighing 100kg (about 96kg when race ready). I concentrate mainly on long road races. I'm reasonably strong and amongst the top few riders in my age group in my area.

I have completed the last two Melbourne to Warnambool classics (300km road race) in reasonable time but have finished in the second (slower) bunch both times. I'm keen to finish in the first (faster) bunch this year. I know in order to do that I don't just need to increase my speed, but increase my endurance at any given speed. In other words, I need to go very fast for longer periods of time.

Both years, when the hammer has gone down, I've managed to hang on for a while but not long enough to stay with them until they relax a bit (which I know they eventually will). Specifically, I have hung on at 50+ kph for about ten minutes or so but then have to let go. I know that another five or ten minutes will usually see the bunch back off a bit and I want to be there when they do.

Can you give me some advice on the best training for this specific objective? The race is in mid-October.

Richard Read

Scott Saifer replies

Richard,

The best thing would be for you to set up a relationship with a coach who will help you develop a detailed training plan, but I'll try to come up with some guidance for you on a very basic level.

To do that I'll need a bit more information first: You are heavy for a cyclist. How tall are you? (Just getting at whether you are built like a world-beating time trialist or not). What's the terrain of your target race? Hills, rollers, or all truly flat? Will it be windy? What's the typical time difference between the first and second groups and the time of the first group for the 300k?

Also fill me in on your historical training patterns. I don't need to review your whole log, but how many hours per week for which months before the event, and with how many harder and easier days.

TT training

I have two questions.

I'm a 12 year old turning 13 in the U15 category in Queensland, Australia. Our gears need to be locked off and all the people entered in the ITT's use the lowest gear they can, 6m rollout. Would that mean in the ITT whoever can have the highest RPM in that gear would win?

Also, if that's the case how should I be training to be good at TT's?

The other thing is that I emailed you not long ago and you said that wind trainers were as good physically as the road, but could you tell me all the pros and cons of magnetic wind trainers, physical, mental, whatever. Please.

Jake Lilley

Scott Saifer replies

Jake,

To be good at TT's you need to do a lot of volume of endurance riding at a comfortable pace, and then specific training, such as doing intervals on your TT bike at race pace or practice time trials. Since you are gear limited, getting shorter cranks to allow a higher cadence will be quite beneficial.

I already really answered the wind trainer question. Wind trainers give you a physical fitness benefit similar to outdoor riding, but are so boring that few people can do the requisite hours on one to get as fit as they would riding outdoors.

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