Fitness questions and answers for June 5, 2007

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.

Magic pedals
Lung capacity
Seat setback
LeMond LeWedges
Arch cleats success
Asymmetrical Q-Factor
Q-Factor
Max heart rate
Training with a knee problem

Magic pedals

I am a 37 year-old male cyclist, who has been riding for virtually all of my adult life (still don't own a car), and although I don't compete much at all, I still try and get in some hard rides once in a while. I am hoping to take part in a race later this year in Okinawa, although a new baby on the way may scuttle these plans.

I am writing to you for your thoughts on the benefits of the dropped axle pedals. Recently, I heard of the Vista Magic X pedal, which is similar to the old Dyna-Drive pedal by Shimano. Is reducing or even eliminating the foot to pedal axle distance as big an advantage as some claim it to be? Does anyone of you have experience using them? All opinions on the topic are welcome.

Junji Nishihata

Steve Hogg replies:

I haven't seen the pedal that you are talking about in the flesh but from the pics, they are the latest iteration of the dropped pedal idea. There is an advantage (I think) with dropped pedals but not for the reason that is usually stated.

If you watch someone with dropped pedals pedal slowly, you will find that give or take a fraction, you can achieve the same result by moving the cleat on the shoe used with a conventional pedal rearwards. What I am saying is that at the 3 o'clock part of the pedal stroke where the highest torque values are generated, the foot on the dropped pedal is further forward in relation to the pedal axle hole in the crank than it would be with the same shoe and cleat position on a conventional pedal.

The easiest way to gain the same effect is as I said above, move the cleat the appropriate amount to the rear and use a conventional pedal. I say 'easiest way' because most dropped pedals that I have seen in the past carry a weight and complexity penalty as well as an increased Q factor. Those criticisms may not apply to the Vista pedal because I haven't seen one first hand.

Lung capacity

I am a 28 year-old recreational cyclist. I am 70kg and 6'2" and I do approximately eight hours a week on the bike (road and mountain) and occasional endurance races. My problem is that for the amount of time I spend on the bike compared to friends, I don't seem to be able to keep up. On longer climbs, I struggle to keep pace and my breathing and heart rate goes through the roof.

In regards to the shortness of breath, the shape of my chest is slightly concave (the medical term escapes me) - I do not have the traditional barreled chest. My question is, would this restrict my lung capacity thus affecting my ability to stay aerobic instead of anaerobic? Should I spend the money and get a lung capacity test to see if it's my riding or it's just me?

Stephen
Queensland, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

Unless your concave chest is extreme, it is probably not the source of your difficulties on the bike. There are two breathing tests in which you might be interested. One measures the speed with which you can exhale. Reduced flow on this test indicates obstructed airways (usually asthma). If you had asthma you'd notice it most likely as a feeling of not being able to get enough air even though you breath hard. The other lung function test of interest would be vital capacity, how much total volume can you move from the deepest inhale to the deepest exhale.

You can pay to get that tested or you can test it yourself by blowing air through a tube into a large, inverted graduated container (a plastic container in which you would mix frozen juice would work). You need to fill it with water and turn it upside down in a larger container (a sink for instance) which is also full of water. If someone your height can't blow 5 L, lung capacity could really be your problem.

More likely though, you problem stems either from inappropriate training or inadequate training history. It takes about two years of eight hours per week to reach one's potential as an eight-hour per week cyclist. Have you been riding as long as your buddies?

If you are a few months into riding and they are more experienced, just be patient. If the majority of your riding is hard, like trying to keep up with stronger riders, you may also not be developing the necessary aerobic capacity. If you have been going hard enough to raise your breathing on most rides, try taking two months during which you ride all the volume you can handle but at a level of effort that keeps your breathing steady and not much increased.

Finally, any chance you are hyperventilating? If you are taking short, shallow breaths that don't get air down into your lungs, all that rapid breathing is counter productive. If you are not doing so already, try making sure your breaths are as deep as they can comfortably be.

Seat setback

Is there, any hard fast rule that one must follow for setting seat setback? If there is, what is the basis for this and why?

Can a person push their seat back too far? If so, what problems can arrive as a result of that, or is there simply no rule and go back as far as you need to feel comfort and balance?

I was on a bike that was too small (short), I had a fitting and it was recommended that I use a 13cm stem, which I did for almost 2 years. I always felt cramped and not stretched out far enough. The results were sore lower back, upper back and neck and a sore ass.

The bike I'm on now has a 72.5 seat tube and the builder recommended a 7.3 - 7.5 set back with a 12cm stem. I still feel as though I want to stretch out and I'm about to experiment with moving my seat back to achieve a 8.8cm set back and keeping the same stem, rather than extending my stem out as I like the stem length, especially when standing. I'm 6'2" long torso and arms.

The only reason I think I'm doing this has some balance concepts, the further back I sit, the more balanced I feel. Not to mention, that I continually search for the most comfortable seating position, as my sit bones get very sore within 20-30 miles. I have begun standing more frequently and changing positions.

My seat is a Fizik Aliante. It is 138mm wide and rounded. I'm wondering if it's the wrong seat for me. I will attempt to measure my sit bones to determine this. Maybe I need to be on a flatter and/or wider seat.

Michael Mckinney

Steve Hogg replies:

Re "rules" for seat setback - I don't like the word 'rules' but would suggest that the best amount of seat setback is where the rider feels balanced, with the arms functioning as relaxed props, not load bearing beams; where the lumbar spine isn't flexed to much and where the muscles of the upper leg don't experience localised soreness after a hard ride.

If you feel more balanced the further back you move, continue to experiment with moving your seat back. As you do this, just be aware that there is such a thing as too far back. Signs of this can be lower back pain (though that can have other causes too), an inability to exert force well when riding steep hills on the seat, tightening of hip flexors because they are cramped up too much and a ponderous feeling of having to transfer weight when moving from on the seat to off the seat.

Re sitbone soreness. Aliantes have soft padding. Many people are better suited to firm padding that is ultimately more supportive.

LeMond LeWedges

I have an issue that I was wondering if you might be able to resolve--I have been cycling regularly (100-140 miles per week throughout most of the year) for the past three years and have been doing a handful of Cat-5 races every year as well. My problem is this--it seems that toward the end of the every season I have encountered light pain in the front of the left knee, as well as the occasional cramping in the left calf during hard group rides and races. My problems were always with the left leg, the right felt perfect. It seemed like under moderate load the pain was the worst in the knee, under heavy loads things felt actually felt better.

After reading quite a few of your fitness postings where readers were encountering the same problem, I decided to purchase the LeMond LeWedges to see if they might rectify the problem. I noticed that my knees did tend to have lateral movement toward the top of the pedal stroke (riding in front of a mirror verified this) so I figured the LeWedges would definitely help my problem.

After installing the LeWedges under my both shoes' cleats (I used two wedges stacked on top of each other with the thick part on the inside of the shoe to get the proper cant) I thought that I felt better power transfer immediately as well as a decrease in the lateral knee movement. I felt great at first after using them, but now that the miles have started to pile up for the year I am now having trouble with my right knee while the pain in my left knee has vanished.

Also, for the first time ever I've recently encountered cramping with my right calf in a race. I don't remember having any issues where I've injured my right leg in any way, so I'm wondering what could be causing the problem. The pain in the right knee occurs under heavy loads, it feels fine under moderate loads.

Is it possible that I need to change the LeWedges under the right shoe? Would stacking them to create a platform instead of the canted angle help? Or getting rid of them entirely under the right shoe if there is a leg-length discrepancy that I don't know about? I'm just wondering why I never had problems in the right leg until I installed the wedges and what the cause could be.

To give you a little more info, I also switched recently from Specialized Comp Road Shoes to Diadora Ergo Plus shoes, but I don't think this has contributed to the problem. I also angled my cleats recently so that my foot was a little straighter when connected to the pedal instead of angling out at the front (I usually set up my cleats this way because I tend to walk duck-footed, but I noticed my foot wanting to straighten out when under load on the bike).

I use Shimano SPD-SL cleats with Ultegra pedals and have done so for the past two years. Also, I notice that I tend to spin a smaller gear at a higher cadence (I'm usually 80-100 rpm) than most of my peers on group rides and races, so I don't think the problem is being caused by riding under excessive loads constantly. I am also a fairly average-sized guy, 5'10" and 170 lbs.

Brian

Eddie Monnier replies:

It is rather routine to have different levels of correction on one's left and right foot. It's likely your overcorrecting your right leg. Remove the wedges from your right cleat. Allow yourself to heal. Then try one wedge in the right shoe. If that also causes discomfort, remove it and have none on the right shoe.

Arch cleats success

Hey Steve,

Just wanted to let you know the success I've had with buying the Speedplay adapter and moving my cleats all the way back. Total change was about 2.5cm. I also moved my seat down and back.

The only issues I had was some initial tightness in my hamstrings, but with some stretching, they are now fine. Heart rate is down, power is up, especially on the flats.

Here's a question/theory for you. Smaller riders may benefit more from arch cleats, as the levers of their body (feet, lower leg, upper leg, glutes/lower back) are shorter in relation to the crank arm than bigger riders.

Arch cleats may allow them to get more of their body behind the crank arm. They sure did for me.

Just and idea. Thanks for all the time you put it your comments, they are invaluable.

Dave
Boulder, CO, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

Thanks for the feedback and positive thoughts. How did you get your cleats back 25mm with the Speedplay adaptors? Did you modify your shoes at all and/or change to Speedplays from another pedal system?

The reason that I ask is that the Speedplay 13330's allow 13-14 mm more rearward travel than the standard Speedplay 3 hole adaptor plate which in turn has approximately 5mm less rearward adjustment than many other pedals (Keo, SPD-SL etc). All of which means that the net gain over other systems is about 10mm unless the other adaptors were all the way forward and more. The other thing is that unless you have tiny feet, a 25 mm rearward adjustment of the cleats wouldn't leave you with the cleat under the arch if your previous cleat position was forefoot. I'm not being critical here, but I am curious!

Re your question/theory. I don't know but am cautious about it being that simple. To date I am finding that midfoot cleat positioning is a whole new world. It certainly diminishes foot alignment issues as well as strains elsewhere because the torque peaks of the pedal strokes are lower for a given output.

I think large riders tend to benefit more but not for the reasons you are considering. Large guys are often nervous descenders because their centres of gravity are so much higher and wheelbases of large frames are often proportionally short relative to the size of the rider. When you position your cleats under the midfoot and have to drop your seat somewhere between 30 and 50 mm to allow for the move in cleat position, the improvement in bike handling and cornering is noticeable and welcome to many.

Asymmetrical Q-Factor

Last week's excellent reply by Steve Hogg prompts another question on the topic of Q-Factor and rider's asymmetry.

Is there any benefit in using Asymmetrical Q-factor set-up, where a cleat of one shoe is placed in its narrowest Q-Factor position (closest to cranks) and the cleat of the other shoe is placed on the outermost position (furthest away from cranks)? Would it help any riders, such as those who tend to hang off one side more than other (candidates for the off-centre seat-post or those with small leg lengthy discrepancy) etc.

I ask because I just tried (after having read Steve's reply) using the widest Q-Factor on my SPD-SL pedals and I found that my left foot did not like it (left foot wanted to twist to toe-in heel-out position under high load and also stressed the vastus medialis obliquis) but my right foot did not seem to mind either narrow or wide Q-Factor. So I was thinking perhaps there may be a benefit from Asymmetrical Q-Factor set up.

Yuri Budilov

Steve Hogg replies:

The short answer is that there can be an advantage in having one pedal or one foot further from the centre line of the bike than the other but it comes down to individual cases. I have had a client for several years who was a pro mtb'er but whose career was cut short by back pain and left knee issues. He is a bit of a mess with a twisted sacrum and fused sacro iliac joint on the right side, though the left side sacro iliac joint moves freely. This means that he drops and rotates forward his right hip markedly on each right side pedal stroke and has a pronounced internal rotation of the right hip and external rotation of the left hip.

He is a bit of a challenge but one of the measures I took to enable him to ride pain free (after a LOT of trial and error) was to give him a left side pedal axle 6mm longer than his right side pedal axle and to have his left shoe as far out on the pedal as it will go. At the same time his right shoe is as far inboard as it will go. He is not pretty on a bike but these things, along with other measures have allowed him to ride pain free for a couple of years now.

I have other customers who for various reasons have required asymmetric Q factors. Not because it was the best solution but because it was the best achievable solution. Most people don't, or rather shouldn't, need an asymmetric Q factor but there is always a small minority that is likely to.

Q-Factor

I've followed your fitting suggestions for about a year, and every change has brought relief from my rather radical starting position--too high saddle, too far forward cleats, too much stretch on the upper body. I've now got my cleats (Look on size 49 Sidi Genius 4, with the older changeable cleat adapter plate) back as far as they go with appropriate reductions in saddle height and better setback and bar position, and this move has improved a lingering twinge on the inside of my left knee, but not quite eliminated it. I have much better all around comfort for longer distances.

I have a slight meniscus tear in the inside left knee but the ortho recommended conservative treatment rather than any invasive procedures. I generally pedal comfortably with my left heel floating considerably off axis to the bike, they like to be angled outward about the same angle as the chain stay.

I get the knee pain right away if I pedal with my foot straight, so the float seems to be right. I have the float set for the maximum 9 degrees and the cleats are angled so there's excess available each way. The right foot pretty much tracks straight when floating and there's no pain in any joint in the chain on that side. I'm 60, 6'5" (was 6'6" in my youth, before joint settlement), 210 lbs. and I know that I have flat arches and pronate fairly significantly, according to a podiatrist years ago when I attempted to be a runner. I use and like 180 cranks, as I have a long inseam. Specialized body geometry insoles eliminated some foot pain I was having with the stock Sidi insoles.

I still get that twinge in my left knee--not steady pain, but an occasional ache. I suspect, based on the latest discussion about big gears and steep hills, that the apparent power increase I experienced with the last cleat movement may mean I'm pushing too high a gear so I am spinning more with some improvement.

The question: I'm now about to fit a triple crankset (conversion ring on a Dura-Ace 7700 crankset) to continue in the spinning direction on the bigger hills, and the setup I'll use will give several mm. more Q on the right as compared with the left side. Should I widen the Q on the left for symmetry when installing the rig or wait to see how it works?

I have CX-6 pedals so this is relatively easy--they're now set to minimum as they came, with the same Q-factor as a non-adjustable Look pedal, and there's 10 mm available to the outside. I'm also considering trying Lemond wedges on the left shoe with more height on the inside of the cleat, to see if that will improve the knee. Am I going in the right direction?

Larry Klose
Green Valley, AZ, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

The most likely reason for the medial left knee pain is either a shorter left leg with internally rotated hip, or that you are hanging towards the right side to some degree. If you look down between your legs when pedaling, is the gap between right thigh and seat post less than between left thigh and seat post?

If so, you are not sitting squarely on the seat and are hanging to the right to some degree. You should confirm this on an indoor trainer by pedaling with your shirt off with an observer standing behind and above you. It is worth trying a Lemond wedge or two (as a wedge with thick side to the inside, not counterstacked as a shim) under the right cleat first as a tendency to hang to the right often (not always) goes hand in hand with a significant right foot forefoot varus and the bodies way of negating any stress on the knee on that side is to sit asymmetrically. The problem is that in most cases the fallout is on the left side in terms of pain or niggles.

If wedges work under the right foot in the sense of making you feel more balanced, they are likely to only be a partial solution because 60 years of functioning asymmetrically will have caused changes to the way that your hips and lower back functions that are probably semi permanent. If you have confirmed that you are not sitting squarely and are hanging to the right to some degree, get hold of an American Classic seat post called the J post. An interesting feature of this design is that once the seat is mounted but the bolt that secures the seat rail clamp only partly tightened, the seat can be tilted up or down to left or right about 8 degrees. In your case, raise the right hand edge of the seat until you reach the point where your pelvis is level at the bottom of the right hip drop that I assume you are engaging in.

This will decrease the distance the left leg has to reach and allow you to function more symmetrically. Once you have done this, then move the left hand CX-6 pedal body out by the same distance that you have had to move the right crank arm out. That is a starting point. The finishing point is where your left leg feels best and left knee under the least strain whether the Q is even or not.

All of this advice assumes you are dropping your right hip because it is the most likely scenario based on what you have described. It is not the only one though, so if I am wrong or you experience any problems, let me know.

Max heart rate

I am a 35 year old male that rides 100 miles per week but I do not compete. I started cycling 5 years ago as cross-training for running, and now would like to step up my cycling training as well.

I have been using a heart rate (HR) monitor for years and am very familiar with my HR max for running (currently 195). Is there an easy formula that would determine my max for cycling based on my running max, or should I do an all-out test on the bike to determine it?

Justin
Cleveland, OH, USA

Scott Saifer replies:

If you want a good measurement of your maximum cycling heart rate, you really need to do a separate cycling test. The two maxima are usually within 10 beats or less of each other, with the run max being the larger of the two, but that is too large a range to confidently set up training zones.

Training with a knee problem

I'm a 51 year-old male club rider getting back into riding seriously again after a lay-off caused initially by a crash in 2003. I'm currently building up my mileage and pace for the British Cycling Tour de France sportive on July 1 but have developed a knee problem and am unsure of the best strategy given that I need to build up stamina to handle a 195km approx ride and pick up my current average speed (solo) from 20.9kph to a 24kph or so at least. The question is whether to continue some training (if so what type and intensity) or rest the knee completely and when to expect to be able to resume training in earnest to avoid a nightmare in the sportive!

I had completed rides of 110km the previous two weeks without problem, but the week before last I developed a twinge behind the kneecap at around 80km of a 135km ride that became more painful as I rode home. It still hurt on stairs, albeit reduced, on the Monday so I rested it last week apart from a turbo session on Thursday that amounted to 35 minutes in zone 2 around 80-95RPM and 10 at zone 3/4 border and 70-75RPM mainly. The knee felt a little "odd" but no twinges or pain at all. Last weekend I had to abort my ride because the knee started to hurt at around 20km and was very sensitive to road-shocks when under load.

No changes in position - cleats, shoes, bike - since the previous ride. The only differences I can think of are that, conscious of my weakness on steeper climbs, I rode up an early, short, steepish, climb at around 65rpm staying mainly in the saddle, rode at a higher pace than previously (24-30kph) and pushed bigger gears than before on some flat/slight incline sections and into a headwind. I also tried "pedalling circles" at times up a couple of climbs (I also include this in turbo sessions without problems though) until hints of some cramping showed up. Apart from some aggressive clipping out of the pedal in traffic I can't think of any other possible contributors to the problem. Obviously the distance wasn't the factor as the problem kicked in 30km before the duration of the previous week's ride.

I'd really like some advice on the best strategy to adopt to protect the knee while not jeopardising my sportive ride in about 4 weeks time, particularly since I'm a bit off the pace already.

Nigel
London, U.K.

Steve Hogg replies:

Without knowing a lot more it is hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is but I can give you general advice based on the most likely reason (but not the only one). This sounds intensity related. Take a rider with no issues (that are apparent to the rider) and increase volume or intensity and it is commonplace for problems to arise. The basic reason is that we run up against the limitations of our structure, symmetry , technique and degree of function. You don't mention which knee but there is an 85% chance that it is your left knee.

If so, the most common reason for this is the tendency that 95% of riders have to favour the right side, in the sense of a perceptible hip drop and /or rotation forward rotation on the seat, challenges the plane of movement of the left leg. The knee is a single plane joint and so those stresses tend to affect it rather than the multi plane hip and ankle joints. The greater the effort (low rpm, high torque) the greater the chance of being bitten.

If your description of pedalling in circles meant pulling up strongly, the engagement of the psoas and (and in some people, the QL's) required to do that is usually as asymmetric as general pedaling technique is under load. I wouldn't go out of your way to try and develop a strong 'upstroke'.

Anyway, what to do about it in the short time you have?

1. Try dropping your seat a few mm. This may not work at all, but if you were really pushing a gear, the extra heel drop required to do that will have caused mild overextension. When this happens, if the seat is even 3 mm too high, the brain will choose one leg to look after (usually but not always the right) and one to sacrifice.

2. Lower your gearing. If you can stay on top of your gear up hills (75 rpm plus) you are far less likely to have problems than if you don't.

3. In the time that you have, use the knee but don't push it. The amount of fibrous tissue in a knee joint (tendons and ligaments) means that there is limited blood flow. Result - hard to injure but time consuming to recover from. Often the best solution for mild problems is to use the knee gently. Using it flushes blood and lympth through the joint and probably aids recovery. Don't over do it. Better to get to France a bit under done with a good knee than the alternative.

4. Don't do the 'extra' effort type stuff that put you in this situation. Just keep the fitness levels up and ride conservatively.

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