Fitness questions and answers for June 5

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.

Fibre before a race
Pedal wear
Knee/ankle pain
Upper right back pain
Foot pain while road riding
Crank length
Numb hands
Wedges verse orthotics
Increasing power output uphill
Cleat position and shoe brands
Cycling position and injury
Bike positioning for climbing
Knee pain
Larger crank length
Building power
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

Fibre before a race

I am a 22 year old first cat racer from the UK.

I always eat Bran flakes for breakfast, including before races (usually between two and four hours before). Yesterday I read in one of E. Burkes' books that you should not eat food high in fibre as pre race food, but he didn't explain why. I have always eaten it, but have in the past considered reverting to something higher in carbohydrate and lower in fibre (Bran flakes are pretty high in carb anyway) but decided against it. I always figured that bran flakes digest slower and as a result are better for long distance racing; is there any truth in this?

An unrelated question: Why do I always feel terrible after a cafe stop with my local club riders? It feels as bad as blowing up and I never recover from it during the ride home.

David Mclean

Pam Hinton replies

David,

Eating high-fibre foods before a race or hard training ride is not recommended. Fibre takes a while to pass through the gastrointestinal tract. For some individuals, a full gut contributes to intestinal cramping and diarrhoea during hard efforts. Dietary fibres are complex carbohydrates that humans are unable to digest. We lack the enzymes required to break the chemical bonds between the sugar molecules.

If you want a gradual increase in blood sugar levels after your pre-race breakfast, then eat a food that is high in complex carbohydrates. Whole grain cereals, such as oatmeal are a good choice. Unfortunately, I don't really have enough information to answer your question about the cafe stops. What are you eating or drinking during the break?

Eating too large a volume of food or foods that are high in protein or fat and, therefore, are difficult to digest can cause problems. I have a friend who, when we stopped halfway through a 60-mile gravel road ride, ate two cheeseburgers, French fries and a milk shake. We left him behind shortly after we continued our ride. Rumour has it that he felt so awful he had to lay down in a farmer's barn and then call a friend for a ride home. When you make a cafe stop, eat the same kinds of foods that you'd eat before or during a ride - easily digested carbs with a small amount of protein.

Pedal wear

Thank you for the service which you offer via e-mail. This is exceptional in this day. I would be very happy to pay for your advice if required. I have followed your advice for a while now, on Cyclingnews, and as a guy involved with healthcare, it is good to see things approached from a physiological angle rather than "it has always been done this way" approach.

I have two problems which are possibly related.

1. I ride Speedplay pedals. Love them. I have been reasonably heavy on the cleats - problem is that I wear an ever-increasing dent/divot in the outer (lateral) aspect of the aluminium baseplate, bilaterally, within the socket, and due to pressure from the pedal which then proceeds to "rocking".

I do not get any knee pain early on, but do develop it later when the rocking occurs. The pedal spindle is 11 mm behind ball of foot as per your recommendations (cured my lower quads pain, thanks) . I do pedal very slightly knee out and do prefer a bit of float. Is this just normal attrition of the cleat assembly or a fault in my pedal action? I have thought of wedges as an answer.

2. I come from a long running background - marathons and ultramarathons over 14 years-, but I'm a big guy and it is now too hard to run. I never had any biomechanical problems during running, and got to the State triathlete level for a brief period.

Now I just ride, but over about the past six months I have been getting calf cramp, usually bilateral but worse on the right. Always medial gastrocnemius muscle. These cramps usually come on during hard training to racing efforts - we may only have done 20 km - and hit me suddenly and virtually simultaneously on each side. If I slack off they go away, but the most recent, at the end of a race of 45km, put me off the bike for two days.

I have not encountered these before. There has been no sudden increase in training, and I am doing nothing different to what I am accustomed over the past 20 years. I am not exhausted when they occur - as I say, it may be as soon as within 20km. Vitamin/mineral (especially Ca/Mg) have predictably made no difference. I have tried just resting (one week) without avail.

Quick personal statistics: 51 years old, 183cm 87kg, very heavy muscled thighs and calves. I did running/triathlon for 14 years then just cycling for four years. I train 5-6 days, 250 - 500 km per week and race during the winter. I'm very competitive without the engine to suit the driver.

Current bikes - Colnago C40 and Scott CR1 - love them both. Setup was done using a proprietary Bikefit-type programme run by Bicycle Entrepreneur, amongst others, in Perth. I am pretty flexible for my age/size - easily put flat hands on floor when standing - and I have no discomfort on the bike except for a bit of neck stiffness when I ride for a long time on the drops. No other injuries to speak of.

My thoughts on the second - more aggravating - problem run along these lines:
(a) Cleats - I'm not sure if the position is now too far back or not enough back, or if they're too worn. This results in an increased transfer of force to calves
(b) Compartment type syndrome in medial gastroc - always there, never anywhere else. I have not done an ultrasound on the calf after a cramp - I should actually measure the resistive indices of the vessels in and out of the involved muscle - but have not been able to get that done

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and advice. I live in a small city in W.A. and sports medicine advice unfortunately often revolves around me!

Paul Salmon

Steve Hogg replies

Paul,

I'm glad that you have been happy to date.

Re 1: The asymmetric wear pattern is because of one of two things, possibly both. The first is that at a level below conscious thinking, you load up the lateral aspect of the foot because this allows your knees to track straight. A reasonable degree of forefoot varus is the likely cause. To eliminate this as a possibility, get hold of some Lemond wedges designed for Speedplays and fit a couple under each cleat with the thick edge to the inside of the shoe; i.e. thick edge nearest the crank arm.

If this diminishes the problem and feels more stable underfoot, then experiment a little with the number of wedges you find best. Don't be surprised if the number is different for each foot.

If you can't source any, contact me directly. If the above feels worse or has a less stable feel (possible but not that probable), then it may be that the cleat is too far inboard (near the crank arm) on your shoe sole and that a large portion of your foot is overhanging to the outside. Given what you say about mild tendency to pedal with knees out, this is quite likely and can be a problem but often is exacerbated by what I have described above.

You will see that Speedplays have the ability to move the cleat across the shoe. If you think that this could be the problem or part of it, loosen the four small Phillips head screws that secure the cleat to the baseplate and move the cleat to the outside of the shoe sole. If you have wide feet or pedal with heels in, there may be practical limits to how far you can move the cleat across before the shoe contacts the crank arm or the heel of the shoe contacts the chainstay.

Regarding issue number two: First things first - do you stretch your calves regularly? If not it is a good idea to start as the gastrocs work hard on a bike. The discomfort on the medial side only makes me think that even if you don't stretch enough, footplant on the pedal is part of the problem. Are you tight in the hips?

I know you say that you are flexible but what is your range of internal and external hip motion? If your hip external rotators are tight, this could be the indirect cause.

I ask because this often goes hand in hand with a tendency to pedal knees out a little or a lot. If so, there is another task for you. If not, that's another box ticked. If the entire gastrocs was feeling it I would be inclined to say lack of stretching or too much foot over the pedal or both. With where you say your cleats are, it is unlikely to be too little.

Do you pedal noticeably toe down under load? If so, you may have too much foot over the pedal (cleat too far back) if your pedalling technique is atypically toe down for a male.

I don't know anything about the fitting system that you have been through good or bad. Most of the clients I have had from Perth that had previously been positioned in Perth were by a commercially available system where body dimensions were the input and a cute CAD drawing the output. Unfortunately the efficacy of this was predictable. Let me know how you get on.

Knee/ankle pain

Hi,

I've recently started to get a mild pain around my achilles tendon, near my left ankle.

It generally starts pretty much as soon as I ride and can last for a few hours or up to a day or so after riding. It's not really painful, but is uncomfortable and niggles the whole time I ride, I'm concerned it will turn into a more serious injury if I leave it.

It seems worse after hard or hilly rides. I see a chiropractor regularly and she suggested it could be a weakness in my ankle that is struggling to stabilise itself under cycling loads.

I also have a couple of theories myself. My left shoe feels like it is not really cupping my heel properly, the only way my left foot feels really secure in the shoe is to ratchet them up as tight as i can bear, which makes my feet pretty sore, but seems to slightly help with the heel pain.

I'm thinking I could either pack out the heel counter in my shoe to make it fit more snugly or try the specialized body geometry shoes as I hear good things about them. I'm doing exercises to try and strengthen my ankle, but it seems to be having little effect.

I'm using Sidi genius shoes, which are in excellent condition and Speedplay Zero pedals. I'm confident my position on the bike is spot on as it is set up by Bio-Racer.

I used to have a mild niggle in my left knee, which seems to have gone, but now my ankle is a problem. The knee problem was also thought to be related to a weakness in the muscle at the side of the knee, which is usually well developed in cyclists, but nearly non-existent on both my legs.

Matt Eastwood

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

The achilles tendon pain that you have can be for a number of reasons. Where is the centre of the ball of your foot in relation to the pedal axle?

The other thing that occurs to me is that most people favour one side, usually the right side in the sense of dropping or rotating that hip forward and down. The degree varies from all but imperceptible to obvious. If you do this, and I don't know that you do, then the left foot is going to feel less stable on the pedal and reach further to the pedal. To determine whether you are doing this, go for a ride under a bit of load and look down at the gap between inner thigh and seat post and let me know on which side the gap is less.

Regarding packing out the heel cup; you would be better off putting a thicker insole in the shoe instead. Packing out the heel cup will move the foot forward in the shoe which may mean a different cleat position on each side relative to foot in shoe on each side. Let me know what you find.

Upper right back pain

I am 41 years of age, 6'3 tall and 14.5 stones in weight. I have been cycling for fitness for the last four years, 25 miles or 1.5 hours at a time about four times a week. Until the last three months I had been riding a hybrid bicycle. I then purchased a Trek 1200 racing bicycle as I felt that my fitness levels had improved to the extent that I could go a bit further and faster. I thoroughly enjoy my new bicycle, however over the past two weeks I have developed a pain in my right upper back which I am most aware of when I am not cycling.

I am concerned that this back pain may be connected to me using the lowest position on my drop handlebars more often. I am aware that my arms can be very straight and possibly not flexed enough in this position, however I don't really want to move my saddle forward in case that leads to knee problems (the reason I started cycling in the first place). I have previously raised my saddle height slightly to alleviate a pain in my right ankle. I am going faster and for longer but I am concerned that I may have to return to my hybrid bicycle if my back pain persists.

I appreciate that I may have answered my query myself but I would appreciate any suggestion s which may keep me on my racing bike.

John Clyde

Steve Hogg replies

John,

Why don't you raise your bars a bit? If you feel under pressure with hands in the drops, the simplest way to alleviate that would be to raise the bars. If there is no ability to do this, try flipping the stem over (assuming it is in the low position). Doing this may make it too high. If so, still flip it but rearrange the headset spacers until you have a comfortable height.

Why the right side pain only?

I can speculate but there are a number of reasons. Before we get into that, raise the bars and let me know what the result of that is.

Foot pain while road riding

I use Nike cycle shoes and have Shimano Dura Ace pedals. I have low arches. I have a Trek Madone 5.9SL. While riding I get severe pain in the outside of my feet. I recently had a CTS bike fit. I put the Superfeet insert in the shoes but this had no benefit. I changed to a specialized bike shoe…still the same pain.

The pain is primarily on the area of the outside edge of my left foot and to a lesser degree the same area on my right foot (the outer edge muscle area). I have the Shimano Durace PD7800, and the centre of the ball of my foot is approximately 7mm behind the centre of pedal axle (I do not get pain in the heels or the ball of my foot).

Could the LeMond LeWedge be of any help in my case?

Peter Hoban

Steve Hogg replies

Peter,

Thanks for that. Here is a check list of things to do.

1. Firstly, unless the description of your cleat position has a typo in it, your cleats are way to far forward. Have a look at this post and this post on cleat position and position your cleats as suggested there. This will mean substantial rearward movement of the cleats which will cause you to extend your legs more. That will mean that it is likely that you will have to drop your seat around 5mm lower than currently. It will also mean that your foot is much more stable on the pedal.

2. The SPD - SL's that you have are a good system but they don't have much rotational movement. Unless a lot of care is taken with the angle of the cleat on the shoe sole, it is easy to have the cleat in a position that doesn't allow the foot to be exactly where it wants to be. If your heels want to be slightly further out than the cleat angle allows, then you will put pressure on the outside edge of your foot trying to gain the angle that your feet need on the pedal. Once you have moved the cleats back as suggested above, go for a ride and put some pressure on the pedals and then coast with right foot forward. The try and move your heel outwards. Is there free movement?

If so, good. Pedal and coast again and repeat by trying to move the heel inwards. Is there free movement?

If the answer to either is no, stop and change the angle of the cleats. Simply if you want to move the heel outwards on the pedal, point the nose of the cleat outwards. If you want to move the heel of the shoe inwards, point the nose of the cleat inwards.
Repeat this on the other side.

3. Assuming you have done both the above and the problems persists, get some Lemond wedges and experiment. If you have a reasonable amount of forefoot varus on both feet (very common) then you may be loading up the outer edge of the foot as an unconscious measure to keep your knees tracking straight. Typically, this can be on of the 3 common compensatory mechanisms for varus forefeet in the cases where the rider feels no knee pain. Remember too, to recheck the cleat angle of each shoe with the pedal and coast test outlined in 2 every time you add or remove wedges as the use of wedges will change the angle of your foot on the pedal.

Let me know how you get on.

Crank length

Hi

I am currently riding a 165 crank on the left, and 175 crank on the right due to a leg length difference. This has taken away much of my left knee pain and I feel a lot more stable on the saddle. I am unable to simply build up the left side in the shoe or under the cleat as I am a mountain biker and have to get off and run in races. My question is - does the shorter crank on the left side mean I am getting less power from the left leg and my right leg is therefore taking a lot of the load? Do you see any problems in this method?

Jen

Steve Hogg replies

Jen,

Yes it does mean that it's likely your left leg is putting out less power. Your left crank is 6% shorter than your right crank. Force on pedal x crank length = torque. Torque x rpm = power. A shorter crank would need more force applied at the same rpm to give equivalent power. Measure the circumference of upper and lower legs at the same distance from the knee on left and right sides. If there is a significant difference in these measurements between left and right, say more than 6mm, then there is cause for concern.

Numb hands

I have read your posts about bike set up and am reasonably sure I have a pretty good set up.

However I am still having problems with my hands and fingers going numb. Is it possible that a specific handlebar would cause this? I think the numbness is caused by the pressure on the nerve that runs along the outside fatty part of the palm.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Jeff Robertson

Steve Hogg replies

Jeff,

I need more info.

1. What brand, model and shape of handlebar do you use?
2. Where do you place your hands the majority of the time?
3. Are you flexible?
4. When next you ride under a bit of load, look down between your legs at the gap between each inner thigh and the seat post. On which side is the gap greater?
5. Is one hand more affected than the other?
6. Does the severity depend on terrain? For instance, is it more pronounced on flat rides than on hilly rides?
7. Where is the ball of your foot in relation to the pedal axle?
8. Ask your riding friends whether you lift or thrust your shoulders forward. What do they say?

Let me know the answers to those queries and I will attempt to advise further.

Jeff then responded:

Here are the answers to each of your questions, numbered accordingly

1. Kestrel EMS Pro - Standard curve
2. Racing crits its the drops, this is when things really get numb
3. Yes
4. It's pretty even
5. No
6. It's the drops that cause the problem
7. About even or just slightly ahead of the axle
8. Maybe just slightly

Steve Hogg replies

Jeff,

time for a bit of a process of elimination. Firstly a few boxes to tick. Position your cleats as suggested in this post and this post. Cleat position can have a marked effect on how we bear our weight on a bike. Once that is done and assuming there is no change in how your hands are affected, pull your bars up 10mm and do whatever you would normally do for a week. Does the problem persist?

If it is less pronounced or disappears, then the bars are too low and the weight you have been bearing on them is the cause. If the problem diminishes but doesn't disappear, then you may need to raise the bars further.

If the severity is largely unchanged and assuming your seat position is good, there is something about your hands or the way you hold the bars that is the problem. The bars you have are not extreme in their shape . Once taped they are as close to deep drop round bar as any anatomic bar can be. It may be worth experimenting with moving the seat back 5 - 10 mm and reassessing the impact on your hands. If you do this, shorten your stem so that the increased reach is not a variable.

How much tension do you have in your arms when in the drops? If all else fails, get some gel bar tape of gel underlays to put under your tape and see how you go. Either way, I'm interested to hear what happens.

Wedges verse orthotics

Hi,

My right foot tends to pronate. So I get all the mumbo jumbo that goes along with that...ie, 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 stabilize 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 Speedplays 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 stabilising the foot put more pressure on the knee? Oh yeah, and does spandex make my butt look big?

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.

Increasing power output uphill

Hello,

I've been following your articles on seat positioning and have been trying to apply what I have read to my optimal seat position. I have one question that I am unable to answer. All things being equal, I find that I can increase my overall speed by .5 to 1.5 mph when I take my hands off the handlebars and raise my upper body to an almost vertical position.

This speed increase is most notable when going up hill from slight to steep incline. Obviously I don't practice this riding technique all the time, but if I can understand why power increases when I raise my upper body I may be able to use the knowledge to determine my optimal seat/body position. My seat angle is neutral i.e., set to 0 on a standard set back seat post, I am very flexible and my top handlebar is at approx 3.5" - 4" drop from the top of my seat. Thank you.

Robert Duran

Steve Hogg replies

Robert,

The simple answer is that something about your position is either restricting your breathing or restricting your ability to apply force to the pedals when you have your hands on the bars. The question is what factor is the culprit. When you say your seat angle is neutral, can you specify more about what you mean please? Here is a test. Find a flat stretch of road and ride along at about 35 - 38 km/h (22- 24mph) in 53x16 with your hands placed in the drop bars. Now take your hands off the bars but don't sit up. Just hold your hands slightly out from the drop bars. What happens when you do this? Get back to me with that info and we will proceed from there.

Robert then responded:

Steve,

Thank you for you reply. Alluding to my original email and your initial response, I don't suspect it is my breathing as when I sit upright and take my hands off the bar the speed gain is instantaneous and pedalling seems much easier. In this position, I'm not sure how long I can keep up the increased speed as different muscle groups are involved in this position and I obviously don't train/ride in an upright position with hands off the bars. So I suspect my positioning is limiting my ability to apply force to the pedals given my current positioning.

As per your testing protocol, I was able to remove my hands from the drops and position them just to the sides. I was able to sustain the position for approximately 7 - 12 seconds before I had to grab the drops again as I was unable to sustain the body position without my hands in the drops. To keep from having to grab the drops immediately after taking my hands off the bars, I had to increase my speed and power to the pedals. Eventually, I would have to grab the drops again. I performed the test twice. The first test was performed on a flat road between 23 - 26 mph during a spirited group ride (while off the back). The second test was performed on a very slight incline, where the results were the same, but this time I noticed I was slipping forward on the seat while my hands were removed from the drops (though that could be because my seat was misadjusted and tilted down slightly 1/8" or approx 3mm). Again, if I kept on accelerating, I would think I would be able to sustain the no hands position, until I would eventually tire or couldn't apply increasing power. Gearing for both tests was 53 x 16.

My seat angle is 73.5 degrees and I'm sitting on a Fizik Airone with the seat clamp centred between the rails. The top tube is 56.1 cm, and stem length is 120mm. The top of my handlebar is approximately 7.5cm below my seat. My seat height is set where my bike shoe heels are just barely touching the top of my cleat when my legs are fully dropped hanging freely and the crank is at the 6:00pm position (bottom dead centre). My cleat position is positioned a few mm in front of the pedal when a plum bob is drop from the inner indentation if my knee when legs touching the top tube and the crank in the forward 3pm position.

Please let me know if you need further information and I'm looking forward to your response. Thanks again.

Steve Hogg replies

Robert,

You have me a little stumped. I would expect you to be able to apply more power leaning forward than upright. The only thing I can think of that may apply is if for whatever reason you are not particularly stable on the seat. Leaning down and forward to the bars will exacerbate this tendency. If that was the case, then you would be using upper body musculature to help stabilise yourself. By sitting upright you are bearing all of your weight on the seat and so minimising potential for instability plus reducing the need to use the upper body. From your self description, what I have described is probably not what is happening.

When you remove your hands from the bars, do you have to arch your back to stop from falling forward?

Robert then responded:

That is exactly what happens. I have to tense and hunch my back to keep from falling forward.

Steve Hogg replies

Robert,

In that case your seat is too far forward. Before you move it back though, have a look at this post and this post regarding cleat position as that can be a contributing factor that is often overlooked.

Position your cleats as suggested there and then retest. If the cleat movement rearwards on the shoe is substantial, you may need to drop your seat a few mm. If you still need to arch your back after moving the cleats, then your seat is too far forward and you need to move it further back. When you do this, drop it 1mm for every 3mm that you move it backwards to maintain the same seat height. You may also need to shorten your stem.

Cleat position and shoe brands

I am another avid reader of the cleat position threads and have had trouble positioning my cleats since I bought a new shoe/pedal combination following a bike fitting. I am 6ft tall, 170lbs, 36 years old. I race on the road, do crits and Ironman triathlon.

I use Shimano SPD-SL pedals with a Carnac shoe. The shoe is size 48 although I have size 45 feet. The size discrepancy is to accommodate orthotics as I am an excessive pronator on both feet. I also ride with 3 Le wedges under each shoe. My legs now track straight; before the orthotic adjustments both knees were prone to bending in and brushing the top tube. So far so good. Except that with the cleats as far back as the shoe will allow my first metatarsal joint is directly over the pedal axle. I therefore can't get the amount of foot over the pedal as I would like.

I feel I am pushing my feet forward in the shoe in order to get the right contact point but am unable to make it. I also feel I am dropping my heels more than I used to from the top of the pedal stroke which leads me to conclude that I am losing power. At the end of long races I suffer from toe numbness and I am finding it harder to run off the bike than before.

I don't want to lose the orthotic so I wanted to know if there was a larger sized shoe that would allow me to move the cleats further back than on the Carnac?

Jason Gatenby

Steve Hogg replies

Jason,

If you need a shoe three sizes too large too fit an orthotic (must be a very large orthotic), then effective cleat position is always going to be a struggle. I would question too, why you need three wedges under each side if the orthoses are well prescribed?

If you use the same orthoses for both running and cycling, then I can understand as the demands are different for each sport. But if they are cycling specific, you should be having a word to whoever prescribed them for you.

DMT, Nike and the current Time (rebadged DMT's with a minor restyle) will give a more rearward cleat position than your Carnacs but probably not enough.

You have two options that will work.

a) Have some custom shoes made and make sure that when the mould is made for your feet, the orthoses are included in the moulding process. You should be able to specify what ever cleat position you wish. Get a spare SPD -SL cleat and fit it into a pedal and put a mark on the side of cleat where it lies over the centre of the pedal axle.

Remove the cleat from the pedal and give it to whoever is making the custom shoes and tell them that the mark needs to be 10mm behind the centre of the ball of the foot when the cleat is in the middle of its range of adjustment fore and aft. It should be obvious to the shoe maker where the centre of the ball of the foot is in the shoe from the shape of the mould and the cast that will be made from the mould. When you get the shoes, and if they have been made correctly, you should be able to gain a good cleat position with adjustment potential fore and aft of that point.

b) Get yourself some Speedplays. They have a lesser range of fore and aft adjustment than your current pedals but there are alternative baseplates that will allow up to 15mm more rearward adjustment than standard. If you elect to go that way, contact me directly.

Jason then responded:

Steve,

You've got me thinking. The orthotics are cycling specific (ie I don't use them for running) but not tailored - they are "Superfeet" inserts. I wonder if the tracking of my knees has been straightened by the wedges and the insert is perhaps only for comfort or having a minor mechanical impact. I am tempted to experiment with a smaller off the shelf shoe, no insert, and, if necessary, further wedges. What do you think? Otherwise I'd like to know more about Option b. I like the SPD SL pedal - I used to ride the SPD-R and find the SL is a good, stable platform. I am open minded about a change though so would have no problem with another system if it was the answer to getting the right foot position.

With regard to the place that set me up in this way I went back to them prior to contacting you and they tinkered with one of my cleats but offered no real solution. I don't have confidence in them finding the answer.

Steve Hogg replies

Jason,

I wonder about 'generic' cycling specific orthoses. My experience is that even with prescribed orthoses that are well prescribed in the sense of solving walking or running problems for a given person, at least 50% of the time they are part of the problem for the same person on a bike. There are good reasons for this.

Firstly, the mechanics of the foot and ankle are not the same for walking/running on one hand and cycling on the other.

Secondly, far too many people have pelvic obliquities that affect their foot plant in the sense of the angle that the foot hits the ground. A simple example being someone who has say a higher right iliac crest than left without a measurable bone length difference between left and right legs. That will mean that the right hip is pulled up and the person will lean to the right. The left foot will possibly pronate more to compensate for that lean, the right foot may supinate more. (There are many other possibilities, but you can see what I am getting at)A well prescribed pair of orthoses will allow for that difference in foot plant angle

But when that same person throws a leg over a bike seat, they are bearing their weight under the base of the their pelvis, not on their feet, so there is not necessarily a correlation in the sense of the angle that their foot comes at the pedal and the angle that their foot comes at the ground when they stand or walk. They may be the same, they may be markedly different in the way their feet and legs work between the two pastimes. And that is for prescribed orthoses. For a generic style pair, that is an average response to average problems which may or may not be your problems, I wonder how the manufacturer comes up with the prescription.

Try a smaller shoe that fits well. In terms of cleat mounting hole positioning, stick to Sidi, DMT, Nike, Time, Gaerne, Specialized, Shimano or Lake. Of those, DMT, Nike, and Time have the most rearward mounting holes for a 3 bolt cleat relative to foot in shoe. Stay away from Pearl Izumi, Carnac, Northwave and particularly Adidas. Once done, experiment with the number of wedges you need and don't be surprised if it is a different number for each side. If you feel the need for more arch support than the shoe provides, get back to me as it is a relatively easy thing to achieve without taking up a lot of room in the shoe.

Regarding option b, try as suggested above and we can consider it if necessary later. SPD-SL's are basically a good pedal, particularly for racing. Their only shortcoming in my view is that a lot of users of them would be better off if there was the option of a freeplay cleat with a greater range of rotational movement than the one currently offered.

Cycling position and injury

Good afternoon,

I am having problems with my ankles. My biking buddy doesn't think it has much to with my pedalling style. Last year I had problems at the beginning of the season with my knees hurting. I had trouble extending them at times too.

After several weeks off the bike the problem went away. This year starting in January I noticed my heels were dry and peeling. It hurt to walk on them barefoot. The area around my tendons would always be a mild red. Towards the end of February I had mild pain and could produce no power. One of my other biking buddies said achilles tendonitis. The doctor concurred. He couldn't understand how I could do it biking. I didn't bike for three weeks. I still had pain.

I sold my Motobecane 59cm and bought a Specialized Allez Elite 62cm with a sloping top tube. My biking buddy always though that I looked funny on the old bike. I had decent leg extension but I laid down pretty low and straight with a drop of 4". I'm 6'2" 200lb My true inseam is somewhere about 34-35"

I tried to resume riding on the Allez. I incurred pain in the tendon and hot spots under the ball of my right foot and other toes. I had retained the same keo cleats and pedals. I have been using Lake CX100 shoes.

I decided to move the cleats in a sort of desperation. I moved the cleats all the way backwards. I had them previously in middle. This puts my ball of the foot very close to the centre of pedal axis. I did not experience any pain in my ankle after riding some short trips. I noticed a slight sensation after the group ride on Sunday of 50 miles. I rode in the small chainring with various gears and I went a little nutty once in the 14.

My ankle on the left side is now hurting. I went to shoe and discovered that cleat had slid forward towards its original position. I am wondering where my cleats should be and my seat. I currently have the top of the seat at 32" from the BB. The bottom part of the rails are 3 1/2" and the seat clamp is in approximately the center of these rails.

I do not think that I get maximum power from my current seat position in the drops, but I haven't really tried to judge it. I also want to have a good position to avoid pain and damage. I've attached my training log for the past three years. I did not have any goals other than riding around for the past few years. I was considering of trying a local criterium or two, but I don't know if I can do it at my current state.

Bill O'Hara

Steve Hogg replies

If moving the cleats all the way back resolved your problem, which doesn't surprise me, have a look at this post and this post for cleat positioning. As to seat height and set back, there is a search function in the archives and a lot of posts which touch on those subjects.

Bill then responded:

Thanks for the reply. I haven't been able to figure out anything. I'm totally clueless about changing it around now. I personally think that I have something wrong with my ankles. The current position seems to be good for balance. I walked on concrete for five minutes the other day and I felt my whole body tense up.

I had a discussion with two masters racers and they claimed that my pedalling stroke was an issue. One asked me if it started with my right ankle, which it did. I've been working for two years to get my pedal stroke down right. These two have always told me that I pedal too fast. I've gotten my stroke to produce power to follow them at 20mph while doing 90-100 rpm. I've managed to do 80 rpm as well. I really can't fathom why they say that I'm doing 120 from visual observation, but they insist it is my problem.

I had shooting pain through my left ankle several times after walking, yesterday. I'm looking for a sale on Adidas shoes. I'm going to give them a try. I am wondering if the Lake shoes really don't have the cleat holes in a good spot and better shoes would help my feet. I've been getting hot spots at times for very short durations around the ball of my foot.

Steve Hogg replies

Bill,

Go and see a physio or podiatrist and find out whether there is an intrinsic ankle problem. Then at least you will know the state of play there and can act accordingly. Don't go near Adidas shoes. They have cleat mounting holes that are much further forward on the shoe than any other brand. The few that I see are always associated with the owners having problems that can be blamed directly or indirectly on radically too far forward cleat position.

Lakes have cleat mounting holes in the same proportional place give or take a couple of mm as the majority of quality shoes. If you have very wide feet, is it possible that you have gone a size to big in an effort to gain width. If so, this makes it more likely that your cleats are too far forward.

Have you got access to anyone who takes a structural approach to bike positioning? If so, get in touch with them. Either way, let me know what you find out from the physio or podiatrist.

Bike positioning for climbing

I am a recreational rider usually riding a hybrid flatbar bike. I mostly ride uphill on long (10 km) climbs (6%) and therefore my bike is basically dedicated only to climbing. I have been reading with interest the many posts regarding seat positioning (fore-aft, seat height, etc.) and I was wondering whether the 'balance approach' of having the seat best positioned when you can take your hands off the bar without falling over should be applied in a 'climbing' position rather than in a neutral, horizontal position.

Should I put the bike on a stationary trainer with the front wheel higher than the rear one and do the test in this position or is it better anyway to have the test done traditionally on the flat, keeping in mind that this bike is being used only for climbing? Should I also tilt the saddle nose downward so that, with the bike in the climbing position, the saddle is parallel to the ground?

Mauro

Steve Hogg replies

Mauro,

You pose an interesting question and one that I have never been asked before. My educated guess is to set up the bike while it is level. You may ride up plenty of hills but you have to ride down them as well unless you have another way to get down the hills that you climb. If you try the balance test with the front of the bike elevated you will certainly be bearing more weight than necessary on your hands and arms when riding downhills. This will compromise comfort and possibly control of the bike as well.

If you follow through with your plan to set the bike seat nose so that it is level with the front of the bike elevated, then the weight transfer onto the arms when riding on the flat or downhills will be even more pronounced. Lateral thinking is good, but in this case set the position with the bike level.

If you do use an indoor trainer it is good practice to set the front wheel higher than the rear to train for hills as this allows you to establish a similar relationship to gravity and hence muscular enlistment to riding up hills out of doors.

Knee pain

I'm sure you get sick of this same question, but I've tried almost every combination of cleat position, saddle height, fore/aft, and I still have an excruciating pain in my itb and upper calf. I took two weeks off, started stretching before and after, icing and ibuprofen, and like clockwork an hour into a ride the numb tingle starts, then 15 minutes later I can barely make it home. I don't have anyone local that can assist me much, my local bike shop says pain is just normal when you ride a bike 150-200 miles a week, but this is debilitating.

I can ride for hours on the mtb. But I ride with platform pedals. I've been riding the road for three years and until this spring I've never had any problems. I was using a Nashbar mtb pedal on my old road bike last year and my left toe pointed way in. I bought a new carbon trek late last year and look pedals, which immediately turned my foot outward to normal(ish).

I rode the rest of the year with no problems on that setup, but this year has been miserable. The only thing I remember changing before this pain started was my stem! That must be irrelevant. Please offer any suggestions you can. I used to have the cleat on my left (problem side) as far forward as it would go. I've since tried every other position possible.

Matt Snell

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

I need some more info.
a. Did the left foot toe in more than the right on your old platform pedals?
b. Do you have the feeling of the right leg being more powerful?
c. Pedal away under load and glance down at the gap between your inner thighs and the seat post. Is the inner thigh to seat post gap even on both sides?
If not, which thigh is closer to the post. Get back to me with that and we will proceed further.

Matt then responded:

Hey Steve, thanks for the prompt response.

I wasn't clear enough on my old pedals. I ride platforms on my mtb, but I was using cheap clipless mtb pedals on my old road bike. The old bike was a 2005 trek 1000, but my new bike is a 2006 trek 5200. My right foot has always been straight ahead, but my left foot toed in considerably on the old clipless.

I rode about 8000 miles on those pedals pain free. Both my legs feel basically equal strength-wise, and my right thigh is closer to the seat post. I've read almost every thread about knee pain on this site, and it seems clear I have itb problems with the intense stinging or hot knife references, but it doesn't make sense that the top of my calf has a deep dull pain. Both pains are only from about 10 to 3 on the pedal stroke. It almost feels as if I'm using way too much knee/calf muscle and not nearly enough quads and glutes. From what I've read it seems raising the seat would help that, but the itb stuff suggests lowering the seat is in order. I'm confused! I've registered for the Livestrong ride in Philly and am nervous that I won't be able to make it.

Steve Hogg replies

Matt,

From what you are saying your foot angle on pedal on the right side is 'normal' meaning anywhere between slightly heel in to slightly toe in while your left side on a bike used to toe in noticeably on a bike that gave you no problems though you have had a 'normal' foot angle on the left pedal for 12 months pain free but that has changed since.

Let's go back a bit. When you rode with right foot 'normal' and left foot toed in, the most likely reason for that in my experience is a uncorrected varus on the right forefoot.

I will explain; right forefoot varus of any real degree should in theory load up your right knee. For most people this doesn't happen.

Why?

Most people autonomically protect their right side. There are 3 main compensatory patterns for an uncorrected right forefoot varus and a host of less common ones. The most common are:

1. Internally rotate the right hip (point the right toes inward). This will keep the right knee tracking straight but at some cost to right side hip and lower back function over time. It often takes many years for a problem, in the sense of pain, to occur.

2. The rider loads up the outer edge of the foot when walking or running. This causes little ongoing problem, but is obvious in that there will be a lay of callous on the outer edge of the foot, particularly under the 5th metatarsal joint (little toe).

3. All the compensations are made on the left side which typically means that the left hip (and hence foot) are internally rotated, usually to quite a degree. Generally this is accompanied by a rotation of the sacrum as well and the right sacro iliac joint will protrude more than the left if felt for.

I am playing the odds of likely occurrences here, but it is this last that I suspect you are doing. It is common and over time results in problems with the hip and lower back functions on the left side. Often it can be associated too, with a measurably longer right leg but just as often there is no meaningful difference in leg length.

What to do about it?

Assuming I am on track so far, change the angle of your existing left cleat to allow a degree of toe in. Does that feel better and reduce strain on the ITB?

As a cross check, see a podiatrist and determine whether you have a pronounced right forefoot varus with either little or much less of the same on the left foot. Additionally, see a physio and determine whether you do have a twisted sacrum with a right sacro iliac joint that protrudes more. If this is the case, leave the left foot toed in (assuming that helps) and get hold of some Lemond Wedges and fit them to your right shoe. You will have to experiment with the number that you use.

Either way, once you have tried this, get back to me and let me know what happened.

Larger crank length

I just bought a new bike and I am going in for the final fitting next week so I still have some time to make sure I get the right crank length. At 6'5" and 215lb, I am a good deal larger than normal humans and with a 93.5cm inseam the old formula of inseam x0.216 means I should spin a 200mm crank. I have never seen anything larger than a 180mm.

My old bike, which is my first bike, has 175mm cranks and I have always felt fine on it but at the same time, I never thought about crank length - I just rolled with what I had. Now that I have a new bike and a chance to do it right, I am concerned that I might be missing out on a lot of power because I am not using all the leverage my abnormally large body can handle.

Am I too big for a 175 crank? Does a 200mm crank exist? Should I not worry about this and maximize my speed on a crank I am comfortable with?

Bill Caplice

Scott Saifer replies

Bill,

Bullseye used to make custom cranks in the length of your choice. They may still. However, optimal crank length is not as simple as multiplying your inseam length by a certain proportionality. Other factors come into play, such as flexibility in all the relevant joints, intended use, and foot size. I recently fitted a fellow who is 6'4" and about your weight. He could not really spin effectively on 177s, but 175s worked well for him. He may be an extreme case with his size 40 shoes, very small for someone his height, but his situation demonstrates the inapplicability of proportional crank length.

Cranks that are too long will rob you of much more power than cranks that are too short. A bit too short and you lose a tiny bit at a given cadence and you can make up for it with a higher cadence. A bit too long and you lose smoothness in the pedal stroke over the top, through the bottom or both.

Here's a test for crank length: If you have to reach for the bottom of the stroke, your seat is too high. If you have trouble getting over the top of the stroke, your seat is too low. If you can't find a seat height that is neither too high nor too low, your cranks are too long. Most riders with the seat too low will use the opposite leg to get a leg over the top of the stroke, so to test for seat too low, pedal with one foot. If you struggle to get the pedal over the top, or if the chain goes slack and then snaps taught, your seat is too low.

Alternatively, think your way around the pedal stroke as if it were a clock. What does it feel like at 12-1 o'clock, 1-2 o'clock and so on all the way around. Ponder whether any portion of the stroke feels stretched, weak, crunched up or otherwise less powerful than other parts.

You may be surprised what a difference a few mm of crank length can make in the feel, but ponder this. If you set up your seat height and set-back according to the recommendations of Steve Hogg, as I believe you should, you set the seat according to things that happen at the bottom of the stroke. If you lengthen the cranks by 2.5 mm, you raise the top of the stroke by 2.5 mm, but you also get to drop the saddle by 2.5 mm, so the top of the stroke comes 5 mm closer to your saddle.

To test for the ability to use longer cranks, set the seat height per Steve's recommendations. If you are not perfectly smooth over the top, your cranks are already too long, but assuming that you are smooth over the top, drop the saddle by 5 mm. The bottom of the stroke will now be bad, but if the top is still good, you can add 2.5 mm to your cranks. If you can drop it 10 mm without losing smoothness over the top, you can add 5 mm. If you can drop it 15 mm and still be smooth over the top, you can add 7.5 mm and so on. Of course on

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