Form & Fitness Q & A
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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.
Do you ever think the UCI's overreaction to Graeme Obree's radical positioning will ever end? Why do professional cyclists accept this absolutely daft ruling?
It is actually embarrassing watching the UCI. men with blazers checking this out on the pro bikes at some of the races I have attended.
Sorry as a Scot who lives not that far away from Graeme it still rankles!
Steve Hogg replies:
I am sympathetic to the UCI's stated aim which is to make cycling a sport of competition between athletes rather than technologies. The problem is that a lot is left to be desired with the implementation of that aim and their seemingly ad hoc rule making regarding position.
Why do riders put up with it? It's the only game in town.
At what point should I consider using a chamois cream to improve my saddle comfort and my "butt" post ride comfort? Is it a matter of ride duration i.e. hours in the saddle? Or is the need to use such a cream for a three hour ride an indication that there is a problem with saddle position or with my saddle/butt compatibility?
I do not get any saddle sores after three hours in the saddle and I have very comfortable high quality bibs (Assos), I get out of the saddle every 10-15 min for 30-60sec. I do not experience any particular saddle discomfort during the ride either.
But there is a slight tender/warm feeling, down there, post ride which lasts for 24 hours. After 1-2 days off the bike it all clears up. I was thinking to try some Assos chamois cream (or something else?) but am concerned I would be masking a saddle fit problem.
Steve Hogg replies:
From the various emails we have exchanged, I know you are fairly tight and have a leg length discrepancy. If you are moving around laterally on the seat, that would explain the symptoms you note. I hate chamois cream because it is a moist breeding ground for bacteria but if functional issues mean that there is potential for abrasion, then it is better than ignoring the situation.
The other thing is that if your seat is a tiny bit too high, too far forward, too far back or bars a touch too low or too far away or the leg length difference is not adequately accounted for; any of those things can cause susceptible people to be slightly less stable on their seat than they can be.
Seat choice is a deeply personal thing. The best seat running around at the moment in the sense that it seems to suit the widest range of backsides is the SMP Strike Stratos. They need a bit of care setting them up but I am finding them very popular, especially given that they aren't cheap at all.
I'm 197cm tall and have an inseam of 94cm. I have recently purchased 180mm cranks as I have read a number of reports indicating I should have cranks at around this length based on my inseam. My old cranks were 175mm.
After changing to the larger 180 cranks and lowering my seat height to allow for the extra 5mm I took the bike for a ride and noticed a drop in performance. Thinking this was possibly a bad day I persisted with the longer cranks for a month. However, the whole month with 180 cranks was below my standard level, especially when climbing.
I then changed back to the 175 cranks and was instantly back up to my old race level.
I'd be happy with the fact that the longer cranks don't work for me, but I actually feel like I have a smoother pedal stroke when I have the longer cranks fitted.
Does this make sense? Do you think I should try the longer cranks again or do the results of a lower performance show the results?
Steve Hogg replies:
Firstly, the right crank length is the one you can go fastest on and sometimes that can depend on the type of racing you are into and the terrain you race over.
Secondly, I don't know what length cranks you should be using but would give the 180s a go for as long as it takes you to form a firm opinion. You may think you have done that, BUT...
Thirdly, one invariably overlooked aspect of changing crank length is chainring size. When you go from 175s to 180s you are increasing crank length by a little under 3%. If you are using the same size of chainrings, you are having to pedal a larger circle just as fast as ever to go at the same speed. This means that your foot speed increases by nearly 3% as the foot is further from the axis of rotation of the crank.
Assuming you are using 53/39 chainrings, a fairer test would be to add just under 3% to your chainring size. For the 53 you have now, that would equal a 54 tooth if you want to be conservative and a 55 tooth if you want to be less conservative. For the 39 ring, replace it with a 40. Then go and ride for a period with similar foot speed and a slightly higher gear at slightly lower cadence and you will be making a fair comparison.
As I work myself into shape and gain strength, it only makes sense to me that my position on the bike should improve. How often should I have my fit/position checked and adjusted?
Steve Hogg replies:
Some people are very body aware and know when they have changed significantly. They may not know what has changed but will be aware that something is not as it should be. If you are one of those people, have your position checked whenever you feel you have changed.
If you are not, once a year is about right. It is probably overkill for some but better safe than sorry. Other things that come into whether it is time is if there is significant weight gain or loss, significant increase or decrease in flexibility or if there have been any injuries or accidents.
This is my second year of serious cycling and last year I rode close to 6000 kilometres without any pain or aches. At the time I was running Speedplay x5s and everything seemed quite alright. During one of my rides when I was pushing very large gears I ended up causing some sort of injury to both of my legs. After the ride I felt fine but 3-4 hours later there was this really sharp pain on the sides of my knees that just seemed to not want to go away.
At first I didn't think it was a big deal so I pushed right through the pain but it never got better, contrary to that it actually started to get worse. I stopped training for 4 weeks and decided to get a physiotherapist's help. He diagnosed the problem as the little tendon on the outside of my calf, right behind the knee and on the outer edge (I think he was correct).
After 3 sessions I felt reasonably good and I was back on the bike. I gradually moved from 2 hours of training per rides/week to 8 hours in the span of 4-5 weeks. However things have really changed since the day of that ride (November 25th 2006). My right leg seems to have recovered just fine and it is back to normal, but my left knee seems to be in quite a bit of disarray (I should mention that I have switched my shoes and cleats since then to the Zeros and the Nike Lance shoes).
I have less pain in my left knee when I spin faster and when I don't push large gears. I have no pain if I go through a really intense workout, the pain just seems to disappear. I have been doing some core training (hip flexors, adductors and abductors) and my knee is feeling a bit better on the bike, I am almost painless during the days that I spend 2 hours on the trainer.
It is hard to explain but I know something is wrong with my left knee. It is always kind of stiff and I hate any short distance walks because that's when the aches and pains really resurface.
So to be more clear, I have a lot more pain off the bike than on the bike. I am ok with that but I am planning to race and bike for a long time and I want to know if I can do anything to go back to the pain free days. I had my roommate have a look at my pedal stroke from the front and he mentioned that when I pedal my left knee tends to go out (get a way from the top tube) when coming up (moving from 6 to 12 position) and move in (get closer to the top tube) during the down stroke (12-6) and he mentioned that my right leg and knee don't seem to move half as much.
How can I address this problem? I should also mention that when I am pedaling I can totally notice that my right leg is much close to the top tube (almost brushes against it) than my left leg, I try to bring my left leg in but when I don't look it just moves right out.
My pain and aches are all on the outside of my left knee (right where the IT band and the big hamstring tendons are).
Steve Hogg replies:
Your problem is a simple one. When an organism feels pain (your double calf injury) it will always autonomically self protect. The problem is that this urge for self protection isn't symmetrical. All of us favour one side and for 95% of bike riders, it is the right leg that we favour or protect no matter whether we are left or right handed or footed.
This is almost certainly what happened. No problem until you overdid it. There is also the likelihood with Speedplays that your cleats weren't back far enough as they don't have as much rearward adjustment as other 3 bolt pattern cleats. This would have meant that under the severe load that you describe, you were forced to drop your heels more than usual. Basically your seat was too high for those kind of efforts and dropping the heels caused overextension and pain where you describe.
Now you have a self protective neural map but it is only protecting one side well, your right and at quite a cost to your left side. You are twisting your pelvis forward on the right side and probably dropping your right hip. This is probably/possibly to self protect against a pronounced varus right forefoot - another common thing. This right hip twist/drop is causing you to overextend your left leg and is also why the left knee moves laterally. Right hip goes down and in towards the centre line on right side down stroke.
As a consequence and predictably, the left knee has to move outward on its upstroke. Then as the right hip rebounds at the top of the right pedal stroke, the left knee rolls back in on its down stroke. As a simple demonstration; stand with your knees bent and feet facing forward. Now drop the right hip and knee forward, in and down. The left knee has no choice but to move outward or hurt. It has chosen to move outward.
You feel better when you pedal fast because under these circumstances, you will point your toes more which minimises the overextension of the left leg while ever the toes are down. The reason that you feel little or no pain in the left knee is because you are not putting pressure on the left pedal throughout the full stroke. You will be pushing forcefully off the top of the stroke and coasting through the bottom.
The problem is that this isn't an efficient way to use your body and you feel the effects off the bike. Continue like this for long enough and you will feel it on the bike as well.
Here's a check list:
1. Be VERY conservative with seat height. Even a few mm too high will cause you to overtly favour the right side. A good seat height is when you can force a gear up a steepish hill and not overextend. You need to be fluent through the bottom of the stroke.
2. Find out whether you have a noticeable forefoot varus on either side, particularly the right side and correct with some Lemond wedges or a medial lift underneath your insole.
3. Have a look at these posts on ball and cleat position then adjust your cleats accordingly. If you can't get your cleats back far enough, buy Speedplay part no. 13330 which are alternative baseplates that allow much more rearward adjustment than the standard ones supplied with the cleats.
4. If following #3 meant a large rearward movement of the cleats, lower your seat height again a further few mm.
6. Twist your seat nose slightly off centre to the right. This will help square you up on the seat to some degree.
7. Once you feel like you are making headway, cultivate the practice of mentally chanting LEFT, LEFT, LEFT, on every left side pedal stroke when ever you are under high torque/low RPM pressure. In other words, when riding uphills. If you can get some awareness back in that left side under load, over time you will modify the motor pattern that you have now which isn't the one you ideally want.
In a recent letter someone asks about training while on antibiotics. I was a bit surprised that the response by Dr. Bethards did not mention problems with fluoroquninolones in particular.
I know that one should not run for a while after taking these due to tendon problems (including ruptures) as a common side effect. Is that not a problem while cycling? If there is no alternative anti-biotic, then should training not be limited?
Kelby Bathards replies:
You know, you are exactly correct. There is a risk of tendon rupture with the flouroquininolone class of medications with exercise, etc. However, it is NOT a common side effect of this class of medication. It is a serious side effect but I have only heard of one case of this happening.
I have written about this side effect of the medication in the past, and failed to re-write it this time around.
You are also correct in that there are alternative meds for sinus infections. As I had mentioned, the bigger problem is riding with an infection. The rides should be low intensity, until the rider feels like he/she is back to normal.
I read with great interest Steve Hogg's paper on pelvic symmetry. I am currently dealing with this issue and it is to the point where it is completely ruining the sport for me. I can't sit still on the seat. My right hip wants to move forward, making my body point to the left, causing the left leg to feel out of sorts, etc. It's almost as if my right leg is acting shorter, even though the bones have been measured several times to be equal.
Even out of the saddle pedaling, I notice that my right upper leg appears to be more inward and pointing down, compared to the left leg.
I've had as much as half an inch of spacers under the right shoe to try to make up for this problem, but it doesn't really help since it isn't a true leg length problem.
I've been to chiro, physio and osteo. All of them figure I've got some sort of pelvic problem, likely caused by some sort of muscle imbalance, hamstrings, etc. but none have been able to help. I am going for some x-rays soon in hopes to at least see where the bones have settled..
With regards to your suggestion of the FSA saddle that adjusts side to side, how does this help? And if I were to try it, would I move the saddle to the right, where my body wants to push the hip forward, or do I move the saddle to the left?
Thanks, I really appreciate any assistance you can give. I'm on the east coast of Canada, Nova Scotia. If I lived (a lot) closer to you, I'd come in for an actual fitting!
Steve Hogg replies:
Shimming up the right shoe won't have any positive effect, in the sense of stopping you twisting your pelvis if your problem relates to your pelvis or hip. A few points for your chiro, osteo or manipulative physio to check out.
1. Alignment of sacrum.
2. Alignment of coccyx.
If either of those is less than ideal, it can cause a whole raft of hard to diagnose problems.
3. Relative shape and mobility of sacro iliac joints
4. Do you have a noticeable difference in the patterns of flexibility/tightness between sides?
5. If you leg length was measured by external measurement, place no reliance on the result. Scans are definitive. Even x-rays can give flawed results.
6. Check whether you have a pronounced varus rear foot or fore foot on the right side. Sometimes what you describe is a life long autonomic self protection mechanism for this.
7. Do you have a small hemi pelvis?
8. Have your health professional of choice perform an Unterberg test on you. What was the result?
Once you have this info, get back to me. In the meantime, if you are going to modify an FSA seat post, move the seat cradle to the left.
I am very happy with some recent changes to my position as I bought a new bike. However, I feel like my feet are too far apart. I am using a Dura-Ace crank. I can not find info on the Q-factor of various cranks. I intend to purchase a compact crank once I start riding mostly outside. Can you advise me of how different cranks Q-factors compare? Or is another way to solve this problem? Thanks for your help!
Steve Hogg replies:
The great majority of double chain ring road cranks have Q factors between 145 and 150mm. 10 speed Dura Ace are 147 mm from memory. To gain a noticeably narrower Q-factor you can do one of two things or both.
1. Use older 7 or 8 speed cranks some of which had Q measurements of 135 - 140 mm depending on which square taper bottom bracket they were fitted to. The caution with using an older crank is to make sure that when you are riding in your highest gear (large ring/small cog) that the crank arm doesn't foul the chain. As more gears have been added at the rear (7,8,9 and then 10 speed), the outermost cog has moved closer to the rear dropout causing the chain line to move outward in top gear. This is why 10 speed cranks are generally of larger Q measurement than 7 and 8 speed cranks.
2. Use a pedal system where the cleats have good lateral adjustment. Speedplay are a good example. Moving the cleat outboard on the shoe moves the shoe in towards the centre line of the bike.
I read Steve Hogg's article on pelvic asymmetry and it got me pretty excited.
I am a 37 year old male cat 4 racer. I have a 2cm leg length difference measured from a scanogram, it is almost all accounted for in the femur; my right femur is shorter. I was born with a fully dislocated right hip and as a result have CDH [congenital dislocation of the hip - ed]. I have less mobility in my right hip as well.
I've moved my cleats to help a bit and have moved my seat forward a bit, both helped. When I'm on my bike dropping a plumb line from my knee indicates that my pelvis is rotated such that my right hip is further back than my left, exacerbating the leg length difference, my right knee is 4 to 5cm behind my left when the pedal is at 9 o'clock.
Briefly I tried a stack under my right shoe but my decreased hip mobility caused too much trouble, my hip felt very tight at the top of the stroke.
To further complicate matters, my neutral right leg position is slightly rotated out (my toes point out), my left is pretty much straight ahead.
I use egg beaters on all my bikes and ride mostly with Shimano M225 shoes but will gladly consider alternatives.
Under what circumstances would one use crank arms of different lengths and would moving my seat laterally towards my shorter leg be helpful? I'm worked my pedal on that side already should me moved out to compensate for my outward pointing foot.
Steve Hogg replies:
Interesting cases like yours are the ones that I would much rather advise on in person rather than via email because so much of getting a result is trial and error. I'm not crazy about different crank lengths in principle but when it is the least worst option, then it is worth a try and sometimes works a treat. What you say about a shim causing you problems at the top of the stroke means that a shorter crank on the right side is definitely an option I would advise you try.
I would not bother with laterally offsetting the seat post unless you don't sit in the centre of the seat. It may be that you don't sit in the centre but get an observer to confirm that before you shell out the bucks and experiment.
As far as seat set back goes, you need to sit 'too far forward' in respect of the left leg and 'too far back' in respect of the right leg as that is the only sensible compromise. Let your seat set back be where you feel most balanced and smooth on both legs, with a minimum of weight on the hands.
If you ride a road bike, settle on relatively high bars because any tendency to roll the pelvis too far forward will cause your right hip to externally rotate even further which isn't good. An MTB is less problematic because of the increased bar height relative to seat.
Let me know how you get on.
I have had a bone measurement and my right femur is 10mm shorter than my left. Under power I drop my left hip and I sit with my left hip more forward than the right. I have now developed IT band syndrome on my short side which I believe is being caused by the fact that on my short side I walk heavily on the outside of my foot.
I am going to try a Specialized Valgus wedge on my short side to see if that helps with the IT band issue. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Do you know anyone who has made a full recovery from IT band issues?
Steve Hogg replies:
What you describe is quite common; the forward rotation of the pelvis on the long legged side. That twist and the hip drop that is almost always associated with it causes the shorter right leg to reach further and the plane of movement of the right leg to be constantly challenged. It is that that causes the ITB tightness. You will almost certainly find that your right quadratus lumborum is very tight as well.
Here are a few boxes to tick:
1. Check whether you have a significant forefoot varus on the left side. Often this is the case with a long leg and part of the reason that many people roll the hip forward on the long legged side is because they are autonomically protecting the knee on that side from the effects of that forefoot varus. If you find that this is you, get hold of some Lemond wedges.
2. Twist the seat nose of your seat a touch to the left. This will allow you to sit on the seat more squarely. If you twist it too far, you won't move your pelvis with the twist. As much twist as anyone can cope with is when the centre of the nose of the seat points at the left hand edge of the handle bar stem bar clamp. Many can't cope with that so do what you can get away with.
3. Be wary of using the valgus wedge on the right foot as the need for them is relatively rare. You walk on the outside of your right foot because you have a short right leg and lean to the right from the waist down when you walk.
4. Have a look at these posts on cleat and ball position and adjust your cleats accordingly. That will help your feet be stable on the pedal platform. If following that advice means a large rearward movement, drop your seat a few mm to allow for the increased leg extension that the more rearward cleat position will cause.
5. Be conservative with seat height. If your seat is even a couple of mm too high, it will exacerbate the tendency to twist to the left, as when we are presented with any challenge, we will always autonomically favour our preferred side.
6. Put a 5mm shim underneath your right shoe as a starting point. That should relieve a lot of your issues. Play around with the size of the shim. If you can minimise the left twist and hip drop, 5 mm under the right cleat should be about right. If you need much more than that, move the cleat back on the shoe 1mm extra for every 4 - 5 mm that you have to shim it up.