Form & Fitness Q & A
Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
My question is on bike positioning. On viewing a lot of cyclists racing, I have noticed many of them sitting on the front part (nose) of their saddle. Mainly when the race tempo is high and a reasonable amount of effort is required by the cyclist.
Can you tell me why this is? What causes this? Is it a bad thing? And if so how can it be fixed?
Steve Hogg replies:
To answer your questions. There are a number of reasons that many cyclists creep forward on the seat under load.
1. Position has been set under low load. This means that the rider hasn't been tested under pressure, has their bars too far away and too low OR seat too far forward or too far back OR not enough foot over the pedal OR seat too high OR any combination of these things.
What the rider finds under pressure is that they are not stable. In an effort to stabilise themselves, they arch their backs and tighten their arms to varying degrees. This shortens the rider up and they have no alternative but to move forward on the seat.
The acme of position (and function) is when a rider is positioned so that even when under severe load they don't need to shorten up at all and appear to be relaxed even though they may be on the limit.
2. The UCI mandates a minimum distance for the seat nose to be behind the bottom bracket for competition. Some riders cannot gain the position they want within those constraints. So for a real or perceived advantage, they have no alternative but to sit forward on the seat.
Is it a bad thing? Try sitting on the soft tissue of the perineum and you will soon find out.
How can it be fixed? By an improved position on the bike, by improved function in a structural sense by the rider, or both.
I have a road bike, but use Shimano mountain bike SPD pedals. Is there any loss in performance between road vs mountain bike pedals on a road bike?
Steve Hogg replies:
No, providing the MTB shoe is a good quality one and not one of the low level sneaker type MTB shoes; and that the fit of shoe on pedal and cleat in pedal is stable and doesn't wobble around a lot.
My local criterium series is held on weekday evenings and is really exciting. The problem is getting a good sleep afterwards. Even if I really concentrate on my breathing, it is still virtually impossible to wind down as my adrenaline is still in overdrive. When I do nod off I wake up again soon after with my heart pounding reliving the racing! Typically I will start to benefit from normal sleep by 3-4am.
I am a 35 year-old cat 2 male with 6 years of racing.
Any advice would be great. Thanks.
Scott Saifer replies:
I see two possibilities:
1) Make a habit of sleeping extra the days before and after the crits and just plan to stay up late reading on crit nights.
2) Stop getting yourself excited by revisiting the race. This is easier said than done of course, like not picking a scab. You apparently have a bad habit you need to kick. A meditation class might help. Simply recognizing that you control your thoughts really can help.
For about the last two years I've been experiencing some aches in my lower left leg. The issue came on gradually and has reached a certain level and just kinda stayed there. I notice it on and off the bike but more so on the bike.
All my previous fitters have noticed a slight leg length discrepancy of about 2mm shorter in the right leg. All felt it was nothing to be concerned about and very common in most people.
I ride Speedplay Zero pedals with Northwave shoes and ride 172.5 length cranks on both bikes.
My problem is that when riding I experience the sensation of not being able to get my left foot forward enough. It also feels like I'm pedaling on my tippy-toes and getting little to no power transfer to the pedal. As if my foot is about two inches away from the pedal and just going through the motion. If I concentrate real hard and shove my foot, uncomfortably, into the tip of my shoe it almost feels right as far as feeling the power to the pedal through the ball of my foot.
All fitters have mentioned that my left heel does not come down through my pedal stroke as does my right foot. This is something I've been trying to rectify during training rides but it's been difficult to keep up and make a habit.
The aches I have are mostly on the outside of my calf and the shin. From time to time the area on the sides, below and back of the knee also feels achy... never above the knee. When riding these aches are intensified but don't keep me from doing my training rides, intervals or races. When not riding the aches are still there but not as intense. Fatigue in my leg muscles are not the same on both legs. In the left leg all fatigue is all in the lower leg. In the right, it's all upper with some fatigue in the calf as well.
Every once in a while, maybe once or twice a month, my left leg gives out for a quick second when walking. You know how it feels when someone comes up to you from behind and gently puts there knee into the back of yours to try and make you fall... that old gag joke? That's the feeling I get when my leg gives out.
I had my wife stand behind and above me whilst riding a stationary bike to see if I was dropping my hip or twisting my pelvis. The answer is no on both accounts.
Steve Hogg replies:
Thanks for that. A couple of things stand out.
1. Your choice of shoes and pedals. Speedplays have less rearward adjustment potential than most other 3 bolt mount cleat systems. To add to this, Northwave have their cleat mounting holes positioned further forward than the brands of shoe that I favour. This means that it is very likely that you don't have your cleats back far enough on the shoe. When this is the case, the weakest link in the chain can make its presence felt; in this case your left calf. Have a look at these two posts on ball and cleat position and position your cleats accordingly.
If I am on the right track, this will mean a substantial move rearwards on the shoe and you will not have enough adjustment. If so, order Speedplay part no. 13330 which is an alternative set of baseplates with 13-14mm more rearward adjustment potential than the standard baseplates. If this all results in a substantial movement rearwards of the cleats, drop your seat to allow for the increased extension of the leg that will almost certainly be necessary with the new cleat position.
2. Everything you say about where you feel the strain and tiredness and how it differs between legs is indicative of you either:
a) Dropping your right hip on each right side pedal downstroke (meaning in turn that your left leg has to overextend and I believe this to be the root cause of both your calf problem and your not dropping your left heel as much as on the right side, because of an understandable autonomic self protective response to the left leg over extension)
b) Not sitting squarely on the seat and sitting with right hip down which would lead to the same thing.
c) Or most likely, having a seat height that is too high. This is very likely if your seat height has been set by formulaic methods; i.e. measure leg length and multiply by a number for seat height OR use a goniometer (joint angle measurer) to establish "correct" angle of knee at bottom of pedal stroke. When the seat is too high, the rider will autonomically make a choice on which side to protect. The pattern of right quad and left lower leg strain is indicative of right side favouring or protection and is quite common.
d) I am skeptical of what you have been told about your right leg being 2mm short. Has this been verified with a scan? No one can accurately deduce a tiny difference by externally measuring from bony landmarks. That method has a plus / minus error potential of 5mm if the person measuring knows what they are doing. So IF you have a short leg, it could be anything from right leg + 3mm to left leg + 7mm.
What I am saying is that as everything you have told me is indicative of favouring your right leg at the expense of your left, verify whether indeed you have a leg length discrepancy and if so, by how much.
If you do have a short leg, get back to me with which leg and what the difference is and I will advise further.
I am a 20 year old cyclist who has two different leg lengths. The difference in leg length is 12mm. To make both of my legs the same length whilst riding I have been told to use a 12mm packer under the shoe of my short leg.
Is this a correct way of fixing the problem of leg length and do I need to use a 12mm packer or could less do? Would moving one cleat more forward or back than the other also help this situation or would this be a poor way of fixing the problem?
Steve Hogg replies:
Unless the difference in leg length was determined by a CT scan or similar, I would be hesitant to place any reliance on the difference in leg length you have been told about. It may be more than 12mm, it may be less. There is no accurate rule of thumb as to how to advise you. It is not just the disparity in leg length that has to be considered, but also how a life time of compensating for the leg length discrepancy has changed your body.
Most people with a noticeable leg length discrepancy will have had pelvic asymmetries develop that complicate the picture of how you function on a bike in a variety of ways. Have a look at this for some background.
Ideally, what you need to achieve is to have both legs reaching the bottom of the pedal stroke with similar power, fluency and control. What size shim that will take will be a matter of trial and error. One thing to remember is to move the shimmed cleat 1 mm further back relative to foot in shoe for every 4 - 5 mm that you shim it up. This will help make the shimmed foot stable on the pedal.
What you suggest about differential cleat position is not a good idea. Cleat position has a large effect on the patterns of muscular enlistment of each leg. What we should be attempting to do is to have legs that function similarly, not differently within the bounds of what is achievable.
My husband told me about the question on cycling causing or exacerbating tinnitus.
He said that it isn't the cycling that causes tinnitus, it's the wife nagging the cyclist about how much time he spends cycling that causes it.
Happy for your expert panel to verify!
Regards, cycling widow (Jeannine)
Scott Saifer replies:
I can still hear my wife just fine. Thanks for the giggle though.
In the February 27 Q&A, Scott says that not one of his 1000 athletes have reported an inguinal hernia. While I have no history of any other hernias or such weaknesses, I have experienced two inguinal hernias, both immediately after an extreme sprint effort on the bike where I put my whole body into the effort, one in 2003 on the left and another in 2005 on the right.
I am 100% sure that the sprint effort caused the hernia in both cases. I have not had any other hernias at any other time.
Scott Saifer replies:
I checked my facts with a couple of doctors and other coaches so I'll stand by my previous post. That doesn't mean that I don't agree that you got your hernias from sprinting on the bike, but unless you think that your sprint is more powerful than the world-class sprinters who don't get hernias from sprinting, I think we have to conclude that you had some pre-existing inguinal defects, weak spots that tore when you sprinted.
We can have a long but pointless argument about whether the sprinting or the defect caused the hernia. I'd be willing to change my statement to say that in 99.9% of riders, cycling doesn't cause hernias, but that in a very small number of riders who are predisposed to hernia, it might. For me to agree that cycling causes hernias, you'd have to show me that the more someone rides, the more likely they are to have a hernia.
Consider a logically similar though much more serious situation: Marfan's syndrome. Marfan's is a connective tissue defect. People who have it tend to be tall and they have a tendency to die suddenly from ruptured aortas. Anyone with Marfan's who dies of a ruptured aorta is doing something at the time like walking down the street or lifting a box, but would you say that walking down the street or lifting boxes causes aortic rupture? I would say that Marfan's caused the death, and they happened to be walking or lifting at the time.
Hernias caused by cycling #2
I write regarding last week's question about whether or not cycling can cause an inguinal hernia and Scott Saifer's subsequent reply. I ride about 300km per week and suffered an inguinal hernia almost a year ago. At the time, I never really suspected that cycling may have caused it, and the doctors who treated me agreed.
But reading Scott's reply just now, one inconsistency with this line of argument occurs to me. If it is true that cycling cannot cause an inguinal hernia, why are we told to stay off the bike for 4-6 weeks after the surgery? This was following a 'keyhole' repair so there was no surface wound to worry about, but the surgeon said that the action of the hip flexors when cycling would pull on the abdominal muscles and potentially affect the bedding in of the implanted mesh.
If the hip flexors can do this, doesn't it seem plausible that this tugging could have torn the abdominal muscles, causing the hernia in the first place? Come to think of it, in the few weeks between the hernia being diagnosed and having it fixed, I was told to avoid riding uphill. Again, if there's no link, why avoid the cycling?
Perth, Western Australia
Scott Saifer replies:
I think we're having a confusion here over the meaning of "cause". The fellow who wrote in originally was having an argument with his girlfriend. He had a hernia and his girlfriend more or less said, "You idiot, you ride your bike too much, what did you expect?" so he was asking if people who ride bikes should expect to get hernias, and the answer is of course not.
As you know, a hernia is a tear in a muscle. If you pull hard enough on a muscle, it will tear. It doesn't much matter what you are doing at the time. If the pull is hard enough, the muscle will tear.
Cycling, including sprinting or high gear hill climbing, does not cause forces in any muscle large enough to cause hernias in the vast majority of riders. I once did a 70 mile ride including long and steep climbs entirely in a 53x12. If high muscle force causes hernia, I should have needed medical care after that day. The key here is the phrase "vast majority of riders".
Some unlucky individual, apparently including yourself, have either a genetic defect in connective tissue formation or a weak spot in a muscle that brings the threshold force for tearing from above the peak forces found in cycling to below the peak forces found in cycling. In these individuals, cycling can cause hernia, as can any other activity that includes generation of those forces in the vulnerable muscle.
Once the muscle is torn, pulling on it again, even gently can re-tear the injury, preventing or delaying healing. Thus the doctor's advice to not use the affected muscle until healing is complete.
Once one has had a hernia, one should consider the possibility that one is hernia-prone and be aware that activities that general high forces in the affected muscles might well cause additional hernias. People who's hernia's are triggered by cycling are likely to think of cycling as the cause. That's fine. I just have a problem with the idea that cycling causes hernias in the general public.
Firstly, I'd like to thank all of the panel for the excellent service you guys provide. It is without doubt one of the best sources of information relating to cycling available.
A quick question regarding cleat positioning. Maybe I'm missing something in all of the discussions that are ongoing but I haven't yet come across how to accurately measure my cleat position in relation to the pedal axle.
Given that millimetres are all that's involved is there a better way than what I currently do which is to position the ball of foot mark on my shoe the required distance in front of the pedal axle using line of sight and a measuring tape?
Steve Hogg replies:
Have a look at the second paragraph of this post. If you need more info, let me know. In the meantime, if you are in any doubt, more foot over the pedal (cleat further back) will cause less problems than not enough.