Fitness questions and answers for May 22, 2007

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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.

Measurable results with arch cleats
Feasibility of arch cleats
Toe-in/toe-out positioning
Arch cleats - fore/aft adjustment
Arch cleats - disabled cyclists
Arch cleats on Sidi shoes
Arch cleats causing pain
Leg length discrepancy
Arch cleats for a deformed cyclist
Calf soreness
Multiple Sclerosis
Returning from injury

Measurable results with arch cleats

Steve, your discussion on mid sole cleats blows me away. Probably the first thing I learned many many years ago was how to nail on a cleat to get my foot proper over the pedal axel. What I was told was how awful and wasteful it is to ride center foot like I did as a kid. The argument went with the pedal moved under the front area of the foot I could now use my calves for more power. Great!

I have wasted most of my riding life with a bad foot over pedal position. My question for you is I see your mention of torque data, the stick experiment etc and it makes sense. So did the Italian shoemaker that showed me where to put a cleat. What I don't see is measured results on the bike. Riding a bike is a complicated trade to do work. If I were to test a change like this I would ride up my local hill over a period of months. Some days will be fast, some slow but overall when you plot the results you will see your cluster of results shift away from the old ones.

Note, I did not mention a power meter as watching a meter can skew the results as those numbers have an expectation. Just ride it, use a lap meter but don't look at the time until you get to the top. This is a big change and before trying it I would really be interested in anyone that has measured changes.

Kai

Steve Hogg replies:

I have never seen attachments posted on Cyclingnews but I have attached a graph that might get through. They are of an elite rider who has gone to midfoot cleat position. Firstly, the graph is reversed. What is on the left is the right legs' curve and what is on the right is the left legs' curve. The red line is the rider with a cleat position that I have had him in for at least 10 years. The green line is midfoot cleat position after two weeks of riding with that cleat position. Both curves were taken at the same wattage, gear, speed and cadence after a thorough warm up.

Visualise the curves as hills. The red curve has a higher peak, lower valley and narrower base than the green. Translation: red = higher peak pressure on the pedals for less degrees of crank arc. The green curve has lower peak, higher valley and wider base than the red. Translation: green = less peak pressure on the pedals but applied for more degrees of crank arc.

With the customers of mine who have been game enough to try this, this differnence in torque curves between midfoot and forefoot cleat positioning is typical. Some show greater changes, some less. But who cares about curves?

What we all want to is to ride fast. With those who have tried it, anecdotally, at least to date, (and someone should do an authoritative study on this) the green curves (midfoot cleat position) don't equal more power, but rather greater ability to sustain a high power level over time. Basically less fatigue for a given effort.

If you try this, I would be interested to hear how you get on with your local hill.

Feasibility of arch cleats

I am writing in reference to the issue of rearward cleat positioning. My question is; if it is correct that the cleat should be in the midfoot position because it enables the forces put on the pedal to be generated more by the quads than the calves why is it that for riders such as I, who have the cleat over the pedal axle or just behind, when exercising it is the quads that experience failure and never the calves? One would think that if pedalling forces were exposing weaker muscles to load they would fail before the stronger ones.

The body has evolved over time to exert leg force repeatedly for substantial durations through walking and running where the force is, I presume, exerted through the ball of the foot onto the ground. I presume that this real-world interpretation of where the foot should be is an explanation for the majority of advice to be for ball over axle position. I know that cycling is not walking or running but I believe that there is relevance to this comparison.

As far as the empirical evidence is concerned that given by Mr Hogg is hard to dispute, although I have read none of it that is not on the Cyclingnews website given by Mr Hogg. I would like to raise one issue though and that is the issue of experimenter effects. I don't know if any of the studies involving torque and wattage are double blind, or whatever the term is for when the experimenter's expectations are eliminated from the participants' performance and statistical interpretation, but in situations such as these they are extremely relevant to the conclusions being drawn.

Please do not consider that I am raising questions over the credibility of Mr Hogg or Mr Heine as I am not. I have the utmost respect for Mr Hogg and I read his advice written in the Cyclingnews columns avidly. I have never heard of Mr Heine before but he must be pretty good if Mr Hogg likes him! All I am trying to do is raise questions and find answers.

Chris Ratcliffe
Napier, New Zealand

Steve Hogg replies:

Firstly, I didn't say that it is "correct" for the cleat to be in the midfoot position. If you are a track sprinter, or someone who rides a lot of corner filled crits, then it probably isn't correct. What is "correct" only an individual should decide after as much trial and error experimentation as they feel like performing.

As to why your quads fail first; it could be that your seat isn't far enough back, depending on where in the quads you feel the load most. It could be that your seat is too high or too low. It could be a product of your individual make up and how you function on a bike filtered through the position you choose to ride. It could be a lot of things.

Re your presumption about the link between walking running mechanics and riding a bike. I don't accept that. A bare foot, or walking or running shoe is flexible but a cycling shoe sole, through which the force applied by the rider is transferred to the pedals is not. Moreover, the dorsiflexion of the toes that plays its part in tightening the plantar fascia, compacting the joints of the foot and turning it into more or less a rigid beam at the toe off point of the walking/running gait, isn't happening when the foot is in a rigid soled cycling shoe. Unless the rider has a very interesting technique!

I accept that that 'link' is probably the genesis of the advice to position the centre of the 1st MTP over the pedal axle. I don't accept that is good advice.

Re your point about double blind tests and so on. It is a very good point. BUT - I am not experimenting in an academic sense. That is for others who have the time and inclination I only care about one thing which is keeping my customers happy which is how I earn a living. To keep them happy, I have to perform my job well and I endeavour to do that. In an effort to do that, I experiment with willing people to form an opinion of anything that I think of or become aware of that could influence performance I didn't invent this midfoot cleat position thing and anything I have written about it on this forum has been in reply to questions asked of me.

A bit of history. Last year, I think in November, some queried me via this forum about two-time world champ Susan Ljungskog using midfoot cleat position and what did I think of that or a question to that effect. My reply was that I had used it occasionally as a rehabilitative measure for riders recovering from ruptured Achilles tendons, bad plantar fasciitis, chronic calf strains and the like. That I had found it a pain in the proverbial to achieve because of the modification of the shoe necessary and so on. Little experience and only with injured or recovering riders.

Then someone else sent me an email to say that there was German gent named Gotz Heine who was behind the midfoot cleat position. I Googled his name, found his website and sent him a few queries. Next a South African gent contacted me via CN and told me that he had met Gotz Heine. He sent me a torque graph of differing curves between midfoot and forefoot cleat position. I answered him via Cyclingnews but apparently got which curve was which cleat position mixed up. Gotz Heine contacted me after reading my error and corrected me, because an acquaintance of his had mentioned seeing it on Cyclingnews.

We started a dialogue and as I am always interested in new ways to skin the positioning cat, I thought I would play with the idea. I didn't mention anything in the intervening period because while I am sure that my own perceptions, biases or what ever you want to call them come out in my answers to queries; I am doing just that, replying to queries rather than trying to set an agenda or decide what is 'right' or 'wrong'. So some months went by and then a Swedish gent named Jens Westergren who queries the forum from time to time, asked me a query about midfoot cleat position, probably because Susan Ljungskog is well known in Sweden. Anything else you have read on Cyclingnews flows from that.

So while I am sensitive to your need for hard info, not bias or misinformation, all I can state is this. In my experience to date, midfoot cleat position offers a benefit for sustained high intensity efforts if the rider is prepared to pay the price. The price is modified or new shoes; a large degree of toe overlap with the consequent issues that can arise in low speed (walking pace) riding; losing the edge of their jump in a sprint; finding potentially that once (if) they convince themselves that they want to persevere with a new cleat position, then they may now have a frame that doesn't fit them very well anymore. I have made my decision and am comfortable with it. Others can only decide for themselves.

So you know I am not the only person playing around with this and finding improvements; have a look at this article and also this one. If you click on the underlined 'comments' on the bottom right of the page, you will find opinions both fore and against.

Toe-in/toe-out positioning

I was hoping Steve Hogg could address an additional question regarding cleat position. I have always had my cleats as far back as possible and felt secure in this position with your recent posts regarding cleat position.

I recently switched from old Look pedals to Time RXS, looking for a lower pedal-spindle distance and found that the modest toe-out position on the Look pedals did not work on the Time RXS. I now had to move to a more straight ahead position (this is all based on comfort, both during and post-ride).

Is there a good guide for toe-in/toe-out positioning (I see the pros all over the spectrum)? Additionally, I have real difficulty accurately measuring/identifying the center of the 1st metatarsophalangeal joint once the shoe is on - any advice for this?

Ken

Steve Hogg replies:

As far as toe in or out when the foot is on the pedal; ideally we need a bit of movement either side of where our feet want to naturally sit on the pedal when under heavy load. I say heavy load because some riders foot angle on the pedal can change noticeably when they have to fight a bit.

As for how to find the centre of the 1st MTP, this link should help.

Arch cleats - fore/aft adjustment

I've been reading with interest the articles and Q&A about the arch cleat position.
I understand why the saddle would need to be lowered, since the leg is effectively being shortened.

My question is; where should the knee be positioned relative to the pedal axle? I would assume that would be the basis for any fore/aft adjustment of the saddle?

I recently had a WobbleNaught fit done, and they moved my cleats and my saddle aft. I have better power, both perceived and measurable (using a Powertap).

I am a Cat 1 on both the road and track. I have a great sprint (20+watts/kilo) but am lacking in power over longer intervals, such as pursuits and breakaways. So the increased endurance power is certainly of interest to me.

I ride Speedplays, which are, on my S-Works road shoes, size 41, located 19 cm from the front of the shoe (measured to the little line in the middle of the cleat), and on my Diadoro Pro Racers (used for track) 18.75cm aft.

Thanks for your input, and for the informative and fascinating articles.

Big Tex

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Big Tex,

Love the name! Re the knee - I don't know. What I have done to date is experiment with willing customers all of whom I have positioned in the past. Generally speaking I would say that the tibial tubercle is behind the pedal axle but I haven't measured for this. All we have done to date is achieve a midfoot cleat position and drop the seat and bars accordingly. I didn't fiddle with fore and aft of the seat (other than the seat moves forward as it is dropped) as I was trying to minimise variables.

Re your sprint. If you are a super sprinter, this may not be for you. I have found my jump is diminished slightly but I have more left at the end of a sprint and can go flat out for longer. That seems fairly common, though I know one or two riders who tell me that there sprint has improved overall. So there you have it, individual differences like everything else in cycling.

If you are going to try the midfoot cleat position, just drop your seat and bars. A couple of things. Most people find that the seat height that they can perform best with midfoot feels 'low' compared to previous experience. Additionally, increased hamstring enlistment may mean that you can't drop your bars quite as much as your seat.

Arch cleats - disabled cyclists

I wonder if the best sort of advice would be someone who works with disabled cyclists, since they generally place the artificial limb directly over the pedal axis. This type of placement seems to benefit those who for some reason cannot apply their calf muscles.

Tim

Steve Hogg replies:

I have had a bit of experience with disabled cyclists with prosthetic legs and they fall into two camps. The riders who use a peg style prosthetic that clips into a socket style pedal and ones who use a curved carbon 'foot' to which a conventional cleat is attached.

With the second type, I have found in the past that the carbon foot should be fairly short to allow the rider best control. If anyone out there has any other advice, they are welcome to contribute.

Arch cleats on Sidi shoes

I have just purchased Sidi 5.5 carbon soled shoes that have two screws at midfoot. With a rear facing adapter plate, some shims and minor mods to my Speedplay adapter I could set up an arch oriented cleat without having to purchase Biomac shoes.

This wouldn't modify the shoe at all and would put the cleat in the sweet spot. Reasonable solution or not?

Paul McCloskey
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Steve Hogg replies:

Give it a try and find out. I'm sure that other Sidi users would be interested in your experience.

Arch cleats causing pain

I have read your ongoing discussion of cleat position, including the latest on arch cleats. My problem is that after trying it all, my feet still hurt!

I am a cyclist turned triathlete with good fitness and flexibility (at least I stretch three times per week). Until two years ago my feet where fine, but then I started with triathlons. Running is good for my fitness, but gave me a minor morton's neuroma and sesamoid bone pain. Orthotics fixed both problems on the run.

On the bike I get a painful, sometimes burning sensation in the midfoot/mtp region with longer, harder rides. I have tried using my orthotics for cycling, new shoes (Specialized carbons are better, but still not ok), new pedals (Time seems better than Speedplay), moving the cleat back and back again until my mtp is at least 10 mm ahead of the spindle, and wedges.

What else can I do? I'm tempted to move the cleats forward again and start all over!

Brian

Steve Hogg replies:

Firstly, a small correction. You say that "I have read your ongoing discussion of cleat position, including the latest on arch cleats. My problem is that after trying it all, my feet still hurt ... until my mtp is at least 10 mm ahead of the spindle, and wedges."

I am not suggesting midfoot cleat position would solve your problems, though it may well do as the forefoot is relieved of the need to transmit force to the pedal. You haven't tried midfoot and so "haven't tried it all", though your introduction implies that.

As you seem to have gone as far as you can with self help, why don't you enlist some professional help? Your foot problem may not be a foot problem for instance. It may be a lower back problem with some nerve impingement.

Do you consume a lot of dairy foods?

I would be looking at having an expert assess you in a whole of body sense. If you have tried well prescribed orthoses, wedges and moving your cleat for and aft for no improvement, then you either have a shoe fitting problem or an issue elsewhere in the body that affects your feet or perhaps the experimenting you have done to date hasn't quite nailed a solution.

Leg length discrepancy

For the last year or two, I have enjoyed reading your responses to questions asked and consequently have benefited greatly getting my bike fit dialed in. I want to thank you for freely posting these responses.

Over the last 3 years, I've become more keyed in on with my bike position and have noticed that my right leg has generally lacked the same perceived power output as my left leg. It feels like from the 7-12 o'clock position, the leg is there "just for the ride" and not contributing much if any to pushing the bike along. In addition my right foot seems to bare more weight on the outside of my foot through most portions of the down stroke (12-6 o'clock) which makes the pedal stroke feel unnatural: left foot and stroke feels fine.

Last week I got my bike setup evaluated and found out that I sit square on the saddle however my right leg is 12 mm shorter than the left and my right knee leans in towards the top tube on the upstroke. I also found that the resulting leg angle at the 6 o'clock position is 35 degrees for the left leg and 28 for the right.

So how should I try to work around these issues? I would think that I need to build up a couple of shims (one needs to be canted to counter the right knee lean in) with an aggregate total of 12 mm and maybe with time introduce 3-4 mm at a time to allow my body to adjust.

I also understand that you recommend for every 5 mm of shim that I should move the cleat back from the pedal spindle 1 mm. By making the appropriate height adjustments to compensate for the length discrepancy and with a little coaxing of the right side legs muscles, do you think I can eventually expect nearly equal power production from both legs?

Steve
USA

Eddie Monnier replies:

It would be helpful to know how much of the 12mm functional difference is due to a shorter femur and how much is due to a shorter tibia. The reason this is important is we correct a greater portion of the difference attributed to tibia difference (about half) than when attributed to femur differences (about 25-33%) because of the difference in angle relative to the pedal stroke. Notice the correction is never, in my experience, 100%. In you situation, your stack would be at most about 6 mm (presuming the difference was all due to a shorter tibia) and at least about 3-4 mm (if all femur related).

I would start with a 4 mm stack and see how that works.

Arch cleats for a deformed cyclist

As a comment, it is hard to see this mid-foot cleat idea taking-off until a pro rider uses it with success and then a (well-known) shoemaker brings out a shoe that will fit this with a 3 bolt system that fits most folks' existing pedals etc. But if this happens and what you say is correct then this could be a huge change to shoes, pedals, frames, cycling etc etc...

By the way - do any top pros that you are aware of use this position?

I am an age group (37 years old) rider from New Zealand. I was born with a deformity called "club feet" (both feet) and as a result of this (and various surgeries) I have:

1. A number of small joints missing from my ankles.
2. (as a result of the above) quite short feet relative to my 5 ft 9 height (but wide feet too so I wear a size 41 shoes).
3. Poor ankle flexibility.
4. Weak Achilles tendons.
5. Small and weak calf muscles.
6. My left foot is a size shorter than the other (but I use a matching pair as shops won't split sizes). I have the ball of each foot over the centre of each pedal axle - so my cleats are about 5mm further back on my left shoe.

Despite all of these deformities I can still ride a bike ok. I time trial quite well relative to my road riding (I do a 21'06 on a 10 mile flat course TT) but I'm not too bad at road racing and climb ok. I'm no sprinter - I suspect my weak ankles don't transfer power too well in sprints.

I ride 8-10 hours a week with 3 mid-week wind trainer sessions of an hour each and the rest on the road on the weekends. I race most weekend and am coached by a top former rider who also does my bike set-ups. He uses the traditional cleat placement.

My questions are:

1. From reading the previous discussion do you think a "ball of foot forward of pedal axle" set up (leaving aside how far forward for the moment) would suit a guy like me (with weak calf/Achilles tendons and poor ankle flexibly). If I have understood your comments correctly it might help me due to taking the emphasis off my weak body parts?

2. You have been asked the next question previously but I haven't fully grasped the answer yet. I use the latest Time RSX pedals with the latest Carnac shoes. I have three bikes all with new pedals and two pairs of new shoes. I have a brand new Trek Madone 6.5 SSL with not a lot of seat post height showing as it is. Even if I my cleats/shoes would allow it, to lower my seat by 2-3cm (as might be required for a full mid-shoe cleat position) would look terrible (like a kid with a bike too big for him waiting to grown into it). You will appreciate that I (and others) will take some persuasion/time to abandon all of these to attain a full mid-foot cleat position. I currently use the traditional ball of foot directly over pedal axle position. I have a maximum of 5 mm that I could slide the cleats further back on one shoe and 1 cm on the other. This would give me a ball of foot 5 mm in front of centre of pedal axle position (assuming I tried to keep each ball of foot an even amount forward from the pedal axle).

You have stated that this type of position is not the same as (ie: not a substitute for) the mid-foot position (and clearly this is so) but my question is more: is getting the cleats back as far as one can (within the limits of the shoes and cleats one has) at least better than persisting with a traditional ball of foot over pedal axle approach - even if it is not the same as (or a substitute for) the mid-foot position you are now recommending? If ball of foot over pedal axle (traditional position) works ok, and until recently you have recommended a semi-forward position and now a very forward (mid-foot) position, presumably it follows that anything between the traditional position and the full mid-foot cleat position is still better than the traditional position? Some people (whether due to current shoes, bikes or traditionalism) may find it easier to "slide" their cleats slowly back to the mid-foot position (ie: as their shoes wear out or they change their bikes) than to go from one extreme to the other.

I know that ball of foot 5mm forward of pedal axle (as I could achieve with my current shoes) falls way short of even your previous theory of "modified forefoot cleat" positioning (I think you said you were previously 15-20mm in front). But presumably this is just a question of degree and you would take the view that there is a slight improvement for each millimetre the ball of your foot goes forward of the centre of the pedal axle (until the full TMT position is reached)? Or would you say that if I can only go back 5mm not to bother changing my position at all?

3. If you do recommend that (for starters and as a compromise) I try to slide my cleats back as far as they will go, if I slide my cleats back 5 mm - how much do you think I would need to drop my saddle height to compensate for this? Is there a formula one can follow as a rough guide (eg seat down 1mm down for every 5 mm cleats go back)?

4. Slightly unrelated question, but with my different length feet should I try to keep the ball of each foot over (in the case of the traditional position) or the same distance in front of, the pedal axle (as I have been doing) or should I just slide both cleats back as far as they will go and not worry that one foot is 5mm further in front of the pedal axle than the other?

I suppose it is a matter of whether you want to have the same "feeling" on each foot relative to the pedal axle and let your hips take up the slack of the different foot lengths, or keep your hips level and let your feet soak up the different foot lengths. I haven't experienced problems to date with my current method but have always wondered if I was taking the right approach.

Richard

Steve Hogg replies:

Re top pros - yes, two that I am aware of but am sworn to secrecy. I'm not being coy, but have promised people involved with them that I won't name names. Sooner or later, a photo journo will notice and then you'll know.

Re your question 1. Yes, absolutely. The shortening of the effective lever length of the foot reduces strain on the entire lower limb.

Re question 2; is something better than nothing regarding rearward cleat position?
Even if you move your cleat as far back as it allows, and you say this will position the centre of the 1st MTP 5 mm in front of pedal axle centre, you are not nearly as far back as I would normally recommend, midfoot cleat position aside. So give it a try and decide for yourself.

Re 3; how far to drop the seat with a 5mm rearward cleat movement. Somewhere between zero and a couple of mm is likely but I have seen instances where riders who were at the heel dropping end of the pedaling technique spectrum until the moved their cleats back and have ended up with a more moderate technique and had to raise their seat! Though this isn't common, it's not rare either.

The best advice I have is to move your cleats back as far as you can achieve and then do some repeats up a moderate hill at reasonable load while forcing the gear a bit. Your best seat height is the one where you can reach through the bottom of the stroke fluently on both sides, whatever the relative cleat position.

Re 4; sight unseen, my advice would be to give yourself the same relative foot position over the pedal and use a small shim if necessary if one side requires it to reach the bottom of the stroke fluently. Just be aware that the majority of riders favour one side and if the seat is a touch too high, this manifests as a noticeable hip drop on the favoured side. For many (not all) a lower seat height will give a more symmetrical technique.

Calf soreness

My calf muscles, at the top of the leg are getting tighter and tighter from cycling, and my lower leg muscles in general (i.e. the front of the shin) are also tight and hamstrings are sore.

This is starting to effect my running. I often feel like they never get a rest on the bike. Is there something in my setup? I have been working on glut engagement on the bike and hill work, would this be a factor?

Jacqui Hickey

Steve Hogg replies:

From what you say, it is very likely that your cleats are too far forward on your shoes and/or your seat is too high. Have a look at this post and also this one.

Adjust your cleats accordingly and then lower your seat incrementally until the upper calf soreness and hamstring soreness diminishes. If you get into any trouble, just yell.

Multiple Sclerosis

I was wondering if you had any information about cyclists with multiple sclerosis? I was recently diagnosed and I miss my bike rides.

I use to do a lot of commuting, also weekend cross country rides and occasional mucking around with downhill. I was having a lot of fun! For years I have had problems with numbness, depression, blurry vision . . .then I noticed my balance going on my bike. But I am not all the time like this!

My GP and neurologist suggest my dreams of competing in MTB events are probably not wise. Are there any "good" riders out there that have MS?

Donna

Eddie Monnier replies:

I actually run NOW-MS Society, an U23 Elite team and club (www.teamvrc.com) that rides and races to raise money and create awareness about MS. I started the club with several friends and we wanted to have a charitable cause at the forefront. We chose MS after discovering that several of us have family members with MS. I am not a doctor, but am more familiar with the MS than your average bear.

You did not specify which type of MS your initial diagnosis specified (e.g., relapsing-remitting or one of the progressive forms). In any case, both aerobic and resistance exercise has been shown to help improve mobility in those with MS. I can tell you that my uncle, who has MS, improved his condition considerably when he finally began a committed exercise program (he swims and does light weights).

It's important that you pursue an exercise program tailored to your specific condition and needs. While you're having balance issues, you may need to explore a three-wheel bike instead of a two-wheeled version. While I do not know any pro cyclists with MS, I did meet a category 2 racer and triathlete with MS. In fact, you might find his quote below helpful:

"I was in the 2's field today also and, although my team doesn't promote the National MS Society, or know much of anything about it, I do. I live, work, parent, race my bike and Tri's with MS. In between relapses, I use my old friend the bicycle to build strength to lessen the effects of future attacks, or at least I think I do. Obviously, I have been lucky so far with my course of MS. Needless to say, I was stoked to see your crew there promoting the society, helping raise awareness and WIN. Good job!"

I suggest you search the National MS Society web site (www.nmss.org), get involved with an MS organization in Australia (e.g. The MS Society of Australia, www.msaustralia.org.au), and talk to your neurological specialist because the appropriate type and intensity of exercise will vary depending on the state of your symptoms. Also, as you probably already know, high heat or humidity can worsen some of your symptoms, so you'll need to factor that in as well.

Returning from injury

I'm a 34 year-old Cat 3 who typically trains about 16-20 hours per week. About 10 days ago, I was hit by a car and left with a partially separated shoulder (type 1-2) and bruised ribs in my lower back. I took several days completely off the bike before starting some easy indoor training.

I have since moved to some outside rides up to 2 hours in duration. I experience pain in my shoulder and ribs during these outdoor rides which I have ameliorated a bit by wrapping an Ace bandage around my shoulder and torso to minimize vibration. I also stop frequently to stretch my back which gets extremely tight. I also stretch extensively afterwards.

My question is whether I'm doing any additional damage by riding while still in pain from these injuries. Either way, can you recommend some exercises/activities/strategies to help in the recovery process? Frankly, I'm going crazy not being able to ride.

Steve
California

Carrie Cheadle replies:

This is a great question. You're already moving in the right direction by getting as much information as possible. Talk to your doc and coach about how much training is OK to do. Any stress you are putting on your system is going to have an impact on your ability to recover from injury. The last thing you want to do is prolong your healing time by jumping back in too soon. Find out what you can do on the bike and what kind of cross training you can do that will help maintain some level of fitness, but not take away from your recovery. By figuring out all of the things you CAN do - you will feel like you have some control over your fitness and your recovery.

It's important to make sure that you are physically and mentally ready to get back into training and racing. It sounds like your motivation and confidence are in a good place as far as getting back on the bike. With some athletes, there can be a honeymoon period where there is no doubt or anxiety as they get back into it. They feel confident about getting back on the bike - no big deal; feel optimistic about their recovery and then boom, it's hits them seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes it's the realization that they won't be achieving the goals they set out for the season, or they aren't recovering as quickly as they'd like.

Or it can be triggered by something as you are riding that gets that fear bug inside of you - you hit a bump and your bike gets kicked out from under you, a car gets a little too close, etc. When your fight-or-flight response gets triggered it can start the conversation of doubts in your head that you weren't experiencing during the honeymoon phase. (Hopefully, this won't be an issue for you. If it does come up, write back again and I'll give you some tips on how to deal with it.)

You have to think big picture. If the goal is to be racing at a high level for 5 or 10 more years, what is the most important thing for you to do right now in order to realize that goal? You might have to override the immediate reward of getting back on the bike with the big picture guiding your decisions instead. By pushing yourself too fast too soon - the recovery that was supposed to take 6 weeks is now taking 4 months. If you are cleared and ready to go - awesome. If not, be patient with your recovery, both physically and psychologically. Dealing with setbacks is part of the process. This time will soon be a memory and you'll be back before you know it.

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