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.
I read your post last week about the cleat under the foot arch and it was very interesting. I've heard Mr Heine and his cleat positioning and have been tempted to give it a try on several occasions. Shortly after reading your article I googled 'Arch Cleats' to see how far one should try and move the cleat back. In that quest I found Joe Friel's blog where he praises the arch cleat position. In Joe's blog Mr Heine commented on purchasing adapter plates and/or just moving the cleat back as far as you can. Here is what he said:
"I do not advise to move the cleats back by 13 mm from the metatarsal/traditional position as in fact this arrangement may result in disturbances of the muscle chain. What I do promote is to build a shoe where you position your cleat under the tarsometatarsal joint, the midfoot, as this is the only position where the body automatically takes full advantage of the huge power of quads and hamstrings, therefore pedal way more efficiently." -GH
I understand why Mr Heine would suggest cleat under the tarsometatarsal joint is necessary to take full advantage of the position, but I am confused by why Mr Heine would suggest the cleat positioned somewhere between the 1st metatarsal and the tarsometatarsal joint (TMT) is bad for the kinetic chain. I understand that you are inexperienced with arch/cleat position, but since you have spoken with Mr Heine I was wondering if you might have insight into his thinking and how the kinetic chain becomes disturbed?
Also since you are in possession of a pair of biomac shoes I was wonder if you could share with us (Cyclingnews readers that is) approximately where the cleat is located? On my foot the mid-point is further forward than the TMT joint, so is the cleat positioned under the TMT joint or closer to midfoot? Approximately, how far behind your first metatarsal is the cleat?
When I palpate my TMT it is almost 8cm behind the head of the 1st metatarsal and is 5.5cm at midfoot. The 2.5 cm back that my cleat (I'm sure most people's cleats only go back 1cm) can move is a long way off from the TMT joint or even midfoot. If this is the case, this seems like important info since so many Cyclingnews readers seems intent on trying this cleat position and especially since Mr Heine is suggesting that getting it wrong may be detrimental.
East Lansing, MI, USA
Steve Hogg replies:
Regarding the advice that you quote from Gotz Heine; and having met and spoken with the bloke at some length; here is what I think has happened. As background, and correct me if I am wrong, what you quote Gotz Heine as saying was in response to someone suggesting that they use the Speedplay part no. 13330 to move their cleats back the extra 13 or so mm which that alternative adaptor plate allows.
In my dealings with GH, two things have stood out. One is that English is not his first language, and while his English is very good, we did find we had some small misunderstandings over shades of meaning. The second is that he is cautious about recommending something that he doesn't have experience with and doesn't have data to back up. The man is an addict of data and scientific method, not of subjective opinions, feelings or experiences.
GH has more torque analysis data on more riders with regard to cleat position than anyone I have met or heard of. In short, he has experience with two kinds of cleat position - centre of the ball of the foot (1st MTP) over the centre of the pedal axle because that has been what he has used as a reference point for his torque analysis experiments over the last 10 years, AND tarsometatarsal joint (TMT, arch, midfoot or whatever you want to call it but properly and accurately Tarsometatarsal joint) over the pedal axle centre.
He has little experience with the kind of modified rear of forefoot position (centre of 1st MTP in front of the pedal axle centre) that using that Speedplay adaptor plate will allow for Speedplay users. What I am almost certain he meant in the caution you quote is more or less "I have no experience with this so be careful"
I do have a lot of experience with modified forefoot cleat positioning and have propounded that to any number of people on this site over the past few years. Properly implemented it will benefit the performance and lessen the tendency to injury of the great majority of riders who habitually have the centre of the 1st MTP over the centre of the pedal axle.
I think some explanation is necessary. The foot is a lever, but on a bike it is an inefficient lever because the fulcrum is way back at the ankle. That means that the longer the lever length, the harder the lower limb has to work to allow force to be exerted by that lever. As the lever length is shortened, the work done by the lower limb is lessened because lever length is lessened.
If you want a practical example of how force is more easily transmitted via short lever with a rearward fulcrum, grab a broom handle or 4 foot carpenters level and put the furthest end of it against a heavy object and try and move the object sideways. That is analogous to ball of the foot over the pedal axle.
Now take a small step towards the heavy object so that some of the lever protrudes beyond it. You will find that you will move the heavy object more easily. That is analogous to modified rear of forefoot cleat positioning. Now take a larger step towards the heavy object and try again with the now much shortened lever and you will move the object with ease. That is analogous to TMT joint over the pedal axle.
What I have found to date is this: modified rear of forefoot cleat position is much better than the usual ball of foot over pedal axle recommendations which to my mind have never made any sense or had any credibility BUT moving your cleat as far back on a normal shoe to achieve modified rear of forefoot position is no substitute for TMT joint over pedal axle positioning. It is just better than 1st MTP positioning.
Here is why:
With TMT cleat positioning there is less vascular compression as the calves do far less work.
From my limited but growing torque analysis experience it is clear that less peak muscular contraction (lower torque graph peak) is needed to produce a given wattage. Translation - perform longer at the same speed.
1. That torque is applied to the pedals for more degrees of crank arc (higher torque graph trough)
2. That ability to pedal at high rpm improves.
3. That ability to push a large gear in a sprint improves.
4. That ability to stay off the seat up hills without blowing up improves.
5. That recovery improves.
I know this sounds too good to be true so to offer a balanced appraisal, there are negatives. They are:
1. Lessened ability to jump in a sprint. But in my case at least this is made up for by improved ability to ride a bigger gear faster once up to speed.
2. The need to relearn your approach to low speed riding and track stands because of substantial toe overlap.
3. Inability to achieve TMT joint cleat position on most shoes without substantial modification that is beyond the skills of many people.
4. Some combinations of frame and rider can mean that they may not be able to lower their bars enough to match the substantial drop in seat height required.
I have just re read this and am digressing terribly. Sorry, but I am as keen as anyone could be who after riding bikes for 30+ years, has found that the price of improved performance is buying a new pair of shoes.
To address your other query: How far back is my cleat now?
The centre of my 1st MTP is 63 mm in front of the centre of the pedal axle. I normally take a size 44 or 45 shoe depending on brand. Moving a cleat so that it is 10, 15, or 20 mm further back than 'conventional' is not a substitute.
Following your latest Fitness Q&A article about the very special cleat position those Swiss-made Biomac shoes can offer, I'd like to post a question:
Do you recommend using the arch cleat position on one bike (e.g. the road bike) while leaving others (MTB etc.) unchanged?
Having a large stable filled with a wide variety of bikes - from road racing rigs over dual-suspension machines to classic rigid mountain bikes, this could be a problem for me ...
I could visit Biomac at the end of this month, working as a bike guide in that region, and would like to test ride their shoes and position.
Greetings from Germany,
Steve Hogg replies:
I would use the same cleat position on both bikes. It is such an advantage under most circumstances that it is hard to ignore.
At this stage, the Biomac shoes can only be used with a 2 bolt (SPD compatible or similar) cleat in the arch position. Biomac make MTB shoes which are basically the same as their road shoe but with a treaded sole. If you got a pair of the Biomac MTB shoes, you could use them on both bikes.
Seeing as you are from Germany, I would suggest that you contact Gotz Heine via www.biomac.biz
I recently bought some new cleats and pedals (look Keo) and got the bike shop to fix the cleats for me. As this was being done the fitter told me that a lot of guys who race have the cleats fixed towards the heel of the shoe. This seemed a bit counter intuitive but I did not argue.
I have since noticed that if I ride with out cleats I almost ride on my toes. Hence I have started to move the cleats forward. (I suspect that this is better)
This begs the question - is there a "proper" place to position the cleats and is there greater mechanical advantage in having them towards the toes?
Steve Hogg replies:
The foot is a lever but an inefficient one. The fulcrum is the ankle which is closer to the rear of the foot than the toes. That means that you can position the cleats wherever you choose but the closer to the toes that they are, the harder your lower limb will have to work to allow you to ride like this.
Get a broom handle, place the tip against a friends' shoulder and try and move him sideways. Now shorten the lever progressively by stepping closer to your friend and try and move him sideways each time. I'm sure that you can understand the analogy.
I'm at a loss on how to determine which day of the week to rest (stay off) the bike.
I'm 53 and ride between 200 and 300 miles a week. My hard days are either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Thursday with weekends reserved for tough club rides or racing.
My work requires that I travel and when I do travel I spend a minimum of two excruciatingly boring hours on the stationary bikes at the hotel gym. Lately I'm feeling very drained with only a day or two a month in which I feel good on the bike.
Usually I do some type of ride every day. It is very difficult for me to not train every day.
Dave Palese replies:
Pick one of your weekend rides that is most important to you from a performance point of view. This day is like your 'race day'. Two days before that is a good day to take completely off the bike, or ride very, very, very easy and short. The day before your race day, do an opener to get the pipes open and ready to perform.
I've been riding for three years and am finally feeling that I can hang with more experienced riders on flats (can hold 23-24mph solo for an hour plus). Trouble is that I struggle on climbs (especially short ones) with the same guys I can beat on a flat.
I'm 25 yrs old, ride twice a week for 3-4 hours and am on the trainer during the week 3-4 times for 30-45 minutes each night. I'm 6'0" and 163lbs.
Other than a few extra pounds, I think the culprit may be cadence (I'm most comfortable pushing a big gear at 70-75revs), but am wondering what tips you might have to train towards better climbing speed?
Dave Palese replies:
If your weakness is short, hard hills, then incorporate a workout once a week where you do short hard hill repeats. I know this sounds simple, but it's true. During the General Preparation period, and if we were working together we would go a bit deeper into ways to improve this aspect of your racing, but in the short term you will see improvement with some focused training.
Find a hill that is similar to the hills that give you trouble. Usually hills that are 1-2 minutes in length are good. Come into the base of the climb with some speed, and then hit it hard and fast. Don't go so hard that you fade towards then end, but ride aggressive and controlled.
Choose a gear that does not bog you down. Usually when pedaling aggressively, a cadence between 80 and 90 rpm seems to work well. Anything slower usually results in a gear that requires excessive force to get the pedals around, and leads to a limiting amount of fatigue. Drive hard all the way to top. Start with a repeat length that you can complete without fading at the end.
Start with four repeats in a session with rest between being five minutes. Over the course of 4-6 weeks work on increasing the length of the repeats until you are doing them at a length equal to those in your events. Then add more repeats.
Never add quantity over quality. If you can't complete the workout with all the repeats being of high quality, then don't lengthen or add repeats. If your events have hills in quick succession, you can also reduce the rest between the repeats to make the workout more specific.
These are the types of efforts that win races, or at least keep you on the right side of the splits.
What is your experience with bicycling and reducing damage to an L4-L5 herniated disc? I'm an avid cyclist and I race mountain bikes and road bikes, road more lately. I've been having yearly injuries which are continuous set backs and it appears much of which is due to an arthritic disc that is herniated L4-L5.
I'm 36 yrs old, male, 6 ft 170lb and was riding 200 miles per week. I used to have minor sciatic pain seven years ago down my right leg and that went away after a couple of months of rest in the winter. It's fairly cold here in the winters of Rochester, NY so I used to run during the winter (much warmer than biking outside) to keep my cardio fitness up, that is until getting Achilles tendonitis in my right leg two years in a row, so I stopped running for more than a year and got some very warm gear and biked the last winter.
I also believe this tendonitis was at least partially due to the sciatic nerve issue causing my legs to be extremely tight, with next to no relief from stretching and/or massage. I injured my back bending over and lifting too much 20 months ago and have since re-injured it three more times, once swinging the heavy bat in a cricket game, once pulling a wheelie on my mountain bike and the last time snowboarding - the actual severe pain from which did not come to fruition until riding my bike a few days later and simply reaching up to itch my head after doing some sprints. This last time was also by far the most painful and it took until this injury to get an MRI.
I was hoping I would recover, but most of the pain has left my back and is only in my left sciatic and it's very uncomfortable standing and somewhat sitting, but not at all leaned over on a bicycle. I got to look at the MRI recently and it was very easy to see the arthritic disc (black) and the herniation protruding into the nerve root on my left side that is causing me pain.
I've been going to physical therapy and the therapist has determined my core is very strong already, although my hamstring flexibility is poor, which by the way I was working on daily before my last injury. He also has given me stretches to do which involve bending backwards, while laying on the floor and standing up.
The theory is that this will push the disc to the front of my body and away from the nerve roots in the back - exactly the opposite of leaning over on a race bike. I just got a steroid shot to the disc at the nerve root and I hope that reduces the swelling and helps it heal - it's been one day, with about 50% improvement so far.
I stopped riding a week ago to try and give this a chance to heal even though it's killing me not to ride and watch everyone get faster as I loose fitness, but both the therapist and one of the doctors advised not riding at least for a while. I know that if I can keep my hips rotated forward during riding it will keep my back more straight, but I find this very difficult.
For one I get to tired trying to hold that pose, and secondly my groin goes numb even with the best seat I've found so far - specialized taupe. My body is already configured with an extreme forward tilt pelvis and tilting it more forward is very uncomfortable on the bike - so much that I'm numb within five miles when doing a time trial, so I don't do those anymore.
Please help. I'm dying to race, but if I do, is surgery going to be inevitable sooner than later?
Dave Fleckenstein replies:
Your case is one that we encounter frequently and is as equally frustrating for your providers as yourself. By continually trying to enter back to activity before the injury has healed, you are creating a more significant injury and lessening your chance of a conservative (non-surgical) resolution.
Cycling is an addictive sport. It may take a 12-step program, medication, and psychoanalysis (or maybe just more pain!) to be able to take time off to allow true healing, but in the long run you will get back to full training and racing much sooner.
What you are doing right now is what I classify as "scab picking" - constantly irritating what would heal in half the time if you would give it the right environment. The problem is that the timeframe that our body needs to heal (which can take up to a year with this type of injury) is not convenient for us.
You describe that when you bend forward on the bike you have less pain, and this is definitely NOT a good reason to be on the bike. This is the paradox of inflammatory disc herniations. There is significant swelling around the torn annular fibers and this swelling occupies the opening of the nerve root (neural foramen). By bending forward, the diameter of the neural foramen is increased, thus decreasing your pain.
The catch-22 is that the fibers of the disc tear and break down in response to prolonged flexion, so while it feels better in the short term, the injury is ultimately made worse. The theory that bending backwards will move the disc is questionable at best. I think that those manoeuvres are effective because they decrease stress across injured posterior annular fibers - in effect they de-tension distended fibers of the disc.
I would question whether your core strength is as strong as your therapist states, particularly on the bike. Research shows time and again that with disc injury there is significant inhibition of the deep stabilizing musculature (such as multifidus and transverse abs).
I have clients who can demonstrate good strength clinically until they are placed on the bike. The typical scenario is that they have tight hamstrings and an aggressive bike position which does not allow their pelvis to flex forward naturally - instead they are forced into excessive lumbar flexion (see my previous post) and this creates functional instability in the lumbar spine.
Sometimes, as may be your case, cyclists respond with an excessive forward tilt, but this does not create a neutral stable spine either.
My general rules for disc herniations are:
1. Limit your time sitting to no longer than 10 minutes consecutively as sitting exerts significant pressure on the disc.
2. Limit forward bending as much as possible.
3. Regain normal mobility in your lumbopelvic musculature (see my flexibility posts here and here) and in your case, have your stabilization musculature thoroughly assessed on and off the bike.
Finally, there are times when surgery is the best option, but should only be pursued once you have addressed all other mechanical components. To have surgery but not change why the breakdown occurred to start only invites the injury to recur.
I read Steve Hogg's long (thanks Steve!) reply re Biomac and mid-food cleat position on Cyclingnews and with great interest! Is this the next big revolution in pro-cycling ranks?
I can not see how even a 2-3% increase in performance is something ProTour riders will forgo. The sprinters might not like it (jump speed loss?) where position and acceleration is critical when you jump in final 200 metres. But otherwise, it looks like a sure winner to me, perhaps for TT/triathlon riders at first before the peloton catches on.
The huge toe overlap is a worry (is it perhaps just mental hang-up only?) but even with much slacker HTA (69-70 degrees) I think this big toe overlap is a permanent reality. Commuters won't like it. High price? Once other cycling-shoe-makers catch on, the shoe price will surely drop dramatically. All new-tech first comes at huge price.
Anyhow, my questions:
Based on your last 5 weeks midfoot-cleat riding findings would you now be as precise with your cleat placement recommendations or just simply suggest that people slide their cleats as far back as their pedals/shoes allow, instead of saying for size 45 you need 10mm back and size 43 you need 9mm etc?
It is not much easier to slide them all the way back, instead of (in)correctly measuring the centre of ball of foot relation to pedal axle, as I have tried once or twice. Example: I have size 45 Shimano R151 shoes, I simply moved my SPD-SL Ultegra pedal cleats all the way back and it feels pretty good (good enough?).
I would like to read more about positives and negatives of midfoot cleat setup. This set-up can be a can of re-positioning worms, as I see it. Just lowering your saddle say 30mm means big changes to front end - i.e. remove all the spacers and even get -17 degree down facing stem just to maintain acceptable saddle to bar the drop? And what about those who only have 10-20mm of spacers now? Get a smaller frame with shorter head tube and longer stem?
And the saddle fore/aft position is affected by 30mm saddle drop ( 10mm further back, possible needs new seat post), as well as reach, balance, etc. In my case my FSA K-Force Carbon Lite seat post won't even go 30mm further into my seat tube due to its shape (slightly thicker tube on the top section). In summary, I guess my question is more about positioning, frame and component traps due to midfoot cleat.
Steve Hogg replies:
Good questions and I will attempt to answer them. The cleat recommendations that I have given on Cyclingnews have always been with the qualifier that if I saw a particular rider, I may depart from them for various reasons and often do.
I'm not suggesting that people move their cleats back as far as they will go. Assuming reasonably normal foot proportions, on most production shoes, the rider would still have his cleats 40-50 mm forward of the centre of the TMT joints even if they had moved their cleats all the way back. It might well benefit them, it might not, but shoving the cleats all the way back shouldn't be confused with mid foot cleat position.
Probably a bit of history is necessary. I came up with my previous view of cleat position based on an enormous amount of trial and error on thousands of riders over a 10-year period. Those recommendations for most people will give them the best compromise between on the seat foot on pedal stability and ability to apply force to the pedals, and off the seat ability to jump hard in a sprint. Go back further again and ability to transmit force to pedals improves on the seat but jump in a sprint suffers when off the seat.
I had never considered going back further because I found that my (and most other riders) ability to sprint diminished if I did. I had positioned probably 10 or 12 riders' cleats at midfoot or similar position but this was only to allow them to ride while recovering from ruptured Achilles tendons, plantar fasciitis and other injuries.
It was a pain to achieve mid foot cleat position on 'normal' shoes because the shape of the shoe sole generally tends towards concave at the midfoot whereas 3-bolt cleat systems need a convex curve to fit properly. I suppose I had looked on this type of cleat position as a rehabilitative measure, not a performance one. I kick myself for this now!
Midfoot cleat position is not something I would recommend to everyone. Not to track sprinters or kilo riders and not to criterium specialists. Based on limited but growing experience, I would recommend it to anyone whose riding is steady paced at high or low intensity. That means triathletes, pursuiters, TT riders, Audax riders, tourists, etc. Road racers and MTB'ers should benefit as well because what I am finding with torque analysis software is that the longer and harder the effort, the greater the ability of the rider to sustain it with midfoot cleat position vs forefoot cleat position.
Yes it does open up a can of worms. I have two bikes, one custom, one production. On the custom bike, I dropped my seat 30 mm and with a change of stem was able to drop my bars the same amount. (and I'll say here that most people will need to drop their bars a lesser amount than their seats because the increased hamstring load will not allow them to reach as far down to the bars).
On the production bike, I will need a Look Ergostem to get my bars low enough because I was only using a 10 mm spacer before with a -17 degree (horizontal) stem. I have a large amount of toe overlap now instead of the small amount that I am used to. This means that:
I have had to rethink my approach to slow speed (walking pace give or take a bit) riding. I commute and often do light shopping on my bike as well. I can no longer do U turns on footpaths without planning it a bit etc. Track standing is harder to do because of the toe overlap.
At any speed above probably 10 km/h, the overlap doesn't worry me. When next I am in the market for a frame, I will have one built with a longer front centre and shorter stem but for the moment, the bikes I have been riding are fine.
Better performance - a 5-10 % in efficiency seems typical. By that I mean that the peak torque needed to generate a given wattage drops by that much typically. A lower torque peak for a given power means lower peak muscular contraction, which in turns means greater ability to sustain that power.
I have always been the kind of rider who can out-jump most in a sprint but tend to get run a couple of hundred metres later by the genuine article. Now I'm finding that I'm not out-jumping the usual guys but am finishing faster in a bigger gear. So a long sprint is better for me now and they happen a lot.
Better recovery - the calves are not used nearly as much and so the pedalling load is distributed much more to quads and hamstrings. These are large muscle groups better able to maintain effort over time.
Better bike handling and aerodynamics - The centre of gravity of a bike and rider is somewhere north of the top tube height. As a test, coast down your favourite steep hill with a few tight corners in it. Now go back up, drop your seat 30-50 mm (that seems to be the approximate range necessary for midfoot cleat position, depending on rider and current cleat position) and coast back down again and you will feel much more secure in the corners which translates into better descending.
A lower overall height should mean an aerodynamic improvement as well. For riders who are showing 30mm or more of headset spacers, or anyone with an upturned stem, achieving the necessary seat and bar drop shouldn't be a problem.
It took about 30 minutes to feel 'natural' in the sense that I was convinced that this was the way to go. The torque analysis helped here too. I have had a couple of customers whose appraisal was "it feels weak" but it is pretty hard to argue with hard data. I am not telling everyone that I position that they have to do this. I am making them aware of it and testing them in midfoot position if they wish.
Toe overlap during slow speed riding.
Inability to achieve the cleat position on most shoes without substantial modification. Anyone who is handy with a drill and can solve the shape of the sole problem in that area can do it. Biomacs are the only shoe that I am aware of that are designed for midfoot cleat position.
If you are a true sprinter, then this isn't for you.
One last thought too. Most of the bike riders on the planet already use midfoot cleat position. Most of them live in China and India and ride platform pedals and carry large loads.
Steve Hogg has mentioned several times that there's an optional base plate for the 3-hole Speedplay cleats that provides additional rearward positioning. Is such an adapter necessary with the 4-hole cleat?
Steve Hogg replies:
If you are direct mounting the cleat to a shoe compatible with the 4 hole mount (must be an old Time shoe?), and providing you have the cleat where you want it, then no.
If you are mounting a Speedplay cleat to a Look compatible 3-bolt shoe sole, then you need to use the Speedplay adaptor that they supply with their cleats. That adaptor doesn't as offer much rearward adjustment of the cleat compared to other popular pedal systems. The Speedplay part no. 13330 remedies that.
I am a cat.3 female racer (37), and I've been racing for several years, although life events always seem to conspire against me actually racing for an entire season (e.g. arrival of child, lymes disease, hit by a car, work commitments). I'm hoping to race all season this year (fingers crossed) for the first time.
This season, I've started off well. At a local Tuesday night crit, I placed fourth, which was great fun and exciting. At the end of the race, the cat 2 woman, whom I nipped at the line, complimented me on my sprint... but...
Her "but" was that she thought I was too "forward" on my bike. She told me that if I were to shift my position back, I would have a stronger sprint. I've never had anyone comment on the form of my sprint. I love to sprint, and I love it when I sprint well. I really like that "almost puking" feeling of a really hard effort.
Anyway, here's my question. Can you describe for me "good sprinting form"? I've been experimenting this week with moving my position back, and I do feel like I'm getting more power and even a little more control over the bike. My upcoming experiment will be the crit this coming Tuesday. Any advice would be most appreciated!
Oh - by the way. In the end, she beat me (she was third overall) because she had more points than me. But I still feel good about beating her in the final sprint.
My bike is an Opal Orbea. The guy I often ride with and who owns the shop from which I purchased the bike has me in a slightly less aggressive position than I was on my old bike (differential between the bars and the saddle is less extreme). I find myself comfortable in the drops etc.
I've asthma. I'm about 5'7" and around 133 pounds or so. I'm happy to "e-discuss" anything that might help me improve my sprinting.
Thanks in advance,
Dave Palese replies:
Congratulations on beating that C2 in the sprint! Don't you just love that!
I'll try to give you some thoughts about sprint form and technique. First, as far as the actual form/technique-
1. Always in the drops. There are few, if any, instances where sprinting with your hands anywhere else but in the drops is recommended. You have better leverage with your hands in the drops, and can generate better power. Your shoulders are lower as well, so aerodynamics are better. And you have better control over your bike and are less likely to lose control if you make contact with another rider.
2. As far as your position, fore and aft, having all you weight on the front wheel definitely makes the bike unstable. You should find a position that works for you. It should feel balanced, and comfortable, and allow for the smoothest mechanics possible. All you movements should be fluid. The arms, upper body and legs all working in one continuous motion.
3. Bigger isn't always better. Sprinting isn't about pushing the biggest gear you have on your bike. Sprinting is about acceleration and sustained leg speed. Watch track racing to see effective sprinting. I raced track for several years, and it really helped my road sprinting, both technically and tactically. It taught me that I could sprint just as fast without just dropping it into my 11.
The first part of the sprint is the jump. This is where you get on top of your gear. Remember, good acceleration starts in the hips. Admittedly, this portion lasts longer on the road than the track, but I see that most road sprinters stay out of the saddle too long. Some never sit. Once you are spinning the gear out, sit down.
If you think you can go a cog harder through to the line, then shift. But if not sit down, where your pedaling technique and aerodynamics will be more efficient. Keep your shoulders low, and hips rolling away. Try it in practice. Experiment with different gear at different speeds. Get familiar with what gears you would use when the sprint start from different speeds.
4. Read Scott Saifer's article in the latest issue of ROAD magazine- "How to win a race". In it Scott talks about what I call "Sprint Theory". Give it a read. It is very well written and informative.
Hi, I am a 37 year-old male riding 100-120 miles a week, do a little racing during the season and do the fast paced group rides. I was wondering about the warm up process and what it is that is needed to perform well in a race. I know the basics but say for a criterium where the start is fast right off the bat do you want to warm up to the same level that you will be racing?
I ask because when I do group rides that are around 45 miles out and back with two sprints, one out and one back, I usually really feel it on the way out if I make any efforts (usually lack of oxygen). Then on the way back I feel about twice as strong. The ride does start slowly so there is a little warm up period.
Before a race like a criterium should I be warming up to a point comparable to the condition my body will be in during the race? At races I always wish I had just done half a weekend group ride before hand, I am never motivated enough to do this on a trainer before hand. Or is this slow starting a result of age or training?
Dave Palese replies:
Yes. You need to do some intensity equal to what you will be asking your body to do in the race. I like to look at it as getting the first hard efforts out of the way when it doesn't really matter.
Also think about it this way. The warm-up starts two days before your race with a rest day. So if you are racing on Saturday (and this race is important to you) take Thursday off.
Then on Friday do an 'opener'. A short 1-2 hour session with some race level efforts. Nothing too long and taxing, but just enough to get your legs open and feeling good. Do a mix of shorter sustained intervals (1-2 minutes) and sprints (10-30 seconds). Remember, you don't want to feel tired or be pushed to your limits in the session. You should feel energized and confident at the end.
If you are racing on Sunday, take Friday off, and do the opener on Saturday.