Fitness questions and answers for November 11, 2008

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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.

Jon Heidemann (www.peaktopeaktraining.com) is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.

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. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions.

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.

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.wholeathlete.com) is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete™. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.

Earl Zimmermann (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has over 12 years of racing experience and is a USA Cycling Level II Coach. He brings a wealth of personal competitive experience to his clients. He coaches athletes from beginner to elite in various disciplines including road and track cycling, running and triathlon.

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.

Varying foot forces
Leg length discrepancy
Muscle tightness
Improving strength
Weight training
Knee problem response

Varying foot forces

My preface: I am an eighteen year old male cyclist who primarily rides the road and velodrome. I started riding two years ago with an established junior team and got wrapped up in the whole thing quite quickly. I ramped up my mileage a bit too quickly and it resulted in a few stubborn bouts of tendonitis in the knees and got me to see physios a lot and to have my fit on the bike accessed, I am currently riding with no knee problems because I have adjusted my training properly.

I went to a reputable physiotherapist/bike fitter and he made some good adjustments to the bike also. The main things he pointed out were that my knees hit the top tube a bit, so he put one purple LeWedge in each cleat to make my pedal stroke more up and down. I use Speedplay cleats with the float at 10 degrees. Anatomically there isn't a major leg length discrepancy but my right foot does heel in/toe out (it's at an angle that has my toes pointing outwards) and my left foot is dead straight. This is natural and not to due to set float on cleats, when I let my legs dangle from a table my feet also angle like this.

I use Sidi shoes (size 44) with SOLE arch support insoles and both my bare feet are same size out of shoes. I am very aware of my body and take all measures now that I am informed about sports injuries to avoid any problems so that I can focus on my training and achieving my goals. I am increasing my mileage and training time slowly and doing core work, strength work and stretching (stretching hamstrings, quads and hips a lot) in the gym regularly, I also have a good physio two minutes from my house.

My problem: My problem isn't one like most where it is causing pain, but it is very annoying and causes discomfort on the bike. When I spin in the saddle it feels as if one foot is riding more forward and the other foot is riding further back and with a bit more force. My hip alignment I believe is good and I am not sitting shifted in the saddle, and my saddle position is also good. When I look at my cleats they are at the exact same position on the soles.

The strange feeling is more evident when I ride the trainer (which I do often because of it getting dark at 5pm and due to long school hours) probably because I can focus more on how I feel and not road obstacles and weather. It's more noticeable on the trainer. On the road it still bothers me too, but not as much. It gives me a feeling of unevenness, as if my right foot (the angled one) is exerting more force than my left foot.

My hunch is that because of the angle on my right foot, my shoe isn't hitting the pedal square on, thus spreading force diagonally on my foot. My left foot hits the pedal square on, spreading force more evenly across the ball of the foot. I'm not too sure what to do to solve my discomfort; it's annoying because instead of thinking about my workout I'm pondering this awkward feeling. I thought of just pushing my left cleat back to try to stop the feeling of one foot pedaling forward of the other, but I am hesitant to fiddle around myself without expert opinions, so I haven't adjusted at all.

I am also at a point in my training and preparation for next season (road season starts in four months) where I am progressing well, ramping up well and very motivated and passionate about cycling and I am afraid that if I do adjust my bike fit in critical areas that I will have to soft pedal around for a while to allow my body to adjust and avoid possible injury. What should I do to get more comfortable?

Aidan Mouellic
Vancouver, Canada

Steve Hogg replies:

I'm working on the assumption that all is as you say; that you do sit squarely on the seat and don't have one hip forward of the other. Proceeding on that assumption, the likely reason that your right foot feels more solid on the pedals than your left foot is your cleat position. You mention that you externally rotate the right hip while riding, that is, the right foot is noticeably heel in on the pedal. You also state that your feet are the same length and that you have the cleats in the same position on the sole of the shoe.

What you need to do is put your cleats in the same relationship to foot in shoe at the angle that your feet sit on the pedals. Given that you pedal with a different foot plant angle on the pedal, you effectively have the cleat further back on the right foot, relative to the position that the first MTP joint sits in relation to the pedal axle. Because you pedal with the right foot heel in, doing so moves the 1st MTP joint forward in relation to the pedal axle.

What you need to do is to move your left cleat back several mm and that should give you the same feeling of solidity on pedal on each side.

If that doesn't work or does work but causes problems on the left side, then you are probably incorrect in assuming that you sit squarely on the seat. Either way, let me know how you get on.

Leg length discrepancy

I am a 24-year-old cat 3 racer. I've been riding and racing competitively for about six years and spend about 15 to 20 hours a week riding. While cleaning my bike, I noticed that the right side of my saddle is compressed lower than the left side. After this observation I realized that if and when saddle sores pop up I only get them on my right side. I don't have any joint pain or discomfort and I know my knees aren't over-extended, which to me would suggest my saddle is too high. I was wondering if these two observations are caused by a leg length discrepancy. If so, should I get a bike fit done even though I don't have any problems riding?

David Reyes

Steve Hogg replies:

The wear on the seat indicates that you are loading the right sit bone more than the left. You may have a shorter right leg or you may have a pelvic asymmetry of function or both. As to what to do; I'm a big believer in not fixing what isn't broken unless it is likely to cause an issue to arise soon. What I would suggest is that you consult a physio or similar with cycling experience and have a standing, load bearing x ray with the relative heights of the femoral heads measured. That will tell you whether there is a measurable discrepancy or not. Once you know that you can act to accommodate it if necessary.

If the x rays reveal no difference, your physio should be able to tell you why you function asymmetrically and be able to advise you on how to become more functionally symmetrical.

Muscle tightness

I am a 32-year-old male racing cyclist (road, MTB and cyclo-cross) and have competed at elite level, but have recently scaled back the training to compete mainly for fun in masters events. I ride approximately four times a week (1-4 hours) and also run once or twice (30 minutes - one hour).

The problem is difficult to describe but basically it feels like the muscles in my left leg need to be stretched. I have had this problem for about four years and can remember it occurring after a hellish week training in very cold, hail/snow/wet conditions on the road - 3-4 hours both days. Im not convinced this caused the problem but it was a memorable event at about the time it started happening. The problem is not always in the same muscles, but is most commonly felt in my calf, but feels like it moves around and can be felt in my hamstring, less so in the quad.

The feeling is generally quite mild and is most apparent after a ride or run and generally isn't terribly noticeable on the bike. There just seems to be a dull ache and as if the leg needs to be stretched, but this doesn't really seem to help. Sometimes my calf twitches, and I do suffer from pins and needles in the leg if I am sitting in an odd position - noticeably this happens more on the problematic left leg than on the right.

I do not religiously stretch after exercise and therefore cannot say that stretching as a cure can be completely ruled out. I think one leg may be a little longer than the other (as with most people). Pretty much all my bikes are set up a little differently and so I don't think it is a saddle height/set up issue.

Again, I have many different shoes - road and off-road and have tried adjusting the cleats to help - this does not seem to work. My heel tends to want to point outwards and it feels like my foot wants to sit on the outside of the pedal. I am not sure if the problem is muscular (as it seems to move around the muscles)/a muscle imbalance or leg length issue or something like a constricted artery. I am not sure what sort of specialist it would be best to seek for advice? Any help would be great.

Geoff Beetham
United Kingdom

Steve Hogg replies:

You say, "my heel tends to want to point outwards and it feels like my foot wants to sit on the outside of the pedal" but you don't say whether this is on both feet of what you describe as the 'problem left foot'. If it is the left foot alone, I will almost guarantee you that you're not sitting squarely on the seat and that you are sitting with right hip forward and down. You also mention that you think that there may be leg length discrepancy but don't know for sure. Knowledge is power so you need to acquire some knowledge. Here's a list:

1. Get a standing, load bearing x-ray done with the heights of the femoral heads noted. Make sure that you are standing with both knees locked out when the x-ray is taken.

2. Mount your bike on an indoor trainer. Make sure that the bike is levelled between axle centres and after a warm up, pedal at a reasonably high load with your shirt off. "Reasonably high" means a gear that will get you perspiring freely but not so much that technique suffers. You will need an observer standing behind and above you on a chair. What I need to know is -

a. Are you sitting over the centre line? In other words is the crack of your bum over the centre of the seat?
b. If not, to which side of the centre line do you sit?
c. Do you drop one hip on the pedal stroke on that side?
d. Does one side of your pelvis sit further forward on the seat than the other?

Let me know the answers and I'll attempt to advise.

Improving strength

I'm an experienced road cyclist looking to improve my off-season strength. My question is, what is the best way to schedule weight lifting (gym) workout days while still maintaining an on-the-bike training plan? For instance, I usually alternate my bike workouts as hard one day, easy the next, for six days a week. Is it better to supplement weight lifting days on the hard days or on the easy days? I find that on the easy days, I just want to recover and the lifting may hinder that recovery process.

Ryan Hughes

Scott Saifer replies:

Generally your strength training should come at the same time of year as your aerobic base training. You are smart not to want to load on strength training on days when you already feel the need for recovery, but rather than solving that problem by carefully scheduling the strength training, I'd suggest solving it by not riding hard enough in the off-season to need extensive recovery.

Weight training

I have been racing for about eight years and compete in Elite road races and criteriums in my area. As part of my training I have almost always included an eight-week weights program at the start of each season, supplemented with an additional 4 week 'on the bike strength' block. I find this program very beneficial. Over recent months, I have been advised by some sport scientists that the inclusion of weights throughout the entire year could be even more beneficial.

I have always been of the opinion that this might be counterproductive as, for me personally, I find weights training highly fatiguing, boring over time, plus I'm of the opinion that too much weights will add too much muscle mass. I also have limited training time, and feel that my time would be better spent training on the bike rather than in the gym.

Any advice regarding all year weights training would be much appreciated.

Matthew Murray
Brisbane, Australia

Ric Stern replies:

For cyclists who are trained endurance riders (e.g. those who are fit enough to race) there is simply no evidence to suggest that weights are beneficial to endurance cycling performance, and nor are there any theoretical reasons to think so either. Indeed, theoretically weight training is detrimental to ECP. I wrote an article about it here.

Knee problem response

Dana Stevens wrote in with a knee complaint, and I want to echo Steve Hogg's advice, as well as include a cautionary story. I always had a slight pop on the inside of my left knee, and always while I was riding, until I went clipless, but I had never made that connection. This story is (obviously) based on no medical knowledge, but personal experience.

After I started doing some resistance and general gym training because of fear of bone-loss, most of my knee pops and a chronic back problem faded away, and I attributed this to the training and toning of muscles. But I had ridden with clips for more than 20 years, and the knee pops probably starting going away when I switched to clipless in the early 1990s, starting with MTB-type SPD to Speedplay Frogs, to Speedplay X. (I wanted to progress from a bigger target to a smaller, since this was all new to me.) I also wanted full floatation specifically because of the knee. So I am someone who had had a knee pain but it insensibly went away.

About a month ago, in the final 20 or so miles of a century ride, my left knee began throbbing, as it might have many years ago. I suspected bad positioning from perhaps the extreme butt ache I was suffering, causing me to wiggle all over the saddle. This was on a relatively new bike (to me) and most of the adjustments for me come on these long rides, so had I expected some pain. Two weekends later, I took a 60-mile ride which entailed climbing two mountains twice (one is the highest point in AL) and much on a chip seal surface, a form of torture device for unsuspended road bikes that sounds and feels like riding over broken glass. This was a maiden long voyage for this particular ride, my second new bike, so again, I had planned to do some adjusting as I went, but these were the same riding shoes, an important point to remember.

The knee flared up again just before the halfway point. One small specific area just to the inside of my left patella, where the cartilage is. While pulling up that last mountain on the return, I discovered to my dismay that my left cleat was not locking down with a click at all, the cleat had totally worn out. My foot was actually coming off the pedal at the top. I cannot swear to it, but I suspect that as the cleat was wearing, I was automatically favouring my left knee as I rode. So there is a possibility that,

1) Using clipless pedals CAN help with a problem caused by riding too long in clips;

2) My empirical research showed that losing a cleat brought back an old feeling of pain that I thought was gone forever, and

3) I am a clueless dunce for not focusing on my spinning and therefore not realising that I was perhaps not going full-powered (for two rides!).

Of course, my foot position was unchanged, but with only the ability to push down and pull back, I can only wonder if my brain was telling my leg something even before the cleat was completely unlockable, since this pain started before my foot was actually flying off at the top.

For those who would assume that the overburdened right leg would be complaining, nay nay, it was a happy leg, doing what it was trained to do. It was the leg that was not quite being used at full circling efficiency that set up a throb. I had a fresh pair of cleats at home, and after a week of rest with one trainer session to check my setup, it was like it had never happened.

Clinton Slayton

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