Fitness questions and answers for November 21, 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.

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.

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.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.

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.

Foot alignment while pedalling
Knee tracking problem
Knee discomfort
Burning thighs
Lost power
Intensity during rest period

Foot alignment while pedalling

Hi. I have a question about foot alignment while pedalling. I'm a cat 4 racer, and have been riding for the last 3 years. I'm 22 years old and I ride about 3000-4000 miles each year. For the last 2 years I've been riding on Look A5.1 pedals. I really liked them, but after knee surgery last November, I needed to get a pedal system that allowed a little bit more "natural" movement in knee and foot on my right side. So I switched to Speedplay X-2's and I've been very happy. I find that my foot pivots slightly from side to side during the pedal stroke to match the natural tendencies of my formerly bad but now much better right knee.

The strange thing that I have noticed now that I have more float available is that when I start pedalling harder, my right heel starts to pivot outwards from the bike, giving me a pigeon toed stance on my right foot only. This doesn't cause me any discomfort, and I find that I do it subconsciously. When I notice I'm doing it, I try to correct myself and concentrate on keeping my foot more inline with the bike, but as the ride drones on, I tend to revert back to the original heal out stance. I'm curious what could have caused this and if it will have any lasting effects on my knee health or my riding ability. I don't walk pigeon toed, as a matter of fact, I walk slightly duck footed (I know lots of bird references). When I was younger my hips were checked to see if there was something out of alignment causing me to walk that way, but nothing was found at the time. I don't have any impairments walking, running or anything else either. If it helps, the knee surgery was a laparoscopic procedure to remove a piece of tissue that was stuck in my joint and abrading the contact surfaces of my knee joint quite badly. It was a piece of tissue that should have been broken down by my body when I was an infant, but for some reason decided to hang around and cause me problems later. So I had it removed, and nearly all of the pain I experienced from its presence disappeared.

Any insight into my mysterious heal out stance on the right foot only would be greatly appreciated.

Eric

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Eric,

If it makes you feel better, you're not alone. What you describe isn't rare. You are unlikely to hurt yourself because under load, your foot is ending up at the angle on the pedals that your body wants it to. Have you had any pain or discomfort like that? If the answer is no, don't worry about it.

As to why you function like that, there are several potential reasons, all to do with asymmetric pelvic function and accidents at birth or development. If you really want to know the answer, find a really good physio, chiro, osteopath or similar and have them do a global structural assessment.

In the meantime, just enjoy your riding.

Knee tracking problem

Aloha,

I just read your article on moving knees. I have a similar problem which is complicated with left anterior knee pain, probable chondromalacia. I recently had a bike fit and was noted that my left knee goes lateral and right medial on the downstroke. Here is some important information. I am a radiologist and my scanogram showed no appreciable leg discrepancy. I am flat footed on the left and have a high arch on the right. The bike fitter suggested a longer axle on my left pedal (speedplay X1) and a increased Q factor to correct the left leg.

I am only 5'6", 130 lbs with narrow pelvis and small feet. So this to me was not the correct fix. What do you think? Would customize orthotics or wedges help? The right knee is fine so I'm not that concerned on that side.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Bruce,
Maui, Hawaii, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Bruce,

In the absence of a measurable leg length difference, a visit to a good physio or other competent structural health professional will probably reveal functional asymmetries of various kinds. The most common problem for left leg issues is that 95% of riders self protect their right sides and to varying extents, sacrifice the left side. Whether you are doing this or not, I don't know but an easy way to find out is this-

Set your bike up on an indoor trainer, warm up thoroughly and pedal under reasonable load while stripped to the waist. Make sure that the bike is levelled between axle centres. Have an observer stand on a chair above and behind you and what I want to know is whether you drop and/or rotate one hip forward on the pedal downstroke on that side.

Let me know the answer to that and I will attempt to advise.

Knee discomfort

I've been reading the fitness Q&A column for a couple years now and have always found the advice to be very informative and helpful, and so now that I'm running into a problem I'm writing for advice.

I'm relatively new to competitive road cycling, but have made it my goal to reach Cat 1/2 status next season. I'm up to Cat 3 so far, and won a race this season. I'm training about 14-16 hours a week and will maintain that through the winter and then try to step it up to 18-20 in my build phase. I'm 183cm tall and 82kg. That's far above my race weight. I'm doing my best Jan Ullrich impression this off-season…

Anyhow, I've had a niggling problem with my knee for a little over a year now. It's only discomfort, not pain, and has not hindered anything from riding to walking up and down stairs. It's concentrated on the top of my tibia, just to the inside of the knee cap on my left leg. Occasionally it radiates to where the knee cap tendon joins the tibia and up into the knee cap. Sometimes after periods of sitting with my knees bent I "have to" straighten my leg and "crack" my knee, just as some people "have to" crack their knuckles. Although I occasionally have to do that with my right knee as well, and I have no discomfort there. I notice it the most when I'm really concentrating on "pushing" over the top of the pedal stroke, from the top to forward horizontal positions. I also noticed the other day on the trainer that my left leg is noticeably weaker during one-leg pedalling drills.

I have seen my doctor, a sports physio and even talked to a former European professional regarding this problem. I've been told its Patellofemoral Syndrome (PFS) or bursitis or my knee ligaments "getting used to" the repetitive motions of cycling. My doctor prescribed some knee strengthening exercises and the physio basically told me not to do anything and see if it goes away. I've been doing the knee strengthening exercises (reverse step-ups and shallow one leg squats), and I've eased off the intensity of my training. I even took a month off at one point. My knee discomfort isn't getting any worse, but it isn't getting better. Both my doctor and physio have felt/manipulated my knee and have assured me that there is no physical damage being done.

Any insight into this would be very helpful.

Kevin Rutherford

Steve Hogg replies:

G'day Kevin,

The question that always occur when I read mail like yours is "Why one side only?" The problem arises because you are doing something with that left knee that it doesn't like. There are a wide variety of reasons that may be to blame. It could be a combination of several. Below is a list of things to check that may help.

1. If seat height is even a fraction too high, the inherent tendency everyone has to favour one side, most often the right side, is exaggerated, leaving the left leg mildly overextending and usually with it's plane of movement challenged. Try dropping your seat 5mm and persevere for a week and see if there is any positive difference.

2. It is possible that your left leg is functionally or measurably shorter than your right, again leading to mild overextension. Again drop your seat 5mm. If that works for you but the right leg feels cramped, then either the right leg is longer or as per 1, in that you are favouring the right side in the sense of dropping the right hip on each right side pedal stroke but not rebounding to the centre for the left leg's pedal downstroke.

3. While I think it is less likely, it may be that you favour the left side and your problem arises because of under extension of the left leg and the reverse of 1 is the case.

4. You need to eliminate the simple things; Are your cleats in the same place relative to foot in shoe on either side (and that doesn't necessarily mean in the same place on the shoe sole)?

Before you say yes, have you checked?

Is your left cleat much more worn than your right cleat?

Do you have rotational movement on either side of where your foot naturally wants to sit under load? For this last, check both feet. You wouldn't be the first person I am aware of where the problem cleat angle was actually the non injured side and that self protecting that side caused problems for the other side. I'm not saying that this is the case, but it worth checking.

5. Are you significantly tighter in and around the hip and lower back on one side than the other?

6. Do you have a significant difference in foot size or height of arch and instep between left and right feet?

7. Lastly, as a cross check; mount your bike on a trainer making sure that it is levelled between axle centres. Warm up thoroughly and pedal in a gear that makes you work hard at 85 - 95 rpm. Have an observer standing behind and above you on a chair. What he needs to look for is whether you are dropping or rotating one hip forward on the pedal stroke of that side.

Burning thighs

I am not sure how to describe something I go through almost every year about this time, but after last nights nearly sleepless battle, I am going to try. I go through periods where my thighs burn like they have a lactic acid overload when I am just idle. Last night it was so bad I couldn't lay still for more than a few seconds, though that was the worst it had ever been. Mostly it's just been a discomfort. For some background, I am usually active on the bike throughout most of the year, and starting September I wind down quite a bit. I have periods where I get out a few times a week (I did squeeze in 4 rides in the last week of Daylight Savings Time), so I have always felt like my leg muscles were going through some period of adjustment to the relative idleness. They are burning as I write this.

So, have you ever heard of this before? Is there something wrong with my diet? Am I missing some key mineral? Or is this just a quiet little secret that athletes keep to themselves? I am not sure what other information to give. Male, 48, cyclist for 30+ years, mostly veggy diet for past 5 years, but I have been eating meat again this year.

Oh yeah, and I stopped drinking coffee 3 days ago, cold turkey. Probably a 3-4 large cup a day drinker. I broke down this morning and had 2 nice big cups of caffeinated tea, and I feel better.

Thanks for any information,

Eric Hallander,
Little Silver, NJ, USA

Scott Safier replies:

Hi Eric,

I'm sorry you are suffering and that I don't have a good answer for you. Many riders report some small degree of muscle pain during a rest period, but definitely not the majority and not as bad as what you are describing. I hope one of the other panellists will have a recommendation for you.

Lost power

I am a 5'11", 190lb, CAT 3, male, cyclo-cross racer in Colorado. I race mainly criteriums during the road season and cyclo-cross races this time of year. I can usually get a prime or two at the criteriums, but rarely have enough power at the end of the race to position myself and sprint for the final. My main issue this time of year is that I can get a great start at every 'cross race (top 5-10 consistently) and can maintain position for a lap or two, but after about 10-15 minutes, I fade and may end up losing 30 to 40 places throughout the rest of the race resulting in a mid-pack finish. What should I work on to improve this? I feel fine during the first couple laps, but it seems like either the guys get faster, or I gradually slow down.

Thanks,

Ryan Hughes,
Louisville, CO

Scott Safier replies:

Hi Ryan,

You need to work on two things. First is pacing. If you start hard and get a position in the front few riders but then fade, you are wasting energy to get that seat at the front of the race and fading back farther than you need to as a result. Think of it this way: You sprint into 5th spot off the line but end up 20th in the race. If you simply settled into 20th from the start, you'd end up in the same spot with less energy expended so you might be able to move up several spots in the final lap. If you perfectly pace CX race you go off the line fairly hard but settle into a pace you can sustain around the time you meet the first major obstacle. For the first third of the race you might be holding even with the riders around you or getting passed by a few. My the middle of the race you are holding even and in the final third you are passing all the riders who started too hard and are holding even with the other riders who paced well. Then in the final lap or two, you go hard and pass a few more. You may object that if you don't start hard and go hard for several laps you can't win, but you'd be wrong. The truth is if you can't hold even with the leaders without going hard, you can't win.

That brings us to the second part of my recommendations: Cross is an aerobic sport. It's essentially an obstacle course time trial where some of the obstacles are fixed and some are riders (and some are fixed riders). You need to build a big base of aerobic fitness before the season starts if you hope to compete. Unless you are racing flat courses, you weight also puts you at a big disadvantage.

You didn't describe your training year, but I'd guess from the fact that you ride cross and crits that you don't have many months in which to build you aerobic fitness. If you want to be good at cross, you need to train for it. If you want to be good at crits, you need to train for that. If you want to be good at both, you can't race full seasons because there simply aren't enough months in the year. For my riders who are more serious about cross, I recommend starting the cross-specific training in June. They then race cross from September or October through December and train for the road or MTB season until April. That means they only get to race road from Mid-April through May. Then it's time to get serious about cross again.

There is a group of racers who can race road and cross year round and stay strong year round: Those who are so talented and so well trained that they are so much faster than the competition that they can race their events as base training.

Intensity during rest period

I am a 44 year old road cyclist. My question is about the period of time at the end of your season. Obviously this is a time of rest and recovery. I try to cross train and change my riding i.e. MTB during this time for a mental break as well. Friel's bible puts a calculated HR to stay below to ensure recovery during this period.

I have heard discussion by other riders/coaches of limited volume of intensity in this period to sustain some level of fitness. e.g. 4x2.5min intervals at 5min TT intensity or similar. What are your opinions?

Also when training starts building again obviously volume of training gradually increases. Have you found the volume of intensity or the level of intensity the critical factor in creating too much fatigue too early. Once again the Friel approach advocates a HR/Power level below a certain calculated point. I have heard that limited high intensity work i.e. as above or 20x30 sec intervals could be used at this point and slowly increased. Limiting volume of intensity rather than intensity.

I realise that individual athletes have different needs and listening to your body is a good guide to make sure you keep fresh, but I'm wondering if there are training absolutes on the above issues of intensity training during transition or base periods.

Regards

Andrew Gannon

Dario Fredrick replies:

Hi Andrew,

I agree with your approach to the off-season/transition period in that you include some cross training and MTB riding. It is indeed useful to not only change the physical stumuli of day-to-day training, but the mental stimuli as well.

Regarding whether or not including short TT intervals, consider what you want to accomplish in this period. If your goal is to fully rest and recover from a long season of training and racing, high intensity training should be avoided until you have experienced a macro-level of recovery. By macro-level, I mean examining your cycles of training and recovery from the perspective of the entire year, and from one season to the next. I would recommend at least a few weeks of relatively low to moderate intensity exercise. At Whole Athlete, we have found it useful to have our athletes detrain somewhat (at least in terms of top-end, high-intensity fitness) so that they can rebuild to a similar or higher level heading into the following season.

Once you begin to rebuild your base, including some short high-intensity efforts can be beneficial. However, 20x30 sec sounds like too much at first, particularly if they are max efforts. I would recommend doing some on/off style intervals, such as a 10 min interval (in the saddle) alternating between 10 sec on (95-98% effort) and 50 sec off (easy to moderate). As the weeks progress, you can increase the length of the "ons," eventually up to 30 sec on / 30 sec off.

Generally speaking, I think most highly motivated athletes in this modern age can benefit from more recovery. Many of us tend to stimulate the stress response of the nervous system much more than necessary in daily life, which is counter-productive to optimal recovery and performance. If you were to keep your training load exactly the same from one year to the next, but simply improve the quality of your recovery, you will likely experience an improvement in performance.

Good luck with your training.

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