Fitness questions and answers for October 4, 2004

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at...

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.

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.

Climbing
Maintaining aerobic fitness
Cycling during pregnancy
Corduzin
Comeback training and timing
Hand numbness and pain
More Achilles problems
Bike fit and pain
Fore/aft seat position revisited
Fit and muscle utilization
Hot feet
Knee problems

Climbing

I am a 60 year old racer (weigh 160; 5' 10"). I am fairly strong (leg press 100 reps of 600 lbs), an OK sprinter, do better in crits, but weak in road races. When climbing, I am very strong on grades up to about 9%. When pitches get steeper, I quickly fall apart. Since I regularly get dropped on steep climbs, I never get to use my "strengths" on flatter climbs or in the final sprint. Is this something I have to live with, at this point in my life, or is there some training regimen I can focus on over the winter?

Louis Rossi

Dario Fredrick replies:

Yes, there are definitely training regimens you can follow over the winter to improve your climbing performance in races. I disagree with notion that a particular height/weight ratio predetermines whether you are a "sprinter," "rouler," or "climber" unless perhaps you are a world-class professional. Clearly, losing weight will reduce your resistance on climbs, but increasing power will also allow you to climb faster. Maximize your sustainable power for the particular race efforts in question, and regardless of reducing your weight your performance will improve.

First optimize your nutrition and recovery practices (rest, stretching, massage, etc.), as well as your bike fit. Begin training by developing cardiovascular efficiency, riding for a few weeks at primarily 70-85% of your maximal steady state (MSS) or "threshold" HR. After a recovery week, increase muscular efficiency and endurance by adding a few training days with longer efforts (15-40min) at 85-93% of MSS on sustained climbs for a few more weeks. Then after a rest week, work on increasing your maximum sustainable power by doing one or two days with multiple 5-8min efforts at 95% up to MSS HR. The next step in your higher intensity training would be to work on increasing your "supra-threshold" power by doing maximum sustainable efforts of 2-3 min on steeper climbs (>9%). At this point you should be race-ready.

Whether you are physiologically more naturally suited to shorter power efforts such as in criteriums, or have only trained those strengths in the past, this recommended progression of training intensities should help you improve your performance on steeper climbs.

Scott Saifer replies:

Does 9% happen to be the grade above which you stand or above which your cadence goes below about 70 rpm? If so the solution might be as simple as getting a bigger rear cog or a triple. Other than cadence changes, there's no physiological reason why a 9% grade should be any sort of threshold. Usually we think more about the length of a hill than it's grade when wondering if a particular rider will make it over the top with the bunch.

At 5'10" and 160, you are the weight for height of a professional sprint specialist or time-trialist, definitely not a climber. A professional climbing specialist your height would weigh closer to 140 than 160. If you race with age-matched masters, you can probably get away with about 10 pounds extra if you are not trying to compete at the national level.

The only reason I didn't launch into the discussion of weight first is that your note suggests that you do well on long climbs of less than 9%. If this is the case, you've got me stumped. If you blow on longer shallower climbs as well but have good power on the flats, you are being held back by your weight.

Maintaining aerobic fitness

I'm a 27 year old male Cat 2 road cyclist and during a typical training week would average between 300-450km depending on intensity levels and have been cycling for 2 years. I have just entered the transition phase of my year and am now starting to think about how I will plan out my training program for next season. Typically I would commence base training in mid November and continue this until March before starting to add in intensity sessions of varying difficulty. My key season races fall between late June and mid September (road races of between 160-230km) and I would typically plan my peak for mid September. For the upcoming season my race goals remain pretty much unchanged however I will be holidaying overseas with my family for approx 6 weeks through December and January and wont be able to do any cycling. As this is when I would typically get in a lot of good base miles I am considering how to best work around this schedule change. At the moment the best I can come up with is to start base training a month earlier that in previous years and whilst overseas try and get in a few 1 hour gym sessions each week of varying aerobic exercise in the hope that this will at least maintain some of my fitness. I would appreciate any comments/guidance on my plan to work around this time off the bike and if you have any suggestions on the type of aerobic exercise I should try and do over the 6 week period I would be appreciative.

Gerard Laismith

Dave Palese replies:

I think that your plan sounds like a good one. Get in the training while you can. During your holiday, try to work out aerobically 3-4 times a week using cross training of various types (running, hiking, mixed aerobic at the gym, and so on).

It isn't optimal, but is the best you can hope to do.

Cycling during pregnancy

I am an avid recreational cyclist in my early thirties and just became pregnant. I generally ride at a moderate pace 3-4 times a week (mountain, road, cross) and on Saturdays or Sundays like to do a longer ride of 3-5 hours, typically with a number of decent climbs therein. Can you advise on how much my cycling routine should be altered for a safe pregnancy? Obviously, cycling will become harder in the third trimester, but I have a number of months before I get there.

Jane Smith

Pam Hinton replies:

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that all women with uncomplicated pregnancies participate in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes most, if not all, days of the week. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the occurrence of physical complaints during pregnancy, improve mood, and shorten delivery time.

Women who are accustomed to exercising at high intensity and female athletes may continue to train vigorously during pregnancy, but they should be aware that some of the physiologic changes associated with pregnancy may require them to back off the intensity or modify the type of activity. Resting metabolic rate is increased during pregnancy, meaning the body requires more oxygen at rest. As the uterus grows in the second and third trimesters, it puts pressure on the diaphragm, increasing the work required to breathe. Because the body requires more oxygen and has to work harder to obtain that oxygen, less oxygen is available for exercise. For this reason, maximal workload may be reduced and exercise may feel more difficult at a given intensity during pregnancy. Another consequence of the elevated metabolic rate, is an increased susceptibility to overheating and dehydration. There is some evidence that maternal overheating (core temperature above 39.2 °C) during the first trimester may increase the risk of birth defects. So, avoid exercising in hot, humid weather or if you have a fever and be sure to consume adequate fluids. The weight gain associated with pregnancy changes a woman's center of gravity, which may preclude activities that require balance in order to avoid abdominal trauma. So mountain biking and cyclocross may be out of the picture.

Remember that, on average, pregnant women require an additional 300 kcal per day for growth of the fetus and maternal tissues. Inadequate energy consumption during pregnancy will result in a low birth weight infant, which increases the chances of neonatal complications. Hormones produced by the placenta (human placental lactogen, estrogen, progesterone) cause changes in maternal metabolism such that the mother preferentially uses fat for energy, which allows glucose to be used by the fetus. These metabolic changes cause pregnant woman to have lower fasting glucose levels and to use more glucose during exercise than non-pregnant women. So be sure to consume adequate carbohydrate, especially during exercise.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot to say, congratulations!

Corduzin

I was very intrigued by an article I saw in the last two issues of Bicycling magazine. It talked about a supplement called Corduzin and its aid in helping the body better use oxygen, among other things. It is develpoed and ditributed out of London, and is said to help many marathoners who are using it. It also states it is legal in every nation. This seems to good to be true. Do you guys know anything about this new supplement? And if you do, does it work and does it have any side affects?

Brandon Baker

Pam Hinton replies:

You're right. When an advertisement promises that a supplement, "strengthens and improves heart muscle and increases lung capacity" and "…is scientifically formulated to reduce fatigue and increase energy levels" because it "…allows the lungs to utilize oxygen more efficiently so you can go harder and last longer.". It is too good to be true.

It is difficult to determine the complete list of ingredients in this supplement, as it is not consistent throughout the website. On the "Ingredients" page, fenugreek, hyssop, mullein, thyme, mustard seed, and coltsfoot are listed. Alpha-lipoic acid, flax seed, licorice root, nettle leaf, sage leaf, slippery elm bark, and yarrow extract are additional ingredients listed on the "Questions" page. The homepage simply states that the supplement "… gives your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to run faster on less oxygen."

While some of the herbs listed as ingredients may have beneficial effects, e.g., anti-oxidant activity, other herbs may be harmful. For example, severe systemic allergic reactions to thyme, hyssop, and mustard seeds have been reported. And, negative interactions between herbal supplements and medications are always possible. For example, fenugreek contains coumarin, a naturally-occurring anti-coagulant, which can cause adverse reactions when taken with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin.

As with most drugs, and even nutrients, the dose may determine the physiologic effect. In other words, more is not necessarily better and, in some cases, consuming too much can be harmful. In the case of dietary supplements, you cannot be certain what or how much of a particular ingredient a supplement contains. The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements-including vitamins and minerals. To see a benefit from this supplement you need to take it daily for 1-2 months, according to the website. At $60 per month (or $120 for 4 months), the potential risks-even if only to your wallet-outweigh the benefits. That's my two-cents worth.

Comeback training and timing

I want to train for racing again after a 6-year hiatus. Back in the "ol' days" I had plenty of time to train and far less responsibilities to work, family, etc... I wonder if you have any advice on serious training after a long break and tips on how to get a solid base in when time is of a premium. Thanks.

Jonathan Maus
Portland, OR

Dave Palese replies:

Welcome back!

Base can mean many things for different people with different goals. Base training needn't be lots of high volume days if the races on your plan aren't that long in duration.

I have had several clients, masters athletes, who's schedules consisted of races not lasting longer than an hour and 15 minutes (i.e., crits and short circuits). During the General Preparation period of the training year, the majority of their training days were no longer than 90 minutes long. If they could swing it on the weekends, I would have them do one day that built up to the 150 minutes mark. But not in all cases.

In planning out your training, take a close look at the events you want to do and tailor your training to prepare your for those events. Don't do high volume just because you think you should. DO what you need to do. That will help you make the most of the time you have. If your longest priority event is only 90 minutes or so, then you longest training day need only be about 120.

Hand numbness and pain

I am 42 years old and have been riding and racing since I was 18. I am a physical therapist so have learned extensively about the human body. I don't race or train nearly as much as I used to due to family constraints, but recently have had to stop riding entirely due to the above problems. I ride 2-3 x per week either on or off-road and up to 100 miles/6 hours of riding. I was diagnosed about 10 years ago with a herniated disc which did not require surgery and thought at first these symptoms were a manifestation of this condition. However, my orthopedic surgeon ordered a nerve conduction which has diagnosed moderate to severe carpal tunnel syndrome.

An x-ray and MRI did demonstrate that I do have mild arthritis in my cervical spine, but my doctor did not seem concerned with how the pictures looked for my demographics. Simply placing my arms on my handlebars of either my mountain-bike or my road-bike cause an immediate onset and worsening of these symptoms. My question is can carpal tunnel syndrome manifest itself into arm-pit and scapular pain too? Or do I have a double problem involving my cervical-spine as well which places my doctor's opinion in doubt?

Peter

Steve Hogg replies:

Firstly I had better qualify what I am going to say with the caveat that I am not a health professional but have had extensive experience with on bike carpal tunnel syndrome. If bike riding has caused your issues the likely causes are:

1. Seat too far forward causing a weight transfer forward that has to be supported by the arms and shoulder complex;

2. Handlebars too low or to far away;

3. An anterior iliac crest and/or restricted sacro iliac joint on one side which leads to dropping one hip and/ or rotating it forward on each pedal downstroke. Autonomically, we will do whatever we have to do to, and enlist whatever we have to enlist to stabilise the pelvis while riding. If you are dropping/rotating one hip, the common response to that challenge to on bike pelvic stability is to thrust forward the shoulder on the same side and/or lock the elbow on the same side to brace against the anterior motion of hip. This of course loads up the hand, arm and shoulder complex on that side;

4. Twisted vertebrae anywhere in the spine from sacrum upward which will cause a twist in on bike torso posture anywhere from sacrum upwards. This will cause the afflicted rider to load up one arm/hand more than the other;

5. A parasympathetic nervous system that doesn't work well. Typically this kind of person will be tight in upper and lower back but not too bad in between, and are thought of by their friends as the kind of person who can't relax. Often this manifests on the bike as locked arms and forward thrust shoulders whether this is required to support weight or not;

6. The poor design of the majority of mtb 'flat' handlebars which cause the rider to cock the elbows and lift the shoulders to varying degrees which in turn tends to exacerbate any pre existing issues;

7. Any combination of the above.

I have delayed in answering your query because I was hoping some health professional would take up the baton and so can't answer your last two questions with any confidence. I have a friend in your line of business to whom I am forwarding your email. He is a bit of a wizard with the type of issues that you speak of. He has a busy life and so may take some time to get a reply.

More Achilles problems

I'm a 42 year-old cat IV male cyclist, 5'10", 155 lbs and I've been cycling for over 20 years, but only returned to racing last year. I'm currently using a structured training plan through trainingbible.com with about 500 hours annually. I use Bebop pedals (a free-float design) with DMT Ultimax shoes, size 42 ( a little small, but I like a tight-fitting shoe). About two months ago, I began focusing on developing more power through an intense sprint workout. At about the same time I fitted my shoes with a pair of SOLE footbeds to address a problem I was having with with a hotspots. I began to "notice" my achilles tendons in both ankles -- no pain, I just found myself thinking about them. Gradually they became more and more noticeable. Four weeks ago, I was on a recreational ride up a 32K climb -- I forgot to change out my cassette, so I was stuck mashing a bigger-than-comfortable gear at low cadence for the duration. The next day my achilles tendons were screaming. I found the articles on achilles pain and cleat set-back, and I re-positioned the cleats so that the ball of my foot now falls about 5mm behind the pedal spindle. I have also removed the footbeds as I felt that my heels were not held securely due to the increased elevation.

The sharp pains have subsided; the pain I have now is sort of a gritty, burning sensation. It usually eases overnight, but returns after an hour or so of moving about in the morning. My riding is currently restricted to light spinning on the trainer for perhaps an hour max. I have also incorporated some light weight training including calf-presses (minimal weight) to help strengthen the area.

Should I be looking at ways to stabilize my ankle during riding? Perhaps a fixed or limited float pedal as opposed to the BeBops?

Greg Hyra
Poulsbo, Washington

Steve Hogg replies:

Move your cleats back another 4mm. Measure this so that the point where the sole of the shoe meets the upper underneath the centre of the heel and the point where the sole meets the upper above the pedal axle are level with each other. When you moved the cleat back to where you have it now, you lessened the load on the achilles tendon, but you have not got it back far enough yet. The DMT's you have should have ample further rearward adjustment unless you have unusually proportioned feet.

If the foot beds that you used raised your heel a lot, the load on the achilles would only have been increased, as you had to drop your heels more than usual coming off top dead centre to get behind and over the pedal axle at the earliest possible part in the pedal stroke. Add to this poor cleat positioning and the effects of using a harder than usual gear and it is not hard to understand why your achilles tendons decided to protest. Rest and light training should sort them out, but it is worth your while to see a health professional about them anyway.

I wouldn't change pedal systems unless the hot spot is caused by the small contact area of that pedal and shoe. Freeplay is good. The last thing you want to do is restrict your foot movement too much on the pedal. You will just transfer the load somewhere else. Knees for example.

Greg responded:

Thanks for the speedy reply. I'm going to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist to work on recovery -- it looks like cyclocross is probably out for this year...

I am following your recommendation on additional setback, however I have some questions regarding other modifications to my position that may be necessary to compensate for the re-positioning of the cleat. Do you have any recommendations here?

Steve Hogg replies:

You have already moved your cleats back 5mm from your previous ball of foot over pedal axle position and I'm suggesting another 4mm of rearward movement. As far as seat height goes, you may need to drop your seat by 2 - 3 mm to compensate for the extra extension of the legs that the more rearward cleat positioning can cause. Ride the bike first though and be guided by feel. Often the cleat positioning that I have suggested causes a change in the range of ankle movement in the pedalling stroke. This in turn can mean that no seat height adjustment is necessary.

As to the wider question of the rest of your position, there is not much I can tell you without knowing a lot more about you. Read the various posts re positioning for the last 2 months or so and if you have any queries, I'll do my best to answer them.

Greg responded:

My cleats are now a full 9mm back from their original position. The pain during riding has largely subsided, however I'm just spinning on the trainer to get a feeling for the new position and not applying any real load. I found it interesting that after I pushed the cleats back the first 5mm a few weeks ago, a chronic knot in my left calf disappeared... I'm hopeful that I'll be back on the road before too long.

Thank you very much for your help.

Steve Hogg replies:

Thanks for the feedback. If you keep your cleats where they are now, you are unlikely to have any ongoing Achilles tendon issues once you have recovered from the current episode. To have the ball of the foot over the pedal axle as is commonly recommended, can limit performance and increase the chance of avoidable injury in my experience. If you leave the cleats where they are now, once you get the hang of it, you will find a performance improvement as well as less chance of injury.

Bike fit and pain

I am having knee pain with my new road bike (Mercier Serpens). Some background:

I used toe clips for many years on my old bike (Dave Scott Ironman). It is 56cm. The only knee pain was from overuse (big gears, low cadence, high load).

Now have all new equipment: 61 cm frame, Shimano Ultegra pedals w/SPD-SL cleats, Lake CX220 shoes. Crank arm length old 172.5, new 175mm.

When I ride at my normal pace (16-18mph for 18 miles, mostly flat, some hills) I get pain around both knee caps the next day. This new setup with clipless pedals is killing me!

Present bike fit: Bottom of knee over pedal axle, seat height 29.75 in. (I am 6ft 2in), ball of foot over axle. I do not struggle against the floating cleat position which seems to be centered.

My question: Is my knee pain, which has appeared since starting to ride this new setup, caused by the longer crank arms, clipless vs toe straps, or my fit on this larger frame? I raised the saddle until I felt I was reaching at stroke bottom, then lowered it a bit. Is my knee angle now more severe with the longer crankarms, causing this problem?

Charles Engman

Steve Hogg replies:

It could be a number of things. It is unlikely that the rotational angle of the cleats is the issue, because if it was you would be feeling pain on one side or other of the knee. However, given how little rotational freeplay SPD-SL's have compared to many other systems, it would be worth revisiting the cleat angle.

The seat set back that you have and the ball of the foot cleat positioning will certainly increase the likelihood of any propensity for knee pain where you feel, it in my experience. Read the posts ' Cleat Positioning 1 & 2' for July 26 and position your cleats accordingly. With the shoes that you have and the pedals that you have, it should not be a problem to gain the cleat position described in those posts. Make sure that the shoe is levelled between where the sole joins the upper in the middle of the heel at the back, and where the sole joins the upper underneath the pedal axle at the front. You are likely to have to move your cleats back substantially to do this, so you may have to drop the seat another 2 - 4 mm as the more rearward cleat position is likely to cause greater leg extension.

Once this is done, move your seat to a position where you can support your weight while riding on the drops without hands. If seat setback is good you should be able to teeter on the point of balance for a period. You need to be able to do this without having to arch your back and shorten up to support your weigh without hands. This is likely to be a substantial adjustment of the seat, but how much will Once done you may have to adjust stem length and bar height so that you can reach all of the hand positions on the bars with ease.

Once you have got your cleat fore and aft position and seat setback correct, you will be enlisting your hamstrings and calves together in eccentric contraction more than you currently do to help the quadriceps extend the knee. This should solve your problem [and increase performance].

Going to longer cranks is often a harder adjustment physically than moving to shorter cranks. Given your height and proceeding on the assumption that you are of average leg length, it is unlikely that 175mm cranks of themselves are the problem. It is very likely to be what I have discovered.

Let me know how you get on and if you need more help.

Fore/aft seat position revisited

I have been following with great interest Steve Hogg's comments on pelvic stability and fore/aft seat position in recent Fitness Q&A responses. I have a question that relates to Steve's suggestion that the rider should move the seat fore/aft to a point where teeter balance is just obtained when removing the hands from the drops while pedalling hard. Steve states that this is designed to ensure passive pelvic stability, and I presume it is therefore a function of torso length and weight. Could Steve explain how this position will constantly generate a correct fore/aft seat position, regardless of femur length? Is femur length no longer considered a determining factor in setting optimal fore/aft saddle position (as per the knee-over-spindle method)? I understand and find convincing Steve's arguments relating to breathing and passive pelvic stability, but what impact on pedalling dynamics does femur length in relation to distance behind the bottom bracket then have? Suppose two riders were biometrically and functionally identical apart from the fact that one has a longer torso. I presume this would result in the seat of the longer rider being set back in comparison with the shorter rider in order to balance the longer rider's relatively further forward upper body CG. Would this not then generate variation in the amount of relative use of key cycling muscle groups (quadriceps, gluteals, hamstring) in each cyclist (e.g. the longer cyclist would have more hamstring/less quadriceps use during pedalling, while the shorter cyclist would have the opposite), due to the fact that the pelvis for each rider will be a different distance back from the bottom bracket despite their identical leg lengths?

I might like to add that I am just returning to cycling after a three year layoff and have just moved my seat forward (it was all the way back) in line with Steve's suggestions. Apart from an initially strange sensation, I now find I am the most comfortable on the bike I have been for years. It will be interesting to see how this works when I begin criterium racing again in a few weeks, as I always felt I lacked power and wanted to drag myself forward on the bike when going hard on the drops, particularly when coming out of corners in criteriums. Although I feel intuitively that my fore/aft position is now much improved, I would appreciate it if Steve could find time to answer my questions above.

Anthony Cook
Melbourne, Australia

Scott Saifer replies:

I expect Steve will have detailed answers for you, but I can point out that the range of motion of the hip has much more impact on muscle activation then does the seat fore-aft position by itself. Your hypothetical long rider might have to have higher handlebars to get effective muscle use than would your shorter rider. If you remember Miguel Indurain on his TT bike, you might be willing to entertain the possibility that higher handlebars are not always a bad thing.

Steve Hogg replies:

Your question is a good one. I'm not a fan of the reductionist view of anything, let alone bike position. An effective bike position is all about achieving acceptable compromises between a number of sometimes contending requirements. The best way to do this is to take a whole of body approach. The assumption you have made in your hypothetical example is correct in my view, providing that extra torso length is the ONLY thing we are talking about. In real life examples that is unlikely to be the case. Human beings are wondrously adaptable. A gent named I think, Neil Sperry won a Nobel Prize in the early '80's for proving that 90% of the brain's activity is tied up in controlling posture and movement. [As an aside,that is where the mistaken phrase "we only use 10% of our brain" comes from.]

The practical effect of Sperry's discovery in so far as it relates to a bike position, is that it doesn't matter how you sit on a bike, even backwards, you will find a way to propel it somehow. The question is though, to what level of efficiency and at what physical cost?

The bottom line for optimal performance, is that achieving that stable pelvis, passively, as I have spoken about is fundamental and all other requirements are subsidiary to that to varying degrees. In the hypothetical case you mention, if that was the only difference between the 2 riders, I would position the longer torsoed rider's seat further back. If the torso length was longer by 10mm, 20mm even an extreme example of 50mm, how much further would the seat need to be back?

Not nearly as far as the increase in torso length is the answer, to allow the rider to support that extra weight that they cantilever forward. This is because as the seat of the longer torsoed rider moves back, he is able to apply good pressure to the pedals earlier in the stroke, i.e, he is pushing forward earlier at the top of the stroke. The net result of this is that his weight is pushed back on the seat, which in turn means that the difference in seat setback required for our long torso rider, is not of the degree that you would perhaps expect.

Still, this extra setback means that at some level there will be differences in the relative enlistment of various muscle groups, if torso length is the only difference we are talking about. So what, we are adaptable. Additionally, neurological efficiency and posture on a bike play a major part in determining what muscles are enlisted and to what varying degrees, not just where the seat is. The background that all of this needs to be framed against is:

Is this the best compromise to allow me to perform well at the lowest metabolic cost and avoid injury?

If the answer is yes, then get on with it. If the answer is no, then work out what needs to be done to achieve the best compromise.

Regarding femur length: while plenty of literature and inference out there in bicycle land suggests this STATIC approach, DYNAMICALLY it is a myth. I get sick of hearing " I have my knee in a neutral position over the pedal axle" Neutral in relation to what?, is the question I always ask and have yet to have answered. Don't get hung up on measurements and mythical relationships between body segments and bike parts. Get hung up on your capabilities and the best way to maximise them no matter what ' rules' the solution might contravene.

As to your last paragraph. If you found in your case that you could pass the balance test by moving your seat forward, you are in a minority in that regard but I would be the last person to argue with you. If the pelvis is stable in a passive sense, the rest of the body can get on with the job of propelling the bike, rather than stabilising the pelvis, which autonomically, it will always prioritise.

Fit and muscle utilization

I read Mr. Hogg's opinion on fit, and it made quite a bit of sense. I've been racing in men's colliegate and USCF road races for about a year now. I've never been thrilled with my fit, and I've sometimes felt it detrimental to my ability to handle the bike. However I didn't understand why on August 2 you said sitting farther forward results in under utilization of the glutes. A priori it seems that muscle utilization would be dependent only on hip, knee and other joint angles relative to the rest of the body, while weight balance would be related to angles relative to horizontal or gravity.

Nonetheless I rode my bike for a bit without my feet on the pedals, and I found that really changed my weight balance and drove home the importance of proper seat tube angle. As a result I've been trying to optimise my weight balance by moving my saddle back based on the teetering in the drops idea, but I've run into a bit of a snag: I can achieve the same effect by raising and bringing back the handlebars relative to the saddle and keeping the bars in the same spot relative to the saddle and moving the saddle back. So how much should I move my seat back, and how much should I raise my bars?

My thought on how to resolve the dilemma on whether to adjust the bars or the seat or both is to try and achieve optimal hip angle for power production and muscle utilization- which presumably are nearly identical conditions. Is there such thing as optimal hip angle, and how can I determine mine, if I have one? My thought is to then rotate the saddle and bars until proper weight balance between contact points is achieved.

Neil

Steve Hogg replies:

I have been waiting for the question implicit in your first paragraph for sometime and had just about given up hope. I'm glad that someone reading this stuff has thought about it a bit rather than just accepted unquestioningly or disregarded totally, as they chose.

Muscle utilisation depends on exactly what you say, and to which I would add neurological efficiency and the relationship to gravity. When a rider sits too far forward, enlistment of the quads increases. To prove this or otherwise all you have to do is move your seat 10mm forward and see what tires and or hurts more than usual. The centre quad, the rectus femoris, is both a quadricep and a hip flexor. All of the hip flexors are functionally linked and so quad overuse indirectly causes increased tightness in the other hip flexors.

The gluteus maximus and the hip flexors move the hip in opposite directions. The hip flexors are a 'postural' muscle group meaning that our brain autonomically gives them higher priority than our 'phasic' glutes. If the hip flexors are tight beyond a certain degree, the brains protective response is to partially or wholly shut down the nerve pathways to the glutes. This is done by means of an interneuron from memory, but I would have to brush up on that. This doesn't mean that a person can't clench their glutes if they want to, and think about it consciously. It does mean that in an activity like bike riding where the pedalling action is on ' auto pilot' where we are not consciously controlling and thinking about every pedal stroke, the glutes are inhibited neurologically to a greater or lesser degree if the scenario described above is the case.

In my experience, and I'm happy to accept that maybe I see a skewed sample, the majority of the people have tight hip flexors before they ever go near a bike. This is a by product of western culture where we spend a lot of time sitting and cramping up the hip flexors. When the glutes are not working properly, and given that the we have a pedal to push against, giving us a closed system; the action of the quads in extending the knee will cause movement at the hip without necessarily optimal glute involvement. This of course localises the load to quads to a greater degree than is optimal.

Your question at the end of your second paragraph is the right one, and while easy for me to do in person, is somewhat harder to explain in any way that is accurate and particular to you, given that I can't see you and have no knowledge of what sort of structural condition you are in and the techniques that you bring to pedalling a bike. Here is the best I can do:

Move your seat back till you can pass the hands off test, even if this means that you can only do it with your hands placed at the rear of the drop bars, not deeply in the hooks. If you can not pass this and reach fully in to the drops, then either the stem is too long or the seat is still not far enough back. Shorten the stem to what ever degree seems appropriate so that you can reach deep into the drops. Try the hands off test again. Can you only do it by arching your back noticeably more as you take your hands off?

If so, you are likely too far forward still. Every repeat of stem shortening and point of balance testing, make sure your bar height allows you to see forward comfortably while riding in the drops without using the full range of movement of the neck to see forward. No more than about 85% is about right, though the crit riders out there can get by with less because the distances they race over are not as great.

Sooner or later you will find a point where you can teeter for some time on that point of balance without problem. If at the same time you can reach the drops comfortably, you must be pretty close. How do you know if you are sitting too far back?

Pedalling at high cadences relative to that individual suffers; the belly of the hamstrings become overloaded on hilly rides and a limiting factor; there is a sensation of pawing forward at the pedal on the downstroke under load; we can force a gear well but fluidity of stroke is compromised etc, etc.

How do you know if you have got it right?

Other than the huff and puff of exertion, every thing should feel easy. There should be no sensation of 'fighting' the bike or of trying to drag it down the road with the help of the upper body while riding on the seat. The quads should not ever feel dead, post hard ride. There should be a general evenness to any leg tiredness. The hands and arms should feel like they are relaxed props that you could almost ride without. There should be no more tension in the arms and shoulder complex than is necessary to control and steer the bike. Legs for power generation, torso for breathing and arms for steering is minor simplification of how you should feel.

Re your last paragraph; I have been searching for some predictable range of angular relationships between various body parts for far too long. There is a range, but it is so large that anything I could say has limited application to any particular person. There is such a huge variety of function/dysfunction, symmetry/asymmetry, proportion and technique [ and by technique I don't just mean pedalling technique, but how we 'hold' ourselves on a bike] that I have given up the search as impractical.

Niel responded:

Thanks so much for your reply. I was wondering if you could clarify one thing for me. I wanted to make sure that you're telling me that when you slide your seat forward, even if you adjust your bars to be in the same position relative to the saddle and bottom bracket, the sub conscious somehow kicks in and changes your muscle utilitzation, due to the direction of gravity, regardless of whether or not we've put our bars so high that we feel balance. I was wondering if you could explain how or why that is.

As I read your first and second paragraph, moving your seat forward causes over enlistment of the quads, causing tight hip flexors, causing less glute employment, causing more load on the quads, making some spiral of pain. We can observe expirementally that moving the seat forward does cause more quad enlistment, but I'd really like to be able to explain why moving the seat forward causes increased stress on quads.

Also, is it possible to set one's position up such that the gluteus is over used and the quads are under utilized?

Steve Hogg replies:

Before I answer your queries I want to correct an inference you have taken from my previous reply. In your first paragraph your phrasing of the "sub conscious somehow kicks in and changes muscle utilization" doesn't sit well with me. The neurological inhibition that I was talking about, which in that particular case was the hip flexors vs glutes, is a well known neurological/biomechanical principle known as ' Sherringtons' Law Of Reciprocal Inhibition'.

Now to answer your first question. In this forum I am trying to explain things simply, in a way that can be easily understood and applied for some level of benefit, to people I don't know and can't see and have no knowledge of, other than what they tell me. This is a lot different from spending 3 - 3 1/2 hours positioning someone in person to a level that I will guarantee the efficacy of.

You are implying if I understand you correctly, that the point of balance test that I have spoken of can be passed, with more or less a wide variety of seat setbacks if the bars are positioned high enough. You are right, but that does not mean necessarily that a rider with seat too far forward and bars high enough to allow a stable pelvis will perform well.

Probably the simplest way to answer your first question is somewhat obliquely. The acme of position in my view, is when a given rider can:

1. have the greatest leverage on the pedals for the greatest number of degrees of crank arc, consistent with

2. using pedalling musculature that bears on the pelvis at front and rear with the greatest degree of harmony and equilibrium, consistent with

3. balancing the use of the quads at the front of the upper leg to extend the knee, with the use of the hamstrings and calves working together eccentrically, to extend the knee, consistent with

4. using the foot and ankle with best control, consistent with

5. balancing the relationship with gravity of the whole body so as to allow the respiratory musculature of the torso to be used to greatest efficiency, consistent with

6. presenting the smallest frontal area to the wind and providing the best aerodynamic profile, consistent with

7. the structural makeup, propensity for injury and individual techniques and body language of the rider, consistent with

8. the intended use to which the rider will put the bike and the terrain that he/she will ride over with good performance, consistent with

9. minimising the likelihood of avoidable injury.

In short, what you are implying will help you pass the balance test; but you will probably not ride very fast for very long.

Your second question: Moving the seat forward increases the use of the quads because it decreases the use of the hamstrings and calves in helping extend the knee. In other words, the load is localised to one muscle group at the front of the leg rather than spread over more musculature. I know that saying this is likely to prompt the question from you as to why the hammies and calves work this way as the seat goes back, and just how far back to put the seat for any individual. Sorry, I don't get paid for these replies, and knowing the answer to that question has taken a lot of years to nut out and helps me earn my living. I am not giving that one away, though I have given enough info on this forum over the past few months for the motivated to eventually work it out.

Also bear in mind that what may be far enough back for one rider may not be nearly far enough back for others and too far back for others still. That balance point test consistent with having handlebars placed as I have suggested in general terms, will get riders with a bit of nouse in the vicinity. For some this will be with low bars, for others the bars will need to be quite high. Structural function and general proportions play a large part in this.

Your last question: it is certainly possible to set a position for a given rider that under utilises the quads but it is very hard on a UCI legal bike to overuse the glutes. Generally speaking, the hamstrings will be a limiting factor well before the much larger and more powerful glutes. Additionally, unless using unbelievably long cranks, the range of hip motion required on a bike does not go close to working the glutes to the fullest degree.

Hot feet

I am a 55 year old successful triathlete having been on 3 TEAM USA teams at the ITU Worlds and a 4 time (soon to be 5) competitor at the Ironman in Kona Hawaii. I suffer the worst case of burning feet when out on long rides (over @70 miles) when the weather is hot and humid(Hawaii). Would a wider cycling shoe be a possible fix. This is not a one time problem but a constant issue on long rides or races. I have 15 years of racing experience.

Fred Clayton
Minnesota

Steve Hogg replies:

You are not really specific as to what you mean by hot feet. Is this localised to a part of the foot or felt over a larger area? First order of business is to check the cleat positioning posts for July 26 and position your cleats fore and aft accordingly. If poor cleat position plays a part in your problem, the info in those posts will cure the problem or minimise its severity.

Next, is there any sensation of lateral compression in the forefoot of the shoe?

Can you wiggle and spread your toes freely?

If not, as you suspect, your shoes are a likely culprit. On hot days when riding distance, the feet can swell and make a shoe that fits snugly at normal temperatures fell too tight. If this is the case, look for another shoe model or brand. Don't be tempted to get a size too big in an effort to get width. If you buy a size too large you just make the job of having a good fore and aft cleat position that much harder.

Additionally, given the time you imply that this problem has been occurring, has anyone looked at your feet?

If you have any of several common malalignments of the foot, then localised pressure/burning sensation can be result. Once you have eliminated cleat position and shoe fit as possible causes, it would be worth your while to see a podiatrist with cycling background or related experience to see if foot morphology plays a part.

If you can provide me with more specific info I will try and refine any advice given.

Knee problems

I am a 37 year old male office worker. I normally commute to and from work daily on my mountain bike. It is only a relatively short distance of 1.5 miles but as I live on the top of a steep hill and my office is at the bottom it helps to keep me fit. I also go out at weekends and on holidays for longer distances from anywhere between 10 to 30 miles but these tend to be on flatter routes.

In August a purchased a new road bike. I am reasonably happy with the set up. The bike is comfortable to ride and it not too dis-similar to my mountain bike in riding position although I have no pedal clips on the mountain bike. I have done several rides of up to 25 miles on the road bike in France and in Wiltshire, England without problems and was looking forward to building this up to longer distances.

On the weekend before last I did two rides of about 15 miles each from my home and since then have been suffering knee pain in both knees. I experienced no pain whilst cycling - this only manifested itself later. The pain is a generalised dull pain and cannot be pinpointed to any particular part of the knee. It feels as if my knees are cold and it is uncomfortable to walk.

There were several differences between my last rides and earlier ones which could have contributed to the problems:

1. The routes were much more hilly
2. The weather was colder but still relatively mild
3. The road surfaces around my home are not so smooth

My questions are:

A. Why should I get problems on the last rides but not the earlier ones? Is it a combination of 1,2 and 3 above or is it that I have just done too much too soon or a problem with the set up of the bike the results of which just happened to catch up with me at that time?

B. I have visited my doctor who could find nothing wrong with my knees and just recommended rest. I am taking it easy - no cycling and not much walking. How long is it likely to take before my knees recover and I can start again?

C. When I do start again, what distances do you recommend to build up my knees so that I do not get a recurrence of the problems?

D. Is there anything that I can do to speed up recovery?

Graham Threadingham
Devon, England

Steve Hogg replies:

Firstly, what does ' reasonably happy with the setup' mean?

Does it mean that you are mainly happy, but are unhappy with certain aspects of your position? If so, what are you unhappy with?

To answer your questions:

A. Your problems could indeed be a result of the reasons you have listed to which I would add the likelihood that you were riding harder gears on the road bike relative to the mtb. Unless you have a triple crankset, it is unlikely that you have the same spread of gears and perhaps the bigger gears that you were possibly using could be added to your 3 potential causes. It is hard to comment on your bike set up without knowing a lot more about you and your bike.

B. Let pain or discomfort be your guide. Knees are largely held together with fibrous tissue that does not get a lot of blood flow. Because of this they are hard to injure, but equally, once injured they take a bit of getting over.

C. When you do start again, keep to small gears at moderate rpm for 2 - 3 weeks. This will flush blood and lymph through the joint without any particular strain.

D. I don't know, the health professionals on this site should be able to offer specific advice.

If it is any consolation, I spent a week of riding hills in another city last January. The highlight [lowlight?] was when a local rider took a group of us up a 'killer' hill. My knees have been bulletproof on a bike for 30 years, but after climbing 640 vertical metres in 3 kms with gradients of up to 25% and with a cadence of down to 30 rpm in parts, just to get up the damn thing, my knees hurt for 3 days afterwards. I wasn't alone either.

Get over this and repeat your route at some future time, making sure that your knees are warm and that your gearing is appropriate to the gradient and your fitness level and you will likely be fine.

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