Fitness questions and answers for October 9, 2006

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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com) is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.

Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Michael Smartt (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Leg size and power asymmetry
Metatarsal pain
Stem length
Leg length discrepancy
Knee problem
Correct pedal position
Comparing power and heart-rate data

Leg size and power asymmetry

Hello, my name is Giancarlo Bianchi. I am a struggling (by struggling I mean I lack any sort of 'jump' for criteriums, sprints, etc.), 21 year-old, Cat 3 racer. I have had problems with positioning and, about a year ago, I got a bike fitting at the sports institute in Boulder, CO, which addressed many of my issues.

The main thing that I had not cleared up was the fact that, due to my years of riding in the incorrect position, my left leg is built up a lot more so than my right (size wise, but also power wise). The new position had started to start to build up my right leg, which was great, and I thought that they would eventually balance out, but it seems that I've reached some kind of plateau. Due to the stresses that I'm putting on my legs now in the end of season races, it seems like my body is trying to give everything it can for me and using my left leg more so than my right.

Now the size difference is becoming downright annoying to the point where I want to take a long time off, so that my body can forget about cycling/how to pedal, etc., and start all over again, but I honestly don't want to do that either. Would taking some time off help readjust everything? Or is it because of a difference in foot size? Is the difference in size due to the fact that, since my cleats aren't in the same position, my legs won't be used the same way, hence difference in quad/hamstring/calf size? Any thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

Giancarlo Bianchi,
Boulder, CO.


Steve Hogg replies:

It is unlikely that differential cleat position is the problem, providing they are in the correct relationship to foot in shoe for each foot size individually. Think of your body as a whole. You have differently-developed legs and differently-sized feet. This means that, at some level, you have been operating asymmetrically for a long time as foot size doesn't change much once you stop growing, unless an arch collapses or your weight changes drastically or something like that.

Your body functions asymmetrically. This means that the space your brain devotes to switching the muscles on and off is asymmetric as well. You have a learnt pattern of using your left leg more than your right. Why? I can only speculate from the info you have given me here and in your various emails in the past. When we go hard, as we do in racing situations, we automatically fall back into patterns of motion that we are used to. At the moment you have a pattern of motion that favours the left side. Think of it like this: Your brain learns what your body does, but your body does what your brain tells it to do. It is like a loop; if you want to function more symmetrically, you have to train your body and your brain. This is best achieved at low intensity, not in racing situations.

I am no expert in this stuff but can pass on advice that has worked for other people. Dave and Kelby can probably add to this in greater detail. You should be entering your off season now so it is as good a time to try this without any necessity for race intensity training.

1. Don't do one-legged drills with the left leg. Do one-legged drills with right leg only.

2. Every time you ride up a hill or are under any real load think "Right, Right, Right" on each right-leg pedal down stroke. Don't push harder with the right leg, just mentally count pedal strokes on that side. I was talking about this recently to a friend who is an exercise physiologist for the elite program in another country, and when I mentioned this he told me that they had done testing some time ago with SRMs with this idea in mind (i.e. mentally accentuate the 'weak' or non preferred leg) and found that the torque curves of each leg became much more even, and total power rose.

3. Stretch properly. If you don't know how, find a teacher. If that isn't possible, get hold of "Overcome Neck and Back Pain" by Kit Laughlin. Not because you have mentioned pain in those areas but because that book goes into some detail about asymmetries and how to address them. The key when stretching is, if you find a stretch where one side is tighter than the other, stretch the tight side first, then the less tight side, then back to the tight side again. Over time you are likely to function more evenly by doing this.

4. Get hold of Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais or find a Feldenkrais practitioner. That will help train your brain to function more symmetrically.

Metatarsal pain

I am a 50 year old male with over 30 years of cycling experience. I ride around 6000 miles per year on the road, mainly by myself at speeds of 15-18 mph. I wear a 10.5, A-width shoe. In the last few months I have had pain in the first metatarsal joint of my left foot. It has become a significant pain. I had this pain several years ago as well, and my doctor gave me cortisone shot which cleared the problem. My podiatrist has previously said the joint is arthritic and has adjusted my walking orthotics to reduce the range of motion of the toe.

I have Sidi Genius shoes size 45.5 narrow shoes (plastic soles) with custom cycling orthotics that are about four years-old with about 20,000 miles. The Time Impact cleats are adjusted so that the first metatarsal is about even with the Impact pedal axle. My pain may not be caused by cycling but I can feel it while cycling. Can 10mm of cleat movement cause a lot of problems? I have thought about looking at other shoes like the Specialized carbon road shoes as they seem to have a good fitting process with wedges and different insoles but the Sidis are the only shoes that come in widths. My understanding is that the 2007 Sidis will all be carbon soles but I have not confirmed that. The price of shoes has certainly gone up so I don't want to buy them unless I need them. I am not sure what to do first so I'd appreciate some advice.

Alan Fishman

Steve Hogg replies:

Assuming your position is reasonably sound, move your cleats back the 10mm, drop your seat 3-5mm to compensate for that (3mm should be about right, but many people who ride with the ball of their foot over the pedal axle have their seats set too high), and you should be fine. If you are not a reasonably flexible person, just ride easy for a couple of weeks to get the hang of the changed pedaling style.

The larger question though, is why you are having problems with the first MTP on the left foot only and why it is arthritic. It is probably worth consulting someone for a global structural assessment to find out what asymmetries have lead to this.


Stem length

I have been riding a 90mm stem and am considering a 100mm one. Would this be an insignificant increase? Will the angle be affected? What are some steps I can take to see if it would be OK with my position? I am 5'11" and am riding a 56cm compact frame (Specialized Tarmac). Would a 90mm stem be too short (I know it depends on the person's flexibility, core strength, and other factors)?

Shaun K. Riebl

Steve Hogg replies:

You know more about yourself than you have told us. Borrow a 100mm stem, ride for a few days and then make a judgment.

Leg length discrepancy

I enjoy reading all the articles on fit issues, but this particular article seems to closely mimic my problems. My right leg is about half an inch shorter than the left (confirmed by manual/visual manipulation not x-ray). My right foot is also supinated. For my 40+ years of riding and racing, I compensated for this mostly by pointing my right foot in comparison to the left. I also turn the right hip in towards the top tube. As I'm sure you can imagine I've never felt like I have used the legs equally and this is borne out by my legs' muscular development: left thigh slightly larger diameter, right calf slightly more defined. I have been 'fitted' in the past, but not really in a professional manner.

This past year I finally had a more complete fitting done by a very reputable east-coast (USA) shop noted that has been reviewed on several cycling web-sites. They prescribed a 5mm right-shoe flat wedge under the cleat, orthotics (BIG help) and some minor position tweaking to the cleats and brake handle which was intended to push the right hip back to be more in alignment. I have also turned the tip of the saddle slightly to the right which I would think would help to hold the right hip back (however, this seems contrary to what you note in the answer to Bill) I have noticed an improvement but I'm sitting more on the left ischial as there is a pronounced divot or dent on that side of the saddle (Selle Italia SLK). It's almost as though the right cleat build-up has pushed my left hip further down.

The bottom line is I still do not feel balanced on the saddle nor do I feel like I am pedalling equally with both legs (I seem to use the left leg more). I consciously try to drop the right heal to be more like the left side but when going hard to higher rpm (120+), I find myself slipping back to the old toe-down technique. Any suggestions? Would it help to move the saddle off-center as noted in other responses? Should I point the saddle differently?

Rex D,
Springfield, VA. USA


Eddie Monnier replies:

How much of your length leg discrepancy (LLD) is in the tibia and how much in the femur? This impacts on how big to build the stack. Did they measure your forefoot tilt on the right foot? If so, how many degrees was it? You don't want to angle your seat to the right in an effort to force your hip back. We want to fit the bike to you, not the other way around.

Rex D responded:

They did not measure the forefoot angle- do you have a recommendation on how to do this? I know in ski shops they had a device for determining LLDs and I was measured. This is what they found: as noted, left leg is 0.5 inches longer and they stated it is a tibial difference and structural. Right foot supinates while left is pronated as also previously noted. They did measure the valgus of the right foot and it is 10 degrees. They noted fairly good flexibility, but tight ITs. I was off on the right shoe build up. It's four Lemond wedges: two up on either side so it's even. And my saddle is an SLR not SLK.


Eddie Monnier replies:

Since your LLD is in the tibia, I would correct half the distance for starters. One inch = 25.4mm, so 0.5 inch = 12.7mm. Correcting for half this would mean 6.3mm of correction. I use LeWedges which are 1.5 mm thick. I would use eight LeWedges stacked thick-to-thin, which would provide 6mm of correction.

Now, you originally wrote that you supinate. If you supinate, then your forefoot is mostly like varus, which means that the inside of the foot is higher than the outside. Valgus, which is what you wrote, is the opposite. That's when the inside of your foot is tilted down relative to the outside

While some studies have shown that about 8% of the population has a forefoot valgus, my experience in doing hundreds of fits is it's less common than that. Assuming your right foot is 10 degrees varus, then I would add two more wedges to the stack. These should be oriented so that the thick part is on the inside of the cleat, as the intention is to fill in the gap which allows the foot to roll in under force.

I also suggest you point your saddle straight ahead for now. If you still turn in your left hip, then I would rotate the saddle slightly to the left. I know a pro cyclist who even after correcting his significant LLD, sits with one hip forward when he rides. He won an NRC race this season.

Try the correction I've outlined above. Keep your first few rides short and easy. Let me know how it goes.

Knee problem

I am a 46 year-old male, 5'11", and 175 pounds. I started riding road bikes two years ago. I typically ride 150-200 miles per week. I had some pain come on this summer for the first time very slowly. I can ride a flat century in four-and-a-quarter hours to give some example of my health.

I have a 56cm carbon bike with traditional frame. I know there are herniated discs in my back (MRI and epidural shots over the years) but while riding a bike there is typically little to no pain in my lower back. I find many times that my left hand will go numb, probably from carrying my weight on the left arm, shoulder and hand since my back is so weak, and I believe I am leaning to the left or rotated to the left. My hips are never sore, however.

The knee problem came on gradually. I first noticed it on a century ride. When I would sit up on the bike to eat and pedal, I would have a sharp, stabbing pain on the back side of the right leg, just below the bend of the knee. I would have to stop pedalling while sitting up or bend back over the bike and into the drops to get the pain to cease. As long as I was bent over at the waist while pedalling, the problem would go away to just a very small area (size of a pea), where I can feel a small bump that is sore to touch sometimes. It seems to be on a tendon or ligament in that area. I feel the same small bump on my left side but no pain, so I think the small bump is normal.

I have lowered my seat to see if that helps, but it does not. Moving it higher causes rocking problems, so I feel the seat height is not the culprit nor the fore/aft positions since I have no other knee or leg issues. I've also moved the cleats around, but to no improvement. Does it make sense that, since I am probably leaning to the left, I am putting some strain on the outside right leg? Could I be trying to compensate the balance of the bike by having my right knee/leg further away from the top tube?

Ed,
Suwanee, GA, USA

Steve Hogg replies:

I can't say with certainty, but it is likely that your leaning to the left is the basic cause for your right knee problem. If you are leaning and rotating to the left, the right leg has to reach further than the left and will end up with tighter hamstrings than if this wasn't the case. That is probably where you are feeling the pain. Find a sports doctor or physio with cycling experience, and sort out some sort of stabilisation or core-strength program so that you can end up riding your bike without having to heavily favour your left side. That is the best solution. Any other may solve the existing knee problem at the expense of causing another elsewhere.

Correct pedal position

I am a veteran road racer, doing about 200km per week. I switched from mountain biking after a serious accident. I am feeling good at the moment, although I need to drop some weight. What I would like to know is the correct position of the pedal in relation to the shoe (I use Sidis) and the correct position of the pedal in relation to the knee. I've read much about it and I would appreciate your advice. I don't experience any problems, but I would like to know the optimum power-transferring position.

Sok Kyriazis.

Steve Hogg replies:

Have a look at these posts on the ball of foot and cleat positioning. Regarding the correct position of the pedal in relation to the knee, have a look at this question on balance. There is plenty of other stuff in the archives as well if you have a look.

Comparing power and heart-rate data

My question is in regards to comparing Power Data and heart rate. I have been riding a road bike for a little over two years. I am 37 years-old, 5'8" and 148lbs. My maximum heart rate is 193. I recently began training for a local ride in the area covering 100 miles, with many hills requiring my maximal output. Before I began to train for this, I followed Ric Stern's training schema on establishing heart rate zones based on his ramp test with a power tap. I borrowed a power tap and did his test twice in a two and a half-month time span. The first time I did it was to establish my heart rate zones and the second was to see what kind of progress I was making.

Downloading the information on the first test showed that at 174 bpm I was at 210 watts. 240 watts were produced at 188 bpm. The second test showed that when I hit 174 bpm, my wattage was 240. At 188 bpm I was at 280 watts. The training I am doing is in zones five and six. The training in these zones has shown improvement but would like to improve some more.

My question is this: has the 40 watt increase at the higher heart rate been the result of being able to stay at the higher heart rate for a longer period of time?

Doug Fanning


Ric Stern replies:

Thanks for asking a question about the RST training schema. I believe that what you're trying to do is beyond the scope of our testing. Our test is strictly designed to find only two results:

1) Maximal aerobic power (MAP), which is (usually) the mean average power of the final 60 seconds of the incremental test to exhaustion.

2) Maximum heart rate, which is the highest heart rate we record during this test.

From these two metrics we can then set training zones based on power output (for those with a power meter) or heart rate for those with a HR monitor. It's important to understand that at a given power output, heart rate can vary for many reasons (e.g., cadence, altitude, temperature, anxiety, training, etc.) as it is a dependent variable. It's difficult to say why there was a difference between the two tests, the HR and the power - it could be that one of the reasons mentioned above affected your HR or it could be that you have become fitter. A better way of deciding if you have become fitter is simply to compare your MAP from test one and two. This would show whether there has been an increase in fitness.

Additionally, it could be that 210 watts was your sustainable power, which is now 240 watts. This represents an increase in power of almost 15%, which is a substantial increase in fitness. As well as ascertaining your MAP, checking your sustainable power output is also important. This can be done with a time-trial effort over a set distance such as 16km or 40km. Repeating the test (along with repeating MAP) will allow you to check your progress over those durations.

Whether you can improve your fitness anymore is dependent on many issues, which are not limited to: how trainable you are, the type of training you're doing, how much time you have for training, other life stresses, age, etc. We can help with your training and coaching, as can the other coaches at the fitness list.


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