Fitness questions and answers for September 13, 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.

Improving 'kick'
High heart rate
Training on beta blockers
Lactic acid
Foot orientation
Bike fit techniques
Pain behind the knee
More on post-ride knee pain
Pedal width too narrow
Left-side tightness

Improving 'kick'

I am a 42 year old male masters 3 cyclist. I am 6' tall and weigh 75kg. I have been racing for 1 year after a 11 year lay off. Before that I raced for ten years. I have steadily improved my fitness level over the past year and train around 400k's a week. I have no problem staying with the bunch or in a breakaway, I can ride at speed no problem. I find I can usually place in the 1st 3 riders in a bunch sprint. But my biggest weakness is bridging the gap of a strong attack during the race. Unless I am right on the attackers wheel I just can't seem to bridge the gap, if they get 50 or so meters up the road. This is not always the case but has happened a few times lately at the business end of the race, say in the last 2 - 5 km. Can you suggest some training tips that could improve my initial kick and also so that I can sustain the higher pace long enough to catch a break. Because I work early morning and then again in the afternoon and evening I usually do most of my training by myself in the middle of the day, so don't have anyone to sprint with.

Tony McDonald
Quakers Hill, Sydney Australia

Brett Aitken replies:

Your problem lies with a need to improve your anaerobic capacity/power which enables you to sustain high power outputs for a short period of time. You can get this through integrating short intervals of between 30sec and 2min efforts at high intensity into your weekly training routine. Efforts can vary between 5 and 10 for 2min intervals with 5 to 10min recovery or up to 20 reps of 30sec efforts with a 1:1 or 1:2 recovery depending on the intensity.

Keep in mind that bridging gaps is as much about when, where and how (tactics) as it is about your physiological capacity. Here is an excerpt from a recent article I wrote for my coaching service:

BRIDGING GAPS SOLO

It's important to know that there are good moments and bad moments on when and how to bridge a break away in cycling. As a general rule of thumb you should never attack or try and bring back a breakaway by yourself in cases where wind resistance is a major factor in limiting your speed. This situation usually occurs on descents, into a head wind on the flat or during a strong side wind. The reason is because even a slightly organized group rolling over each other will be much faster than you with very little effort needed to produce the same speed.

On the other hand the best time to try and jump across to a breakaway is when the odds are a little more even and wind resistance isn't fighting against you. This is usually when the road is very slow (dead), a long slow drag uphill or on hill climbs short or long. These situations work in your favor because it means the riders in front are not getting as much benefit from the drafting off each other.

High heart rate

I've been training since a very early age, but only started road riding about a year ago, following aggravating an old injury to my Achilles I started to ride with one of the instructors at the gym that I'm a member off, who said about training to heart rate zones, which I had never done before. Based on the 220-your age(23) that made my max. 197 but after doing some sprints I found that I could easily hit 205. I read something about a method of testing for your max. which I did and scored 210. So I've tried to base my training zones on this figure, but I can cruise along at 190 on the bike and 195 on the tread mill which is in excess 90%. My resting rate is around 47-49 The advise from the gym is mixed some say I should back off others say its okay as long as I feel okay. Is normal or am I just a freak?

Darren
UK

Eddie Monnier replies:

First, the 220 minus your age estimate of max HR works okay for a large cross-section of the population, but can be off wildly for any particular individual and for limited size samples. Even if it were accurate, I am not an advocate of tying training zones to max achievable heart rate because max heart rate is not very responsive to training. In fact, for many individuals, it decreases with training. Rather, I advocate the use of basing HR training zones off of an estimate of HR at Lactate Threshold (LT). While there varying definitions and associated intensities for LT, I am referring here to the upper end of the intensity ranges associated with it. One quick and easy way to estimate this is to do an all-out 30-minute effort while wearing a HR monitor in training. Average your HR for the last 20-minutes of the effort. This average is a reasonable estimate of the heart rate to which I tie training zones. Of course, HR is subject to many variables (eg, diet, heat, humidity, state of rest, etc.) so we look for confirming data and trends over time rather than taking one single test as definitive and fixed. We typically test every four to six weeks, too, since LT is responsive to training.

You should realize, however, that training zones are particular to different training approaches. Under the Friel methodology, which I advocate, we set five zones (really seven if you consider the fact that the highest zone has three subzones) based on percentage of the estimated HR at LT. If you were to use our zones with somebody else's system, you could very well end up with disappointing results.

So my ultimate recommendation is for you to go to the book store and scan through the cycling-related training books. See which one(s) you like (how they're written, how they explain things, how easy it will be for you to devise a training system using it, etc.), purchase it, read it and then apply it. Your next step would be to seek out a qualified coach to help you make the most of your transition to cycling. You're adopting the sport at a great age, so let's get you started out on the right foot.

Training on beta blockers

I am a 33 year old male, fit cyclist, with cat. 3 potential but cat 5 experience. I tested recently and found this all out because I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and mild hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. To combat this the cardiologist prescribed an ACE inhibitor (lisinopril 10mg), and a beta-blocker (atenolol 25 mg).

I staggered the medication starts and am more or less accustomed to both now, however one side effect that cropped up after I began the atenolol is that my heart rates across all zones dropped by about 10 or 15 beats. So now at all stages, whether resting on the couch, free-wheeling to the training ride, warming up, or pulling a hard 20 minute effort, I am seeing lower heart rates than before.

My question is: What do I do with this?

I reach hyperventilatory threshold faster, but I can ride just as long and with roughly the same effect as before. My power is the same if not slightly better, and I recover even faster from the efforts.

Should I adjust my heart rate training zones to reflect the new reality? Should I continue to regard my max heart rate as it was previously, or should I adapt to the newest achieved max hr?

When tested, the doctor recommended much more training at medium and long endurance zones, from 65 to 80% of max hr. Now, if I abide the old heart rate max of 184, virtually all of my training time is spent in those medium and lond endurance zones. Is that correct? Or should I adjust to the new max hr of 170 (so far) and train at 65-80% of that number? Did the medication correct me? Was I broken before?

Chris Baldwin
Russia

Scott Saifer replies:

I hope one of the other panel members with more relevant experience will jump in here. My thought is that you should use your apparent new maximum heart rate and threshold heart rates to create new zones and use them. This means your new zones will be lower than the old ones in terms of heart rate. You might find it difficult to go slowly enough at first. It's okay to go slowly enough to obey them. The other possibility is to use power rather than heart rate to regulate your workout. If you determine your zones based on power, and recheck them periodically, you don't need to worry about changes in heart rate zones with different medications.

Kim Morrow replies:

I'd suggest adjusting your heartrate zones based upon the new effects of the medicine you are taking. This is something you should confirm with your doctor, but let me share my experience in training clients who have taken beta blockers.

From my previous research on beta blockers, I recall that they blunt the stimulating effect of the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline)on the heart. This therefore reduces the heartrate and contraction intensity which decreases the oxygen requirements of the heart.

Beta blockers, which are often taken for hypertension, normally result in a decrease in heart rate. In fact, the beta blockers have been known to cause a decrease of up to 20percent resting and training heart rates.

After a doctors approval to do so, I have my athletes on beta blockers perform a 30:00 LT field test, while taking their medication. Again, only after the doctor's ok! We then set up their training zones based on this test, AND we add a RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale to go along with these HR zones. For example, zone 1 may be "very Easy" and zone 5 may be "very, very hard". If they have a power meter, then we would also use those results as well. So, I think the important issue is to establish "new" training zones as a result of the medication, while on the athlete is on the medication. So, when you set up your "new" training zones, make sure that you are taking the medicine as the doctor has prescribed, as this will affect the test results. I have especially found the importance of an athlete being more aware of their perceived exertion while taking any kind of medication.

One other note, I set up my athletes' training zones based on their estimated Lactate threshold (by performing a 30 minute field test.) I prefer this method over setting up training zones based on a percentage of the maximum heartrate.

Lactic acid

Regarding your article about lactic acid here, I was wondering: If this is true - what IS the pain in the muscles when training picks up, and what DOES cause our muscles to grow tired?

Lior Sion

Dario Frederick replies:

We don't fully understand the mechanisms behind the causes of pain at high intensity exercise, or why we may feel it as a sharpness or burning. Scientists believe however, that it is a self-protective mechanism by the body as a signal to avoid creating extensive damage.

The two primary causes of fatigue at non-sustainable workloads are 1) an accumulation of inorganic phosphate resulting from reliance on the CP-ATP energy pathway beyond its capacity to provide energy, and 2) the loss of potassium from inside muscle cells which specifically reduces a muscle cell's ability to contract. Of course, if glycogen stores are depleted, then the higher force muscle fibers which rely primarily on glycogen for fuel will be limited in their contribution to exercise, reducing both max sustainable and peak power as well.

Foot orientation

I have some questions. First, I have Speedplay pedals and more and more my right foot points inwards towards the bike when riding. I did not start out this way. Is there a reason for this? Is this a problem?

Next, I am getting strange sensation in my right heel. When sitting here at my desk, if I my straighten my right leg and lift my foot a little off the floor and then flex my foot so that toes are up and heel is down I get a sharp prick-like pain in my lower heel. It dose not hurt while riding but I am afraid to do any serious riding. Do you know what this could be?

Galen Burk

Stege Hogg replies:

The heel sensation is a worry because it could be where the Achilles tendon attaches to the calcaneus [heel bone]. Are you tight in the calves on the same side?

If so, go and see a sports health professional with some cycling experience or background as this could be playing a part in the problem.The gradual increase in the internal rotation of the right leg while pedalling suggests that something about the way your body operates has changed. Are you working or training harder than usual?

Are you getting less sleep or are you more stressed than usual?

Has the amount of stretching you do diminished?

Have you changed your position on the bike recently?

The other thing you need to nail down is whether this is a right side problem or a consequence of something that you are doing on the left side. Have someone observe from above and behind you while you ride on an indoor trainer. Make sure the bike is levelled between axle centres. Do you drop either hip?

Galen responds:

1. Regarding tightness my calves, The right side does feel tighter but not very much so.

2. Riding time and intensity. I have a had a down year, a lot of personal issues early in the year threw me out of sync. From a psychological point of view it has taken me almost until now to mostly sort things out. I started feeling good in July and thought I might try to race in August. After a three hard weekends I fell apart and couldn't keep up on group rides so I laid off the intense stuff (and didn't race either). This was 8/14. The following weekend I did not ride at all, as we had company over. During this weekend is when I first felt this sensation. When I leaned over with a straight leg to pick something up I felt a "ping", for lack of a better word. It wasn't an outright pain.

3. A little less sleep, especially when our company was over and for about a week after they had gone. I am not usually stressed out now (maybe a bit).

4. I have been a little lax in stretching since the incident.

5. Bike position was changed about 2.5 months ago. I also got new shoes at the same time.

6. I don't really know if either hip drops or not, but I do suspect something going on. I have never felt quite right on the bike and have a host of nagging "little" things:

a) Front of the left knee bothers me off the bike. Incessant urges to "pop" it. On the same knee. While on the bike I occasionally get some pain on the left rear of the knee.

b) Pedaling does not seem to feel the same on both sides.

c) Left hip hurts occasionally on the bike and off the bike, but only in certain positions or angles.

d) I am not doing it now, but I was sitting more to the right on the saddle.

e) I frequently have a dull pain around my right shoulder blade, which doesn't bother me on the bike unless I am doing a long technical decent in which it becomes a burning sensation. It is as if the muscle is very fatigued. It very painful during these times. Otherwise it bothers me most off the bike at work or when I am doing the dishes or something at home. But it does let up when I do not ride as much, like now.

Since the feel of my pedaling is different for each leg and with the knee/hip/knee/back problem, I am going to a chiropractor who has cycling related experience. I have had my position changed a few times over the last five years. Two times by shop people and one time by "professional" ($300). None of these has comprehensively addressed any my issues and this is the main reason for visiting the chiropractor. I was going to ask about my heel too.

Steve Hogg replies:

Bear with me while I attempt to help. Here is a course of action to try based on what is the most likely case from what you have told me.

Off the bike: You obviously have some asymmetries of function happening pelvically. Take up yoga, Pilates or similar. We all train our 'engines'. This puts stresses on the body as a structure but very few train their structure as conscientiously as they train their cardiovascular system. If you can't find or it doesn't suit to start yoga or Pilates, there is a terrific book called Stretching and Flexibility by Kit Laughlin. The book is structured as a 15 week course in stretching. It is educative and effective if put into practice with good form. If you do this stuff, don't do it in a room with a TV or other distractions. You need to think about what you are doing.

If your chiro doesn't get results or give you the advice you need to get results, find another one. Or physio or osteopath or whatever. From the sound of it, you have had a stressful year. Stress causes us to tighten up. This is likely to have exacerbated pre existing functional asymmetries. If the underlying causes of this can be resolved off the bike; you are halfway to solving problems on the bike. Plenty of sleep, stretching, that sort of thing, can play a big part in de stressing.

On the bike: A fair bit of guessing here, I'm playing the odds of what is most likely to be happening. I may well be wrong, but here goes.

I suspect that you are sitting with the right hip forward to some degree on the bike. This would explain the internal rotation of the right leg. There are a multitude of reasons why this could be so, all of which can be addressed by stretching, or possibly manipulation. Before you go any further, it is really important that you confirm this or otherwise.

Get someone to observe you from behind and slightly above while pedalling on and see if you are dropping or rotating forward that right hip. If not, get back to me.

If so, continue on. OK if that is the case, twist the nose of the seat to the right. As a starting point, point the saddle nose centreline at the right edge of the clamp where the stem grips the handlebar. If the seat feels obviously twisted, straighten it only enough so that it does not 'feel' twisted. This will square up the hips to a greater or lesser degree. My assumption is that you have a right side problem and that your left side problem behind the knee is caused by unconsciously protecting the right side, by dropping the right hip forward and down. This is a common response and one which requires the left leg to reach further; hence the pain behind the knee.

The reason that your right side internal rotation has worsened, is firstly off bike stress. Secondly, when you got back on the bike you went too hard too soon. Result; more stress, but this time of a physical nature. The more the right hip drops and rotates forward, the harder the left legs job is, and so the more work the right leg has to do, and so on in a vicious circle.

OK, the seat is twisted to the right. You will probably have to fit a 3 - 5mm spacer under your cleat on the right side. To do this you will need another Speedplay base plate. That is the black plastic base to which your aluminium cleat screws into. Remove the shims front and rear from the second base plate that allow it it to have a curve at the bottom. They just pop out. Screw both base plates to the sole of your shoe before mounting the cleat to it. Check the cleat positioning posts for July 26 and position the cleats that way. You will have to use large headed screws for the base plates which will probably have to be partially ground down afterwards so that they don't protrude and warp the cleat preventing you from entering the pedal. The screws that come with Sidi shoes are ideal for this purpose. This will give you an extra 3mm. For the other 2mm, fit a thicker insole to your shoe.

If you can't get the Speedplay cleats back far enough, stay tuned. I will have a solution to that problem soon. Now position the left cleat as per the posts for July 26.

Now you need to set the seat height. Correct seat height is when you can ride up a steepish hill with no sensation of struggling or jerkiness at the bottom of the stroke. In your case I would not overdo the effort as you will just fall into hip drop mode, twisted seat or no twisted seat. If in doubt, slightly low will cause less problems than slightly high.

Seat set back needs to be such that you can all but support your weight on the drops without hands. Again, in your case you will struggle a bit because of functional asymmetries which make this harder than if otherwise. Position your bars where you can reach all of your hand placement options with ease. Many bars do not allow any but the long fingered to reach their brakes from the drops without having their brake hoods too low for optimum comfort. If in doubt, change to Deda anatomic bars. You can get your hands closer to the brake levers for a given brake hood height than on any other commonly available bar.

Once you feel that you have the bars right; pad up the right side with Specialized Bar Phat or 2 extra layers of bar tape.This should take the edge off the right upper back problem which is probably a response to bracing against the challenge to pelvic stability that a rotated hip will cause on a bike. That is of course, if this whole house of cards of reasoning has any foundation.

I suspect that if what I am guessing is right, that you will have to change some parts to allow the solution I have described to work. If it all gets too hard, put your efforts into improving your function OFF the bike. Worst case, this will minimise problems on the bike, whatever parameters of position you have set.

Galen responds:

I still have not figured out the hip dropping or not. But I did go to the chiro today (first time). It a very interesting experience. She looked at me and then did some light massage and a few manipulations. She told me I was not that bad and a couple of treatments and stretching on my own should set me straight (no pun intended). Before the manipulations my left leg was about an inch shorter than the right. Post manipulation they were pretty even. She noticed that the left lower back is super tight along with the left glute and hamstring. And on the right side she found some over developed trap and upper back, as compared to the left side. This was creating a higher right hip and right shoulder and making me cock my head a little. She thinks my posture is the main culprit in this. So my first plan of action is going to be to get stretching and work on my posture. Then come back to things on the bike. Does that sound reasonable?

Steve Hogg replies:

You have your priorities absolutely right. 'Put function first' is my motto. Do what the chiro suggests and also buy the Kit Laughlin book that I mentioned. Once your level of function and structural fitness off the bike is adequate, then addressing any issues that may occur on the bike becomes relatively simple.

Bike fit techniques

I have been researching different bike fitting methods. I've considered Sheldon Brown, Lemond, Fit Kit, Bill Boston, 7, Bontrager, Friel, Zinn, Hinault, Klein, Burke and other random websites and magazines. I've created a spreadsheet in which I've attempted to apply each approach to my measurements, and I have discovered an incredible amount of variance among systems.

I have been struggling to determine the optimal relationship among femur/tibia length and seat height/fore-aft, bottom bracket, and cranks. What if bike weighting (60R and 40F?) conflicts with optimal saddle fore-aft and seat tube angle, whatever the previous optimization might be?

I know bike fit is a process, and no one theory or formula works for everyone, but I am finding myself thoroughly confused. Any advice or other suggested readings would be greatly appreciated.

It would be interesting to see articles on bike fit theory and praxis. The nearing off-season would be a prime time for riders to tweak and fine tune their positioning.

Bryan Pope

Steve Hogg replies:

I can well understand why you are struggling. A lot of modern thinking about rider positioning concentrates on the proportional aspect of the rider. The general message is that a position on a bicycle is a product of a person's measurements. My practical experience is that this approach with its' veneer of pseudo - scientific method is so wildly inaccurate as to be laughable. A riders' body measurements are not unimportant, but they are the least important aspect to consider in the task of positioning. Much more important is the state of structural health and the individual techniques and idiosyncrasies of function that a given rider brings to the task of propelling a bicycle.

STATIC body measurements give little or no insight into the capabilities, individual techniques, respiratory efficiency, asymmetries of function, injury history and response to stress loading that are needed to optimize a position for the DYNAMIC activity of cycling for any given rider. Unless these matters are correctly assessed and skillfully addressed, there is always potential for avoidable injury and sub performance. Unfortunately, positioning based on the foregoing does not lend itself to simple solutions at the retail level.

The reason you have found so much variance among the methods you cite [ most of which I am unfamiliar with ] is that when they were formulated, they probably worked for somebody. But as you can see from the variance is that they don't work for every body otherwise there would be basic agreement. Finding a measurement based method that works for cycle positioning is like a mythical quest. If you can find the right set of numbers, then they can be packaged and sold to every coach and bike shop and the inventor will likely make a lot of money.

I used to believe in the measurement based approach as well, because every book, magazine and coaching manual suggested that approach. However, when I started positioning people I soon found the shortcomings of this approach. Basically the riders weren't happy. Many years ago I decided to put my livelihood on the line to find out what really worked, by positioning strictly on a money back if not happy basis. While I am no threat to Bill Gates, I make a living doing just that. The sum total of that experience is to advise you to forget any mathematical based method. It won't happen.

Re the ideal weight distribution of weight over front and rear wheels. A good position is paramount and the first order of business. If achieving this causes a less than ideal distribution over the wheels; you have 3 choices. 1. Design a frame underneath that ideal body position that re establishes any ideal of front/rear weighting that you are trying to achieve. Then have the frame built. 2. Live with the good position and less than ideal weighting and any handling effects that are a product of that. 3. Abandon the position and console yourself that at least your front/rear weight distribution is good.

I know what I would choose.

Pain behind the knee

Hi, I'm a 22 yea-old male triathlete who has recently (last 9 months) began to take endurance training seriously. During base periods I'll train up to 15 hours per week. My question concerns some discomfort I've felt when cycling. I've read a lot of articles about knee pain, especially where the pain is located in front or to the side of the knee. In my situation I feel pain behind my right knee, usually after a longer ride (3-5hrs). I'm not sure if it is related, but my right calf begins to cramp up quicker than my left at high intensity. Any comments on what might be causing this? Any suggestions on how I can alleviate this problem? Other than when riding my bike, my knee doesn't bother me.

Antonio Gonzalez
Boise, ID USA

Steve Hogg replies:

Your problem almost certainly has a simple solution. Where you have the knee pain and the fact that the right calf struggles on the same side suggests to me that you are reaching to far on that side to the bottom of the pedal stroke and/or that the cleat on that side is further forward relative to foot in shoe than the other side.

Plan of action:

1. Check the cleat positioning posts for July 26 and adjust your cleats accordingly fore and aft. Make sure that both cleats are positioned at an angle that allows your foot an even amount of movement either side of their natural position. Now go for your long ride and see whether the problem is still apparent. If not, leave as is. If it is still there go to point 2.

2. Drop your seat height by 5mm and go for one of your long rides. Has that resolved the issue?

If no, get back to me and we'll cover some of the less common possibilities.

3. If the answer to point 2 is yes but you get twinges at the front of the other knee, then you are dropping your left hip while riding which is making the right leg reach further and is causing your problem. The ideal solution is to see an appropriate health professional [chiropractor, physio, osteopath or similar] and resolve the problem.

4. If the answer to point 2 is yes and your left knee is fine then leave the seat at the new lower height.

More on Post-ride knee-pain #1

Thanks so much for your response last week. I am probably one of the few people whose seat has been inching too high in order to avoid knee pain! We found I was rocking a bit, and lowered it some not long before my email to you, with no ill effects to the knees.

However, I did have my feet alignment checked, and I do have excessive inward roll on the forefoot, so I am having orthotics made to correct this. I hope this could be the cause of the pain...

Re. your response about seat position fore/aft, what is the best way to determine this? I read somewhere that your nose should line up within 2 inches behind the center of the stem while in the drops, but I don't know if that is a legitimate test.

Jody Schmidt

Steve Hogg replies:

Glad to be of help. If you have significantly varus forefeet as you have been told, it is very likely to be the reason or at least a major contributing factor, to your knee pain.As to seat setback; your seat should be far enough back so that you can support the majority of your weight without hands while riding in the drops. If you can do this with ease, you are probably too far back. Teetering a bit is good, ideally you want to be on the point of balance. Too far forward and you will not be able to support yourself without hands. If too far back, transferring your weight forward when sprinting off the seat becomes ponderous. Too far forward and the upper body has to bear more weight. This means that the torso musculature involved in respiration has to be tied up bearing weight or stabilising at some cost to respiratory efficiency. Unfortunately there is no quick and simple formula to determine this.Once you have got the seat right, there may need to be changes to bar position. Ideally you need to able to reach the top, brake hoods and drops with ease. Don't forget to check the cleat positioning posts from July 26.

Lastly, once you have your orthotics fitted, there is likely to be a change in the angle of your footplant on the pedal. Make sure that with what ever system you are using, your natural foot placement is in the middle of the available freeplay.

More on post-ride knee pain #2

Hey guys - saw the "post-ride knee pain" in Q/A form and fitness and was surprised you didn't mention the importance of rehab and strengthening of the muscles surrounding the knee. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (or, if further advanced) chondromalacia was alluded to in your response which is great, but she needs to set up a treatment regimen with a doctor to get full recovery. I know this because I have this common knee condition, with the same presentation of pain. Left untreated, an enthusiastic fitness person will keep going with this type of knee pain, leading to irreversible damage. Not good. A little patience with one's self can give you years of happy knees. Don't forget to mention the importance of letting the knee rest, not simply just tweaking a saddle height here, fore/ aft position there, allowing yourself a sense of security in pressing through pain. In this condition, pain is BAD and means damage is occurring. Correcting some of the contributing factors you mention in the reply are excellent, but she has to let it heal and strengthen the muscles supporting the knee, along with what we all know about - R.I.C.E. As always, thank you guys for the functional perspective and advice!

Liz Hanson

Dave Fleckenstein replies:

I have responded to very similar queries in multiple responses present in our archives - in my laziness I neglected to respond and remind of previous responses:

http://www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/?id=letters2003_02_12

The following is probably the most accurate response:

http://www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/?id=letters2003_06_25

Pedal width too narrow

In response to Brian Marron's letter. I have big feet as well, size 14+ depending on the shoe. And they're flat so they tend to be wide. I had little toe problems, until I stumbled upon "proper shoe care".

I use Time shoes and always always always remove the foam insert after every ride and put in full size cedar shoe trees (not plastic). With all the moisture and salt, shoes can shrink and get stiff and rub on your little toe. Shoe trees take away the moisture and help the shoes last a long time. I also have a shoe stretcher than I substitute for the shoe tree after every other ride on my bigger right foot (or the toe problem returns). I stretch the width, basically customizing the shoe. In this way, I don't have to have an oversized length to handle the width. It works. Try it.

Darrel Stickler
San Mateo, CA

In response to Steve Hogg's reply last week, Brian Marron wrote:

Thank you for your reply. You are correct I should have said that my cleats were as far in as possible to make my shoe as far out as possible, a momentary mental lapse. Yes I am an American and no I have not heard of Keywin pedals. I will look into them, thanks for the advice. I don't believe that I need radical toe positioning but I am concerned about the float. I wear size 14 shoes (50 or so European depending on the manufacturer) and even riding a 63 cm Merckx Ti AX frame with my cleats positioned as far in as possible my heels barely clear the chainstays.

Steve Hogg replies:

Have a look at the Keywins. The float is not between the cleat and pedal like on other systems. It is between the axle and the pedal body and can be locked out if necessary. If you are barely clearing the chainstays now with your heels, the longer axle versions of the Keywins should give you more heel/chainstay clearance and still allow you to use the freeplay.

One of the issues that I have with production frame design is that chainstays are the same length in all sizes of a given model. I am not picking on Merckx particularly; all the major manufacturers do the same. Chainstay length should increase as seat tube length increases to provide better weight distribution over the wheels and to afford larger and likely larger-footed riders a little more clearance between heels and frame.

Left-side tightness

I am a 28 yr old cat 3 road racer. I seem to have been fighting my position over the last couple of years. I've tried orthotics and a chiropractor(he thinks my back is a bit crooked but not unusual or severe enough to cause foot and knee pain) but still the problem is there. When I pedal my hips feel crooked on my saddle. My left foot points in and my right foot points out (from floating pedals) and my left knee moves in near the frame and my right moves out. I am convinced that my hips have gradually become crooked over time due to a lack of ab strength and an overly tight hamstring and hip muscles in my left leg. I have always had a problem with muscle tightness, especially in my left leg. I have a little back pain in the middle of my back but the chiropractor says it's just strained from lifting in the gym.

I am an extremely experienced athlete with a strong background in cycling, running, weightlifting and swimming since I was 13. I have never had a problem with my cycling position until I turned 26. I rode for 6 yrs without problems with a lot of mileage but had no problems. Since I've quit lifting so much and only lift in the winter, I feel the problem has worsened. I've been doing a lot of stretching in the past month and it has helped but not cured anything. I did that ab test in bicycling magazine and it was awful so I have only been working on my abs for 3 days now. The problem also seems to be better when I ride my MTB and on Sat or Sun morning. What gives? Please help.

Brandon

Steve Hogg replies:

The bottom line is that if you solve your problems off the bike, you will go a long way towards solving them on the bike. The question you need to find someone who can answer for you, is why you have this pattern of left sided tightness. I can make a number of guesses but that is all they would be. You mention that you have had problems with muscle tightness, particularly on the left for some time. With this background, it is likely that you had issues before you were 26 but that they hadn't bitten you yet.

For every physical action we perform, there is one optimally efficient way and many other ways we can still do it, but are forced to pay a physical price for doing so suboptimally. If the physical price is high, we'll hurt quickly which is good. I say good, because we then know we have a problem and can do something about it. If the physical price is low, the effects can be pernicious because it can take months or years before we realise that we have a problem. Often when problems take this long to become chronic, the solution is not a 5 minute one. What your body is telling you is that it has had enough of operating mechanically in a particular way.

My best advice is to do what ever you have to do and/or see whoever you have to see to resolve your off bike issues. We could probably exchange emails and come up with some positional advice to relieve pain. This would only be a band aid however, it would not solve the problem. Best case, it would hide it to some degree, but that is all.If your chiro is not making headway, get a second opinion and a third if necessary.

The reason your MTB gives you less grief is that the more upright torso position on a MTB doesn't challenge pelvic stability on a bike to anything like the same degree as the lower prone torso position of a road bike. From what you have said it is a safe bet that you have left/right asymmetries of pelvic function. A more upright position reduces the impact of this but doesn't t make it go away.

Three books to read: Pilates for Dummies by Ellie Herman; Stretching and Flexibility, and Overcome Neck and Back Pain both by Kit Laughlin. Find the right health professional. I would be interested to hear how you get on.

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