Form & Fitness Q & A
Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at email@example.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.
Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.
Jon Heidemann (www.peaktopeaktraining.com) is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.
Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com) is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.
Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.
Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.
Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.
Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.
David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.
Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions.
Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.
Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.
Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.
Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.
Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.
Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.
Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.
Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.
Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.
Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years
Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.
Michael Smartt (www.wholeathlete.com) is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.
Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
As a type 2 diabetic, I find it difficult, if not impossible, to consume the daily recommended 400-600 grams of carbs (for my weight) without adversely affecting my blood glucose in the days leading up to my 100 mile mountain bike races. I can manage about 200 grams. My performance in these races has suffered since I've become diabetic, and I attribute this decline in performance to my diminished pre-race consumption of carbs, since I can maintain adequate carb consumption while racing without adversely affecting my blood sugar levels. Any suggestions?
Scott Safier replies:
Just a shot in the dark here, but have you discovered glycemic index? Some carbohydrates have much larger effect on blood sugar than others depending on how rapidly they can be absorbed. If you can't eat even the lowest glycemic index foods without spiking your blood sugar, your glycogen stores may already be full. This seems unlikely to be your problem since you report impaired performance.
On the other hand, my insulin using diabetic clients eventually learn to balance large doses of insulin and carbohydrate to maximize carbohydrate storage. If you are not already doing that, consider experimenting under your doctor's supervision.
There's an excellent chance that there is a solution to your problem, so keep trying. Good luck in your races.
Steve Hogg helped me out a few years ago when I was early in my struggle to find to the optimal cleat position. I followed his advice and it helped a fair bit but I have never been able to get it right.
I have been told by my chiro/sports medicine doctor that I am one of those people who cannot use clipless pedals. He tells me it won't matter if I finally get it right today because tomorrow it won't be right. I always have a lot going on with my pelvis and hip flexors.
My question is what do other folks use for pedals when they cannot use clipless. The larger platform pedals seem to be too big for a roadbike? It also seems less safe to not be clipped in.
I'm very reluctant to part with my roadbike in spite of the disappointment and injuries that have plagued me. I ride a 52cm Specialized Roubaix Elite.
Steve Hogg replies:
It sounds like you have proprioceptive issues. If you want to ditch clipless pedals but maintain a secure connection to the pedals, there used to be a product around years ago called (I think) Power Straps. They are a strap that bolts diagonaly from the outside front corner to the inside rear corner of a platform pedal.
The idea is that you rotate your hip so that your toe points in at 45 degrees or so to enter the strap on pedal, and then straighten the foot which will cause the strap to tighten. The tension on the strap can be varied by lengthening or shortening it where it is bolted on to the outside front corner of the pedal.
What they will allow you is a secure but adjustable connection to the pedal without your foot being locked in place.
Do a search for them via the net as someone near you must still have stock. If you can't find them, there is a shop in Singapore called the Bike Boutique that had stock of them when I was there in June.
I'm a road/mtb racer heading into my first cyclocross season. I have a significant leg length discrepancy - around 5/8”, which I have effectively treated on my road bike with 8mm of cleat shimming. I've done the same with my mountain bike shoes, using standard le wedge shims for SPD’s. However, the shims on my mtb shoes (SIDI dominator 5’s) place the cleat way out beyond the tread. This doesn't affect performance on the mtb significantly, but it’s very unstable for run-ups in ‘cross and I recently rolled my ankle (not badly, no sprain) on a particularly hard packed, bumpy running section.
So is this a problem that has been addressed before? I don't want to trash my shoes by attempting to glue a chunk of rubber to the tread, but that might be my solution. I've been to a cobbler, but wasn't confident that he could guarantee he could attain a specific thickness (given that he'd have to grind off the existing tread before gluing. Do you know if anyone makes “tread shims” for systems like SIDI’s SRS?
Steve Hogg replies:
Find a good boot maker and have them tear off the sole of your mtb shoe and fit a full length build up in dense EVA foam of appropriate thickness. Then have them re glue the sole onto the upper and you are in business.
My son directed me to ask you folks - I am 70 year old female in good condition but have had orthoscopic knee surgery in both knees. I find that walking more than one mile per day results in some knee discomfort so I want to get my exercise on a recumbent bike. While in physiotherapy, I used such a bike half an hour a day and it was helpful. Any suggestions for the top 5 brand names of bikes given steadiness, adjustments, variety of resistance and medium price.
Scott Safier replies:
I made it a policy not to recommend specific brands of any bikes or parts, but if you do a web search for "recumbent bike" you'll get a stack of resellers whose web sites can help you compare.
Good luck with your search for a bike and for fitness. Do talk to your doctors about the continuing knee pain as well. It's possible that the right stretching, strengthening or change of shoes might fix your problem and allow you to enjoy foot travel again.
Your fit articles have been a great source of information, so I hope you might be able to help me with my problem. Recently I began to have rather sharp knee pain which is located in my left knee around the upper inside of the patella (if you were looking at my knee from the front the pain follows the patella from about 8 o'clock to 11 o'clock).
Here’s the confusing part: everything I've read suggests that pain on the front of the knee is usually attributed to a saddle position that is too low or too far forward. This doesn't apply in my case because my left leg is about .75 of an inch shorter than my right. The difference is all at the hip due to having Legg-Calvé-Perthes syndrome as a child. I'm not doing anything to compensate for the length difference except that my saddle height is a bit low for my long leg, my right cleat is a couple of mm further back than my left, and my saddle is angled to the left about 3 degrees. My right leg feels great. Off the bike my body has compensated for the difference so I don't use any shoe lifts, orthotics etc.
I did make one somewhat major change – moving from a Specialized Alias saddle to a F'izi:k Airione, but I was as diligent as possible about maintaining my fore/aft position on the bike and saddle height. And over the last few weeks I've stretched my stem by 10mm and dropped it 5mm (I'm still quite upright)
Due to work/kids, my mileage is not particularly high, usually consisting of a few short rides during the week and one long ride on the weekend. There are no symptoms from my mountain bike (set up for XC).
Other (maybe) pertinent details: male, 40y, 172lbs, 6ft. Shoes are Sidi Dominator (XC) mated with Shimano SPD road pedals. I haven't moved the cleat on my left shoe since much earlier in the season.
Scott Safier replies:
Frontal knee pain is usually saddle too low or too far forward. Frontal-lateral knee pain can be rotation of the lower leg causing the patella to track against one side or the other of the femoral groove. Since your pain is on the medial side of your knee, I'd suspect medial rotation of the lower leg. That can happen if the cleat is set to keep the lower leg medially rotated compared to the angle that would be required to get good patellar tracking, if the foot is permanently pronated (needs wedge to support inside edge) or if the arch of the foot collapses during hard pedaling since the collapsing arch also rotates the lower leg (needs arch support or orthotics).
I would appreciate your comments on road bike geometry and fit for short petite females.
First, some background...
1. I am a 39F, 5'2", 105lb/48kg; very athletic.
2. I used to be a long-distance competitive runner, but took up cycling a decade ago after severe chronic bilateral Illiotibial Band Syndrome halted my running permanently. After bilateral knee surgery and with a focused dedicated daily stretching regimen I am able to control the ITBS most of the time.
3. I am a very strong rider and I naturally excel at climbing.
4. I have relatively short femurs, long tibias, and very long feet compared to other female cyclists of my same height. I do not know whether my overall leg, torso and arm lengths are average or otherwise for my height.
5. My first bike - the one I rode for the last decade at first to rehab from my knee surgeries and then because I found I really enjoyed it - was steel, 48cm frame, 73deg STA, 74deg HTA, Eff TT 530mm, stem 70mm (!) /-17deg, standard classic handlebars (36cm c-c, 90mm reach, 140mm drop), saddle-handlebar height difference of 6cm, cranks 165mm, 700c tires, wheelbase 100cm, and trail 50mm. I was not 'professionally' sized or fit - I just tried the few bikes available in my limited size and price range and picked the one that felt the best, with the only modification being the addition of speedplay X/2 pedals.
6. My new bike - the one I have ridden for 6 months now with more serious intent - is carbon, 49cm frame (compact), 74.5deg STA, 70.1deg HTA, Eff TT 510mm, stem 120mm (!) /-17deg, short/shallow variable radius handlebars (38mm c-c, 70mm reach, 120mm drop), saddle-handlebar height difference of 4cm, cranks 170mm, 700c tires, wheelbase 97.5cm, and trail 50mm. I was 'professionally' sized (according to my physical measurements) to narrow down the bikes I test rode, but again I ultimately chose the bike that felt the best to me. I transferred my old speedplay X/2 pedals to this bike, and my saddle height has remained constant (adjusted for increased crank length) at 65cm from center BB. Then after being 'professionally' fit on the bike, I have since been changing things around to try to further optimize fit/performance. Mind you, it's never been bad (and I've won several local road races on it already, in this my first ever season racing) but ...
Specifically, I have gradually migrated from a more aft saddle position (nose several cm behind the BB) with a short 90cm/-6deg rise stem w no stack to my current setup with a fore saddle position (nose in line with the BB) with a longer 120/-17deg rise stem on 12mm stack (which has the effect of extending my stem a net amount of 95mm beyond the HT when you account for the "setback" caused by slack HTA and stack height, for a total reach to the handlebars of 605mm while maintaining the same handlebar height; interestingly, on my old bike setup I measured the total reach to be 5mm less than that, but the reach to the hoods to be 15mm greater).
Now, it's interesting that everyone (the guys I ride with and respected bike shops alike) kept telling me that a 120mm stem was "too long" for my small frame (both me and the bike) and it would compromise the steering/handling. Still, I felt a little cramped in the cockpit but I didn't like setting my saddle back so much, so...I put on a 120mm stem! But (and I think this is critical), I also swapped out the 'normal-sized' handlebars that came with it (85+mm reach, 140+ drop) for short/shallow variable radius bars (70mm reach/120mm drop). And this combination feels dramatically better to me - more open hip angle, more powerful and efficient, better balanced and aerodynamic, more stable and yet still very nimble both in the saddle and out - and I use all positions on my bars with equal comfort. It is also worth noting that this combo places the hooks of my bars vertically directly in line with my front axle, which as I understand it provides the best front end steering/handling characteristics, yes?
I have done a lot of on-line reading along the way trying to understand the subtleties of bike geometry and fit to make sense of all this, but often find conflicting or incomplete information. So (finally), some questions:
1. Do you know of any references to anthropomorphic data by gender (ie. avg/std dev for limb lengths, etc for a given height)? I'm curious to know how I compare to the average female of my height?
2. Aside from the argument of toe overlap, why do you only see such mismatched STA/HTA on small road frames, and what are the positive/negative consequences therein? Is my setup, unintentionally, more a pseudo-Tri/TT bike (minus aerobars)?
As a side note, I was surprised to learn of the rules regarding positioning of the saddle nose no less than 5cm behind the BB for road racing (UCI rule 1.3.013), as this seems ridiculously far back for a small/short-femured rider such as myself - esp. if using a standard crank length. Just for grins, I put my saddle that far back (w/ saddle height and stem length adjusted appropriately) to try it out and it felt horrible in every way! (Thank goodness there is a "morphologic exception" allowed)
3. What is considered 'ideal' mountain climbing road bike geometry and positioning? I see these concepts discussed in the context of racing road bikes, touring road bikes, TT/Tri bikes, mountain bikes, etc., but what about specifically to sustained long distance road climbs on the order of 3000+ft elevation gain with grades of 3-10%.
4. With regards to handlebar height and reach to the handlebar: Why does the bike ride quality feel different when I have the handlebars positioned in exactly the same 3D special location, but in one case achieved with a -6deg rise stem and no stack versus in the other case achieved with a -17deg rise stem and appropriate stack? I have concluded that the only real difference is in the length of the 'lever arm' as measured from the stem clamp along the steerer tube down to the front axle - it is longer in the later case. I especially notice it while rocking the handlebars back-and-forth during sprinting or climbing out of the saddle.
5. With regards to a stem and handlebar combo: What difference (if any) does it make if you achieve the same overall reach to the hoods with a short stem/long reach handlebar (as with my old bike) versus a long stem/short reach handlebar combo (as with my new bike)? I only ever seem to see discussions centered on the reach to the bars, but not the hoods/drops where I like to place my hands during all but steeper climbing (and then when I am steeply climbing seated I prefer my hands on the bars with the longer stem).
6. With regards to my 'long' 120mm stem: Do I need to be concerned about damaging my carbon steerer tube or is there anything else to worry about such as flex??
7. With the more forward position I had adopted, do I need to be concerned with potentially exacerbating my ITBS over time?
Thank you for entertaining my questions. I hope your answers will not only enlighten me, but also help other petite female riders out there.
Steve Hogg replies:
Question 1: No but they must be out there somewhere. I have never been interested in this kind of stuff beyond a point because I feel that body proportions are not as important as is often thought when fitting a rider to their bike. What is of much more importance is what a rider can do with their proportions; i.e. how functional they are.
Question 2: By mismatched, I assume you mean that the seat tube angle (STA) and head tube angle (HTA) are different. If so, the reason that this is necessary in smaller frames is as you say; toe overlap. On your frame if the head tube angle was the same 74.5 degrees as your seat tube angle, the increase in toe overlap would be substantial, and while not dangerous at any speed above walking pace, is to be avoided if possible if the goal is to have the widest numbers of riders confident in their ability to steer and control their bikes at all speeds including walking pace. In regard to your set-up being like a tri/TT set up, it sounds like it but if it is the solution to your issues, I would be the last person to argue with you.
In regard to the UCI ruling: I agree with what the UCI is trying to achieve with this rule but having a fixed number with no regard to seat height is ridiculous. What it means is that really larger riders can ride proportionally further forward than smaller riders if they choose. I haven't read the rules for some time and they may have changed but from memory, no rider is 'legally' allowed to have their tibial tuberosity in front of the pedal axle center.
Question 3: This is impossible to answer except in an individual sense.
Question 4: Other than increased steerer tube flex in the -17 degree stem / increased spacer stack combination, there should be no difference if the handlebar is in the same spatial location.
Question 5: In terms of drops and brake hood position, there is no difference. With the short reach bar / long stem combo, there will be a longer reach to the bars when placing the hands on the tops of bars adjacent to the stem. With the long reach bars / short stem combo, there will be a shorter reach to the tops of the bars.
Question 6: At 48 kg I don't think you are going to have a problem. I accept your self description as a "very strong rider" but there are thousands of much heavier riders who would give themselves the same description using 120mm stems without problems.
Question 7: I have no way of knowing based on the info you have given. As you have had ITB problems in the past, I expect that you are sensitive to this and will recognise the symptoms if they occur before they do you any real harm.
I know that this has gotten a lot of press in this forum, and the wide range of opinions. I’d like to try it, but the effort to do so makes my head hurt. In addition to figuring out the cleat position on the shoe, there would need to be an adjustment in saddle height and fore/aft position, as well as a corresponding stem length/height adjustment.
Is there a comprehensive cookbook somewhere that goes through all the steps necessary to set-up an arch cleat position?
Santa Rosa, CA
Steve Hogg replies:
This is not a comprehensive 'cook book' but it will be enough if you are motivated. Elsewhere in the recent archives, there are step by step shoe modification instructions.
Get hold of an anatomy book and find the navicular bone of the foot. Position your cleat so that the pedal axle will be approximately 10mm in front of the navicular bone.
Depending on what shoes you have, what shape the arch of the shoe is, what pedal system you use and how much you have to fill in the shape of the arch of your shoe sole, you will need to drop your seat somewhere between 30 and 50mm.
Once you have worked out your seat height and most people tend to not drop the seat enough initially, you will then need to drop your bars approximately half the distance you dropped your seat if you are not particularly flexible. More flexible riders can get away with dropping the seat about 2/3 of the distance that they dropped their seat.
Once all of this is done, some riders may have to move their seats forward to varying degrees and if so, adjust their stem lengths accordingly.