Fitness questions and answers for September 19, 2005

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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.

Left knee pain
Numbness in toes
Shoe size relative to position
Moving on the bike
Fitness with age
Foot pain/cramp
Heel-down solutions
Look pedal tension
Change in racing position
Back surgery

Left knee pain

Hi, I am a 34 year old male. I am into recreational cycling and have been having issues with knee pain. It didn't seem to start until I started using clipless pedals. I started with Shimano spd then spdr. I am currently using Speedplays (original not zeros.)

Here is where it gets complicated - my left foot is a half size larger than my right. But that's not all. There is probably a half inch difference in the height of my knee caps. The left knee is lower than the right, and I don't have any pain in my right knee, just my left. Any suggestions on cleat position and/or spacers?

Mike Carey

Steve Hogg replies

Mike,

From what you say, it appears that the left leg is shorter. The left foot is bigger probably because it has been falling further to the ground and hitting harder than the right foot for the 33 or so years that you have been walking. The obvious solution is to fit a spacer underneath your left cleat. This can be done fairly simply with the Speedplay version of Lemond wedges counter-stacked on top of each other with alternate thick edge, thin edge etc. You would need to experiment with just how much you need.

The less obvious solution is to take a whole of body approach. If you have a longer right leg, there is a big chance that you will twist the right hip forward and perhaps down while riding. This is by no means universal but is common and the by product of living a life exerting differing amounts of leverage on the each side. The leg that is longer develops more torque at the hip and in many cases this exaggerates the measurable discrepancy on bike.

Set your bike up on a trainer have someone observe you from behind and abovewhile riding a hardish gear with your shirt off.

1. Do you twist forward on either side?
2. Do you drop the hip on either side?
3. Is there a larger gap between inner thigh and seatpost on one side and if so which side?
4. Is one knee further from the top tube while pedalling and if so which one?
5. Does either knee waver from left to right while pedalling and if so which one?
6. Where is the centre of the ball of your foot in relation to the pedal axle centre on each foot?.
7. Are you aware of being noticeably tighter in the hip and /or lower back on one side and if so which side? [you will probably only know the answer to that if you stretch regularly.]

Let me know the answers to those questions and I will attempt to help.

Numbness in toes

I wonder if you have any suggestions for alleviating numbness in my toes. Some quick info on me - I'm 33, 5'11, 172 lbs, riding a Giant TCR Compact Alu, size medium, 172.5 mm cranks, Look pedals. I ride almost every day between 25 and 40 miles; I rarely do distances over 50. I'm sure that I am not nearly flexible enough in my hamstrings, and on longer rides I will sometimes get an ITB issue in my left hip (usually flat road hammering after 50 miles or so). I have always had numb toes on the bike, even after 10 -15 miles (the more climbing there is the less numbness I get), I switched to the Specialized Pro Carbon shoes and this did help at first (Metatarsal Button insole). I have a tendency to pedal heels down a lot at the bottom of the stroke - my cleats feel fine, with no particular pressure on any one part of the foot. I've read through your replies to other people about knee action, foot angle, leg length differences and don't seem to exhibit any of those problems (but maybe I do have some). Any ideas on initial steps to alleviate the numbness? I also went to your site and I'm starting a full hip, back and leg stretching routine.

Thanks in advance

Justin Stirling

Steve Hogg replies

Justin,

The simple possibilities are that you either have a body problem or a bike problem. If you try a few things with the bike, it might help clarify what the actual problem is.

The most common causes of numb toes on a bike are cleats that are too far forward in relation to the foot in shoe. Have a look at this post and this post and set you cleats up accordingly. If cleat position is the problem then that should solve it. Either way, let me know.

If that doesn't solve the problem, then it may be that your shoes are too narrow and compressing the metatarsal heads and the nerve junctions in that area.

It also may be that the type of feet you have predisposes you to the same irritation even if the shoe fits well. Try and find a podiatrist with cycling experience or an interest in cycling problems and have them assess your feet.

Another thing that occurs is whether this problem is recent or if it has occurred all of your cycling life. If it dates from a particular time, what changed then? Could it have been shoes, pedals, bike position etc? Let me know how you get on.

Shoe size relative to position

Hi Guys,

I have a distinct size difference in my feet. My Left foot is 1.5 sizes longer and 1.5 sizes wider than my right. Although I have, I feel, found my best position for climbing and riding tempo, I feel that now I should look into some corrective measures.

Can I adjust my cleats, (LOOK Red, LOOK 296 pedals running 3 Degrees of float), or do I need to look into adding shims or the like to make up the differences. Any advice you can provide is appreciated.

Luke Butler

Australia

Steve Hogg replies

Luke,

There are a number of aspects to your query. This kind of foot size discrepancy usually goes hand in hand with either measurable leg length discrepancies or lateral pelvic tilts or other asymmetries that change leg length in a functional sense. Are you running the same size shoe on each foot? If not, you will probably run into trouble positioning the cleats on both shoes in the same relative relationship to foot in shoe. Here is a check list:

1. Get a CT scan or similar and find out whether you have a measurable leg length discrepancy and if so, how much?

2. Get your physio, chiro, osteopath or similar assess you structurally and let me know what they say?

3. Where are your cleats currently positioned relative to foot in shoe?

4. What problems, if any, are you having?

It is quite possible to use shims, wedges or whatever to help correct any problems on the bike resulting from the foot size difference but I need more info before attempting to advise.

Moving on the bike

Normally I'm in good health, and although I could be thinner, I am within healthy parameters (180 cm, 76 kg) the question doesn't include the healty part, nor pain or the like.

This year I'm riding races, doing group training and improving on those pretty quickly. I've got a nag for suffering, holding on and trying to ride offensively. But my mates say that although I ride pretty fast and strongly I tend to move the back wheel and use a lot of road. I haven't encountered any dangerous situations, but I fear people are a bit worried staying on my wheel and I think I might not ride very efficiently at my top endurance speed. I also seem to be afraid in sharp corners and the like, losing a few metres and regaining them with sheer force. I don't seem to have a real sprint compared even to some riders who are generally a bit weaker than myself. I seem not to be able to sprint over 55km/h or so in the bunch sprint where others get over 60km/h.

I tend to think that it could be that I'm riding a steel frame. It could also be that I have relatively long legs, and an upper body that's a bit short, and thus I have been put on a frame too big for me. Although I have compensated a bit by buying a shorter stem, it could also be that I'm mostly racing on Spinergy wheels (which are allowed in non-licensed races.)

It's not all that important since I'm still making progress at 30 years of age, so I must be doing some things right, but the remarks of the last few weeks have made me wonder. I might want to by a new, stiffer racing bike this winter and I want to know if I shouldn't listen to my local dealer when he says that a 60 cm frame is good with an 180 cm body.

Great complete website by the way - love the whole thing. Usability is also great. Keep up the great work!

Ivar Brouwer.

Steve Hogg replies

Ivar,

You don't give me much to go on but my best guess is that your wobbling problems would be more the result of your position and/or the techniques you use rather than the material that your frame is made of. For 180cm height a 60cm frame may be too big, too small or perhaps right, I have no way of knowing without a lot more information from you. If you think wheel flexibility is playing a part, borrow a friend's wheels and see if you still wobble. If yes, then the wheels are not the problem. If no, then they may be. If you have any more info, pass it on to me.

Fitness with age

Hi,

I'm a 35 year old male that has restarted training after about 10 years off the bike. Previously in my younger day I was very fit and at county champion level of fitness (hill climbs), although my speed on flat time trials was poor. Having read through a lot of material I'm curious as to what competition level can be obtained (or expectation for a 25-mile flat time trial) at such an age given the time off the bike and the decrease in VO2max. The one benefit I may have is that I apparently have a horseshoe kidney (joined) that was detected during an ultrasound scan that should provide a higher AT limit. My current regime is about 60-80 miles per week (day on day off) over the last two months since restarting training, and I'm looking to increasing this through the winter.

A few details about me:

- Resting HR 42-44

- AT 158-159

- HRmax 183 (not maxed out test)

Thanks,

Karl Tomlinson

Scott Saifer replies

Karl,

The most current research tells us that at age 35 you can get just as fast and compete just as effectively on the bike as you did 10 years ago. If you've been off the bike for 10 years though, it will take you 2-3 years of consistent, high quality and progressively higher volume training to really return to top condition.

The current thinking is that the large decreases in VO2-max with age that showed up in earlier studies had more to do with the impact of less active lifestyle rather than with aging itself. If you can find 35-50 year olds who have the lower stress levels and greater available training time of 20-somethings, you'll find that they recover as quickly and get as fast as the 20-somethings. This is not to say that there is no decrement of ability with age, but just that it is much smaller than the differences that can be achieved through good genetics and good training. Only if you are trying to compete at the top elite world level are the age-related decrements going to hold you back, and even then 35 is not old enough to be a problem. Lance is almost 35. How much slower was he this year than in 1995?

With good conditions and equipment and excellent training and genetic talent, a 35 year old could ride a 25 mile TT in under 50 minutes. With good conditions and equipment and excellent training but less luck in the genetics department, most 35 year old riders, like younger riders, can get under an hour.

Foot pain/cramp

This is a problem I have suffered with for several years. It started with mountain biking and now as I've switched to road bikes it has followed.

Basically if I have my shoes tight enough that I have no "slippage" in the toe box or the heel it causes my feet to hurt and cramp. It doesn't matter what shoes I am wearing as it does it with all of them.

If I loosen the straps/laces enough to alleviate the problem I don't feel like I am adequately "hooked" to my pedals and as a result I'm wasting effort. Would you have an ideas or suggestions? Thanks.

James

Topeka, KS

Steve Hogg replies

James,

If you have tried a variety of shoe brands and models without success, consider custom made shoes. I am in Australia and don't know what is available in the U.S. but I know Rocket 7 is one custom manufacturer, and there may be others.

Heel-down solutions

Aren't your cleat position recommendations for heel-down riders rather than toe-down? I'm a toe-down rider and it seems to me that with my cleats far forward and seat far back I am getting "behind" the stroke earlier as it passes the 12 o'clock position. And my foot gains greater leverage on the downstroke with the metatarsal joint to the rear of the pedal axle, especially since I am continuing to force the toe down through the bottom of the stroke.

Jeff Warren

Steve Hogg replies

Jeff,

No they're not. The recommendations are an average of what I have found to work for thousands of people over a long period. In person I may vary those recommendations a couple of mm either way depending on their pedaling technique under load, the sole to axle distance of their pedal system, propensity for injury, the amount of heel lift in the last of their shoes and occasionally, other factors as well.

I have come across people who pedal very effectively toe down with cleat position as you describe, but they are a tiny minority. A far greater number who pedal like you do with the cleat position you describe experience varying degrees of niggles or injuries to any or all of the plantar fascia, Achilles tendon, calves, knees. Some experience none of that, but they don't perform particularly well either.

That doesn't mean that you are wrong. It just means that in my experience, if you are right in the sense that this is the most efficient way for you to pedal, you are unusual. Perhaps the simplest way to definitively answer your own question is to try as I have suggested for a month and make an assessment after that. After a month, whatever you decide I would be inclined to agree with, at least in your case.

Don't get hung up too much on the lever length of the foot. The femur is the main game there. One byproduct of cleat positioning that I have suggested is that it is one of the measures that allows the calves, working eccentrically together with the hamstrings, to aid the quads in extending the knee. The effect of this that the muscular load of pedaling is shared over the greatest possible area of upper leg musculature, which means better performance - much better than can be gained in any theoretical sense by increasing the lever length of the foot.

Look pedal tension

Perhaps not a straight fitness question but I would appreciate some guidance on how to use the variable float tension on my Look A5.1 pedals. What are the trade-offs between the four tension options offered.

Tony Rich

Steve Hogg replies

Tony,

I assume that you are referring to the dial on the rear of the spring loaded lever that retains the cleat marked 0, 3, 6 and 9. It doesn't control float tension but does control the amount of float. The numbers refer to the degrees of float available EITHER side of the cleat when it is facing straight ahead.

For instance, set on 6 degrees and assuming that the cleat is in the middle of its range of movement, there will be six degrees of float either side of that point.

The lever controls a cam that moves back and forward as the dial is rotated. As it moves forward [ less float] it protrudes into the recess in the rear of a Look Delta red cleat.

The tension adjustment screw is the allen bolt with the 3 mm head on top of the pedal. As that is tightened [ clockwise] both entry and release tension are increased. The converse is true as it is loosened.

Change in racing position

Hey, I am going from road races and crits this year to almost exclusively TTs and an Ironman next year. My question is this: I want to do a lot of my training on my road bike because I love that thing so much, so should I get the saddle position more forward to mimic my TT bike (the tip of my saddle is even with the middle of the BB on the TT bike)? How much efficiency would I lose by training in two different positions? By the way, the Ironman I'm doing is hilly. I'm 35 years old.

John Hessian

Steve Hogg replies

John,

I would advise you to do a hilly ironman race on your road bike with unchanged position with the addition of aero bars and aero wheels. Don't confuse IM racing with TT's. The bike leg of an IM is a TT in the sense that you are a solo competitor but it is a 70 - 75% max heart rate effort TT unlike the 90+% typical of a road TT.

What this means is that because of the length of the IM bike leg and the need to keep a bit of petrol in the tank for the run, aerodynamics and sheer speed take a back seat to comfort and in your hilly IM's case, the ability to climb well. Comfort and the ability to climb hills well are not things generally associated with the type of position the seat placement of your TT bike suggests.

You should not have any trouble adapting to 2 different positions providing you ride a lengthy ride each week on the bike that you ride least, which I assume to be the TT bike.

The other consideration is that if you are riding sanctioned road TTs on your TT bike, you are likely to encounter problems with the legality of your seat position. Have a look at this site for some of the pros and cons of what you are suggesting.

The other thing is when you switch over to your IM training program, stretch, stretch, stretch as nothing tightens people up like 10 - 14 training sessions weekly on top of 50 hour working weeks and family responsibilities that are typical of Ironman training. The order of your training priorities should be sleeping, stretching first and then run, bike, swim in whatever order you choose.

Back surgery

I am a casual cyclist (120 miles a week) who has recently had back surgery for congenital spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal). The type of surgery performed was a spinal decompression at L2/L3 and L3/4 to widen the spinal canal which I am told was 60% narrower than in a normal person my size (I am 25 years old and 6ft 4in).

I had been suffering with leg pain in both legs for about four years. I discovered cycling during this period as a means to stay active and keep my weight down. I ride a standard road bike but never use the drops as it causes pain in the lower back. I feel no pain when cycling using the tops of the bars but am stiff for a while afterwards and feel a little extra leg pain from time to time during the rest of the day. I do not consider these serious side affects as nearly every physical activity caused me some discomfort before the surgery.

Is cycling in a road bike position affecting my condition in the long term due to the excess bending forward? Do you have any advice as regards cycling position or stretching exercises? I am keen to continue road cycling once I recover from my surgery but do obviously not want to aggravate my condition.

Andrew Lynch,

Ireland

Steve Hogg replies

David,

With some attention to your position you should be able to ride pain free, both on top of the bars and in the drops. While you can improve function and range of movement over time, at any given moment you are who you are in a functional sense.

Have you open to you anyone with experience in positioning people with low back issues? If you have, seek them out and use them. Basically, you need to be positioned in such a way that your pelvis can lean forward for ideal muscular enlistment which in cases like yours usually [not always] means moving the seat forward. This has to be balanced against the contending requirement of not transferring too much weight forward and loading the arms.

Cleat position will play a large part in just how well you bear your weight as well, so look in the archive at anything relating to seat position or cleat position. There is also the possibility that given your height, you may be riding a bike that is too small for you. Once you have researched the archive, get back to me if you have specific queries.

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