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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - August 3, 2010

Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to Emails may be edited for length or clarity, but we try to publish both questions and answers in their entirety.

Replacing lost salt


I began biking about five years ago to stay in shape. Unfortunately I live in the northeast which means bike riding is realistic only eight or sometimes seven months out of the year.

My question relates to riding during hot, humid conditions. During these rides, I lose a tremendous amount of water and body salt; sometimes enough to leave white salt residue on my skin and clothing after a ride. After these rides, my body has an insatiable appetite for salt.

I've tried most of the common electrolyte drinks and powders but to no avail. Is there a better way to rehydrate and replenish? Is this something I should actually start while training?


Scott Saifer says:


The amount of salt in sweat varies tremendously from person to person and the amount of salt in sweat increases the more you sweat as your body dumps salt in an effort to keep the concentration of sodium in your blood constant (if that gets outside of a pretty narrow range you get serious health problems).

In very hot weather a medium-sized male could sweat at least three pints (1.5L) per hour. A pint (0.5L) of sweat might contain a half-teaspoon (2.5g) of salt. Do the calculations and you see that you might need to consume an entire tablespoon (15g) of salt to replace what you sweat out on a hot, humid two-hour ride.

There's a problem, however: The salt that comes out with sweat is drawn from all the intercellular spaces in your body. When you put salt in your stomach, it moves into your intestines and gets absorbed into your blood, but then it can take a while to get back into all the spaces where it belongs in the correct concentrations.

Eat a bunch of salt and you pee a bunch of salt, minus a bit that can find its way back into the tissues. Drink a bunch of water, and you pee a bunch of water minus the little bit that reenters your tissues with the correct amount of salt, even if you are dehydrated. That means it can take a long time to rehydrate if you get significantly dehydrated. Thus you want to stay hydrated as you go as much as possible, rather than replenishing after a ride.

In order to replenish salt and water as you go, you'd have to drink water as salty as sweat, which would not taste particularly good, so eating salt tablets or salty food is essential on long, hot rides. The source of salt matters very little so long as you like it enough to get enough salt and you get enough water to roughly maintain weight on the ride (don't drink enough to gain weight on a ride. That brings it's own deadly problems).

If you had a power meter though, you'd also notice that your power is greatly reduced when training on those hot, sweaty days, so if you are doing these rides for the fitness value, do them in the early morning when it's a little cooler, use an ice vest (or at least a frozen hydration pack) to keep you cooler, and pour water on your hair, clothing and skin to keep you cooler so you can produce power appropriate to the effort you make and get some fitness for your effort. You are sweating because your body is - or is trying to avoid becoming - too hot for optimal function.

Numb feet and hands


I'm a 35-year-old male, have raced for many years when I was younger but have done little in the last 10 years. I am now planning to get back to some serious riding, perhaps not racing but definitely longer rides up to 100km and perhaps some cyclosportive events.

I've had a racing bike for about five years, but now that I've started actually using it for rides of more than one hour, I notice that I get a numb feeling in the feet and especially the hands. Like a kind of 'needles' in your fingers and toes.

Initially I thought this was due to a different position compared to my previous bike, on which I did all my racing on with which I never experienced any such numbness. However, I checked and rechecked and have been able to get all significant angles and distances (saddle height, bike length, height of saddle above handlebars etc) the same. The only difference remains the crank length, which is 180mm on my new bike and was 175mm on my old bike.

Let me specify - I have a very tall and slim build: 204cm and 90kg. Saddle height above bottom bracket was 90cm on my old bike but I had to lower that to 89cm to adjust for the longer cranks (otherwise I felt that I overextended my legs).

I've also changed about everything possible to change position and see the effect: saddle height, saddle horizontal position, shoe cleat position etc, but nothing seems to make a difference, the numbness always comes.

I don't think it depends on lack of training either because I've now done a few thousand kilometres this way, with good frequency, too. In a single ride I now manage to do about three hours, but the discomfort is such that I need to take short breaks at least once an hour.

The numbness disappears almost instantly as I alight from the bike but it also comes back quickly, even when I take a longer break (say 10 minutes instead of the usual 2-3 minutes).

You might understand I'm pretty desperate about what to do. I really like my new bike but in the end it seems to be a step back in terms of comfort. Let me add I also suffer from saddle pain, with pressure on the scrotum, which I never really experienced either on my old bike, at least not up to 100km.

I tried very different types of saddles too (those new Fizik saddles for different types of spine structure - I've got a stiff back, like 'the bull' in the advertisement) but no change at all.....I have a feeling this issue might be related to the numbness.

I would be very grateful to get any suggestions how to deal with this further.

Thanks and regards,

Steve Hogg says:


I believe what you say about you having transferred the position that caused you no problems on the old bike to the new bike, but when you say "all significant angles and distances (saddle height, bike length, height of saddle above handlebars etc... the same" does that mean that you are using the same brand and model of seat; the same brand and model of handlebar and the same brand and model of shoes and pedals?

If not, then changes in equipment may be the source of your problem. For example, I don't know what pedals you were using 10 years ago but if you are using a more modern pedal now, then you probably need your seat height to be 5 - 10 mm lower than your old seat height because the last 10 years has seen pedal and cleats from most manufacturers become lower in profile.

The same is often the case with shoes in that soles may be thinner, with the combination of both meaning that you may need to lower your seat further because of equipment differences. Are your cleats in the same relative position to foot in shoe as with the old ones (assuming you have changed pedals and/or shoes)?

Equally, if the seat model has changed, then another variable is introduced. Seats vary widely in length and proportion and if you have placed a different kind of seat at the same height and setback as the old one, then it is likely that you are assuming a different body position in space. You may be sitting further forward or further back in relation to the bottom bracket depending on what the difference is between seats.

Again, bar shapes; drop, reach and grip angles vary markedly and this too may play a part if your bars have changed.

Assuming that there is no functional issue like nerve compression, then it is likely that the numb feet and the scrotal pressure are caused by a seat that is too high (scrotal pressure and numb feet) and possibly too far forward (weight transfers forward onto the hands can equal numb hands) with the bars possibly too low (numb hands).

Additionally, you say that you are inflexible but don't say whether you are less flexible than 10 years ago. If you are, then your bars may need to rise to accommodate any lessening of ability to reach down and out to the bars.

I hope this helps point you in the right direction.

Training at altitude


I'll be spending three weeks in the Colorado high country late July-mid August. This will be during weeks 13-14-15 of base training for cyclocross season. My plan is to take a recovery week before and after the trip (my training is arranged in four week microcycles).

We'll be staying at an altitude of about 7,500 feet, with nearby road and off-road rides that climb to 12,000 or roll along level at around 6,000 feet. Where I live is flat to rolling (and windy) country at about 1,800 feet.

At this point, I'm doing two moderate intensity rides per week, one with time in HR zone 4 and another in zone 3. All other rides are zone 2 endurance pace, and I'm doing some climbing. An average week is 6-8 hours of riding.

What's the best way to leverage my time at altitude in the mountains, other than to just "pack it on" by doing hard climbs on most days?

Bill C.

Scott Saifer says:


The principal value of altitude training comes from breathing there, not training there. You may have heard the rule "sleep high, train low". That is still the current thinking. Staying at 7500 feet overnight during your trip is the "altitude-training".

Riding hard at altitude is pretty much a waste of effort for someone who wants to perform at sea level. The reason is simple: At high altitude when you go "tempo effort" you'll be producing power similar to what you produce at an endurance effort at lower altitude. Individual muscle fibres only become trained if they are recruited repeatedly during training, and at altitude fewer fibres are recruited so there is less training effect.

Take the first few days at altitude easy until you get over the initial adjustment on the third or fourth day. Then there are three choices what to do. If the area you'll be riding has no easy access to lower than 6,000 feet, just load on the miles at an endurance heart rate (70-80% of max) after the first few days.

Going harder at altitude is more fatiguing than going harder lower down, and recovery takes much longer. If you have access to lower altitude (under 6,000 feet) and want the optimal physiological effect, go as low as you can to train and return to 7,500 feet to sleep. In that case, you could maintain your normal training.

Finally, option three is to admit that you just want to ride those giant mountains, enjoy the roads and views at whatever pace is comfortable, and then recover when you get home.

Note: If you train by power, don't use your normal zones at altitude. Your power at any given heart rate will be reduced and sticking in normal zones will dig you a big hole in three weeks. Either retest at altitude after a week of adjustment and set up new zones, or just calibrate your power output by your heart rate - that is, use the heart rates you ride at home when riding in your power zones and ride whatever power those turn out to correspond to at altitude. The first few days the power will be very low, then it will start to come up rapidly but not as high as at home.

Lower back pain

I have a question about some lower back pain I have been having for the last year or so. On every long ride I take I start to get lower back pain about 90 minutes into the ride. It is always in the lower right side of the back right above the pelvis about half way between my spine and side. Eventually it gets bad enough that I either need to sit up and stretch or stop and stretch.

After stretching for a couple of minutes I am good for another little while and then the pain returns. Also, the onset seems to be related to how hard I work. If I go hard it shows up earlier than if I take it easy.

Other possibly relevant things - the pain is only on the right side. My right leg is my stronger and dominant leg. My left leg is shorter than the right and has 4mm of shim under the cleat.

Do you have any idea what might be causing this and how to solve the problem? It is really making long rides unpleasant.

Thanks for the help,
Dave Walker

Steve Hogg says:


You are dropping one hip, but I can't say for certain which one. Single-sided low back pain is more common on the opposite side of the dropping hip but there are plenty of exceptions. What I suggest that you do is to get someone with a keen eye to watch you from above and behind while you pedal under load with your shirt off.

Preferably do this with hands placed in the drops as this will exaggerate any tendency to functional pelvic asymmetry. They need to tell you which hip is moving forward and down on the pedal down stroke.

If it is the right hip, then you need to either drop your seat height OR add BFS cleat wedges OR increase the amount of arch support you have on that side, OR any combination of these measures.

If it is the left hip that is dropping / moving forward, then you either need to drop the seat height or increase the height of the shim stack. This may also need to be in conjunction with cleat wedging and/or increased arch support.

As you have a LLD, you will probably find that one arch has a tendency to collapse more than the other or is lower than the other. A lower arch on one side or a tendency for one arch to collapse more under load functionally shortens the leg.

If as I suspect, your left arch is lower or more prone to collapsing under load, then get hold of some eSoles eFit insoles because they are supplied in a kit with four different heights of arch support for you to experiment with.

Lastly, your comment about your right side being stronger and more dominant: This shouldn't be the case in any obvious way. If there is challenge to the position, and a challenge is any factor that is less than optimal; we will all develop compensatory mechanisms to work around the problem.

However, all compensatory mechanisms on a bike work by increasing asymmetry. What I am saying is that an ideal solution to your problem should leave you feeling like both legs are similarly strong and fluent in action. My experience is that it is rare for this to be possible without using BFS cleat wedges.

Weight on the bars

I am trying to reduce the weight on my hands while riding my bike. I am familiar with Steve Hogg's test concerning weight balance (being able to lift the hands off the bars at moderate exertion); it is still very difficult for me to perform this test. I am attempting to correct this problem by moving my seat backwards.

For my first experiment I moved the seat back about 10mm. About 40 minutes into the first ride my hamstrings started to burn and feel tight, as if they were working harder than usual. I stopped and lowered the seat slightly, about 4mm, which made my legs feel much better for the rest of the ride. However, the next day I had mild soreness under the inside edge of the patella on my left knee, which is a symptom I usually associate with my saddle being too low.

Essentially, I feel like I can't find the correct saddle height. It either feels too high or too low.

Other things I should note: I got a shorter stem for this experiment (30mm shorter); I have not changed my cleat position, which places the pedal spindle approximately 5mm behind the pedal axle; even with the saddle adjustment that I made, I'm still heavy on my hands. I typically race 3-6 times a year, both as a category 4 road rider and a sport mountain biker.

I have three basic questions:

1. Is moving the saddle back the right approach to getting lighter on the bars? Should I continue to move the saddle back until my hands are comfortable?
2. If so, what should I do about the saddle height issue I explained above?
3. Finally, can I reasonably expect to achieve lightness on the handlebars, given that I have a very muscular upper body?

Jerry Davenport

Steve Hogg says:


Regarding your questions:

1."Is moving the saddle back the right approach to getting lighter on the bars?" From what you have said, it sounds like it is.

"Should I continue to move the saddle back until my hands are comfortable?" Not necessarily. I'll explain; being able to have a largely unweighted upper body when riding under reasonable load is as much about functionality as it is about bike position. Under load, we will do whatever it takes to try and maintain a stable pelvis.

No one thinks about it like this but this is the body's autonomic response. I don't know anything about you other that what you have said. For instance, if there is any challenge to your on seat stability the only other mechanism you have is to enlist your arms, shoulders and upper back in an effort to maintain stability.

Having good on seat stability without a lot of upper body effort to maintain it is as much about functionality as it is about bike position. For instance, how tight are you in the hips and lower back?

If the answer is "fairly tight" then that may be the issue. Other commonly occurring factors that may challenge your stability are less than ideal cleat angle and fore and aft position, a functional or measurable leg length difference, noticeable difference in flexibility between left and right sides in the hips and lower back, a bar position that is too low, too long or too short, and so on.

2. "If so, what should I do about the saddle height issue I explained above?" I assume you mean the left knee niggle? If so, does the right leg feel awkward at the 4mm lower and 10mm further back seat position?

If you answer 'no' (and you haven't mentioned the right leg feeling any discomfort) then you should be looking to understand why the left knee is unhappy and the right knee isn't. Possibilities include the common tendency to favour the right side over the left when any challenge to on bike stability arises; poor cant of foot or feet on pedal (buy and experiment with BFS cleat wedges).

I would suggest mounting your bike on an indoor trainer and with an observer standing by and while pedaling under load, ask your observer who should be standing above and behind you whether you are stable on the seat, rocking more or less evenly to each side, or rocking mainly to one side. Let me know the answer.

3."Finally, can I reasonably expect to achieve lightness on the handlebars, given that I have a very muscular upper body?" With an effective position and reasonable functionality, yes.

Sore left sit bone


I am a 5'3", 140lb, 51-year-old woman, and have recently started cycling. (2008 Trek Madone WSD) I am now adding more long distance rides, and have noticed that my left sit bone gets crazy sore - just the left! The swelling is quite significant - I ice and apply a topical anti-inflammitory.

I have had a professional bike fitting to assess the problem. I ended up with a longer stem, and the cleat on my left shoe was moved all the way forward. I felt much more powerful on my subsequent ride (after giving some time off to heal) but the left sit bone pain returned with a vengenance.

I had changed saddles as well - the change to a Selle SMP Avante rid me totally of the soft tissue problems that, I thought, was going to put an end to my cycling life (before this new problem). I understand that this type of saddle puts more pressure on the sit bones, but it is this uneven presure that is making me suffer! Any thoughts or advice?

Sudbury, Canada

Steve Hogg says:


You are overextending with the left leg and this is what is loading your sit bone. Starting at the start. Your description of "the cleat on my left shoe was moved all the way forward" implies that maybe the cleats are not in the same position on each shoe. Can you confirm this?

If they are not, is there any substantial difference in foot length or proportion. Again, if not, then move the left cleat back to a similar position to the right foot. Now drop your seat until the left sit bone doesn't feel like it is trying to push down through the seat. At the seat height where this occurs, does the right leg feel cramped or noticeably under extending?

If it does, then it is likely that you have a functionally shorter left leg which needs shimming up.

Assuming as I am that your bike fitter moved your left cleat all the way forward to allow you to reach further with the (shorter?) left leg, then this is a poor way to go about solving the problem. It gave you an increase in power because the further forward cleat position allowed you to reach further to the pedal, but under any kind of load, that same further forward cleat position is likely to make you drop your heel more than on the right side, which of course extends the leg again, allowing the same sit bone problem to manifest.

I've made a few assumptions here and they may not be correct. If not, put me back on track and I'll attempt to advise further.

Jennifer then responded:

Yes, the cleat on my left shoe was moved all the way forward. When the plumb line was dropped over each knee, the right leg was fine (plumb over ball of foot) but in order to accomplish this on the left side, the cleat was moved all the way forward.

The right cleat is in the furthest back position. I am not only feeling the left sit bone pain, but now my left hamstring is totally inflammed and now I am seeing a massage therapist and chiropractor. Yikes! I had mentioned to the RMT about leg length - she measured from hip bone to ankle on each leg and said my right was shorter by 10mm. Now I can't believe this; just the hamstring pain on the left side would corroborate your assessment.

Also - this left side discomfort has only happened with the Selle SMP - I changed to this saddle because of the soft tissue issue, and I absolutely love this saddle for solving that issue - I could not ride on any other saddle without severe pain and abrasions after only 10km (without getting too graphic). The bike fitter says to get rid of the SMP - but I love it for obvious reasons!

I am willing to work at solving this - the problem is there are no experts where I live - I traveled 600km to get the professional fit.

Thankyou very much for your help, I value your opinion.

Steve Hogg says:

Regarding the shorter right leg. That will mean that you are dropping the right hip enough to make the left leg over extend. The left sit bone pain may not be pushing down too hard on the seat as I thought, but more likely the early signs of hamstring strain as the hamstrings originate at the ischium (sitbone).

Moving the cleat all the way forward on the left as your fitter has only forces you to drop the heel more when under load, like riding up a hill, which puts more pressure again on the hamstrings.

I've got to say that if your fitter missed the leg length difference and used differential cleat position to resolve your perceived issue then they aren't on top of their game. I would suggest giving them (polite) feedback so they know that there are things that they have to work on.

Here's a plan of action:

1. Move the left cleat all the way back to mimic the position of the right cleat. That advice assumes that both feet are more or less the same length and proportions. If not, let me know.

2. The shorter right leg was only measured from hip to ankle and takes no account of any differences in arch height between feet. When there is a substantial LLD, often the feet develop differently to each other both and you will probably find that one arch is lower than the other or drops more than the other when load is applied.

To determine this, march barefooted on the spot in front of either your massage therapist or your chiro and ask them to determine which arch drops more as your fit hits the ground. If there is a noticeable difference, which is likely, then...

3. Get yourself a set of Esoles Efit insoles and use them instead of your cycling shoes standard insoles. They come in a kit with each one having four different heights of modular arch supports that can be fitted. You will find instructions in the box as to how to determine which height arch support to use.

I would suggest going one height higher than the recommendations in the box for cycling. They will feel a bit intrusive when standing but shouldn't be a problem in cycling shoes. The arch support height you choose is likely to be different on each side which is fine.

4. Now you need to make a shim for the right shoe. I assume you are using a three-bolt road style cleat and pedal?

If so, you can use any suitable material but a bit of trial and error is necessary first.If you have a rubber store handy, buy a length of 1/8" thick rubber wide enough to cut an 'insole' out of. Use your existing right insole as a template and cut shapes out of the rubber that mimic the insole.

Once you have done this, stand on the rubber bare foot and mark the forward most end of the MTP joints (base knuckles of each toe). Cut anything forward of this off. Insert one or more of these rubber 'insoles' into your right shoe and determine what height of rubber stack - 1/8", 1/4", 3/8",1/2" etc - feels best in terms of seat comfort.

Bare in mind that with rubber 'insoles' in place, your right shoe will feel very cramped and uncomfortable. Ignore this if possible and concentrate on which height of rubber gives you the best and most even feel on the seat and the most even pedaling feel with each leg. Once you have done this you can make a permanent shim out of any suitable material or buy premade ones.

Given the lack of expertise your bike fitter displayed, I would be wary of the seat height that you have, particularly if this was determined with a goniometer (joint angle measuring device) rather than through direct observation under reasonable load.

Make sure that your seat height is conservative. An individually correct seat height can often be lower than that determined statically with goniometer. If in doubt, ride up a moderate grade climb that takes a few minutes to ascend. Ride in a gear that is slightly too hard, say one tooth smaller than you would normally choose. The correct seat height is when both legs (and this assumes you have your right insole stack height sorted out) reach the bottom of the pedal stroke fluently with a bit to spare.

I see from your email address that you work for a mining company. If that means that you are a long way from anywhere, it might be easier to contact BikeFit Systems and buy some of their cleat shims. I need to declare an interest hear and say that I am their shim supplier.There is another brand of shim available which I would not recommend under any circumstances and if you are a regular reader of this section of the site, you will understand why.

If you are using a two-bolt mtb shoe, then the solution is more difficult. Once you have determined the ideal amount of build up for the right leg, you will need to have quality mtb shoes, preferably with a carbon sole. Send these to a quality bootmaker and ask them to remove the sole and glue a full length, dense EVA foam build up between sole and upper and then reglue the sole. If done well, at a glance it will look like a factory shoe.

5. Now to the seat. I am a bit of a fan of SMP saddles, but correct fitting of them is crucial as is model choice. I don't know what model you have but play around with the angle of the seat.

If you are reasonably functional and flexible then the raised area towards the seat nose should be 3-5 degrees below the highest point at the rear on the Composit, Forma or Lite 209. On the Avant or Pro, then 1-3 degrees down.

I'm not crazy about the Evolution or Stratos unless the rider has very narrow sitbone separation. If you have either of these last two; ask yourself whether you can sit solidly on it or whether you always feel like one or the other sit bone is off the edge a bit. If it is off the edge, change to a wider model like the Lite 209. If you are not particularly flexible, then raise the seat nose 1-2 degrees higher than the recommendations above.

6. Lastly, seat setback. Your fitter determined this by using a plumb line dropped from the tibial tubercle. There is zero basis for this. You may be too far forward, too far back or close to right. You need to feel as though your weight is solidly supported under your back side and allows you to grip the bars with ease. If you have problems with this, let me know.

Work your way through the list above and yell if there is any problem.

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

Scott Saifer ( is head coach, CEO of Wenzel and has been coaching cyclists professionally for 18 years. He combines a master's degree in Exercise Physiology with experience in 20 years of touring and racing and over 300 road, track and MTB races to deliver training plans and advice that are both rigorously scientific and compatible with the real world of bike racing.

Scott has helped clients to turn pro as well as to win medals at US Masters National and World Championship events. He has worked with hundreds of beginning riders and racers and particularly enjoys working with the special or challenging rider. Scott is co-author of Bike Racing 101 with Kendra Wenzel and his monthly column appears in ROAD Magazine.

Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers since 1986, 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.

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.

Pam 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 associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of energy balance on bone health. She has published on the effects of cycling and multi-day stage racing on bone density and turnover.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is a three-time Missouri State Road Champion.

David Fleckenstein, MPT, OCS ( is a physical therapist practicing in Eagle, ID and the president of Physiotherapy, PA, an outpatient orthopedic clinic focusing in orthopedics, spine, and sportsmedicine care.

His clients have included World and US champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his Masters degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University and is currently completing his doctorate at Regis University.

He is a board certified orthopedic specialist focusing in manual medicine and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilisation musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( 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 ( 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.

Dario Fredrick ( 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.

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