Skip to main content

Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - December 24, 2009

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.

Bike fit issues

I am a competitive cyclist, and for the last three years had to bench my seasons due to bad patellar mal-tracking, from IT band syndrome. This is the first season I've been able to get back on the bike with no pain, and while I'm still being treated for the IT band issues at PT, and get pain while running, on the bike I'm ok.

My issue is my fit has completely changed from when I was racing. I do plan on competing next road race season but I'm having difficulties with riding. I feel as if I have way to much weight on my hands, I've raised my stem up much more than I'd like and I'm still feeling too much weight.

I had a fit done in my last race season but don't have the measurements anymore. I have read that the further back you move your saddle, the more weight you can put on your torso. I feel I lack the proper core strength to be in my old position, but want to have at least a somewhat aggressive/comfortable setup to start with.

Is the bottom of the heel method the best for finding seat height? I'm worried that the further I move back, the further I am from the bottom bracket and the more I will affect handling. My shoe's are almost all the way forward, I'm 6'1 with a size 45 and an abnormally long torso, with only a 85.5 cm inseam.

Bennett Fallow
Richmond, VA, USA

Steve Hogg says


Okay, so the ITB issue isn't a problem on the bike, at least at the moment, so I'll leave that aside and concentrate on your major query about seat setback. You feel like you have too much weight on your hands and have raised the bars and still bear too much weight on your hands. That means that your seat is not far enough back to allow you to have a largely unweighted torso.

That in turn means that there is a comfort issue and that your ability to breathe deeply is compromised at some level. Simply, many of the muscles we use to support torso weight need to be able to relax to allow full breathing.

This leaves you with two choices. Firstly, to stick with the existing position that you don't find comfortable, OR secondly to move the seat further back so as to allow better upper body comfort and better breathing ability. But you are concerned about the possible negative effects on handling that this may bring on.

At the moment you have unnecessary tension in the arms because you are bearing too much weight on them. That means that the bike cannot find it's own way and self correct well, because you cannot relax your upper body to allow that to happen.

I don't know what the dimensions of the frame that you ride are, but if you have a long torso and proportionately short legs as you say, you should be able to put the seat back some distance while still having a stem long enough to allow reasonable steering feel. This will improve the handling of your bike, not make it worse, providing you are still left with a decent length stem.

One observation: many people can reach further to the bars with ideal seat set back than they can with the seat too far forward because their weight is supported on the seat which leaves the arms and torso free to reach to their comfortable potential to the bars. If you are supporting significant weight with your arms and shoulder complex, this reduces your ability to reach out.

Simply, the seat needs to be the minimum distance behind the bottom bracket that allows you a more or less unweighted upper body. I say "more or less" because function plays a part in this.

At the moment, the situation is not good so I doubt that you have anything to lose by experimenting with a more rearward seat.

Lastly, you want a "somewhat aggressive/comfortable setup. I assume "aggressive" means bum up, head down. If your degree of flexibility allows this, then great. If it doesn't, you will perform better by setting a position that is comfortable enough so that when you are going hard, you are putting minimum effort into maintaining that position on the bike which will in turn allow maximum effort to be used to propel the bike down the road.

Once you have a seat position that allows greater upper body comfort than currently, set your bar height to where you can comfortably maintain your hands in the drops at high load and heart rate. Anything else will diminish performance.

Best of luck.

Bennett then responded:


Thanks! Moved the saddle back today and went for a ride; marked improvement over previous setup. My new question is I had a friend run a plumb bob from the tibial tuberosity and I'm definitely behind the pedal spindle.

I've read conflicting arguments on the matter. I also wanted to know if there is a way to tell when my seat is back far enough and when it is too far back.

I noticed now that my saddle is much higher and I'm worried that I've been riding with a high saddle this entire time, due to never finding a comfortable saddle and saddle sores, when I do the heel trick, previously I was way off, now I'm not dropping my hip and just keeping contact, I do ride toe down though. I think that is two sets of information and if that is too much let me know.

Thanks for the help and advice, it has already led to a big improvement.

Steve Hogg says


So, essentially you are asking.

1. Is there any validity in using tibial tubercle over pedal axle as a method to determine seat set back?
2. How to know when the seat is too far back or too far forward?
3. How to determine seat height?

There is any amount of stuff on these matters in the archive but seeing as I can't find the archive, here goes.

Re: Question 1. Zero, in my view. When someone can tell me why the relationship of one bony protuberance to the pedal axle is more important than the whole of body relationship to the bike, I will listen. I've never heard a convincing argument regarding this. It is one of those ideas that has achieved currency by repetition rather than because of any inherent merit.

To explain succinctly: Every action on a bike starts with a signal from the brain or elsewhere in the central nervous system which in turn is at least partly determined by a constant flow of feedback from the body. What that means is that before anyone talks about a narrow biomechanical relationship like KOPS, they need to optimise central nervous system function within the ability of their current structual condition to do that.

Keeping things simple, postural muscles; are the muscles that allow us to resist gravity, breathe and maintain an upright posture. In effect, the muscles that allow us to hold a position on a bike and that need to relax to allow us to fill our lungs to greatest capacity.

But phasic muscles generate power for movement. There is some overlap in the sense that postural muscles like the hamstrings and gastrocs operate phasically on a bike because they are relieved of the need to maintain an upright posture as we do when we stand.

Now the kicker is that our brain and central nervous system gives priority to the postural muscles, not the phasic muscles that propel the bike, and there are good evolutionary reasons for this. (For more detail see That means that if we want to go fast and sustain the ability to do so, we have to prioritise the phasic, power producing muscles.

Given the brain's propensity to prioritise the postural muscles, the only way to prioritise the phasic musculature is to minimise postural muscle enlistment. How do we do that?

The only way to do that is to have the seat the minimum distance behind the bottom bracket that allows the rider to cantilever his torso out from his pelvis without heavily using arms, shoulder complex and upper toroo muscles to support that weight. The reason for this is that the great majority of postural muscles that need to relax to fill our lungs to greatest capacity can also be used to resist pedaling forces or to support torso weight.

But if they are doing that, they are sucking heart beats, blood flow and oxygen away from the phasic muscles that drive the bike, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and muscles of the lower leg. This can only come at the cost of less performance and an increase in discomfort.

Technique plays a part. You mention that you tend to be a toe down pedaler. That's fine but that also means that your major vector on the pedals under signficant load is to the rear which in turn causes your pelvis to have a tendency to move forward (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) and means that your seat will need to be further back to offset this tendency. And higher too than the seat height of your heel dropping hypothetical twin.

Heel dropping technique pushes the rider back in the saddle and extends the legs more for a given seat height. Have a look at the attachment re this. It is 9 or 10 years old but I'm still happy with the great majority of it. So simply, forget KOPs, it doesn't have any merit when applied to large groups of people and never has had.

Re: Question 2. The correct setback is one where a reasonably functional rider and ride in the drops using moderate effort, say 40 km/h and 90-95 rpm and remove their hands from the bars and teeter on their point of balance with some degree of control.

The arms are necessary as relaxed props but are not needed to bear significant weight. The only problem with that descripiton is the reasonably functional part, as many riders are less functional than that and use their upper bodies and arms to stabilise themselves because they have the poor functional stability that is widespread in a chair bound society. In their case, they should be looking for the best compromise available to them.

Typical symptoms of too much seat setback are: good ability to rider moderate grades in a big gear but poor ability to ride steep hills on the seat; and good ability to push a big gear on undulating terrain at lowish cadence but poor ability to ride at high cadence when necessary.

Typical symptoms of too little seat setback are: a lot of weight supported by hands, arms and shoulders, very good ability to pedal at high cadence but poor ability to push a big gear. Poor ability to climb moderate grades on the seat and reasonable ability to climb steep hills on the seat; strong tendency to creep forward on the seat under load because of inherent instability.

Re: Question 3. Whatever our natural technique, we all drop our heels more under high torque, moderate to low cadence riding which is what hill climbing demands.

Many riders who determine their seat height on the flat are sitting too high. Find a moderate hill that takes a few minutes to ride up. Ride up it on the seat in one or two gears too high for comfort (rear cog one or two teeth smaller than usual). You need to force the gear but not so much that you are sacrificing technique. If you feel fluent through the bottom of the pedal stroke, your seat height is good. If you feel on/off/on/off through the bottom of the pedal stroke, then your seat height is too high.

We perform 4,500 - 6,000 revolutions an hour on a bike. The smoother and better controlled the pedaling action, the longer we will be able to sustain it. Extra seat height does NOT equal extra sustainable power unless the extra extension of the legs can be well controlled.

Best of luck, hope this helps.

Overcoming Epstein-Barr Virus

Hi guys,

I’m hoping someone can offer some advice? I picked up Glandular fever in Sept and since then have okay days and not-so-okay days (in terms of how I feel). I know when I get out on my bike I feel like I’m not operating at top level, but sometimes I feel ok to do some good, reasonably hard training.

What I do notice though is that I feel a bit vague most days and a little unmotivated at times, but when I do get out on the bike I feel better for it and it seems to give me more energy.

My question is: am I doing myself harm by training or will it benefit me by keeping active? If training is okay, what levels am I okay to go to? I’d like to get the EBV out of my system asap, obviously.

Many thanks for your help.

Kelby Bethards says


That is a very vague problem. NOT because you are being vague, but because EBV (Epstien-Barr Virus) can cause a very large set of small problems... and occasionally large problems.

I have been working through the same thing since June. Its no fun. There are some things you have mentioned that are encouraging and some things I think you need to listen to...

I think it is good that you can still do some hard efforts and that you have some good days. In many cases you just can't even go too hard or you will feel demolished and can't recover quickly. You have mentioned on the bike you feel like you are not at top level and that is correct you are not at top level. And the goal would be to get back to that level.

First off, if you feel very tired on a ride, go home. Don't push it and make things worse. The key to EBV and recovery is rest and patience. (Yeah right) It can take a few months up to a year, so it seems for cyclists to feel back to normal again. There are many studies and things showing a link from EBV to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I am not saying you will have this or should you worry too much about this but it can take years in some cases to recover.

So, this is what I have written in the past and have told people, if you feel very tired: REST. Do not try to push through it and "defeat" it. You will end up feeling more tired than you started. I think it is ok to still ride and work out some, but on the very tired days, rest.

On the flip side, test the waters once and a while. IF you are feeling good, push a little and see how it goes. Pay attention to whether you recover quickly or not. If you are worn out for days after hard work out and so on.

This EBV thing and its sequelae can be very frustrating and tenacious. It took its toll on many pro cyclists throughout the years and they usually have "lost" season from it.

Leg length and back pain

Hi guys,

I have a measurably shorter right leg (9mm). I recently went to see a well established podiatrist, who checked me out and confirmed that my back aches were not helped by this difference, if not caused by it.

Basically, I can walk, cycle, whatever, no problems, the minute I stand still for a period in excess of 45 minutes, my back aches! It also aches after running sometimes.

I cycle about 150+ miles per week. Do some running and weights five days per week (45 minute sessions, not too heavy). I'm now going through a process of introducing an insert into my shoe, 3mm now, increasing by 3mm each month till even. Hopefully this sorts out my back ache, when stationary.

I also get slight niggly pains when cycling, usually in my glute area. Sometimes, when experimenting with seat height, the pain/discomfort will move to quads on opposite leg! Nothing too painful, but it is there.

Initially, I put it down to a seat height issue, having got two new bikes this year. Now, I'm fairly sure it's as a result of the leg length difference. I know I have only used crude measuring methods, but I can be almost certain that the short fall is in the femur.

I have ordered some shims and BFS Wedges from Cyclefit, (my right leg over pronates and my left supinates, too!), but I'd just like a little advise, before I (potentially) do more damage.

I intend to video myself on my turbo, from all four sides, then, initially add one wedge to each shoe, to combat the pronation/ supination. Then a 3mm shim under the right cleat. After each adjustment, I will video my riding and compare with previous footage. Then maybe another shim (to 6mm).

I understand from reading your 'Footlose' article, that an adjustment for a shorter femur doesn't necessarily mean adjusting to the full 9mm difference. Any advice you could offer me would be much appreciated. I use Shimano SPD-SL pedals - should it matter?

Paul Lewis

Steve Hogg says


The process you are suggesting is sensible. Regarding wedging, what you are looking for is a feeling that the pedaling load is evenly distributed across the foot. If you feel more pressure under the inner edge of the foot, add a wedge or wedges oriented with thick side to the inside until that feeling of localised pressure changes to an evenly distributed load. If you feel more pressure on the outside, do the converse.

In most cases, this is reliable indicator. Be aware too, that over or under wedging one foot can affect the feel of the other foot. Trial each change for several rides before making further changes. Often, when you think you have a good result, you may find on an unusually long or hard ride that you don't have your amount of wedging quite right.

Re shimming, if have a leg length of 9mm, it is likely that not only is there a measurable difference but there are differences in flexibility between left and right sides as well. Depending on which is the tight side and which is the more flexible side, the size of shim you end up with may vary. What you are looking for is a feeling that both legs are reaching through the bottom of the pedal stroke with ease under significant load.

Best of luck with this.

Pain medication and cycling performance

I recently had a collision with a car while out cycling and, as a result, have suffered a distal clavicle fracture on my right shoulder. The ER doctor has adopted a conservative management, which involved no surgical intervention but has put me on a course of painkillers and a sling for my right arm. The painkillers prescribed are Codalgin (paracetamol 500mg and codeine 8mg) and ibuprofen 200mg.

It's summer here in the southern hemisphere and I don't want to lose too much fitness while waiting for the fractured bones to fuse. So what I was wondering is whether it was safe to resume training (on a turbo trainer, of course) while being "doped" up.

My main concern is whether painkillers have any adverse effects on the kidneys and GI tract while exercising. The type of training I was thinking of was low intensity rides (no more than 75 percent of max HR) for about one to 1.5 hours each day. If it is safe to train while on painkillers, is there a limit to how far I can safely push my heart rate up without causing any damage to my kidneys and GI tract. Cheers.


Kelby Bethards says


I know its hard to stay off the bike. However, pain killers and the sling are not the problem. It's the healing of your collar bone. A few things come to mind in your scenario.

Pain medicine: Paracetamol (Tylenol in the USA) is excreted by the liver. No worry to the kidneys. AND, if you are taking the correct, directed dose it won't hurt your liver. Codeine should not have many adverse effects, but can make you sleepy and so on. It also can constipate you, so make sure you are thinking ahead on that.

Riding a bike with a sling on. That you will need to decide about. Inherently that will cause an asymmetry. Not many people can sit perfectly straight on a bike, while riding with one arm.

Depending on the fracture and severity, you do NOT want a malunion of the bone to occur. That would likely require a surgery to recover. SO, my recommendation (without knowing the whole scenario) is to WAIT. Wait until your doctor says its ok to get on the trainer without a sling. At that point, I would even venture to bet you won't need the pain medicines any longer.

Its hard to rest in the midst of a season, but sometimes to prevent losing the whole season, you need to take a bit off to recover. I know the pros usually have the collar bone plated and are riding within a week on the trainer. BUT recall, they are paid to ride.

Some of the bike fitter sorts on the panel may have good thoughts on bike set up while healing.

Lateral offset for a saddle

I’m looking for some advice about whether a lateral offset for my bike seat might help me.

Long story short:

I’m mostly a mountain biker, mid-forties. I spend a lot of time on a bike, winter and summer, for a lot of years. I race locally and also have trained for and raced a couple of seven-day stage races (mountain bike - TransRockies and BC Bike Race) over the past three years. Lots of training and racing miles.

I have an issue of chronic lower back, hip etc. pain in my right side. Painful piriformis on right side. Makes riding a very painful experience. Minor until about 1.5 years ago but now it's a real problem.

Chiropractors, sports doctors, physiotherapy, osteopath, athletic therapist, acupuncture, anti-inflammatories, massage therapists... you name it, I’ve tried it, during training for the BC Bike Race this year.

I've had a bike fitting by a sports physiotherapist, and others before that and I've tried different crank lengths.

Core training has been a big part of my training regime for several years now, with various exercises added (and done religiously) by various practitioners.

I had knee issues a few years back which were solved by changing to Speedplay pedals - lots of float. Physiotherapist at the time said it was pelvic alignment issues.

I'm famous for my knee action on a bike - people recognise me by both the left and right knees swinging far to the right on the up-stroke. Left knee will clip the toptube, right knee is at least 6" from toptube. This is worse when I’m tired - I can control it when I’m not.

On my own, I recently came to the conclusion that I ought to move my seat laterally, so I went searching the web to see if anybody had done this - that’s how I ended up on your site, because there aren’t many references to this on the web.

Seeing as you may have some knowledge about lateral saddle adjustments, I wonder if you consider this a reasonable thing to try - the next in a long list. How would I know which way to move the thing?

Thanks for your input,
Bill Slater

Steve Hogg says


Good question. Yeah, I do laterally offset seat posts occasionally, but only when all else has failed and I have to get a result on the day.. The ideal solution is to get to the bottom of your pelvic problems that are causing your asymmetric pedaling action but as you say, you have tried a lot of people for no permanent result.

Have a look at this. Get hold of an appropriate setback FSA seat post with a seat rail clamp like the one in this pic

If you run your cursor over the top of the post you will see greater detail. If you look closely, you will see a white arrow on upper half of the two-piece section that clamps the seat rails. That arrow points at a small spigot and there is one on the other side as well. They serve to locate the seat rail clamp centrally beneath the longitudinal top piece that holds the two piece rail clamp in place.

If you grind the two small spigots off, which is 30 seconds work with a file or bench grinder, then you can move the seat rail clamp laterally but approximately 12mm to the left or right.

Whether laterally offsetting your seat will solve your problem or not, I don't know, but if all else has failed, it is worth a try.

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

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.

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.

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.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1