Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - January 27, 2012

Torrential rain greeted the peloton on stage 1 of the Tour de San Luis.

Torrential rain greeted the peloton on stage 1 of the Tour de San Luis. (Image credit: Luis Barbosa)

Topics: Cleat adjustment and knee problems, endurance racing, average heart rate, electrolytes, winter attire, cold knees

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Cleat adjustment and knee problems

Endurance racing, average heart rate


Winter attire, cold knees

Cleat adjustment and knee problems

I am an avid club rider and have been riding for years with only minimal physical complaints. I was fitted for my bike with Specialized's process and was doing fine. However, I took matters into my own hands one day and moved my Look cleats from their original position (mid to front) to the back position. I did this because I read something about cleat position in an article somewhere and tried this to see how it felt. There were no immediate problems on the bike at all. However, off the bike was a different story. After riding this way for a month or so, I began to experience pain/stiffness in the back of my left knee when rising from a sitting position or from kneeling after a period of time. When I first noticed this, I didn't connect it to the cleat adjustment because of the amount of time that elapsed between changing the cleat position to the onset of pain. I had to think long and hard before I even connected the dots to this. I have since moved my left cleat position back to its original setting. The right cleat is still in the back position since I've not felt any discomfort. However, the pain/stiffness after sitting/kneeling persists behind the left knee. I can stretch my hamstring out and it seems to provide some temporary relief. I did all this back in the summer of 2011 but now, at the start of 2012 I'm still experiencing the same symptoms.

I am considering scheduling an appointment with an orthopaedic doctor to have it examined. Is there any insight you can give me about this that I can share with the doctor to help him zero in on the problem and solution?


John Meehan

Laurel, MD, USA

Steve Hogg says:

G'day John,

This is an easy one. When you moved your cleats back, that reduces ankle movement and also increases leg extension. Did you drop your seat when you moved the cleats further back?

If not, that is the source of your problem. Pain behind the knee on a bike or arising from riding a bike is always overextension of the legs.

Why is it still happening even though you have moved the left cleat back to its original position?
Because you haven't moved the right cleat back to its original position. The right cleat is still causing overextension which you are likely compensating for by dropping the right hip. In turn this means that the left leg is still overextending.

I suggest that you move your right cleat back to its original position as a starting point. If you then want to experiment with cleat position, fine, but drop your seat when you do.

Click these links for more info on setting cleat position, seat height and why your right cleat position is affecting your left leg.

Endurance racing, average heart rate

I'm sure there are numerous factors involved but maybe there is also something simple at work here. I recently completed a 12 hour endurance mountain bike event and my Garmin recorded these lap times and average heart rate for 10 laps (mins per lap/bpm). 56/159, 57/160, 57/157, 57/152, 59/148, 58/146, 59/145, 62/143, 61/141, 63/142. It shows a steady increase in lap times and a steady decrease in heart rate. I do not FEEL l like I slacked off more as the race continued, the later laps certainly felt more difficult than the early ones. There are pits stops after every lap, ranging 3-15 minutes each.

(Recordings of other races and training show very similar increases in lap time with decreases in average heart rates)

So the simple questions are:

1. Do tired legs require less blood flow therefore a lower heart rate?
2. Or is the heart itself fatigued, along with the legs, and it can no longer perform late in the race as it did early?

Any thought and input is greatly appreciated

David Loehrs

Tucson, AZ

Scott Saifer says:

Hi David,

No, your heart doesn't get tired, but as your muscles fatigue it takes more mental effort to maintain the same power output. That's why you feel like you maintained or increased effort but still went slower. In order to make steady lap times in a long race, you have to go gradually harder. What's going on is that individual muscle fibers are making less contraction force as their fuel is depleted and their internal chemistry is changing, so you have to recruit more fibers. Recruiting more fibers means sending nerve impulses to more fibers, which is what you normally do to increase force, so maintaining cycling effort feels like working harder and harder. Your heart rate is dropping because you are not actually maintaining power, and your legs don't need as much oxygen to make less power. If you did maintain power and speed, you'd find that your heart rate actually increased a few beats with time passing due to an effect called "cardiac drift". Cardiac drift is a result of decreased blood volume and therefore less filling of the heart chambers prior to each beat. Less stroke volume means more strokes to deliver the same amount of blood.

Just FYI, if you pace optimally in an endurance MTB race, you feel like you are going super easy the first few laps, then you are working a bit in the middle laps and finally burying yourself at the end, all while maintaining steady power and lap times.


I live in the San Francisco East bay area. The training, racing, and riding is some of the best in the world. Our Sat rides feature amateurs, current master national champs, pros, world class triathaletes, Olympians…… a tough and very cool crowd.

At 52 years of age I do my best to “cut meat” with these tough men. I often fair well. Over the years I experienced, on occasion, cramping as do many. I have read so much about electrolytes, much contradictory info. One article from Garmen team said that cramping is rarely due to sodium issues.

Spoke to my friend that does bravies and lots of double centuries and he shared with me his special recipe for electrolyte replacement. Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sodium. Thought I would give it a try. My friend says that the distant guys can tell the difference between a sodium cramp and a calcium cramp?

I train often in the Eastern Sierra and high mountains of California to prepare for the Everest Challenge stage race and Halaekala climb in Maui. Last summer I began experimenting with ratios and frequency. The short of it is that once I figured out the correct protocol my ability to train was improved significantly, much deeper.

I learned that perceived fatigue at the end of a 5 hour climbing workout may be from electrolyte depletion and not from having had deeply exhausted your body. Correct replenishment enabled me to go so much deeper in my training that I improved my time on the 2 days of the Everest Challenge stage race by an honest :45:00 with no cramping.

Here’s how I knew it worked: Years previous at Everest cramping was always an issue at the end of the first day (about 16,000’). This time no cramping on the first day, of course I was fatigued but not like completely hammered out shit tired. Good on second day finished well, took 45 min out of my best time overall, did not make the podium though. The following weekend, as usual, I sponsor the Diablo Challenge, a local hill climb 800 + participants, and always try to make a good showing. Lost 2 minutes and 13 seconds to my best time. I was so fatigued from Everest the weekend before that I needed more time to recover. The year before I cramped badly at Everest yet the following weekend I had a personal best on our local climb race, the Diablo Challenge. The big difference between cramping tired and being tired from fully using all your reserves correctly is significant and requires much more time to heal and recover. You can’t get to the deep training if your electrolytes are not correct. Avoiding the cramping enables one to train deeper and get stronger without damaging tissues.

Through this I have learned that everyone has different needs and many factors come into play: Age, type of training, environment, and personal chemistry. And, for a lot of hard core endurance athletes the over the counter electrolyte replacement products are not enough. Each athlete needs a customized program. Electrolyte imbalance can even be fatal!

My question? Is this credible?

Fact or fiction?


Brian Gates
Orinda, California.

Pamela Hinton says:

Hi Brian,

Ideally, you'd like to replace electrolytes at the rate they're lost in sweat during exercise. However, that's not possible for sodium because the rate of absorption from the gut is limiting. Nevertheless, the sweat concentration (and rate of absorption for sodium) are the basis for the recommendations. As you know, sweat losses are going to be highly variable among individuals and within an individual depending on acclimitization, environmental conditions, duration of exercise, etc. Although present at much lower concentrations that sodium, athletes who train for prolonged periods of time can lose significant amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium via sweat.

Based on the reported concentrations of these electrolytes in sweat, I recommend 500-700 mg of sodium, 80-200 mg potassium, 4-40 mg magnesium, and 30-300 mg of calcium in 1.0-1.5 liters of water per hour. Most of us do not get enough magnesium in our diets. And, in my experience with athletes who suffer from muscle cramps, increasing magnesium intake via food or a dietary supplement to the RDA often helps.

Winter attire, cold knees


This question is about winter attire. I'm a collegiate cyclist from northern New Jersey but spend most of my time in Syracuse, NY as a graduate student at Syracuse University. The winters in New Jersey can be pretty cold but in upstate New York they are brutal. If I get out to train for the collegiate season at all, because snow usually prevents me, I subject myself to freezing temperatures.

When the season starts, whether or not I've gotten out, it is likely that the weather will still not cooperate. Last year at a race in Albany, NY it was 22 degrees at the start. The course took us alongside the Hudson where the wind picked up making the temperatures even more oppressive. At this race as in all other races and training rides I rode in shorts. Is this an unhealthy decision? Sometimes my knees look a bit discolored after a ride but I have never felt discomfort or pain before, after, or during. Thanks for your help!

Scott Saifer says:

Hi Trevor,

I've lived in upstate New York and you are right, it gets cold there and stays cold a long time. Cover your knees. I'm not promising you'll an injury if you don't, but a century or more of accumulated wisdom says its a good idea. I've had many clients who's knee problems are cured by keeping the knees warm, suggesting that if they had kept them warm in the first place, they'd not have had problems in the first place. Find some other way to show how tough you are.

Here's the rule: If it's below 65F (18C), put on a layer over your knees. As it gets colder, add layers so that your knees always feel like it's 65F or warmer (some coaches say 70F (21C). I think that's extreme). If you touch your knee skin after a rider, it should not be cold.

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. He can be reached at:

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 five-time Missouri State Road Champion, racing for Dogfish Racing Team.

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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