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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - May 27, 2010

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Simon Gerrans (Cervelo) stands on his pedals to squeeze out a bit more power on the final climb.

Simon Gerrans (Cervelo) stands on his pedals to squeeze out a bit more power on the final climb. (Image credit: Sirotti)
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HTC - Columbia riders cool after after a training ride outing.

HTC - Columbia riders cool after after a training ride outing. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/

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.

Uneven pedaling style


I noticed a few years ago that my left leg is slightly longer than my right leg, and perhaps as a result, I seem to sit unevenly on the saddle, positioned slightly over to the right. I also noticed that my right quads stop a good inch shorter of the kneecap than my left quads, but maybe that's another story.

Anyway, my pedalling style, when coasting, is uneven. I'm equally very flexible with both legs, but my left foot points down, while my right foot is fairly flat, while pedalling. To get the left to go flat, requires effort. My saddle is comfortably as low as I think I can deal with.

So I'm wondering, do you think this unevenness is a problem for my riding efficiency, or that it may even be unhealthy in the long term? I don't tend to suffer pain, but I spend a lot of time shifting around in the saddle, and my knees are skewed slightly off to this right hand side when I do pedal.

My right foot also seems a bit smaller than my left, so I'm wondering if adding some shims into the right shoe might help correct this problem, or whether it's an indication of pelvic unevenness, or what. Any help gratefully received, thanks.


Steve Hogg says:


To sum up: You have a longer left leg. The foot of the longer left leg points toe down when you pedal. The foot of the shorter right leg pedals with a much flatter heel. You don't feel even on the seat and feel like your seat height is okay.

So assuming you are correct in thinking that you have a longer left leg, the only set of circumstances that explains why the long leg has to pedal toe down to reach the pedal while the shorter leg with smaller foot can pedal with a flat heel is that you must be sitting off centre to the right or riding with the right hip substantially lower and further forward than the left or a combination of these things.

You imply your flexibilty is above average which probably protects you from any ill effects caused by pedaling like this; but if you ride long enough or hard enough, you are likely to develop a problem.

Two suggestions:

1. Have an x-ray to determine the functional leg length difference which is the difference in femoral head heights when you are standing tall with both knees locked out. Don't confuse this with bone length as it is not the same thing.

For instance, if you have a lower arch on one foot than the other, that will reduce functional leg length even though there may be no bone length difference. Also, many people think they have a leg length who don't because the culprit is compensation patterns evolved to work around shortcomings in foot / ankle morphology and posture. Equally, many people who do have noticeable difference in leg lengths aren't aware of it.

2. Post x-ray, you will have established whether there is a difference or not. If there is a difference, then yes, experiment with a shim stack under the right leg and settle on the size that allows you feel like you are sitting evenly on the seat while both legs reach through the bottom of the pedal stroke with equal facility while neither leg feels cramped over the top of the pedal stroke.

If you have been pedaling asymmetrically for a long time, it will take a while to regain a more symmetrical technique and the best way to adapt quickly during that time is to ride at low to moderate intensity only. At high intensity, you will unconsciously fall back into patterns of motion that you are used to and which you are trying to break out of.

However, if the x ray suggests that there is no real difference in functional leg length, then it is time to put yourself in the hands of a competent structural health professional and plot a course towards regaining greater functional symmetry. This will probably involve stretching and strengthening exercises and possibly manipulation as well.

Aerobic training


My question has to do with your segment on aerobic training, I'm a 44-year-old male, very competitive and active in racing in crits and small circuit races and I want to know what's the rule of thumb - if there's one - on hours of aerobic traning versus racing time.


Scott Saifer says:


That's a great question. There's a common misconception that the amount one should train or the length of longest rides should somehow relate to the length of the races one does. Here's an experiment to help cure the misconception: What happens when a pro who trains 30 hours per week comes to race the local 45-minute crit (assuming he's got the cornering skills)? We don't expect him to lose because he trains too much. In fact, some pros time trial for an hour faster than some local guys can sprint for a few seconds.

Provided you can keep training quality up, more hours are better, no matter how long or short your event will be. In today's environment, it still seems to be possible for masters men and women to win at the national and world level if they can get three five-hour rides per week and a few more shorter rides.

A rule of thumb though is that there are huge gains in fitness with additional weekly riding time up to about eight hours per week, after which the gains come more slowly. A lot of racers seem to be able to race okay on around eight hours per week, though they race better on more if they can build up gradually and keep the quality up.

Quality is not synonymous with speed. Quality means high speed FOR THE EFFORT. Low quality is when you are trying hard but making lower power than on a good day for the same effort. Quality is maintained by resting when tired and training when fresh, not by hammering.

Aerobic versus LT training

I've always been fascinated by the debate between aerobic base miles and intensity, and the many theories that go with this. I think (not that I'm an expert) you're totally right, and I remember a case where a guy in Melbourne that I trained with occasionally managed to get himself in absolutely blinding shape just by doing aerobic training.

But, roll on seven years... and I'm now a father of two and don't have the 15-18 hours a week I used to have for training, and in fact I toy around with 5-8 hours on good weeks, and often less.

Based on this, I doubt I would get much benefit if I just did aerobic miles (my max is HR is 185) and I tend to ride 3-4 hours once a week on good weeks where I'll regularly put in an hour in my level four zones (160 - 175) and at least one midweek hard effort.

I know I can't hold form for long, but this I'm sure is down to the hours I train (and lack of aerobic base), but what I'm trying to get at is that I don't believe I have a better choice.

Or, are you saying do aerobic base miles for several weeks, a few weeks of intensity at LT, back to aerobic base and so on until you are wanting to peak and then go above LT? And if so does this work on these small hours?

Many thanks for a great service and site - been a massive fan of CN for years!

Kind regards,

Scott Saifer says:


So here we go... more volume is better, and more intensity is better too, with the caveat that the training has to be high quality, meaning good power output compared to the effort. That means not training tired so one way to think of this is that you want to do as much training as you have time for, and train as hard as you can while still being fresh to use up the time you've got.

If you can do the schedule you describe and always be energetic and ready to rock on your training and racing days, it's an okay schedule for you.

I have observed some facts that may be useful to you. One is that riders who train above the comfortable aerobic pace and then learn to back off often mysteriously find more time to train. I don't have a experimentally tested explanation, but I suspect that the hormonal changes that accompany harder training lead to feelings of stress that lead to an urgency to get non-bike stuff done.

When they mellow out on the bike, they mellow out at work and at home. I'm not saying you'll suddenly have 15 hours per week again, but maybe you find 2-3 more hours per week and that makes up for the decrease in intensity.

Another observation is that volume improves recovery, so people who do higher volume can often handle intensity better than those who do lower volume, so as much as you'd like to increase intensity as way to make up for reduced volume, you don't get to increase intensity that much. Perhaps the percentage of time that can be intense remains about the same or increases slightly.

Finally, riders how have many years of riding behind them can often get away with a lot less training than newer riders.

As to your question about riding hard every week versus alternating base and peaking periods, I suggest the latter. Ramp up volume of base riding when you can, and transition over about two months leading into your racing season. Race until your form arrives, and then departs again and repeat.

You'll find that the base time serves as recovery from the previous season and gets you back to form more quickly than trying to maintain intensity and form all the time.

Andrew then responded:

Many thanks for such a great response Scott.

I can testify to falling into the exact example you gave me. What I find is that, despite having years of cycling behind me and thus being able to get away with less training, I exhibit the following:

-When I train really hard I then take a day (or sometimes more than two) off the bike to fully recover

-Find excuses to do other things because I don't feel fully refreshed from the hard efforts on the back of little base

The above feelings I found I got on the Carmichael approach (tried because of my lack of hours) and despite initially seeing improvements in certain aspects such as my power output on climbs, I find this plateaus almost as quickly and I feel that I lose form quickly too.

So if I return to training at 80 percent of max HR, which is what I do briefly when form goes, but for a longer duration I could see bigger improvements in my ability to train harder and recover quicker?

One thing I do find though is that it is really hard to keep your HR in the 80 percent range on climbs. I tried this yesterday on a two-hour ride and in the end I found myself churning away at 168 (my max is 185). I'm not sure if this is that important on short climbs?

Anyway, I hope this doesn't come across as trying to get free training advice, but this is a subject that has intrigued me for years and I can't profess to getting it spot on even after all my years of training.

Finally, I just want to say thank you for this sterling advice.

Scott Saifer says:


Don't worry about getting free training advice. That's what the forum is for. Your observation that the "train harder because you have less time" approach leads to quick, small gains and then a plateau is exactly what I expect and consistent with the observations of many other cyclists.

With regard to your question about whether it's okay to go harder than your zone on the hills, go back to my previous answer: If you can go harder on the hills and still feel good for the next day's ride, it's okay. Most riders will find that if they go over by a few beats for a few minutes, they're fine.

The exception would be people who's LT heart rates are down near 80 percent of max. Then going over zone means flirting with or exceeding LT and that is tiring.

I can tell you that if you do stay safely below LT and below 80 percent of max (whichever is lower) all the time for several weeks, you will get good base development. If you go harder on hills and still feel good for training multiple days, you'll probably still get good development. Notice we're talking here about the difference between "will" and "probably will", as opposed to "will" and "won't".

Final comment: Riders who ride at least every other day most of the time make much more progress than those who routinely take two days in a row off, so getting tired enough to need two days off is really a bad plan when you are in training mode. In racing mode you get as tired as you get and deal with it.

MTB skills and endurance training


I'm a 30-year-old XC racer and have recently shifted my focus to endurance events. My season goal is a late August 100km mountain bike race but I will also do handful of regular distance cross country events over the summer.

My question is: how do I fit regular handling skills training as I ramp up my mileage to build for the enduro? Last year I did well with one mountain bike training race mid-week and my weekend rides being 3-6 hours on the road, but I felt like I wasn't as sharp as I could be on the singletrack.

Elite world cup racers that do XC and endurance racing like Christoph Sauser are rumoured to spend 60 percent of their training time offroad, but I'm having trouble getting to 40 percent. Any insight you can provide would be welcome.

Thanks in advance,

Scott Saifer says:


I think the solution to your problem is to change how you approach off-road skills training. First, if you plan concentrated practice of the particular skills you need to develop, you won't need to dedicate that much total time to them.

When you go for a long dirt ride, most of the time is just riding along doing things you already are good at rather than practicing the most important skills. If you do repeats on the challenging bits instead, you can master them in a tiny fraction of the time, leaving more time for endurance road riding.

Next thought is to double up; on a given day, you can get an hour on dirt for skills and several hours on road for fitness. For instance, you might do a long road ride to get to some challenging dirt, do the dirt practice, and then do a long road ride home. Good luck.

Numb feet

I've been having a problem for a while now where my feet go numb after riding for more than an hour.

In the beginning I read up on all different types of solutions from moving the cleat all the way back and buying new insoles from a bunch of different companies, and adjusting the tension on my straps.

At this point my feet still get numb from the ball of my feet to the toes. The problem starts with my two big toes getting numb first but then after a while the whole front if my foot is numb and then the pain starts to settle in.

I really don't know what else to do; I have Speedplay pedals so the float is adjusted at around eight degrees each side and now I'm going to try some wedges to see if that will help.

Bottom line - if the wedges don't help then what other options do I have? I don't want to stop riding but the pain doesn't go away. Thanks for all your help in advance I've searched the globe for answers.

Shaun Gad

Steve Hogg says:


A shim is a spacer that increases the effective height of the cleat and is used to compensate for a functional or measurable leg length discrepancy. Wedges have a taper and are used to change the cant of the foot; i.e; to raise or lower the outside edge of the foot to correct common deformities like pronating ankles, collapsed arches and the like. Have a look at the attached article, mainly the section subtitled "Correction"

Shaun then responded:

Thanks for all the help. I hope one of these last options is the final solution. I do have one more question about the difference between wedges and shims, if there is any at all. If not then I should be ok since I purchased shims for under the cleats, not actual wedges.

If there is a difference than I guess I need to buy wedges as well. In any case thanks again for all the help it's truly appreciated.

Shaun Gad

Steve Hogg says:


There are three possibilities left that you haven't covered yet. One is wedges and you are about to try that, so let me now what happens.

The second if the fit of the shoe. I know you have loosened the straps but if the shoe is too narrow for you, it may be laterally compressing the mtp joints and is possibly the source of your pain. The converse can also occasionally be true in that is the shoe is a very loose fit, the tension required in the plantar fascia in an attempt to keep the foot from slipping within the shoe can also cause toe numbness.

Lastly, don't discount the possiblity that you have an issue with your feet. If you are convinced that your shoes fit well and if you try wedges and get no relief, I would go and see a good podiatrist with cycling experience and see what he or she has to say before you talk about giving up the bike.

Warming up


I am a 44-year-old cyclist that has ridden my bike off and on for the last 22 years. I don't race or ride competitively. I am fairly healthy and go out for rides two or three times a week, averaging rides of about 20-30 miles on rolling hills at 15 mph and I ride solo. I am 5'10 and weigh 152-155.

I have always had trouble warming up, meaning that it takes me a really long time. If I am on a group after a few pedal strokes it seems like everyone is ready to go but me. Once I am warmed up, I am fine, but prior to 8-10 miles of moderate riding, I really cant do much.

What can I do to shorten the period of time it takes me to warm up?


Scott Saifer says:


Guys who have been riding for a long while, those who do higher volumes of training, and older riders all seem to need more warm up than younger, less experienced riders.

Most of my masters racer clients report they need 40-60 minutes before they feel good and a full 60 before they can go hard. Professional racers famously warm up around the time the TV cameras come on, perhaps four hours into a six-hour race.

There are some potential ways to speed the warm up. They may work better for some riders than others, so experiment. Here are two things you can try. A bit of gentle massage a few minutes before you get on helps some people. This would be "flushing" massage rather than any sort of deep-tissue work. There are rubs and sprays which claim to increase circulation. I'm not vouching for them.

Finally, if you want to be strong from the first pedal stroke of the group ride, park father away or ride out and back to get some warm up riding in before you join the group.

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.