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Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - November 5, 2009

Finding the right weight


Recently, people have started to comment that I am looking 'skinny' or 'too skinny' (I feel like I resemble the guy in Triplettes of Bellville). I have been racing as a Cat 3/Expert ATB for the last 22 years.

I have always had a slim build - the climber type of body. In December 2008 I was 5'11" and weighed around 162 lbs and I started to pay more attention to my diet (doctor's orders - mainly because of cholesterol issues).

Prior to this I had a lull in racing and training for about two years, then I kick-started a routine of riding and training. My goal was at least an hour a day on the bike and focusing on a healthy diet - no fried foods, no soda and more emphasis on fruits and vegetables.

My training was a typical week of mostly zone 2 workouts with SE and LT intervals during the midweek and group rides on the weekends. Due to time constraints, I didn't hit the gym at all - instead focusing on SE intervals (trainer, hill and flat) to increase strength. I was able to train consistently enough to achieve mid-pack finishes in most of the weekly training races and weekend Cat 3 criteriums and CX events.

I feel great and I am enjoying the results I am getting. The comments don't bother me much since I feel like I eat healthily and train smart, but I wanted a second opinion. My main questions as I come into the off-season are:

1. Should I be hitting the gym to increase muscle mass? As I mentioned I don't have a large build. The gym only seems to increase definition for me, not mass. With a limited amount of time to train, I'd rather focus on the bike.

2. Does all the aerobic activity need to be supplemented in the winter with a weight routine to rebuild muscles?

3. Is this "freakishly skinny" result a by-product of my new diet and training regimen?

I've compared myself to the physiques of pros like Zabriskie and the Schleck brothers and we are very similar. In the past, the only way for me to increase my body mass is to start drinking more beer, eat unhealthy foods and limit my riding to 2-3 times per week. If you could help shed some light on where I go from here, I would appreciate it!


Scott Saifer says


At 145, you are at the low end but still barely within the envelope for professional cyclists. You'd be built like a climber but not have enough mass to launch a serious sprint or time trial in the wind by yourself. In that case whether I'd recommend you try to gain mass would depend on where you live and where you race. If you are doing races with hills that take eight minutes or longer to climb, being super light can be an advantage.

If the hills where you live are much shorter or non-existent, having more mass for short term power will outweigh the benefits of being super light for climbing.

No matter where you live and race, you don't want to lose any more weight. That means that if you are still losing, you need to increase your total calorie consumption, preferably by adding whole grains, nuts and lean meats rather than junk food. I have a few clients who have trouble maintaining weight. Several of them have found that adding a tablespoon of peanut butter to each meal fixes the problem.

If you do need to gain weight, including strength training in the gym is a good way to be sure that it will be muscle rather than fat. Be sure to devote most of your gym time to the muscles that power the bike (quads, hams, glutes, calves) and not to much to the upper body.

Getting more mass in the power muscles is the goal, not just adding muscle.

Pam Hinton says


In addition to Scott's advice, I would like to add that "ideal" body weight is highly variable among individuals. Obviously, looking at weight-for-height is a general indicator of under- and overweight. However, each of us has a weight at which our body is comfortable and functions best.

Researchers who study body-weight regulation have termed this the "set-point" weight. There are physiologic mechanisms to keep us at that weight, even in the face of over- or under-eating relative to our energy expenditure.

For example, one compensatory mechanism is the reduction in resting metabolic rate that occurs when we don't eat enough to keep us at our set-point. Thus, it is important to listen to your body - are you hungry all of the time, do you feel tired, does it take you longer to recover from hard training/racing than it did before weight loss, etc?

If your answer to any of these questions is "yes," your body is trying to tell you something. If not, your weight might be appropriate for you. I am by no means suggesting that you disregard the concern expressed by others. However, ultimately you have to take your cues from your body.

Tony then responded:


I'm listening to my body now and I believe it is telling me to have my mid-morning snack! I definitely feel hungry a lot and my metabolism really kicks in when I train consistently. I still find it strange that I hovered around the 155 range most of the spring and summer, then it dropped to the 147 range around the late summer races.

As I mentioned to Scott, I'll focus more on quality caloric intake and some leg specific weight training and see where it takes me. I'll start the weights as soon as I am finished with CX Nationals.

Thanks again to everyone for all your help!

Pam Hinton says


One last bit of advice on maximising the effects of your weight-lifting. Net protein retention following resistance training is increased by ingestion of a small amount (5-10 grams) of protein shortly after lifting.

In other words, the timing of when you eat relative to lifting is important if you want to get the maximal benefit.

In general, animal-based proteins are superior to plant-based protein because they contain the essential amino acids (those that we have to get from our diet) in the appropriate proportions. Soy protein is the exception to that rule; it is a high quality protein.

There was a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 (volume 85, pp. 1031-40) that showed muscle protein synthesis was increased by ingestion of skim milk or a soy-based beverage following resistance training, although the increase was greater with the skim milk.

Torn lateral meniscus

Dear Cyclingnews,

Firstly I would like to congratulate you on providing a brilliant service to cyclists of all creeds; thanks.

As for my personal details, I am a 35-year-old avid amateur cyclist covering from 300km up to 400km per week. I have been cycling for about 15 years, however I was a competitive swimmer for 12 years and only became really passionate about cycling 5-6 years ago when I began to train for triathlons.

Almost 12 months ago I was involved in a car accident (as a cyclist) where I obtained a grade three AC joint separation. I currently don’t have enough shoulder rotation to return to swimming, so I have increased my cycling to the aforementioned mileage and have been riding these weekly distances for almost six months now.

Three weeks ago, in addition to my usual mileage, I also did a 150km ride with my cycling buddy. It was around the 100km mark when I began to feel a sharp pain coming from the lateral side of my left knee. It appeared fine when out of the saddle climbing, but was more painful when freewheel pedaling.

I completed the final 50km with the pain intensity increasing all the time. The following week I decreased my mileage by half to rest and stretch-out what I thought was an IT band issue. Last weekend I participated in a 100km ride and found myself limping back to the finish line after 60km.

Yesterday I went to my physio who diagnosed the pain as a small tear in my lateral meniscus. He treated with ultrasound and “friction massage” and suggested I take 1-2 weeks off.

I have a number of structural issues (e.g. supinator foot type, right foot larger than left, right leg shorter than the left, etc…) so I won’t hassle you too much regarding structural correction, as I pretty much have this under control. However, I do have three questions relating to torn or damaged lateral menisci:

a) I suspect my damaged meniscus has occurred over time from *the force of rotating my knee while bearing weight on it. How can I correct for this rotation? Is this problem easily rectified by rotating my cleats toe-out, away from the BB?

b) Without having a cycling coach I was wondering what type of recovery regimen I should conduct in order to get back to my usual weekly mileage?

c) Is there anything else I can do (stretches, voodoo, etc) to repair this injury?

If the above query has already been discussed in the forum can you please direct me to the desired links. I apologise if this has been discussed already.

Thanks for your time,

Steve Hogg says


I will just about guarantee that you are dropping and/or rotating the right side of your pelvis forward on the right side pedal downstroke and not quite rebounding to the centre before the left side pedal down stroke

If you are, it is the challenge to the plane of movement of the left knee presented by that right hip drop that is causing the pain. I see this a lot and it usually flares for the first time after or during an unusually long or hard ride. It is also commonly misdiagnosed as a lateral meniscus tear, though occasionally, if the rider has tried to push through the pain, cartilage damage can occur.

A simple check is to drop your seat 5mm. If you do that and the pain disappears or reduces noticeably then it is time to reassess your position.

Let me know what happens after you drop the seat and we'll proceed from there.

Pedal choice


I am happy to see the Fitness page return as it was sorely missed. The information the panel provides has helpful to many others and me. Thank You.

My question is for Steve Hogg. Actually, several questions. Steve, what is the best road pedal system in your opinion? I am a Speedplay user and tired of arguing with cycling buddies about the merits of Look, Time, Shimano and the rest. Does one pedal stand out in your opinion and what are your reasons?

The reason that I ask is that I have been professionally fitted a number of times and I am mainly happy with the results of the last fit, but none of the bike fitters have managed to solve one problem. I don't have good feet and all of these guys insist that I use wedges inside my shoes or under the cleat.

With two wedges under the right cleat and three under the left cleat I feel smooth, high cadence is easy but I get a constant pain on both feet on the outside.

It's like the wedges are making my feet move to the outside of the shoe and pressing against the shoe material hard enough to hurt after 20 minutes of constant riding. If I use more wedges or less wedges, then my pedaling style gets worse and I feel like I am moving around on the seat.

So you see my problem; the best feel hurts my feet but any change feels worse everywhere else! Do you have an answer to this? My buddies say that it is a Speedplay thing, that the pedal is too small and that my foot is falling off it to the outside. I tried some Shimano pedals because they are much wider and had the same problem. Is it a pedal problem or something else do you think?

Last question is that one of the local bike shop guys met you at Interbike and says he heard that you will be working in the U.S. soon. Is this true? How do I get a fit from you if it is?

Thank you for reading all of this and hoping to hear from you soon.


Steve Hogg says


Regarding pedals - all pedals do the job at some level but from a bike fitting point of view, Speedplay stand out from the rest.. Reasons?

- Three different families of pedal, each with different emphases.

- Only road pedals that separate lateral adjustment from rotational movement and do it well. With Look, Shimano and others, the fixing bolts and washers sit within a recess in the cleat that is wider than the washers.

That potentially allows lateral adjustment and the ability to angle the cleat BUT, if the cleat is angled substantially, the ability to adjust the cleat laterally at that cleat angle on shoe is lost.

Time gets around this by having a specific right and left cleat that can be swapped to give a greater or lesser foot distance from crank arm, but it is a primitive method by comparison with Speedplay.

- Stainless steel-axle versions are available in 5 axle lengths. Standard, minus 1/8", plus 1/8", plus 1/4" and plus 1/2". The only other manufacturer to offer anything like that range is Keywin and they don't offer the same range of rotational adjustment or lateral adjustment.

- Double sided entry. Time and again I see the first riders to clip in any bunch after stopping at lights are usually the Speedplay users.

- There is an optional base plate, part no. 13330 which allows anywhere from 5mm extra forward adjustment to 14mm extra rearward adjustment when compared to the standard base plate.

- Probably less important is that if using a purpose built Speedplay compatible shoe like Lake or Bont, the three-hole adaptor is superfluous which reduces the already low stack height by another 3.5mm

- I could on about aerodynamics, ground clearance etc, etc but I'm sure that you get the picture.

Regarding your foot pain: no, it is not a pedal problem. It sounds like the amount of wedging you have is correct from your description of 'feel'. I've seen this kind of problem before and while it isn't that common, it's around.

When a foot is wedged, there is a lot of talk about forefoot tilt and so on, but in the huge majority of cases, what needs correcting and is being corrected is the rear foot. A wedge placed inside the forefoot of a shoe corrects the rear foot indirectly.

The potential problem, which occurs rarely, is that the midtarsal joints can be jammed together when walking which makes walking long distances in cycling shoes with forefoot in-shoe wedges a bad idea. Normal stuff like walking to and from the coffee shop or garage is no problem in cycling shoes. But don't set out to walk LONG distances.

With cleat wedges, which to my mind are the preferred option where possible, the entire foot, including the heel is corrected. But occasionally, rarely is probably a better word, this causes the problem that you have. The solution is to remove the Speedplay type cleat wedges from your cleat and buy the same number of Look style cleat wedges.

Remove the insoles from your shoes and place a Look style cleat wedge underneath the heel of the insole with the entire thick edge of the wedge to the inner edge of the insole (side of insole closest to crank arm side, assuming that is the orientation of your cleat wedges). That should leave you with the front of the wedge pointing at approximately 45 degrees towards the inside of the long axis of the insole, leaving you with a portion of the thin side of the wedge overlapping the outside of the insole.

Trim that portion of the wedge off and then use that wedge as a template to cut the others to shape. Once they are cut to shape, tape or glue the appropriate number in place. I would be very surprised if that doesn't solve your problem. Let me know one way or the other.

Regarding working in the U.S: yes, I will be doing a stint of fitting and teaching in Austin, Texas next year. Contact me directly for details if interested.

Getting into the drops

I'm a 33 year old competitive recreational road cyclist (6'3" & 175lbs) and train roughly 100-150 mi/week. I have always had a love/hate relationship with the drops. While I feel somewhat uncomfortable while in them, I notice that when I go into the drops, my cadence and speed significantly increase (i.e., about 1-3 mph) with less effort.

At first, I chalked this up to the aerodynamic advantage of having a lower profile in the drops, until I began climbing in the drops, and again my performance on climbs where aerodynamic advantages of a lower profile are at a minimum (i.e., going between 9-11 mph up a steep hill) goes way up.

I suspect that this has to do in some manner with my fit and position on the bike whereby being in the drops puts me in a better position to produce more power than on the hoods or flats, but I can't seem to figure it out.

While I have never been professionally bike fitted, I have spent a lot of time reading on the issue, especially in Steve Hogg's publications, and think that I'm fairly dialed in. I will say that when using Steve's 'let go of the handlebars while riding and see if you fall forward test,' I do slightly feel like I'm lurching forward and have to grab on, but a shorter stem just doesn't seem very comfortable to me, viz., I feel like I’m sitting up a bit too high.

So, what am I doing wrong? It is impractical for me to be in the drops for the entire duration of a 2 - 3hr ride, but I still don't want to sacrifice the performance.

Thanks so much,

Steve Hogg says


Interesting problem. What you've noted may be explained by a better ability to breathe or a more stable pelvic position when in the drops.

I'll explain: if, as you say, you feel like the bars are too high, then moving to the drops will probably allow you to extend your torso more which in turn allows more room for your lungs to expand into. Also, moving to the drops may allow you to rotate your pelvis forward more which can allow you to use the larger muscles involved in pedaling with more efficiency. It may be a combination of both things. The only thing that concerns me with either of those possible explanations is that you say that don't feel comfortable in the drops.

You mention that when you remove your hands from the bars, you 'lurch' forward. Assuming you are reasonably functional (and that may not be the case) then that implies that your seat is too far forward. With a reasonable degree of function, you should be able to remove your hands from the drops while pedaling with reasonable effort and maintain that hands off position with a tiny bit of effort.

Teetering is okay as long as there is a measure of control because you want your seat position to place you a fraction forward of your centre of balance. But collapsing forward, or arching your back or swinging your arms back to maintain a hands off position on the drops is not okay.

So, based on what you have said, I am assuming that the greater performance you experience on the flat and uphill when using the drops means that you are shoving your backside rearwards when you move to the drops. That will give an increase in power if you are sitting too far forward, and it sounds like even when you do move to the drops, your seat isn't far enough back.

I would suggest, getting the seat setback right first so that you can pass the test outlined above. The one problem with that is that if you are asymmetrically tight beyond a certain degree you will never pass that test without improved function. If that is you, then you need to settle for the best achievable compromise and improve your flexibility and functional stability.

Once you have the seat in what seems to be the correct setback, then you may need to rejig the stem length and height. Don't think that "seat back 10mm equals shortening the stem by 10mm". It may or may not. When your weight is supported correctly; i.e. with the great majority under your backside, then you can reach forward to your comfortable potential, which may or may not be further than you currently reach to the bars.

As to bar height; you are not necessarily looking for the lowest bar height. You are looking for the combination of stem length and height that allows you the greatest amount of COMFORTABLE extension of the torso.


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.

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