Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - October 13, 2011

Burry Stander shows everyone a clean pair of heels

Burry Stander shows everyone a clean pair of heels (Image credit: Zoon Cronje)

Topics: Crank lengths, Glucosamine Sulphate, Heart Rate Drift, Pedaling technique - heels in or out?

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Crank lengths

Glucosamine Sulphate

Heart Rate Drift

Pedaling technique - heels in or out?

Crank Lengths

Hi there,

I recently purchased a new ITT bike. I’m 193cm tall, 77kg A-grade rider and want to improve my time trial position and performance. My ITT bike is setup as aero as I can make it as I am very flexible particularly in the hamstrings. I have a track bike with 172.5mm cranks (which is few seasons old) as I believe I need to spin more on the track, although I specialise in pursuits. My road bike has 175mm cranks and my new ITT bike also has 175mm cranks. My question is, would longer cranks on my ITT or track bike improve my power and speed?

Kind regards,


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Tom,

The only answer I can give based on the info you have given is 'possibly'. There are only individual answers to this question. The only way to find out is to perform a test (your choice as to what the test is) with your existing cranks as a baseline, then get hold of longer cranks and ride them for several weeks until you feel at home on them and then perform the same test again.

Scott Saifer adds:

Hi Tom,

Steve is right that the ultimate test has to be actually riding longer cranks to see if they do well for you. In the meantime, here's a test you can do to see if there's a good chance that they will before you put a bunch of time and money into longer cranks to test.

Testing For Crank Length (done on a stationary trainer)

Step 1. Lowest Saddle Position (LSP) for Smooth Pedaling Over the Top: Pedal with one foot while the sole of the other foot rests on the trainer for support. If you can pedal smoothly over the top of the stroke 20 cycles with no "clunk", try the other foot. If you can do it with both feet, drop the saddle 3 mm and try again. If you can't, raise the saddle 3 mm. Keep going until you've found the lowest saddle setting that lets you pedal smoothly over the top with each foot. Measure the saddle height from seat collar to saddle rails.

Step 2. Highest Saddle Position (HSP) for Smooth Pedaling Through the Bottom of Stroke. This part requires extreme sensitivity or a skilled observer. Pedal with both feet. If you are currently pedaling smoothly through the bottom of the stroke with no sense of reaching, rocking or stretching and with pressure all the way to the bottom, raise the saddle 3 mm. If you are already reaching, rocking, stretching or losing power at the bottom of the stroke, lower the saddle 3 mm. Continue until you find the highest saddle position that lets you pedal smoothly through the bottom of the pedal stroke with both legs. Measure the saddle height the same way as before.

Step 3. Making use of the measurements:

The Possibilities a) If HSP=LSP or HSP>LSP by less than 5 mm, your current cranks are okay but you cannot use longer cranks efficiently. Set the saddle height to HSP. b) If HSP<LSP, your current cranks are too long. To maximize efficiency, reduce crank length by 1/2 of (LSP-HSP) and round DOWN to the next lower size if the result is not an available size. Set saddle height to HSP with the new cranks. c) If HSP>LSP by more than 5mm, your current cranks are shorter than ideal.

Increase crank length by 1/2 of (HSP-LSP-5mm) and round DOWN to the next available size if the result is not an available size. Set saddle height to HSP with the new cranks.

Leg Length Discrepancy: If the high or low position seems to be different for one leg than the other, you may have a functional or anatomic leg length difference. Apparent leg length discrepancies are corrected by body-work and/or cleat shims. It is possible to complete the crank length test by focusing on one leg at a time even with a leg length discrepancy. If the two legs indicate different crank lengths needed, choose the shorter length.

Glucosamine Sulphate

Hey guys,

I m experiencing a bit of knee pain issue by way of overload after a couple of 24hour solo events. I’ve heard a lot of promising things on glucosamine sulphate. Would you blindly recommend it? Is there any brand you prefer? And what are the details I have got to pay attention to?



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Rob,

The scientific research is actually favorable on this one. Glucosamine sulfate really does help people who have osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis means that the cartilage in the knee has broken down, so that the space between the ends of the bones is smaller than normal. In the worst cases the cartilage is gone and the ends of the bones rub "bone on bone". Glucosamine is one of the molecules that goes into making cartilage so it makes sense that if could help repair or regenerate cartilage. It's not a general rule that eating molecules that have roles in particular processes helps improve those processes. Sometimes your body has so much of a particular molecule already that eating it doesn't help (most vitamins if you eat decently for instance) and sometimes the molecule is destroyed in digestion and would never reach the target site (any whole protein for instance).

Anecdotally glucosamine also helps people who have sore knees from athletic overuse and abuse, which also makes sense since sore knees can come from microcracks in the cartilage, which can be repaired naturally in the same way that cartilage in an arthritic knee would be repaired. Take the recommended dose on the product you buy. The research says it takes several months to be beneficial for arthritic knees, but anecdotal evidence form athletes suggests that it can help in a few weeks if the initial damage is minor. There's no benefit to taking more than the recommended dose.

There are many brands. Some manufacturers combine glucosamine with chondroitin. Last I checked there was no evidence for chondroitin, but it's not dangerous either. Some brands combine glucosamine with methyl sulfonylmethionine (MSM), which may be helpful. So far as I know, no one brand is better than another.

Also, be aware that if your knees are ending up sore because there is something off about your bike fit, arch support, shoe shape etc, you'll likely be gradually shredding your knees until glucosamine won't help, so get that fit checked and corrected if necessary.

Heat rate drift - Lowering rather rising heart rates in longer efforts?

Hi there;



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Graham,

There's no evidence of anything odd about your body here, but you have misunderstood the concept of cardiac drift. Cardiac drift refers to the rise of heart rate with the passage of time during exercise at a constant power output. You are simply starting hard and getting tired. Your heart rate is coming down, just as anyone else's would under similar circumstances.

You have given us a clue to how you could improve your performance however. In general the optimal pacing strategy for a 3-hour race will involve constant power output, which means that cardiac drift will cause a small increase in heart rate from the beginning to the end. In other words, if you start out easier, you'll be able maintain a higher average power and finish faster. You'll have to experiment to find out what the right heart rates for you might be, but as a starting point, aiming to stay about 5 beats below LT for the first hour would probably be close to ideal. That means you would not be breathing hard or feeling any burn in your legs for the first hour, and that you still wouldn't feel burn or breath too hard to chat if you increased the effort by 5 beats per minute.

Pedaling with heels in or out?


I was wondering if it were OK for a rider to pedal either duck footed or pigeon toed if that's also their natural running/walking pattern assuming that their knee tracking and all other metrics were good? Chris Horner seems to be a bit pigeon toed and I've seen some pros that are the exact opposite and they seem to do alright, so I was wondering why there is a constant fixation to be 100% straight?


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Karsten,

The short answer is that if Chris Horner rides a certain way, and the most brilliant bike fitters and scientists say that one shouldn't ride that way, Chris is still right. Luckily in this case there's less conflict. The "correct" angle of rotation of the foot is the one that comes naturally when you are wearing cycling shoes and pedaling and that allows for good knee tracking and long rides without pain. If that is a bit toes in or out, that's okay. Occasionally we even see someone who rides well with one toe in and the other out.

There's a similar argument about toes-down vs. more flat footed pedaling. You can argue which is better until you are blue in the face, but since the Tour de France has been won with both styles, the argument is probably a waste of time. That's not to say that some riders don't generate more power or avoid injuries better in one position than the other, just that neither one is generally good for everyone.

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 three-time Missouri State Road Champion.

James Hibbard progressed from the junior to the professional ranks as a rider and has over 15 years of competitive cycling experience. He is a former Collegiate All-American track cyclist, trained as a resident athlete at the United States Olympic Training Center, earned international medals as part of the U.S. National Team, and was a member of the powerhouse Shaklee and HealthNet Professional road cycling teams.

He has earned 13 National Track Championship medals, as well as numerous junior, U-23 and elite California State championships on both the road and track. Since retiring from full-time racing in 2005, James has focused on his development as a coach.

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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