Form & Fitness Q & A
Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.
Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) 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 (www.davepalese.com) 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.
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.
Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.
Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.
Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.
David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.
Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, 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.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.
Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.
Pamela 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 assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.
Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.
Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) 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.
Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.
Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.
Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.
Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.
Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.
Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years
Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.
Michael Smartt (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.
Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.
Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.
Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Optimal seat position
Cycling news gurus,
Perhaps you can answer a few questions. I've often seen and heard sprinters prefer to have the relationship between seat fore/aft in relationship to the cranks more forward to gain more power. However, I've also heard that having the seat back more allows for a more powerful pedal stroke. If we ignore KOPS, which position can produce more power, or is it all relative? I guess what I'm asking is, in an attempt to be long and flat on the bike, is it more desirable to lengthen the stem, slide back the seat or a combination of both. I've also wondered why tri-bike geometry is so position forward. Is this for aerodynamics or to work different muscle groups? Thanks in advance for your help!
Seat position fore and aft is an individual thing.
Individual in the sense that what is too far forward for one rider may be just right or too far back for another. Seat set back has more to do with function than it has to do with body measurements. As to your question of how to achieve a low flat back on a bike. The first thing to do is develop the level of flexibility that allows this with ease. There is no way to advise whether you need your stem lengthened, seat moved back or otherwise without knowing a lot more about you and the way you function. For a discussion on the merits of moving forward to achieve a flat back rather than develop the ability to extend the back comfortably, have a look at this article. That should give you something to go on and perhaps other questions.
Mike then responded:
Just read the article you forwarded...it answered the questions I had regarding tri-fit. Can I deduct from this that position forward bikes and their steeper seat tubes compromise power and comfort for aerodynamics? I think this is an obvious conclusion from the article, and one I appreciate immensely! As the manager of a Trek dealership, we sell TT bikes with relatively "road bike-like" seat angles and Equinox tri bikes with more position forward - 76 degree angle seat tubes. Seeing as I follow 'Hoggism' to the best of my abilities when fitting individuals, I often wondered what the actual reason for position forward geometry exists. Surely if it was so aero and efficient we would see it in road racing time trials? I've often heard that position forward geometry enlists different muscles than running and therefore provides 'rest' to those muscles before the run portion of a triathlon...which by the way, I feel is ****. Any thoughts here?
I've been fitting customers on standard road bikes who desire aerobars in such a way that their position from the drops to clip on bar keeps their position the same, and only shifts their hand/arm position. In some cases, this makes the individual feel too cramped in the aerobar, to which I suggest slightly moving back the seat, rather than move the aerobar forward (forward to the extent that it creates too obtuse an angle between back and upper arm. In general, your article seems to confirm my thoughts. Thanks again for taking the time to read this letter, and please answer or comment on the above.
I don't think steep seat tube angles per se are so much of a problem, but rather steep seat tube angles that are inappropriate for a particular rider. When I position someone, I get what I think is the correct position set, which is a trial and error process, and then work out the numbers in terms of what frame dimensions it would take in an ideal sense, to allow that position using standard seats and seat posts with the seat in the middle of its range of adjustment together with an appropriate length stem and width of bar.
Doing that, from time to time I come across riders who genuinely do need 75 plus degree seat tube angles. I think the shop record so far is about 77 degrees. These people don't look like they are sitting forward though, they look 'normal'. At the other end of the spectrum I have sold bikes with sub 70 degree seat tube angles, but these are the exception as well. Probably 95+% of people need a seat tube angle between 71 and 74 degrees in my view.
There are three kinds of people riding really steep tri-style bikes. Those that they are appropriate for which is a small minority. Those that make them work but pay price in either an unusually high level of structural maintenance or alternately the development of problems long term. Hip flexor, back and knee problems being the most common. The third kind are the ones who realise quickly that that style of bike is not for them because the hurt.
Initially, apparently the idea was to get an inflexible lower back closer to parallel with the ground by moving the seat forward. Many tri people could not cope with this and now you see many of those bikes ridden with the seat forward and the bars high, meaning that the original aerodynamic justification is no longer there.
The biggest problem for many riding really forward is running off the bike. Sitting inappropriately forward cramps the hip flexors and loads the quads. One of the quads, the rectus femoris is also a hip flexor. Never mind; if you train long and hard enough like this, a rider can accustom their quads and hip flexors to the load.
The problem is that when the rider gets off the bike, they have to stretch out those short, tight hip flexors too stand up. [and it's rare to see long course or ironman triathletes who don't have tight hip flexors whatever their position, because of the large running component of their training coupled with a sedentary work environment and not enough stretching]. These tight and now stretched out hip flexors cause reciprocal inhibition in the glutes and pull the top of the pelvis forward and hollow the lower back. The poor old hamstrings then load up to resist the hip flexors and try unsuccessfully to take over the job of the glutes. This is why many tri people get hammie cramps. Not because they have over used them on the bike, but because they have under used them and over used the quads and hip flexors. Watch a lot of them run off the bike and you will see hollow backs and butts sticking out. Often they are trying to tuck their butts under to re establish a decent pelvic angle and minimise lower back tension.
I know one tri coach who tells his charges that it is normal to have a sore back after 180 kilometres. It is for him. He is the only athlete I know that owns his own ultrasound machine. To his credit though, while he looks terrible on a bike and can't ride particularly fast relative to his exceptional fitness, no one could spend more time on structural maintenance than he does. And he is a really good age grouper with excellent results.
It needs to be said though, that many can comfortably get away with stuff like this in shorter distance races but struggle a lot more in the long stuff.
There is within a small part of 'triathlondom' a need to be seen as a breed apart when on a bike. Those same athletes are advised by running and swimming coaches in those sports. Perhaps this means that the subject of bike position is less understood and has less credibility amongst some people than running or swimming coaching expertise. I suppose you can get away with anything if you try hard enough.
Regarding the aerobar thing. I generally leave the seat where it is and lengthen and sometimes raise the cups so as not to extend the upper back more than it can cope with when confronted with the same problem. Some people can extend more on aero bars than they can on the drops because of the need to stabilise two less joints [elbow and wrist] to support the torso. I am not criticising, you're there and I'm not, but that has worked for me - unless of course the seat was a little too far forward to start with. Choice of aero bars is critical as most do not have enough adjustment but you will have encountered that already.
I read with interest the question/response to Mark (35 yo) with recurring shingles. I had my first bout this summer. No other health problems. As a physician, I spent a lot of time researching this condition and trying to find my risk factors, etc. I saw no literature linking this condition with cycling, but in retrospect I had increased my mileage just before the onset. Do you think cyclists have an increased incidence? What is your clinical experience suggest? Thanks.
Brother cyclist from Augusta, Georgia,
That's a tough one. I do not think that cyclists have an increased incidence of shingles as compared to other endurance athletes. That being said, in any endurance sport, overtraining is going to diminish the immune system of the body. I don't have any literature or evidence based info on this, it is just anecdotal at this point. But it could make sense that it happened to you after a mega-week of riding. Also, you have researched it and know, that sometimes it just plain ol' happens. If you found any other evidence, let me know.
However, I do believe that if a cyclist, runner, or anyone for that matter has a bout of shingles (as you know, aka, Herpes Zoster) that person should be seen by his or her practitioner and treated within 48 hours with meds. This has been shown to decrease the current episode and decrease recurrences and long term effects of shingles.
Symptoms to worry about or be evaluated for (for those readers that are curious)…
Painful, itchy, vesicular (small blisters) rash, that usually happens on one side of the body. It usually doesn't cross the midline of the body. It may start with the itching part without much other than a red patch, and then the blisters arise. It generally follows what is called a dermatome, which is a distribution of a nerve on the skin. This often gives the rash a "band" or localized appearance. People can even feel a bit funky, feverish, ill and blah. If this happens to you, get in and see someone.
Speed vs. endurance
Firstly, thank you for an awesome Q & A. Your information, feedbaack and knowledge are just fantastic.
I'm an Aussie who fell in love with a girl from Canada, and now call a place called Winnipeg home. Not the best place to train; minus 46 winters, the only hill is an overpass, and some undesirable locals. Anyway, I'm still new to indoor training through the winter.
I have been here for three years now, and if anything I have found my power, speed and overall ability on the bike have decreased. Just roll through the motion when winter rolls around. I get to go a way for a couple of months each year and escape the winter, so I get some huge miles in. Mostly in past winters though I pump out anywhere from 15 to 20 hours a week on the bike - I have a set of rollers with a resistance band and a computrainer.
So, what's my problem? It seems I have all the endurance in the world. What I mean by that if I was asked to go out day after day and ride at 75% of my max HR for five to six hours no worries. But when it comes to maintaining speed and the ability to push a big gear I really do suffer for long periods.
What I would like to know is how can I improve these factors of my cycling over the winter, without getting mentally fried on the trainers? Most bang for my buck so to speak. I'm not looking for shortcuts, just some workouts where I can really focus on my weakest links.
My background - grew up racing BMX, living in Cairns, Queensland. Grew up on a bike because it's what you do there. Have raced at an elite level for Ironman distance triathlons, love to race crits, and road races. My main focus is long course triathlons. I understand what I'm asking for is do different sport specific needs, but I truly believe having had a specific cycling coach before, you guys are the best when it comes to cycling knowledge and know how.
My aim over the next three years is to once again get back to an elite level, and be competitive. My bike really is my achilles heal at the moment. Any help would be more than appreciated. Once again thank you for your time, and take care.
What you have described is a common occurrence for any athlete whose focus is an ultra-endurance event like Ironman. The big picture issue is that, at some point, there is a trade off between what extent you can train endurance or train 'speed'; which I'll assume to be intensities above one hour power. Essentially, by focusing only on intensities related to Ironman performance (for example), you can literally train the speed right out of yourself. Ultimately, it's a matter of correctly balancing volume and intensity to meet the demands of your event or desired performance level; which leads us back to your situation.
There are a lot of coaches out there, of which I am one, who believe that it's useful for any endurance athlete to put some high intensity training into their annual plan. Furthermore, research has shown that even very short, very high intensity efforts can increase endurance performance*. Given this, and that you are at the whim of some serious winter conditions, you could go so far as to plan on a schedule of 'reverse periodisation' (some weeks focusing on high intensity training first, followed by some weeks of focused endurance training, which is ultimately the basis for your goal event). A couple of months of focused high intensity training will produce some big gains for you in a short amount of time and hopefully keep you from going crazy on the trainer doing hours of steady paced endurance intensity.
As far as the type of efforts are concerned, there are a lot of options. Those efforts that will best translate to increased endurance performance are those that will increase your Maximal Aerobic Power and VO2max. The classic, steady state efforts for that purpose are near maximal efforts of 3-8 minutes. However, this link will provide you with some other options and the assurance that others have successfully used high intensity training to translate sub-threshold endurance into increases in speed they can sustain.
I am a 35 year old amateur road racer and have the following question. I have always had iliotibial band pain on only my left side. It was so painful from running that it forced me into the sport of cycling and while it was always present I was able to manage it through stretching and the like. It has become very painful recently for no apparent reason, i.e. new equipment, position change, etc. The pain shows up in two specific places-on the outside of the knee and on the outside of my glutes. Therefore, I have read about leg length discrepencies and their role in ITB pain. I wondered if I chronically only have pain on my left side what might this be indicative of? Does the longer or shorter leg usually have the pain? Any thoughts or ideas are welcome including positions or equipment that might be helpful. Thanks.
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Has anyone structurally assessed you thoroughly? By that I mean stripped you to your underwear, made you bend and stretch etc to determine how you function. If not, it is a good idea as you may get some insight into how you function and what level of asymmetries you have between left and right sides.
You may have a left side problem leading to loading of the left ITB. Equally, you may have a right side problem that you protect [common occurrence] and compensate on the left side and pay a physical price for that.
Knowledge is power. Find out your own particular structural and functional state of play by finding a good physio or similar. Once you are armed with that info, then some suggestions can be made.
Eating before bedtime
Recently due to work schedule I've found myself having to train later in the evening (8-10pm), then having to go to bed soon after riding. From what I know, I have to eat something soon after training (window of replenishment), but on the other hand I know that eating right before going to bed could pack on some unwanted pounds. How do I go about this dilemma? Thanks.
It's pretty much a myth that you would gain more weight by eating before bedtime. Calories get balanced out over long periods of time, if you don't eat before bed in your case your glycogen stores will still be empty in the morning. You have to eat at some point or you won't be able to complete the next training session. Fat will only start to accumulate from excessive carbohydrate consumption when the glycogen stores are full. So eat, drink and be merry! And complete that next session optimally.
I often read your stuff with interest during the less productive moments of my working life. My question concerns my son, Sean, who has a good record as a Junior pursuiter and time trialler. His problem is that when he is going very hard in time trials he tends to start curling his toes in his shoe much as you would clench your fist. Ultimately this results in a cramp in his arch when the pressure goes of or when gets off the bike at the track.
The good news is that is means he is probably doing good times but it can hamper recovery. Any solutions? I have experienced this too when I was younger (read as fitter and racing well).
Another point of interest. Sean also has just been through a road season where he repeatedly caught quite severe colds for no apparent reason. He rested, he ate, he slept. Just last month the problem was pinpointed. He was wearing a plastic retainer at night (orthodontic, looks like a mouth guard). Despite cleaning it, the little indentations were harbouring germs so he was reinfecting himself nightly. So if he was tired he got sick. I hope this info helps others.
Where does your son have the centre of the ball of his foot in relation to the centre of the pedal axle with his shoes levelled between where the sole joins the upper underneath heel centre and where the sole joins the upper underneath the ball of the foot? What brand and size of shoe does he use? What type of pedal is he using? Let me know and I will try to help.
John then responded:
I don't know the first measurement yet but I think he is just behind the axle. He wears size 44 Nike carbon sole shoes with orthotics. He has had this problem with other shoes though to the extent that he started to develop a callus on top of some toes (not now though). He uses keywin pedals with full float. Thanks for your help.
Steve Hogg replies
I have come across this many times. Almost always the reason is that the cleat is too far forward on the shoe and the rider is fighting for stability on the pedal. Let me know what his shoe size is and I will tell you where to position the cleat for a pursuiter. With the shoes levelled as described, fit the cleats so that the centre of the ball of the foot is 7mm in front of the centre of the pedal axle. From what you have said to date, this is likely to extend his legs slightly more, so a small drop in seat height will probably be needed. I would be interested to hear how he gets on.
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