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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. 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.

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

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.

Jon Heidemann (www.peaktopeaktraining.com) is a USAC Elite Certified cycling coach with a BA in Health Sciences from the University of Wyoming. The 2001 Masters National Road Champion has competed at the Elite level nationally and internationally for over 14 years. As co-owner of Peak to Peak Training Systems, Jon has helped athletes of all ages earn over 84 podium medals at National & World Championship events during the past 8 years.

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. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions.

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.

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.wholeathlete.com) is an Associate Coach with Whole Athlete™. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology, is a USA Cycling Level I (Elite) Coach and is certified by the NSCA (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). Michael has more than 10 years competitive experience, primarily on the road, but also in cross and mountain biking. He is currently focused on coaching road cyclists from Jr. to elite levels, but also advises triathletes and Paralympians. Michael is a strong advocate of training with power and has over 5 years experience with the use and analysis of power meters. Michael also spent the 2007 season as the Team Coach for the Value Act Capital Women's Cycling Team.

Earl Zimmermann (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has over 12 years of racing experience and is a USA Cycling Level II Coach. He brings a wealth of personal competitive experience to his clients. He coaches athletes from beginner to elite in various disciplines including road and track cycling, running and triathlon.

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.

Fitness questions and answers for November 18, 2008

Cleat adjustment
Asymmetrical ride position
Numb toes
Recumbent winter training
Reduced calorie training
Fitting questions
Knee warmers

Cleat adjustment

I'm 28 and a competitive male cyclist. On the road I've been using pedal wedges (two left, three right) with Time RXS pedals and Northwave Shoes. This has been a great setup for me that has lead to several seasons of pain and injury free riding on-road.

When I tried to replicate the same cleat angle adjustment offroad I found the contact with my Crank Brothers Egg Beater Pedals to be very unstable through the pedaling motion. The sole of the shoe was no longer flat against the pedal body and it was able to roll substantially side-to-side.

Previously I'd been using Specialized Body Geometry mountain bike shoes and had ridden pain-free for three seasons of mountain bike and cyclo-cross racing. Short of going back to the Specialized shoes (which I can't ride for sponsorship commitments) is there a good way to build in some forefoot versus to standard shoes? Perhaps another pedal with more surface area like the Shimano XTR would allow the angled cleat to be more supported without the shoe itself contacting the pedal body?

Matt Montross
Vermont, USA

Scott Saifer replies

You didn't mention if your shoes are particularly tight. If there is some room inside, you can achieve more or less the same effect you had with the wedges without the unstable contact problem by using an in-shoe wedge. There are several brands on the market.

If you don't have room inside the shoe to add some angle, a different pedal may be your only solution, but before you go to that extreme, I'd suggest trying making yourself a larger contact patch. That might be as simple as using larger LeWedges (like the Look or Speedplay models), drilling your own holes and trimming until there is enough material for the pedal to contact, or adding a thin aluminium plate on top of your wedges, with a plate or wedge stack of equal thickness on the other shoe and raising the saddle a similar amount.

Asymmetrical riding position

Could you please explain how nutrition/dairy can possibly cause rotation/tilt of the pelvis? Perhaps sitting in a chamois full of diarrhoea?

Another possibility: vision. Especially as a teenager, one eye's vision could be changing different from the other. In this case, it could be his right eye becoming a bit dominant for far sight. That actually happened to me - as soon as I changed my prescription, my position on the bike realigned itself and knee pain went away.

Todd Huber

Steve Hogg replies

I love a sceptic. Have a look at this link. It won't answer your question to what I expect is your satisfaction but it will explain more.

If you want speculation and what follows is only that; one thing that has come up when talking to a few health professionals regarding this is that the gut has stretch receptors. If because of gut discomfort, those stretch receptors are stimulated beyond a certain point, then the body's autonomic response is to enlist postural musculature, like the psoas to try and relieve that discomfort.

One recent story - I have been working with an elite track rider for more than 10 years. During all of that time he has dropped his right hip and had an excessively tight right psoas and hamstrings. Depending on how much he stretches or sees his physio or chiropractor, this hip dropping tendency is better or worse but ever present. It has always been a limiting factor in his performance.

He has seen a lot of health professionals for moderate, short-term improvements only during that time. X rays show that there is no meaningful leg length difference (less than 1.5mm) If I place his pursuit bars too low, then the hip drop increases. If he trains too hard or doesn't rest enough and becomes run down, the hip drop increases. Beyond a certain point this causes right side back and hamstring pain which he is always trying to manage.

He moved recently and asked me to point him towards a health professional that was more convenient to get to than the previous one. The gent I sent him to examine him thoroughly, sent him for some tests and told him it was a digestive problem, that his iliocaecal valve wasn't working properly and referred him to a nutritional doctor for testing. The tests showed he has coeliac disease and a couple of other food allergies.

The upshot of all of this and a large change in diet is that this rider now has a barely perceptible hip drop and is performing better on a lower training load than he has for some time, simply because he is more symmetrical on the bike.

I'm not saying that digestive issues are the problem for all people who drop their right hips. I am saying that their seems to be a correlation for many that do and it is another box that needs to be ticked if the goal is injury free performance.

Interesting what you say about eyesight. That's one of the things I suggest for those it seems appropriate. I've got a few similar stories to your experience but don't want to try your skepticism any further today.

Numb toes

I am a 52-year-old rider currently not racing. About two months ago I undertook a fund raising ride involving eight days at 200km per day with the first days a bit longer. I pulled out on the fourth day with an Achilles problem that was fixed and due to a positioning mistake. However on the ride, I experienced burning in the soles of my feet as the days wore on and progressively a numbness in my toes, which remains today. I understand this may be a Morton's neuroma, but am unclear as to the long-term prospects of it going completely with little or no intervention.

I have seen little info regarding this problem in cyclists and wonder what prevention can be carried out and if anything other than time will cure it.

Peter Mackay

Scott Saifer replies

If you want to know about your prospects for recovery, you really should speak with a doctor. I can tell you there's a good chance your problem was caused by your shoes pressing on your feet while you rode, either because they were too tight (perhaps after your feet swelled with each day's riding) or perhaps because your shoes simply didn't match the shape of your feet well.

You and all other riders would be well advised to note any ways in which shoes are uncomfortable on shorter rides and correct or replace the shoes before attempting such a great challenge as the one you did, riding so far day after day.

Recumbent winter training

At age 57 I've been back into cycling for a couple of years. My longest ride this past summer was 30 miles. I'd like to join longer events next season and want to hit the ground rolling in the spring. Is working out with a stationary recumbent bike over the winter a reasonable way to prepare for my '09 road-bike rides?

Richard Johnston

Scott Saifer replies

While the position for recumbent riding is not identical to the position for road riding and the muscle contraction patterns are not identical, recumbent riding is good cross-training for road bike riding. You'll need to take some time come road season to get used to the road bike again, but you'll start out stronger and leaner for having done the recumbent time over the winter.

Reduced calorie training

A friend and I recently had a discussion in which we disagreed about restricting calorie consumption while training. We agreed that for high-intensity training restricting calorie intake would not lead to as large of gains because of reduced power output; is this correct?

We disagreed, however, that training at low intensity under restricted calorie diet is a good idea. My friend argued that limiting sugar intake would not only train your body to make use of other full sources but your cells build more 'channels' into their membranes for the transport of glycogen. That argument quickly surpassed my knowledge and thus, I turn to you. So, is there merit to the argument?

David Kuhns
Eugene, Oregon

Pam Hinton replies

Yes, you and your friend are correct that energy restriction is counterproductive during high-intensity training. During exercise, we use a mix of carbohydrate and fat for energy. High-intensity exercise requires carbohydrate because glucose yields more energy per litre of oxygen consumed than fat. At low-intensity, a greater proportion of the energy is derived from fat.

Endurance athletes try various strategies to encourage the use of fat during exercise. The idea is that by increasing fat use, you will 'spare' glycogen and be less likely to run out of gas towards the end of a long race or ride. Limiting carbohydrate intake and energy restriction are two strategies that often come up in this context.

Your body can adapt to increased fat oxidation - mostly by increasing the enzymes involved in the process. However, endurance exercise, in the absence of carbohydrate restriction, causes these same adaptations. As you note, another disadvantage of a low-carbohydrate diet is that high-intensity training will not be an option.

According to your friend, a second purported benefit of limiting sugar intake is increased glycogen content in skeletal muscle. Glycogen itself does not circulate in blood, nor is it transported across cell membranes. The skeletal muscle makes glycogen from glucose. The number of glucose transporters on the cell surface increases when the cell needs more fuel, e.g., during exercise. The number of transporters fluctuates rapidly, and, therefore, would not constitute a long-term adaptation.

From a practical perspective, it makes more sense to do everything you can to maximize the benefits of training - including optimisation of recovery via adequate carbohydrate intake. You can eliminate the problem of glycogen depletion during exercise that lasts >90 minutes by consuming 30-60 g of gluose per hour. This strategy allows the best of both worlds.

Fitting questions

I have dabbled in competitive cycling on and off for the last 15 years. Two riding buddies of mine just went to a shop and got 'fittings.' When it was all said and done with the new parts and new shoes that were purchased the total bill was upwards of $1000. The fitting itself was $375. One was extremely pleased with the outcome the other no so much. I am still considering doing a 'fitting' but I feel perfectly comfortable on my bike on a four-hour ride.

Upon looking into this I noticed that the price range for these fittings range anywhere from $100-$400 and all offer an increase in wattage and comfort that I never knew existed on a bike. Most of the shops have some sort of plaque hanging on the wall from a major manufacturer like Trek, Specialized and they are most proud of the one from Serotta.

No where can I find what is required to achieve the distinction of being a certified fitter, this may be a five-month intensive training or a three hour seminar for all I know. There seem to be some newer systems that use motion capture and lasers like Wobble-Naught and Retul Fitting.

As I said before I am comfortable on my bike. Is the fitting a convenient way for the shop to sell me a new bike for 2009? If not, what do you suggest that I look for in the fitting process at these bike shops so I am not paying extra for parts and service that that I don't require?

David Cohen

Steve Hogg replies

You raise a good point. I don't know much about bike fitting certification but I do know a few people who have been 'certified' with proprietary fit systems and who were a bit under whelmed by what they were taught. The best advice I can give you when deciding who to have do the job, if and when you proceed, is to ask what sort of guarantee they give. High level bike fitting is more about how competent the fitter is rather than what system, if any, they subscribe to. If the fitter is confident in their level of professional competence, they should be able to offer a money back if not happy guarantee. That should sort the wheat from the chaff.

Eddie Monnier replies

I will add to Steve's comments by saying that there are plenty of people offering bike fits with no real training at all. And the various systems out there have wildly varying requirements to become certified. Paul Swift's BikeFit (www.bikefit.com), the inventor of the Cleat Wedge (formerly known as Big Meat Wedge or LeMond Wedge) is working on a certification with different levels to help distinguish one's competency. In the spirit of full disclosure, Paul is my fitting mentor and a friend.

The best thing you can do is ask for references of people who the fitter has fit. Also, while I do my fits at a shop, I am not part of the shop so I have no incentive to sell people equipment they don't need. I'm not saying that somebody doing bike fits who is part of a shop would do that, but there is that potential. Also, if when you're having a fit done, the fitter recommends an equipment change, make sure you clearly understand the rationale as to why, and the expected benefit.

For example, if somebody is on 40cm-wide bars and they really should be on 38, then I would tell them that I recommend a narrower bar next time they change their bar, highlight any other part of the recommendation (e.g, reach or drop), and explain why. The result of small change in width is generally not going to a huge improvement in comfort for the rider (naturally, there would also be some aerodynamic advantage).

If, on the other hand, they're riding a 120mm stem and should be on a 100, then I'm more likely to recommend they make that purchase if they don't have one at home. So just be sure to understand why the change is recommended, what the cost/benefit is, and whether or not it can wait, should you want to minimise your equipment dollars.

Knee warmers

It's time for more cold weather questions! We always hear the conventional wisdom, handed down from the famous coaches - 'cover your knees in temperatures below a certain amount'. The temperature varies depending on which coach, of course. Most say 65F, a few say 70.

Anyway, this is said to prevent knee injuries. Only thing I can see is prevention of frostbite. But that's not what the coaches mean - they're talking about knee soft-tissue injuries, right? But is there any evidence to support that?

Scott Braden
Richardson TX, USA

Scott Saifer replies

I have worked with many cyclists over the years, and as you might expect, many of them have had sore knees from time to time. The majority of them of course related to bike fit or pushing too-large gears, but a fair fraction only have trouble when the weather turns cold, and that trouble disappears when they keep their knees warm. I don't know the mechanism, but I do know that keeping knees warm in many cases keeps them from getting sore.

The exact temperature is not set in stone of course. Some people's knees are more sensitive than others. I recommend knee coverage below 70 degrees, and then a second layer when the temperature is low enough that the first layer doesn't keep the knees as warm as they would be on a 70-degree day. Add a third layer or a thicker layer when two layers no longer keep the knees as warm as they would be on a 70-degree day, and so on.