Crank Length, Achieving Mastery, DOMS and More – Ask a Cycling Coach 287

Looking forward to tomorrow’s episode with the original crew of Amber, Chad, Nate and I!

We’ll be going in-depth on crank length for cycling and how it affects your power, how to achieve mastery of cycling skills, what that means, and if you should even go for it, if muscle soreness is a requirement for effective strength training and plenty more in the Rapid Fire section.

Tune in tomorrow at 8:00am Pacific!

YouTube Video:

Topics Covered in This Episode

  • How to know which skills to focus on
  • How to achieve mastery of a skill
  • How to set effective goals
  • Insider tips to getting the most from TrainerRoad
  • How to measure your improvement with TrainerRoad
  • Is DOMS necessary to get benefit from strength training?
  • Does crank length matter?
  • What crank length is best?
  • How crank length affects your power output
  • How to pick the right crank length
  • Does mountain biking make you a faster road cyclist?
  • How COVID-19 has made us faster cyclists
  • Endurance training with limited time
  • Saddle bag or no saddle bag?
  • How to measure distance for indoor cycling
  • Why ramp tests use steps
  • Cold weather cycling tips

Studies and Resources Referenced in This Episode

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Finding the correct crank length shouldn’t be a matter of guessing in small increments, it’s a matter of knowing when a rider has exceeded their range of motion. I’ve heard the “it’s only 2.5mm” reasoning far too often, what they don’t understand is the threshold from being within range of motion to being outside of that range. The difference is significant even if the difference in position is tiny. I’ll give you an example and an analogy: Having the saddle too high or too far back will exceed the rider’s range of motion at around 5:00 (the longest distance from hip to pedal). This pulls the foot down, which tugs on the anterior tibialis (The muscle along the outside of the shin which lifts your foot). There’s this thing called a pull reflex, if a muscle is tugged at it contracts. The funny thing about the body is that it has all kinds of defenses against injury, but it has no defenses against it’s own reflexes. This pull reflex pulls the pedal up at 5:00 when it should still be going down. More to the point, there’s no strain relief in the system, so tension sees a very sharp spike. (raw data from most power meters will show this). The analogy is detonation in an internal combustion engine. Detonation or knocking is when thermal expansion starts before the piston reaches top dead center. The difference in knocking vs not (assuming the same fuel) could be 1 degree of timing, but the damage is significant.

The first point of bike fit is to keep the rider within their range of motion at every joint. Understanding these limits and knowing the side effects of exceeding them would be a good first step in talking about crank length. Clearly a number of your resources don’t get that.

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I don’t understand why @Nate_Pearson lowered his saddle twice as much as he shortened his crank length. Shouldn’t it be by the same amount?

I don’t remember the specifics, but you should as a rule raise your saddle by the same amount as you shorten the crank, as it brings the pedal to you. To keep the same drop to the bars you’d need to raise them as well.

I think he mentioned Wiggins shortened his cranks and lowered his front end a significant amount due to a less aggressive hip angle enabling him to get lower at the front, that might be what you’re referring to?


Where’s the link to the Legion buffs? I can’t work out which one it is.


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On the topic of what to wear for winter rides…
I agree - merino on the skin can be a deal breaker. A wind blocking layer on the outside is very helpful for keeping the chill off too. Same applies for feet and hands. I usually get v cold fingers and toes but since wearing merino socks and wind blocking shoe covers my toes have been pretty toasty.

I recently found these amazing Spatz winter gloves. Cosy lining, not bulky (therefore not limiting dexterity), AND an optional lobster windproof layer. I add merino liner gloves when effort level (and therefore body heat) drops.

Made by people in the north of England (they know harsh weather). Hopefully you can get them in the US.

Did anyone else here Nate say that endurance work doesn’t improve FTP? That it only goes one way (high end work improves lower zones) but not the other way around.

I believe this is an incorrect statement.


That’s what I thought I heard too. But I need to listen again to be sure. Sounded odd and maybe incorrect to me as well.

You heard that right as my ears pricked up when he said that and I certainly don’t agree with it.


When riding in the winter, you need to dress primarily for cold weather, and not dress like a cyclist. People do outside activities routinely in temperatures well below freezing - skiing is an example that many can relate to. Wear big boots, big gloves (or pogies on the bike) and multiple layers. Use a frame bag as storage space for layering/delayering. As the saying goes, there no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

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hmm, well right now I’ve got 3 months of endurance work that disagrees.


I guess it depends how well trained you are and how close to your genetic FTP potential you are.

@Chad mentioned on the ramp test question that it estimates VO2 then they calculate FTP from that. At least…that’s what I thought I heard. Is this true? And if so…can we get a VO2 estimate from our ramp tests? Thanks!


Hey Jonathan, I also seem to have developed Reynaud’s and suffer greatly. Mizuno just came out with a “Breath Thermo” line of socks and other clothing that actually generates heat when it gets slightly wet (sweat). It’s pretty amazing and I hope to try the socks soon. Some riders in our store says they work really well, so you may want to try them. They also make hats, shirts and gloves but I have yet to hear about them. I’ll be trying them soon.

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I probably just misspoke. If I went from a 175mm to a 165mm I’d raise my saddle by 10mm.

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There’s not a strong correlation between Z2 work to increased threshold/Vo2/anaerobic capacity in our dataset… :man_shrugging:. I’m surprised too.

There are strong relationships between other combinations: IE VO2Max -> Threshold.

I think this makes sense when looking at the larger picture. You can’t Z2 your way to incredible VO2 Max power (IE only Z2 and nothing else). But you can build an excellent aerobic foundation that you can then build on by doing some VO2 max work that then increases your power at VO2 max.

Can I check it out? What three-month window? You didn’t do anything over Z2 for three months? Also, were you coming from extended time off or lower fitness than usual? I’d like to see your PRs directly after your three months of Z2 and see how they stacked up to previous PRs or if you had to ramp into them.

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Hi Nate,

Check out the case study here:

Re: my own data, I’ll get some data and share it. Feel free to look at / access my private data on TR. Roughly speaking I went from doing z2 rides around 145W in late August / early September to 175-185W November, or something roughly like that. Over that time it was mostly z2, a little structured z3 (and even less z4/z5), and a sprinkling of sprint work. Preceding that was ~10 weeks of off-season weight lifting with lower cycling volume (mostly z2, some sprints). I’m going to go back and tag my workouts in WKO to make it easier, Wednesdays are a pretty good benchmark for 90-120 minute power during z2 workouts.


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I think that maybe people are extrapolating what I said a little farther than was intended.

Here’s an example that we see in our data:

If you do progressively harder VO2 max workouts for two weeks, you’ll be able to do progressively harder Threshold workouts without directly doing threshold workouts.

If you do progressively harder endurance workouts for two weeks, you won’t necessarily be able to do progressively harder threshold workouts.

IE: if you move from 1 min repeats at 120% to 3 min repeats at 120% There’s a good chance you’ll be able to move from 10 min repeats at 100% to 20 min repeats at 100%.

If you do progressively harder z2 rides for two weeks moving from one hour at 65% to 4-5 hours at 65% you don’t have an increased likelihood to move from 10 min repeats at 100% to 20 min repeats at 100%.

I’ve read this before and I just re-read it. It doesn’t contradict anything I’m saying and we’re talking about different topics. One thing I do think it says which we’ve seen time and time again is that there are a lot of high-level athletes who are “burnt” on too much intensity and less intensity is better for them.

Just scrolling through Oct and it looks like you’re doing 2-3 intense days per week over that time period.


yes, with intense days starting to ramp past sprint work to include some short tempo and LT intervals. Roughly speaking and I mean rough without a more accurate FTP estimate, October was about 200 hours z1-z2, 50 hours tempo/threshold, and 10 hours vo2max/anaerorbic/sprint ( :scream: gotta fix that) 34 hours total and I’m too busy working on a contract to get the correct breakdown. Note those were done by HR, which is pretty reliable for me. In other words, I didn’t go progressively harder by design, I just let nature follow its course as HR zones are generally pretty reliable (and I know when its appropriate to use them). My zone2 power naturally increased over that timeframe. I know the podcast team isn’t generally a fan of that approach, but it does work.

Yes, we are talking about different things. I’m referring to increasing % of weekly training time at z2, at the expense of % weekly training time at tempo/SS/threshold. Did that and I was genuinely surprised at results. While it could have been the volume bump, and not intensity distribution, at a minimum doing more z2 left me feeling fresher and less mentally burned out (versus say Sweet Spot High Volume).

and a lot of average Joes too. In particular when you toss in strength work to combat loss of muscle mass after 40-50 years old.