Back for a solo episode to demystify some common false beliefs about cycling. I will clarify some falsehoods related to cadence and some common misconceptions about suffering in the saddle. I expand on the idea that poor breathing is a systemic problem in our culture and outline the correct technique. Finally, I’ll share some ideas around expanding your movement practice to other activities or functions outside of riding. More time in the saddle doesn’t always lead to growing as a cyclist. Ride in flow.
Paul Chek on breathing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KZlCI2QmWE&t=2s
Ed Harrold – https://www.edharrold.com/breathwork-wellness-retreats
Soma Breath – https://www.somabreath.com
Welcome to the Cycling in Alignment podcast, an examination of cycling as a practice and dialogue about the integration of sport and right relationship to your life.
Colby Pearce 00:26
Welcome Space Monkeys, we’re here for another episode of Cycling in Alignment, and today I’m going to talk about dispelling belief systems or false beliefs in cycling. I get going on some things in this discussion and I have to preemptively correct myself or refine what I said. In the conversation with my Gemini selves, I talk about power, and I also talk about some physics terms, including momentum and inertia. I kind of chuck these terms around a little bit, and then later, as I was listening to the episode, I realized I needed to go back and make sure that I knew what the heck I was talking about, because what’s the point in me having a podcast, if I just bark stuff off and mouth vomit at random concepts, but don’t really say anything? I’d like to say things of substance, right? Otherwise, what is the point? So, at one point, I’m discussing riding up a climb and how that changes the physics of riding, and I get into inertia and momentum, and had to go back and do a high school physics class refresher on that to make sure I knew what I was trying to say, and to be clear, inertia is the resistance of an object to change its velocity. But that object doesn’t have to be at velocity in order for inertia to apply, an object has inertia whether or not it’s at speed or not at speed, so a rock has a lot of inertia takes a lot of force or work to begin a giant boulder to make a giant boulder move down a hill, for example, or move it down your block, into your yard, I’d like to have more rocks in my yard. So, that would require the changing of their inertia. Momentum is the product of an object’s mass and velocity. So really heavy object that’s moving very quickly has a lot of momentum. So, on the flat, a big rider who’s going quickly, they have a high amount of momentum, that rider has a lot of momentum, and that means that they can overcome forces like rolling resistance and coefficient of friction more easily than a small rider, they’re less subject to these forces, or these forces have less impact on their core velocity. That’s why when a really big rider races a criterium, he or she can preserve more momentum through the corner, then a smaller rider, so sometimes the riders can enter a corner at the same speed, and smaller rider will lose half the length. But that is frequently, that equation is frequently equalized or changed by aerodynamics, of course, which are much bigger forces, the more we’re talking about, but those momentum definitely plays a role in the outcome of bike racing, no question. So, without going further down a complicated physics rabbit hole, I’ll leave it at that on the momentum, and inertia discussion. But I also wanted to briefly unpack torque, power, and rotational velocity or angular velocity. I use the term, when I’m defining power, power can be defined as torque times angular velocity. Or I like to break it down and simplified into force times speed, or you might say force times velocity, and just to be clear, I’m interchange the terms velocity and speed quite a bit, and speed is a more colloquial term, velocity is a little more sciency sounding, but I kind of throw those two back and forth a bit. So hopefully all that is clear, and the physics can also be quite detailed on this, you can get into all kinds of equations and things, but the basic concept is that you can pedal a bike more quickly by either pushing harder or pedaling faster. Those are the important things to take away from this episode.
Colby Pearce 04:26
Thank you for listening. Stay tuned on more info and updates on my office space coming soon. Thanks for the inquiries on that, hope you’re all doing well, and thanks for listening.
Colby Pearce 04:44
I’m gonna start this podcast off by drinking some water, because it’s a part of your foundational principles. Have you been paying attention, Space Monkeys? Water in spite of what some people say, at some point, I’ll have some other coaches on this pod, perhaps Jeff Winkler, who’s up the opinion that people just don’t need to drink water. I will battle him, naked battle to the death on this topic. Anyway, love you, Jeff. So, today’s podcast, welcome listeners, thank you for joining us. Today’s podcast, we’re gonna call it something like false beliefs about cycling. The intention there is dangerous talk about nothing, but you all clicked on it because you thought I was gonna say something controversial. Not really, I probably will say something controversial, something that will make you think and make your little head movies, turn in circles, hopefully. That’s the whole point, is for us to look at our practice and our lives and critically examine of what we’re doing and why, don’t be an automaton, don’t be a mechanical robot. It’s like the movie, Grosse Pointe Blank, which has John Cusack as the star, and if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s a vintage piece of 80s art, and he’s a killer. He’s a professional assassin, and he goes back to his high school reunion and finds his old girlfriend, whom he left on prom night, 10 years prior, and now he’s disappeared, he freaked out, and he became a professional killer, and he comes back. But there’s these great scenes where, Alan Arkin plays his psychologist, and so John Cusack is in the office with Alan Arkin, and Alan basically is trying to fire him as a client, because he knows that he’s a killer, and that is professionally, he’s compromised. But he also knows that John Cusack might kill him maybe, or at least that’s his fear, and so he’s talking about how John Cusack has this dream where he’s clapping the cymbals like the Energizer Bunny, and he’s just this ongoing machine, and John Cusack explains this dream to him, and he’s like, What? Why are you? This is my dream, you know, I don’t understand what this dream means analysis, it’s a terrible dream, you’re like an automaton you have no brain, you have no spirit, no animus, you’re just clapping endlessly like a robot, you’re just doing this thing over and over again. That was a really long way to say that I think one of our primary objectives in this world is to do things with critical thought, to ask yourself while you’re doing it.
Colby Pearce 07:27
So that’s why we’re going to start today’s podcast, off with some false beliefs about cycling, because you signed up for this sport, you fell in love with it, and just like so many things, you decided you had a passion for it. Maybe you’re in the process of trying to become a pro, or win the Tour de France, or win the world’s longest gravel race, or whatever. Just like all dreams, you get further down the road, the path of the dream, and sometimes you figure out that that dream isn’t exactly what you thought it was, and you have to understand, do I accept the compromises? Do I accept the yuck with the good? Does the passion for the sport still override all the struggle? Okay. There’s some philosophy for you, there’s some esoteric stuff. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Let’s get out our Wiggles.
False Beliefs About Cycling
Colby Pearce 08:20
False beliefs about cycling. Number one, the harder you push on the pedals, the faster you go. What I mean by that? Well, this gets into the relationship between torque and cadence. And in my experience, as a coach, most athletes tend to associate air quotes, going harder, end air quotes with pushing harder on the pedals. What is the actual mechanism by which that happens? Well, we associate going harder on the bike with the physical sensation of pushing down on the pedal and having that pedal resist the pushing down, meaning you stomp on the pedal and you feel the pedal pushing up against the sole of your foot, the orthotic or the inside of your shoe pushing up, and that is going hard. And that’s a rather myopic view of how to make power on the bike, and when you understand the basic principles of how you make power in the bike, and how you are looking perhaps, at that paradigm with a limited perspective, when we expand that perspective, then it gives you more tools in the toolbox, and it makes you a better rider. So power is made up of two things. Pop quiz, what are they? Since you’re not in this room, have to answer the pop quiz for you correctly, and we’ll just assume that you did. Power is made up of two basic components, force and speed. But since we’re pedaling a bike, we’re making power in a circle, we’re not lifting our butts off the ground, we’re not, I should say we’re not squatting a bar off the ground or lifting a dumbbell. So, we’re pushing down on the pedal, that’s force in a circle, which is called torque. We’re also pushing quickly with a certain rate of force on the pedal, and that is speed, but when we put that in a circle, it’s called cadence. So, torque times cadence equals, or torques times rotational velocity, you might say, equals power. That’s the equation. So what does that mean? We have those two variables we can push on. There are three ways to make more power on the bike, we’ll say, one is to push harder, assuming foot speed maintain is constant, the others to push more quickly, assuming torque stays constant, or you can raise both at the same time.
The Only Way to go Harder on a Bike is to Push Harder on the Pedals
Colby Pearce 10:45
This is our old fable, which I’ve quoted before, but I just have to quote or recount I’ll say, apparently, a long time ago, in some Belgian middle school or grade school, Eddy Merckx went to give us a talk to some young Belgian schoolchildren, who all knew who Eddie was, and if you don’t know who Eddy Merckx is, shame on you. History of the sport go forth and study, also, you have to know how to spell Merckx, by the way, that’s part of the pop quiz. And a little boy said, “Mr. Merckx, I want to win my local time trial. Do I push a little gear quickly? Or do I push a big gear slowly?” Of course, Eddy Merckx responded, “you push a big gear quickly.” So that’s a perfect illustration of the relationship between those variables, and so what I’m saying is most people associate going faster on the bike with pushing harder, but when you break cadence, or when you break power down into cadence and torque, or force and velocity, you understand that there are different ways to pedal a bike, and to increase your power output. And where does this play out practically? Well, let’s say you’re on a road race, or really the better examples will say a hilly tundra. So, you start out on a flat road, and there’s we’ll say, just for the purposes of illustration, there’s a balance, we’ll say, your 50% torque and 50% velocity, so that might be a cadence of 100 RPM, just to make the math simple, just making up numbers, and we’ll say you’re at your functional threshold power for this time trial of 30 minutes, we’ll call it. As you approach a hill, your torque is going to go up and your cadence is going to go down, and this is because of several basic rules of physics, but a few of them are that as you ride your bike on an incline, you lose momentum, and inertia, and actually momentum wants to pull you, inertia wants to pull you backwards down the hill. Sorry, if I’m butchering, butchering the exact physics terminology here, someone who’s a physicist can come and yell at me, but basically, gravity’s trying to pull you back down the hill, so how we handle that equation in physical space is to increase our torque or lower cadence, you don’t have to, but that’s a common response. So that, then we’re pushing on the torque lever, which means we’re emphasizing torque, and when that happens, cadence drops. So, then we’ve got less cadence, but as you crest the hill, then the way to increase power is to pedal more quickly, not necessarily harder, and this is pretty common. You hear people talk about how, if they’re trying to do a maximal effort, when the grade gets less steep, if they crest the top of a climb, for example, they struggle to stay on top of the power their power drops, and frequently this is because the relationships of the physics changes. So, this is why we have gears on a bike, unless you’re riding a single speed, is to enable us to negotiate the physics of the changing environment, hills, wind, bumpy pavement, smooth pavement, dirt, etc., downhills. So, in order to be a dynamic cyclist, and to maximize your abilities, you got to be able to make effective power and all those conditions and pick the right gear. So, having an understanding of the fact that pedaling more quickly can also gain new power, or increased power output, assuming torque stays the same that is, that’s a useful piece of information, so start to practice that in your riding. A simple way to do that is to break some training exercises into extremes of cadence. So, we’ll talk about that. What I’m going to do is go through five false beliefs about cycling and drop some knowledge bombs, and then we’re going to talk about some pillars of cycling, and how to apply some of those methods, and one of those will be cadence versus torque. So, there’s one. The only way to go harder on a bike is to push harder on the pedals, that’s a false belief.
Being a Good Cyclist is About Suffering
Colby Pearce 14:58
The second false belief that I hear all the time in cycling is that being a good cyclist is about suffering, or otherwise known as the glorification of suffering. This is based on one of my philosophies, one of my firm beliefs, this is a belief not a truth, that one of the objectives of cycling is to achieve a flow state. It’s really the apogee of any high-end practice of sport, doesn’t matter what sport we’re talking about, doesn’t matter if we’re talking about badminton, or surfing, the objective of sport at the highest level, is in part, it’s when you master the sport you master the ability to summon flow state, during your sport, during your practice. It’s not about smashing people, it’s not about being the fastest bike rider on the planet, that can be part of your practice, that can be one of your objectives, that can be one of your, your dreams in the sport, is to be World Champion or to be State Champion, but a higher, we’ll say, platonic form, archetype of the sport is to be able to summon flow on command. Suffering is one of the vehicles or one of the methodologies we use to achieve flow state, and suffering can be part of flow state. But for me, people are a bit confused when they glorify suffering, and I think some of this comes about from media images, old school media images, Winning Magazine, if you’ve been around for that era of cycling literature, Winning Magazine is this old school racing publication, and it had these glorious full color photos of Robert Miller, Louis Herrera, riders of this era, you know, we’re talking mid 80s, late 80s, early 90s, mid 90s, Tour de France, no helmet, sweat, you know, hairdos, Luft, which is of course, the amount of it’s how you position your cycling cap on your head. There’s a whole Niche Docker podcast, where he asks riders about luft, and what their perspective is, there’s several categories of luft, do you put the brim down the brim up, do you barely put the hat on your head? This is the thing that European riders did, or do you smash it down, so it’s almost touching your ears? Like, Colombian rider Parra, I can’t remember first name, Louis Parra? Anyway, so different riders have different perspectives on their luft, and it was the whole thing, right? And it was exposed brake cables, and, you know, old school drop bars and all the bits, and this media era played into that glorification of suffering. I think that riders are a bit confused on this, this is a false belief. Cycling isn’t about suffering, the objective of cycling or any sport isn’t to manufacture suffering, is the opposite of that. Cycling is about learning. When you master a sport, you can go really fast on a bike, with less suffering and more flow. You can go really fast on a bike, you can ride for 100 miles to get home and not be shattered, the objective is not to pummel yourself, it’s the opposite, it’s to master the sport, so that when you do high workload, you get home and you’re not smashed. It’s minimum effective dose is the other way to think about it. So, when you glorify suffering, when you make that the objective of sport, you’re really, what you’re doing is you’re saying that Yang energy is the point. What I’m saying is, I want you to apply Yang energy, which is dividing, which is conquering, which is doing, which is the masculine aspect of sport, whether you’re a man or a woman, this is the same concept. You apply that those moments of Yang doing, of course, to push your envelope to expand your abilities, and that moment of Yang, or those moments of Yang choices in training, hard intervals, long hard rides, those will force your envelope and make you better, and they may bring about moments of suffering. Not that I don’t suffer on the bike, but the objective of cycling is to make you stronger and bring you to the point where you can endure or practice the sport at a very high level, go very fast on the bike and not suffer. Think about that as a paradigm reversal. If you’re under the belief that Cycling is the end goal, in my opinion, you’ve got some concepts that are teeter totter, flippity floppity, that was an excellent word, I’m gonna patent that. Flippity floppity. This is such a cool thing about having a podcast, you get to make up your own words.
You are Only Worthy of a Victory if you are the Strongest Rider in a Race
Colby Pearce 20:16
False belief number three, you are only worthy of a victory if you are the strongest rider in a race. This is a big one. In particular, this is more prominent in all, say, American culture than it is in European culture, and I can say this with confidence, because I’ve raced in so many places in my cycling adventures. There are definitely riders who have a false belief that in order to win a race, you’ve got to be the strongest person, and this is part of how we conceptualize cycling in our heads. I think that we again, I try really hard not to imagine how too many people think, because I don’t know what happens in their heads, I think that’s the thing people do. But from conversations I’ve had, it seems to me that a lot of people glorify the hilly road race that finishes with a climb, and they archetypally think of cycling as a race where that is the ideal, the platonic ideal, this sort of dictionary definition of, say Wikipedia definition of cycling, is a road race with a lot of climbs in it, and the strongest riders is the one who eventually breaks away solo and wins, and the second strongest rider crosses line in second place, and the time, in minutes and seconds, between first and second is a direct parallel indicator of the difference in strength between those riders expanded out into a percentage. And when you look at, independent of where you live, if you look at your local competitive calendar, you actually ask yourself how many races there are that fit that description, and then look historically the results, and ask yourself how many the results reflect that actual paradigm? You’ll find the percentage probably very, very low. So it’s an archetype in our heads, but does it make any sense if cycling doesn’t often play out that way? And that’s why we do it, because between the unholy blender of factors that make up a bike race, there are a million outcomes on any given day. This is why we pin on a number, when you look at weather, and road conditions, and punctures, and crashes, and unpredictability of humans, and dogs running into Pelotons, or horses running into Peloton, and all the other things, myriads been coming up, I really don’t like that word, because you can use the word myriads, you can say amyriad or myriad, and I looked it up and you can do it both ways, and that just bothers me, like pick an identity, word. Be one or the other, not both. English language has so many weird wormholes, can you just fix that whoever you are that runs English? Anyway, there’s so many different outcomes that we can have, or factors that impact a race, especially a mass start road race, a criterium, or circuit race, whatever, even a time trial, that you think a time trial is going to be this locked and loaded thing, and many times it is, I mean, Ghana has won a lot of trials in the last year and a half, but he doesn’t win them all. And that just shows you that that’s why we put on a number, otherwise, you might as well just make it a fricking Zwift race. So, let’s have some actual physics play a role. Let’s have some decision making on the fly. Let’s see what happens when a rider misses her feed in the feed zone, how she’s going to solve that equation. She’s going to pay someone 20 euros for a bottle, is she going to go chum up with one of her buddies and get some water? Is she going to extract water from the air vapor? I don’t know. Is she just going to turn into a camel? These are the equations riders have to solve in the real world, you know, rain jackets still get caught in your front wheel, it’s a thing that happens.
Colby Pearce 24:16
So what I’m saying is, the beautiful unpredictable outcome of races is a function of so many other factors than just raw strength, and when we archetypally glorify just the strongest rider, and we consider them only worthy of riding. We consider them to be only worthy of winning when they are the strongest, that’s a very limited mindset. Cycling is about much more, many other factors, but also, it’s a false belief to glorify the strongest rider is the one who’s only deserving of winning, and I learned this the hard way when I was young rider in Europe, because there were so many times where I watch riders who sat in all day and then had no problem winning at the end, and some people might consider that not virtuous, or not a worthy victory. But from my perspective, if you’re dumb enough to drag me to the line, and I’m a smarter sprinter than you, or a better sprinter than you, then you deserve to lose. Your objective is to get away from the quicker finishers. Your objective is to drop the people who want to sit on and suck your wheel. That is the game of cycling, and if you just want to plow along, and smash everybody at 50K an hour, for the last hour of a race, and drag them to the line and then get last in the breakaway, but then go to your car and think that you somehow won because you were strongest, while the other riders are the ones who get the champagne, accolades, podium kisses, and money, then you haven’t learned what cycling is at the truest level.
Your Strength on the Bike Equals your Self-worth
Colby Pearce 25:56
Number four, or actually, this is three B, by extension, if you take that same belief system that only the strongest rider is virtual enough, virtuous enough to win, by extension, we can conclude that your strength on the bike equals your self-worth. So, play this out, this is something that I think a lot of cyclists struggle with. If you’re not the strongest guy in the race, or lady, or you have a really crappy day on the bike, then you feel like you are a worthless human. This is the core of a false belief about cycling, and look, this theme plays out over and over again in human society, I mean, you can say the same thing to someone who’s really invested in their academic career, if they’re a student, and they try really hard and they screw up a test, or get a bad grade on a paper, they can apply that grade to their self-worth as though that grade we’re saying, “you are a bad human.” But the fact is, this is how we learn, we learn by failing, these are our best lessons. Paul Chek often talks about reprogramming the terminology between winners and losers, to winners and learners, which is very tidy and politically correct, and also, I think a good idea. You learn your biggest lessons from your biggest failures. I’ve got a massive checklist of giant screw ups I made in races that were really stupid, I mean, just a super quick example, In about 1992, I was chasing on the back of the group over the top of the climb in the Visalia road race, about 50 miles in, the group is shattered into, I don’t know four or five big pieces the Peloton, I think it was in the second group or third group of maybe 12 riders, barely made it on over the top of the climb with these guys, actually probably got dropped and then cornered up to them on the descent, turned around to look at the gap between this group that I would have just tacked on to and the next group, crossed over the wheel of the last rider in front of me and hit the ground. Broken collarbones, smashed, right there, race over, and that’s the kind of mistake you only make once. The next time you turn around in a peloton, you check your front wheel very closely, because most people when they when they turn around and look over their shoulder, that’s my microphone indicating my turning around and looking over my shoulder. Most people drift, so I drifted, I hoped a wheel, fell over the wheel of the other rider in front of me, crashed, and that’s a great example. So, but that doesn’t mean I’m a bad cyclist, because I made that choice. It means I learned a valuable lesson. This is why we sign up for sport. This is what we’re doing. This is what we’re here to do, is get our asses kicked and then learn from it. So, when you have this belief that you’re only a good person, when you’re winning, you are only a good person when you’re performing at your best, that’s a form of, it’s a self-defense mechanism, because when you beat yourself up relentlessly after you fail at a race, or after you get dropped, or after you lose a race, maybe you get second and you beat yourself up relentlessly. That’s a layer of self-defense because you are sometimes, what people frequently do, and I was guilty of this myself, is I would slaughter myself so hard in my own head, that then when anyone else offered me criticism, it paled in significance in comparison to what I had, the coals that had put myself over in my own little mental paradigm. That’s a defense mechanism, because when you tear yourself down in your own head enough, then no matter what anyone else says no other criticism can approach that, until that paradigm gets shattered when someone really speaks the truth, and they go straight under all that pile of bullshit and call you out on it. Then your world is rocked, and then your pieces fall, and your ego crumbles, your wall of defense has been ruptured, your moat, your castle moat has been punctured, no matter how many alligators you put in your moat, someone can always find a bridge across. So, these are the fragile world we live in, in the world of sport and ego.
To get More Oxygen, you Need to Breathe Deeper
Colby Pearce 30:29
False belief number four, this will relate to the pillar of breath. To get more oxygen, you need to breathe deeper. What’s the problem there? Perhaps, I might have a future pod with some breath experts, I’ve got a few in mind, but obviously, I’ll have to see about that. A lot of people associate breathing deeper with very superficially the concept of getting more oxygen in your lungs. When you research a bit more about breath science, and you start to do breath work, you realize that breathing isn’t as much about bringing in O2 as it is CO2 tolerance, and that CO2 tolerance can actually be a healthy part of respiration exchange. So, without going down a giant wormhole on breath work, we’ll save that for future episodes or whatnot, we can say that, if you’re breathing really hard, when you’re going hard, and you’re you are breathing with unnecessary effort, I’ll say, there’s a good chance you are over breathing. It’s sort of the same concept as pushing hard on the pedals, and really, both of those go work against the concept of flow state, which means that we’re associating going harder with more effort, and mastery of sport is about going harder with less effort. Yes, you have to push, you have to have intent and focus in order to go fast on a bike, but when you start to approach mastery of the sport, the objective of training, one of the objectives of training, I should say, one of several, is to learn how to produce a lot of speed on the bike. Ultimately, speed is the end goal, not power, not high heart rate, speed, a lot of speed on the bike with minimal effort. So, think about it very, very simply very, very 50,000 foot view, is why Taylor Phinney talks about doing time trials in the lighter part of his career without a power meter, he would just look at speed, what is the objective of a time trial? Is to go fast. All the other stuff is just details, man. So, if you have your favorite climb that you’d like to go up, and you time yourself on that climb, you’re thinking not just about going as fast as you can from point A to point B, from the bottom mailbox to the top mailbox, you’re thinking about your time and your effort. So, if you have the same time, but less effort that is considered a step forward, that’s progress.
Colby Pearce 32:56
Not only a faster time, and not only more effort, what I’m saying is, the way to get the faster time isn’t always to put out more effort. Sometimes it’s actually to put out less effort, which is very counterintuitive, so this goes into the concept of over breathing. And if you are gasping for air, if you are struggling to find a breath all the time, that can be indicative of many things, but one of them can be that you’ve got bad breathing habits. When you take in inhale, a big inhale, your viscera, your guts, don’t expand and pop out like a happy little pot belly Buddha belly, you’re doing it wrong. Stand in the mirror, take a deep breath. If your collarbones go up towards your ears, you will have an inverted breathing pattern, your chest breather. Definitely unpack this later, but key points are that if you’re breathing wrong, there’s some low hanging fruit in your cycling performance, and not only cycling performance, life performance. We all want to perform the best we can at life, right?
The Best Path to Being a Good Cyclist is Only to Ride a Bike
Colby Pearce 34:10
False belief number five. The best path to being a good cyclist is only to ride a bike to exclusively pedal. This is a big one. There is an old school cycling belief, an Italian wives tales that needs to be assassinated, and this is that if I want to be a really good bike rider, I’m going to ride my bike only and all other things that are physical will take me off that path, and make me worse. These things might include walking, running, lifting weights, stretching, doing yoga, swinging a kettlebell, playing a racquet sport, skiing, take your pick. This is absolutely a false belief. Now, I’m not here to tell you that riding a bike doesn’t make you a faster cyclist, it will to a degree, the problem is over a long enough timeline, it will make you a worse athlete and eventually a worse cyclist. This is true for everyone, and if you want evidence of this, don’t believe me think about this paradigm, you want some evidence, go look on the YouTubes, and find videos of Peter Sagan in the gym, Nino Schurter, Kate Courtney, these athletes are demonstrating how it is an essential part of their strength and conditioning program plays a role in their overall conditioning as a cyclist. Why is this true? Because all athletes, in all sports, at a high enough level, will it induce sports specific adaptive dysfunction. This is counterbalanced with the said principle, which is well known in strength and conditioning, which is specific adaptation to impose demand. That concept is meant to imply that if you are a shot putter, you need to develop a strength and conditioning program that will specifically train you for the demands of that event, right? You’ve got to explosively throw or push this heavy object, in order to do that, you’re going to have to build lines of force in certain paths, etc., you’re gonna have to be able to do that very quickly with a lot of force. So, take that basic concept and apply it to all sports, and when you develop a strength and conditioning program over time, you realize that you can’t just only do exactly what your sport requires of you. Meaning, if you want to be a good shot putter, you can’t just shot put all the time, you can’t just put shots, I’m talking about stuff I really don’t know much about, but we’ll just pretend that I do so that we can use the analogy. You can’t use a heavier and heavier shot and put it where you want it to go, God, this is terrible. Let’s use another example. Let’s pretend we’re using high jump, because I know dreadfully little about shot put.
Colby Pearce 37:21
You can’t just go out every day and put the stick at a certain height, 88% of your PR, and then 89, etc., up to 100%, and then go 100.01 etc.. We don’t do this in every day of training, Because first of all would imply that you could just endlessly progress, and set a PR every day in training, and that’s not the way the human body works. Although strangely enough this is the way people who use power meters and ride Strava tend to think. So, take that application for a moment and apply it to cycling. If you were a high jump coach, would you expect that every day your high jump athlete trains on the track, we’ll say six days a week, they could set a PR? No. That doesn’t make sense. So how do we regress that training? How do we take it and break it apart into pieces, into modules and effectively train it? Well, first of all, I can tell you that for someone who’s doing something as specific a high jump, we can’t just have them jump over the bar all the time, we have to have them do other things, we have to break down their sport into different basic core concepts, and isolate those concepts and improve them, expand on them, refine them, and then tie them together before competition day. This is how you periodized training, this is the basic concept of how you make a training program. So, the same thing is true of cycling. This rule applies to all sports. If you only ride your bike, yes, you can become a really good cyclist, yes, you will get better, your power will go up, your threshold will get higher, your endurance will get higher, of course we have to cycle to be better cyclists. But you will never reach your absolute potential as a cyclist as long as you are only riding a bike, and over a really long timeline, which by that I mean maybe months, maybe years, depends on the athlete, your performance will plateau and then it will go down, you’ll get worse, I guarantee it. Why? Because all sports bring about specific adaptive dysfunctions, and Cycling is one of the best sports at doing that. Some sports are better than others at creating more balanced athlete. The best example I can think of is cross country running, if you’re running over technical, loose terrain trails with rocks and logs and ups and downs, and you’re not doing excessive volume, arguably, you could do that long-term without too many other things happening, assuming you had a relatively good physiological baseline and structural baseline to begin with, and you did not progress the training too quickly. Why do I say that? Pretty simple. Because humans were evolved or engineered without going down a rabbit hole of creationism versus other to walk and run. That’s what our primary physical function is. So, if you get that momentum rolling without too much craziness, meaning without too many dysfunctions, too many hours of sitting in an office chair, or flying an airplane, or driving a desk, for example, or too much cycling. If you have a good physiological baseline, and you started that, that activity, you could probably grow and get better at running just by running, that’s probably about the only one, any other sport, racquet sports, cross country skiing, cycling, in particular, why cycling so much? Because it is so limited. It’s a repetitive endurance exercise exclusively in the sagittal plane, under a very small range of motion, but it requires the list of functional demands are actually quite high, but doing more riding doesn’t address those functional demands, you have to address those off the bike. So, this is false belief number five, that only running a bike is the best way to make you a better cyclist. If you believe that paradigm, you’re straight up wrong, I’m going to tell you.
The Pillars of Cycling
Colby Pearce 41:48
Pillars of cycling. Here are some basics, I want to outline, and these relate to these false beliefs. So, what are we talking about? We’re talking about cadence and torque and the relationship they’re in. And I’ve outlined this a bit, but I want to give you a few specifics.
Colby Pearce 42:11
The reason cadence and torque are pillars of cycling, is because you have to be able to take that the basics of the sport, and expand them out, break them down into their fundamental elements, and train those elements, and if you can’t maintain certain basic, you can’t meet certain basic demands of these aspects of cycling, then you’re never going to achieve your potential. A great time to work on this is in the heart of your season, which is farther away from your competitive goal, farther on your orbit, not necessarily the direct opposite end of your orbit, but the further you are from the specifics of your race, the more benefit you’ll get from taking these basic concepts and expanding them out and focusing on them for a while.
Torque and Cadence
Colby Pearce 43:05
So, when we talk about torque, we’re talking about pedaling with a lot of force on the pedals. So low cadence, high force, the best way to do this is on a very steep climb. If you live in a flat place, then you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got, you can use big gears into a headwind, it won’t quite be the same, because the physics are different, but it’ll be better than not doing it. When you practice high torque riding, I’ll just give you a practical application to this, you have to build a workup to it, there are certain key points we want to maintain and keep in our heads. A few pointers I’ll give you. Practically speaking, if we want to work on torque as a fundamental pillar of our cycling ability, a good way to do that would be to do some low cadence, high torque intervals or climb, I would suggest starting off with, I’m just giving you some loose guidelines here and I’ll give you some disclaimers, you might start off with a four-by-five minute in about zone three power, targeting 50 to 55 RPM. If this is something you feel is way out of your wheelhouse, proceed with caution. If you have a history of knee or back pain, proceed with caution. Your bike better setup right for you to do this type of work. If you are subject to excessive pronation or supination, meaning your knees hit the top tubes, or you don’t have the hip flexibility to keep your knees from flailing out to the sides like a V-shape, this probably isn’t the best drill for you. But as we learn to generate high amounts of torque as a sustained pace on the bike, this can really help you refine pedal technique. It gives you an opportunity to focus on how to pedal the bike recommendations, and it will also help your muscle fibers contract more forcefully on each pedal stroke, which gives you a little more flexibility, metabolically and mechanically during hard moments of racing, and the whole point of training is to train your body to be durable enough to withstand the demands of competition, we want to go beyond what you have to produce. So, you probably will never be in a race situation where you’re riding at that high of a torque or low of a cadence for that long, and that’s why we want to be able to do that in training, so that on race day, you can handle the demands of the event. If you things are going well, and you can do these effectively, you might progress to about three by ten minute, at 50 to 55 RPM, again, probably zone three power, some notes. Once again, if your knees are hitting the top tube, stop doing it, examine why that’s the case, work on your hips, stability, work on your knee tracking. If you’re getting knee pain or back pain during these efforts, stop immediately.
Colby Pearce 46:18
Also, before and after these efforts, ride on the flat and make like a hummingbird, 100- 110 RPM, flush out your muscles, this can be really high demand if you’ve never done this type of work before. And these are just suggestions for a work format that may work for some athletes, but you have to interpret in the context of your own training. If this is way harder than something you’ve ever done, then dial it back. If this work is within your wheelhouse, because you’re a mountain biker, and you’ve done a lot of low cadence, high torque work already, then you might find the extended effort, the constant high torque is the challenge. So, mountain bikers might have moments of high torque low cadence, here and there when they’re on steep moments of trail or working their way up technical terrain, for example. But this type of work is the intention is to have a very constant power and a constant muscle tension, that’s really the objective, it’s constant fiber tension. So, that’s one suggestion.
Colby Pearce 47:31
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we could work up to a four-by-five or a three-by-ten, at high cadence, same power, zone three, right? So, that’s in a five-zone model I should specify. So just, you know, tick below your TT pace, or FTP, and 20 RPM will be quite aggressive for some riders, some might be able to do 125 or 130. Most people tend to have quite a bit of butt bouncing around 120-130 RPM, especially for that duration, if you can’t maintain that type of cadence for that duration, trim it down, you might try a three-by-five minute, or even a five-by-three minute. And for the rest intervals, we’re talking zone one, you know, normal cadence, 90-95 RPM, let your muscles relax a little bit. And the purpose of these efforts is to give your legs that supple muscle, it also is going to place an increased demand on the aerobic system. So, when we push on these levers of torque and cadence, you can anticipate certain things, even though, you are doing zone three power, in both of these efforts, you’re going to get a much lower heart rate at high torque, because you’re putting more demand on the muscular system and less on the aerobic system. Conversely, when you are doing the high cadence efforts, your heart rates gonna get quite high, you might easily see zone four heart rate, at 120 RPM, for a 10-minute effort, easily. So, understand that that’s a normal physiological response. Remember, powers your output, heart rate is your body’s response to that workload, as you increase cadence that influences heart rate. Just as when you increase breathing rate, that can increase heart rate, even if you’re just sitting in a chair.
Colby Pearce 49:35
The choices we make on the bike influence our body’s response to that workload to a degree. So, even on a central nervous system level, that’s what I’m trying to say. So, these pillars are really important torque and cadence, understanding relationship between the two of them, and I’m not saying everyone has to do all these all the time, but if you are an athlete who gravitates towards high torque efforts, you might really benefit from focusing on cadence, especially on the part of your orbit that’s further away from your dream goal or objective race. Likewise, if you’re an athlete who’s always one or two gears lighter than everyone else in the peloton, and when you get to the steep climb, you’re, kind of struggling to make power. That tells us you need to work on your capacity to maintain muscle fiber tension and generate more force over a longer timeline. These are pillars. So, expand on these, and I think Zwiftland is a big danger zone for this, because we tend to, every ride turns into a race or group ride, and then you’re going to self-select the cadence is going to get you the best watts per kilo, and your cadence range tend to get really narrow. But also, on the trainer, I’ve noticed that people’s cadences tend to kind of end up on a slow decline, they gravitate down, down, down, down, and in particular, in the early season, when you start riding outside on the road, if you haven’t been focusing on cadence for a while, it’s something that I find needs attention. So, if you’re riding along in the flat, most of the time, I would say 100 RPM is a good baseline target for most athletes, especially early season, you’re going to it’s going to help you develop subtle, supple muscle. And think about it simply, if you do a two-hour ride, at 80 RPM, or two-hour ride at 100 RPM, that’s a lot more pedal strokes. Now, that’s and if you do the same power, right? What is the end result? It’s a lot more firing of the muscles, and the muscle will be forced to be become supple and adapt to that quick pedal stroke, and this is a very old school line of thought. So, this is why I say I’m not new school, I’m not old school, I am all school, which is me gratuitously stealing a line from Kara.
Colby Pearce 52:04
What I mean by that is, we have a lot of powerful lessons, we can learn from the grandmasters of the sport. Those who do not study the past are condemned to repeat it, or maybe not learned from it. So when we hear about European riders who used to get on the bike, take two months off, and then get on and do nothing except ride flat 100k rides, in 39-19, for hours on end to build their supple muscle, and their ability to become Hummingbird-like on the bike, well, there’s something to that. Those are two pillars, torque and cadence.
Colby Pearce 52:42
Another is flow state, and I spoke about this earlier as well. I just want to re-emphasize that one of the basic objectives of cycling, of all sport, is to work towards a higher proportion of flow state in your practice of sport. That’s what we’re doing. We’re not here to suffer more betterer. We’re not here to add more moments of threshold, we’re not here to go up every climb with pain face. When you make a pain face on the bike, when you breathe through your mouth relentlessly, when you were always at the top of a zone in any given moment, or always trying to push your effort level up to the higher floor of the elevator, you’re Yanging yourself to death, which is depleted, right? You’re going to deplete yourself over a long enough timeline, for sure. And yes, we have to deplete ourselves to a degree to push the envelope and make ourselves better, but when you do that imbalance, you progress at a sustainable rate and you eventually find a higher proportion of your rides being in flow state, which means you can go quite fast on the bike with less effort. The objective is to actually use less effort for riding over a long enough timeline. That’s when you know you’re getting good. When you go on a ride that your average speed is quite high and you do quite a bit of hard terrain, will say, you get home, you think about it, and there were only a handful of moments of actual suffering you would say.
Colby Pearce 54:25
The last two pillars I want to cover are breathing and physiological durability. Back to our breath technique, again, if you take a big inhale and your viscera do not descend, then you need some practice on your breath work you need to visit some fundamentals. I’ll say that both men and women in our society, have been trained not to do this. The textbook example of how to not breathe correctly, is to sign up for a sport that is intensely aesthetic, and the easiest example is ballet. Ballet dancers are taught to have an hourglass shape in the mirror at all times, even under the hardest effort, and when you do that you contract your transverse abdominus and your rectus abdominus, the two most superficial muscles of the core, to keep your viscera from popping out at all costs, and then you’re forced to breathe. So, as a result of that, you start to use the upper muscles of the neck, normally and some other muscles to lift the lungs and give you some breath into your chest, and this is reverse breathing pattern. When you learn to breathe this way, it can really be disruptive to the nervous system. It causes challenges. It also is related to core function, so just to unpack this briefly, think about your inner core, deep core as a box, and this box is your box of power, this is where you get all the magic exchange of gases, gaseous exchange happening, we’ll say, the box has four sides. The back is made up of multifidus, which are two long muscles that go up and down the spine, parallel the spine. The bottom is your pelvic floor, the front side is transverse abdominus, which is your cummerbund muscle. So, if you went to high school prom and you rented a tux, it is the muscle that looks like your cummerbund. It’s a fun word, isn’t it cummerbund. And the fibers run horizontally, not vertically, they run horizontally, and it basically goes from one hip to the other behind your bellybutton, that is the deep muscle of the front side of your core. Then the top of this core box, this inner unit box is your diaphragm, your diaphragm plays two roles, because it’s the top of this core box, it helps stabilize your spine under load. So, when you push really hard on the pedals and pull really hard in that bar, if that inner box is not strong, and also isn’t turned on, then your hips are going to move, twist, rotate. Your rib cage is going to twist or rotate in a way that’s not favorable, or you won’t be able to keep alignment between your hips and your shoulders, and this is really important if you want to ride a bike fast. But what’s interesting about the diaphragm, is it also is the primary muscle of respiration, when you breathe, you ideally ought to recruit the diaphragm first, which means it attracts and pushes down, a diaphragm like an umbrella. it separates the upper part of your torso from the bottom part of your torso. When that umbrella squeezes, it pushes down and squeezes together and then your guts get pushed out. That’s why when you take an inhale, your diaphragm contracts and it pushes your viscera out and your Buddha belly appears. It should look like you swallowed watermelon. If you’ve ever looked through photos of pros racing, and you wonder why sometimes they look like they’re pregnant, that’s why. There are some great photos examples of this. So, the first two-thirds of your breath ought to push out your viscera, the last third, we can see expansion of the chest, and that should primarily be out in 360- degree direction from your pectorals, and also from, we should see your scapula move a little bit, and your ribs move on the sides. If we see your collarbones rising up too much, that’s an indication that you’ve got a reverse breathing pattern, or that you’re relying on some ancillary muscles to enact your breathing technique, which is not ideal. So, this is really important for a bunch of reasons, you see this, we want ideal optimal gaseous exchange, we don’t want someone to be limited by their breath technique. If these muscles are super locked down from years of you trying to have this perfect core, then undoing that tension can require a lot of central nervous system training. If you want some resources on that, search Paul Chek on YouTube breathing technique, he’s got a lot of series videos, we’ll drop a link to that in the show notes. He’s got a six-part video series on how to breathe, if I remember correctly. A lot of good information on that. So, both men and women can be subject to this breathing fault. Women because they want their bikini body, having a belly, in Western culture seem to be, unsightly, not playboy figurish, however you want to put it. For men, it’s the same thing I have this issue, I had to retrain my own breath pattern, years ago, I worked with a guy named Ed Herald, who helped me figure out how bad my breathing pattern was, and it was pretty eye opening. My dad died when I was 12 of heart disease, he was obese, so I have a pretty strong drive not to have weight gain be part of my future, and part of that, if I do start to gain a little bit of weight, it always goes to my hips and belly first, and I’ve basically been within an eight-pound range since high school. So then hold that one off with my diet, lifestyle choices, and exercise choices, thus far, we’ll see what the future holds. But I will say that for me, if I proceed that my belly pops out, there are moments where I have to put myself in check, and look honestly in the mirror and say, is that me breathing correctly? Or did I have too many cookies? Not that I ever eat gluten, see Trevor’s episode with gluten. Let’s synopsize this part on this section on breathing by saying that if you have a breathing dysfunction, you have a core dysfunction. So, it’s at least three birds with one rock. I don’t recommend throwing rocks at birds because I like birds, but metaphorically speaking, we want your core to be stable while you’re riding a bike, we want you to be able to transmit the force from your legs into your arms when you stand up on the pedals and pull hard on those bars. If that’s a floppy water canoe moving around in there, that’s not going to go well. So, we need core strength, or as Paul would say, actually, I got to insert this quote, this famous Paul Chek quote that’s just perfect, “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.” So, if you have an unstable core, you’re not going to make strong power, you gonna have the world’s strongest legs, but if your core sucks, you’re going to be missing some of the execution, even in the saddle to make that power go. It’s so easy for us to focus all the time on making our legs stronger, stronger, stronger, but you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. So, if you have a breathing dysfunction, you have a core dysfunction. That is because, if the diaphragm is not firing properly, or the action of the diaphragm is inhibited during deep inhales, then your inner core unit is not firing properly. There’s a rhythm and a flow to that whole interaction. You can breathe deeply and effectively while having proper core tension. This is the magic of endurance cycling or endurance sport, we’ll say. If you need some resources on breathwork, I would suggest, starting with Paul’s videos, there’s also a ton of stuff out there, Ed Harold is another person I’ve worked with a bit, and he’s got some good podcasts. So, I’ll drop a note to his website, and some of his pods in the show notes also.
Colby Pearce 1:03:15
Also, my wife is a SOMA instructor, and that’s a breathwork program that’s very effective. What’s cool about that is the program uses timing, you breathe in beats, and there are some free, seven-day trial programs you can do on SOMA as well. So, if you want a good segue into something to practice in your own life, and check out a pathway, if you need a good pathway to check out some breath work and play with it a little bit experiment, see where you’re at, the SOMA, seven-day free program is an excellent starting point in my opinion, giving that to a few of my riders for sure.
Colby Pearce 1:03:54
The final pillar that I want to cover, which relates to our false belief paradigm is that of physiological durability, and that is related to our false belief of, the best way to be a cyclist is to only ride your bike. We have to make our bodies durable enough to handle the demands of our sport, and our sport cycling specifically, is one that makes body less durable. It ingrains movement patterns and makes people not capable of handling other anything other than riding a bike, and this comes down in part to the glorification of the World Tour Pro, the emaciated European road pro with no upper body musculature, who can barely do a pull up or maybe even a push up, and can’t lift their own five kilogram road bike onto the roof rack. Not that a pro would ever stoop to such menial labor, sorry, 6.8 kilograms UCI minimum.
Colby Pearce 1:04:56
So if you can’t lift a rode bike above your head, and get it on your roof rack, you’ve got problems. If you can’t walk, I’ll say for 60 minutes without getting sore, or having back or hip soreness, if you can’t run for 30 minutes at a jogging, comfortable jogging pace, that’s a warning sign. Running and walking are primary, their fundamentals for human movement and existence, and if you’re riding your bike so much that you can’t run and walk without back pain, that is a serious alarm bell, stop riding your bike and start walking. That’s what I would say. Walking is fundamental, you’re going to be walking long after you’re done being a bike rider, and you got to walk to get your refrigerator and get to your toilet before you got to go for a bike ride. So, let’s get our priorities straight here. I will also say that in terms of physiological durability, not everyone needs to be able to swing a 35-pound kettlebell for 100 reps without falling over, but you should be able to do basic things, bodyweight strength, at least competence, if not mastery of bodyweight strength for basic movements is a necessity. Squats, lunges, pull ups, dips, push-ups, basic control of core, these are fundamentals, if you can’t do these things, this is a warning sign. If you are the type of rider who makes a three-millimeter change to your cleats, and it gives you instant knee pain, this is a warning sign. This means you’ve been riding too much and not doing enough other stuff. So, I invite you to take a critical look at your own function, your own physiology, your own basic biomechanics, and think critically, look honestly at yourself. If you’re riding your bike so much that you can’t do anything else without pain, discomfort, or risk of injury, that’s a sign that things have gotten out of balance. Look, we all aspire to be better on the bike, but this is what I’m here to tell you, I’m dispelling this false belief. Only riding your bike isn’t the way to become a super-fast bike rider, only riding your bike is a way to become a dysfunctional athlete, and to eventually shoot yourself in the foot.
Colby Pearce 1:07:38
Thanks for listening to my ramblings. Things are busy here at the Fast Talk Labs, and everybody’s got projects and videos and all the things to do, so we’ll see if I can get Chris on my show in the future to be my cohort. Thanks for listening. If you have comments on this, I invite you to go to the Fast Talk Labs forum, find the page for this episode which will be titled, False Beliefs About Cycling, and post a question, post a comment. Do you think I’m full of it? Do you have something to say respectfully, a differing opinion? I invite you to go forth, and the reason we’re directing comments more towards the forum, as a reminder, instead of to me personally so that your comments can help other people who want to read them. Thank you for joining me, I am grateful for your presence and attention, have yourself a lovely day.