The fundamentals of cycling are simple; even small children do it. Yet it’s vital that we occasionally revisit the core principles of our favorite sport.
In this episode of Cycling in Alignment, Colby outlines many of the key components of cycling, including the physical characteristics that make for great cyclists.
He also ponders the question: if your body doesn’t match with this description, can you still be a great rider?
Colby also touches upon torque, the pedal stroke, fascial system, physiological testing, FTP, bike fit, and the symmetry of cycling in this broad overview of the sport of cycling.
Welcome to the Cycling in Alignment podcast, an examination of cycling as a practice and dialogue about the integration of sport right relationship to your life.
Colby Pearce 00:26
Welcome to the internal workings of my mind. What does that mean? You’re about to find out. Thanks for tuning in. This is Colby Pearce on the Cycling in Alignment podcast.
Colby Pearce 00:43
Today we’re going to talk about the fundamentals of cycling. We’ll talk about some physical characteristics of cyclists or really the physical characteristics that a cyclist needs in order to express their best potential in the sport. And I’ll break that down quite a bit. I’ll also get into some mental characteristics or psychic characteristics of the cyclist. And we’ll break down those a good bit. And then at the end, we’re going to make a model that is like a hierarchy of performance factors, I’ll call it, and this is inspired by Paul Chek’s totem pole (we’ll put a link to what that is in the show notes. So you have some clues to what I’m talking about). This is a really interesting concept. I’ve been developing it for a long time. It’s not done yet. That’s okay. I’m just going to throw it out there.
Colby Pearce 01:42
Why would I do such a thing? Why would I give you a concept that I’m not fully haven’t fully developed? Well. There’s a concept that I learned listening to an interview years ago from a guy. He’s the owner and head builder at Argonaut cycles. I believe his first name has Ben. Someone asked him, What is v 2.0? When does the next model of Argonaut road bike come out? And what technologies will it have? What amazing tube shapes and Aero tubing profiles and shock absorbers and gizmos will it have? And his response was both simple and concise, at the same time – simple and detailed, concise and organized – was all those things. And what he said was, there is no version 2.0. My operating principle is simple. Whenever I make a frame, and I hand it to the customer, the frame I hand to the customer is always the best possible version of any bike I can make at that moment. So every frame is always being improved. And the moment that I have an actionable improvement, it goes into assembly immediately. He’s not saying he’s prototyping and handing it to customers. We’re saying as soon as something has been proven to be effective. That technology gets integrated into the new build. And I realized that I had been practicing that own method in my coaching and fitting all along, I just hadn’t really processed it that way. So as a coach or a fitter, if there’s something I can do to improve my product, or further assist my clients, I just do it. There’s no wait, stop. I’ve got to revise things. There’s no, this is the unveiling of the new method. The method is always new, because it’s always been refined, like the concept of Kaizen manufacturing in Japan as a parallel. Thanks, Ben for synopsize that idea for me and crystallizing it in my own brain closet.
Colby Pearce 03:45
So what am I saying? I’m saying that the totem pole that I have the idea of the hierarchical List of performance factors that can give us an idea of where a cyclist is in the ladder of expressing their highest inner potential. That concept is not fully developed. But I wouldn’t present to you if I thought it was garbage. There’s some work to be done, but we’re going to talk about anyway.
Colby Pearce 04:25
Let’s talk about the fundamentals of cycling. And why, why do we care? Well, I think we care because we’re passionate about the sport. I’m passionate about the sport and the world’s biggest bike, dork. threw down the gauntlet in my other podcast in case you didn’t miss that. The world’s biggest bike dork. I think that the fundamentals of a sport can be lost when it grows rapidly and cycling has undergone some rapid growth in the last decade or so. Why?
Colby Pearce 05:01
I don’t know, I don’t sit around and analyze this stuff too much. I think some of it can probably be attributed to Lance. And the fact that he did what he did all the things he did the bike races, he air quotes one and the doping he did in the bully, and so he did. And the interviews he did and everything else he did, Lance did a lot of things if you think about it, so the cancer he defeated, and the foundation he started and then compromised. So Lance had a massive impact on a lot of people’s lives, and probably still is on some, and he probably spread the word of cycling and that became infectious and people realized what it was.
Colby Pearce 05:44
I think also, probably, arguably, more so now in the last 15 years of our lives and RSA collectively as humanity and probably I’m referring mostly to an American or North American perspective because that’s where I live. That’s my culture. I would argue that we’re live, we’re living in a more materialist time than we have in many other times of our lives. And Cycling is kind of by definition, it’s a bit materialistic. it caters to a personality a type of person who likes things. It’s a it can almost be a sport that is argued people have fetishes within because we dork out over components and shapes of tires and, and bike parts are their function, but they’re also art. They’re definitely have a 51% of each on those somehow. And I think sometimes that makes some cycling components really crappy, because when you put the art before the function, things don’t work right. But even few other sports have such a beautiful blend of, devices that are so functional, and at the Same time looks so cool. Of course that’s completely subjective. You have to fall in love with the sport and buy into it before you see that someone who’s not a cyclist is just looking at us shaking their heads going. If people are such dorks. I hope you’re conscious of that as a cyclist, because I’m very conscious of it.
Colby Pearce 07:15
So when the sport grows, we can lose fundamentals. Why? Because we have an injection of new blood and those people have to be taught. And how are cyclists taught things like how to ride in a group safely? How to take one hand off the bars, how to go around a corner with correct form and weight distribution. How are people taught how to paceline how are people taught these things and in today’s sport, there are there’s more of an opportunity for a rider to get strong, using things like an indoor trainer and power meter and get focused on the numbers especially science mind an engineering mind likes the numbers. But who’s there to help them? Who’s there to help them with those fundamentals? Like, how do you actually pedal a bike with proper form and I’ll pick this apart. So I think some of that can be lost. Also, Cycling is a victim of its own cliquiness and hierarchal -atee. Pretty sure I just made that word up. I’m also pretty sure you’ll know what I meant by it. So cycling has a pecking order. And this has always really bothered me, no matter what side of it I’ve been on. And at moments I’ve been on all sides of it. I just think it’s tribalistic thinking is another form of tribalistic thinking, which is simply separation of self from other and when you really look at that from a macro lens. No argument for it makes no sense. It’s dividing, I’d rather be uniting.
Colby Pearce 08:54
So and clearly when you’re riding indoors and there’s been a massive influx of indoor Riding platforms, you know all kinds of smart trainers and programs where you can ride in simulated cycling environments. Well, that’s going to teach you to focus on numbers. And it’s an artificial environment. And one of my base philosophies in life is always choose real. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about food, or sugar, or cycling, or sex. I prefer real sex to simulated sex. That’s just where I’m at with it. I’ll consistently make that choice across all those platforms given real versus artificial. I’m not saying anyone who chooses those things is bad or wrong. I’m just telling you what my preferences are.
Colby Pearce 09:43
I would also argue that the culture of cycling is changing. And there are people who really don’t like this. They’re people who are kind of firmly attached to the old school, cycling culture. That’s toe straps and You know, even as far back as bindings on the front handlebars and more cables exposed and less electronic shifting and leather shoes and leather shammies and whatever else you want to put in there hair nuts or no helmets and you know, mere Argentine era type stuff. And part of the sport was beautiful and it crafted what part of the cycling is today. Now the sport is it’s different in a lot of ways. And that also can mean a loss of fundamentals because the more content something has, by definition, the easier it is to lose the pillars of what originally created it unless we remind ourselves.
Colby Pearce 10:42
So hopefully today I can give you some reminders about what some of those fundamentals are. I think I know some of them I probably don’t know all of them. But here goes:
Physical characteristics of a cyclist
Cadence and torque
Colby Pearce 10:53
We’ll begin with what I believe are physical characteristics a cyclist needs to have, as I said, in order to express their Best inner riding self to go the fastest on the bike or to ultimately follow in actualize materialize their one dream goal or objective, which may or may not directly be related to the bike. But if they’re stepping out of bed in the morning and putting their foot in the ground and taking a step toward their one dream goal or objective, and they choose to ride their bikes, then that cycling should at least serve that one dream in some fashion, even if it’s just riding a bike to work. And your dream is to do your best job at whatever it is your occupation is. But along the way, part of that dream is to have a lower environmental impact. For example, cadence. We start with cadence, these are not in any particular order. The hierarchy comes later. So don’t get hung up on that idea. But a good cyclists needs to be able to produce power at a very high cadence, integrated cadence Why?
Colby Pearce 12:01
Well, whenever we coach a cyclist or fit a cyclist to a bicycle, ultimately we’re balancing two things. On the one hand, we have the physiology of the rider, and on the other hand, we have the demands of the event. Now, if your event is not competitive, then we would argue that you still want to fit the bicycle and train the athlete to meet the demands of that event, whatever that may be, if the rider is riding their bike around the perimeter of Ireland, which is I don’t know, I don’t know how long it is. Even though I’ve done the tour Island three times we’ll say it’s 4000 K. Start in the dark, dark board. And so the rider must be able to tolerate however many kilometers they’re going to do in a day and then carry their camping gear and find their water or find their hotel or however the structure the events going to go. So cadence demands play into that in the sense that cycling requires a large variety of cadences in order to cycle effectively at low cadence or higher torque, and we’ll get into torque in a moment. It’s important for a rider to maintain proper alignment, or posture on the bike, because under really high torque, torque conditions, of course, or you could call them an SFR interval, which stands for something in Italian, which just means really low cadence. you’re placing more demand on the muscular system, the neuromuscular system and less demand on the aerobic system. And also, correspondingly more power more torque on the joints in the fashional system. And if things aren’t aligned properly, then you can cause yourself some pain pretty quickly and keeping me in the most common but back is also in there somewhere sometimes Achilles too, depending on how disastrous your bike setup or is or how disastrous your form is.
Colby Pearce 14:00
We also need to have high cadence. The ability to generate powered high cadence is useful. For me that’s particularly poignant because I spent many years racing the track and would commonly see sprint data in excess of 130 or 135 rpm and a points race that’s pretty regular. Sometimes you’d hit the mid 140s. In a six day you could hit 150s easily match printers in the time that I was racing World Cups, the gearing was more we’ll say conservative and match burners would hit cadences of over well anywhere from 160 to 180 RPM in a mash sprint finish McCarran finish now it’s become a bit of a gearing arms race and the training has changed and people riders are using much bigger gears than they used to. The cadence range is not as high. So but still requires quite rapid cadence.
Colby Pearce 14:58
Why is this significant? Why do we care Well, someone who’s riding swift all winter and using the platform primarily as a means of entertainment, well what happens they get commonly sucked into riding at a competitive pace. And whenever you ride at a competitive pace, especially year around usually, your cadence is self selected, which means you’re going to choose a cadence that’s within the narrow range of what you are sensing or intuiting is going to give you optimal performance. What does that mean? That means that you tend to hover around your ideal cadence most of the time and not deviate too much. And when the base of training is very narrow, the demands of the athlete are narrow in training or restricted, then you get an athlete with less depth on competition day.
Colby Pearce 15:51
Another way to think about that as the old colloquialism, train your weakness race strength so if you really socket making power at high cadence guess what my prescription will be as a coach and vice versa. On that note all the time I have riders who come to me and say, it’s much easier for me to make more power when I’m climbing on a climb. Why is that? Well, that takes us into torque. And this is a fascinating discussion is one of the things I got to think quite a bit about and discussed with Lee workshare Boat Show bearer when I worked at SRM. for some weird reason, the sport doesn’t we quantify some variables and not others. So it’s very common for people to look at their head unit, they’re whatever you’re using your SRM PCA or your Garmin or your wahoo or your whatever else is out there and people have data field setup and they have heart rate and then they have power and they have cadence. What’s missing from this picture? Well, what is power comprised of powers comprised of cadence. And torque, or backing up power is comprised of speed and force. It’s how hard you push and how quickly you push.
Colby Pearce 17:12
So the three ways you can improve your power one, you can push harder. Two, you can push faster, three, you can do both. Now, in order to push faster, the force has to remain the same for power to increase. But commonly more commonly, when people push faster, their power goes down. That gets a bit technical, but you see the point I’m trying to make, I’m sure. So why is it that we track power on our head units and we also quantify cadence?
Colby Pearce 17:38
Well, first of all, why do most coaches that I’ve seen, not most many, not specify cadence during their workout prescriptions? This is essential. It’s just as essential as going into the gym and saying, Do 12 squats in each set, you’re going to do four sets of 12 and `not specifying the tempo. the tempo of the lift is very important because it really influences the rate of muscle fatigue, the rate of force development, and also the effect you’re going to get from the strength training. All the same is true on the bike. I can have someone climb a hill at FTP for 20 minutes, give me a three by 20 generic workout generic threshold workout. And we can let them self select their cadence and perhaps they’ll be average at 92 RPM or 88 RPM if they go above 6% grade. But if we tell them to average 110 RPM, or conversely 60 RPM, there’ll be very different demands on those workouts.
Colby Pearce 18:43
So, we need to consider how cadence and torque interplay to change the demands of the workout on the athlete and how they provide a desired training effect. That’s as a coach as an athlete a physical characteristic of a cyclist we need To cyclists to have the broadest base of abilities possible in order to maximize the chance for success at their event. The closer you get to the event, the more sports specific you can be an event specific you can be but in February, it’s a great time to work on cadence extremes and for those of you who are coached by me, you’ll know that I do this pretty regularly.
Colby Pearce 19:18
The SRM PCA is the only head unit I know of that has a torque widget installed. If someone out there knows of another head unit that does that, let me know. Email me.
Colby Pearce 19:29
We need an athlete to be able to produce a large variety of ranges of cadence and torque and also understand how those two interplay. When an athlete says to me it’s easier to make power on a climb. Why is this this is? This normally because we associate going hard with pushing hard on the pedals because they feel the resistance proprioceptively of the foot pressing against the pedal or really the inside of their shoe, the insole their shoe – their custom made orthotic which most people should have in their shoes, by the way. (Not all but many or some type of footbed please.) So when you push against that footbed you feel the resistance of the pedal you feel how hard it is for you to make the crank go faster. And that sensation is what you equate with going hard. But as we talked about when we dissect the physics of power, you can increase your power by either increasing foot speed, or increasing foot force. Foot force in a circle is called torque. And foot speed in a circle is called cadence, cadence times torque equals power – how fast you push and how hard you push.
Colby Pearce 20:43
So these are the fundamental aspects of power and whenever we train an athlete we break down the fundamentals into further fundamentals and we train those and we manipulate those variables and this is how one of the ways we get training.
Colby Pearce 20:54
A rider, a physical characteristic a rider must also have is supple muscle What does that mean? A supple muscle is this is a concept that’s really lost in modern cycling in particular, when riders ride the trainer quite a bit. There’s this device that some people don’t know about. It’s a training device. It’s a very useful tool, it’s called rollers. In Europe, the term rollers and trainer are used interchangeably. I’m talking about rollers, which are freestanding, meaning you pedal the bike and you also balance the bike on the rollers at the same time. rollers can be a powerful tool to develop supple muscles meaning like muscles that can generate power smoothly and efficiently with high amounts of force without a jerky or unnatural or mechanical motion.
Colby Pearce 21:47
So you see someone pedaling at 130 RPM in zone three or zone four power on the rollers. The heads not moving, the body is not moving, the torso is not moving, but the legs are underneath the body moving Like, we’re blending cookies – cookie dough using a KitchenAid, at high speed that’s setting four. Or an egg beater.
Colby Pearce 22:17
Supple muscle helps the cyclist maintain smooth upper body, which helps direct the bike in a straight line. If you’re bobbing all over the place, it’s going to be harder to steal your bike straight, but also a smooth upper body is as a general statement, much more aerodynamic. The more turbulence you create by shoulder motion, head motion, chin bobbing, torso moving, the more you’re going to disrupt airflow, we want smooth airflow and not choppy airflow.
An ability to hinge well at the hip
Colby Pearce 22:51
The rider also needs an ability to hinge well at the hip. This concepts really lost on a lot of people. And this gets a bit into the old school aspect of cycling and look to be fair, there are a lot of Italian wives tales, so to speak about bike fitting and about posture on the bike. And there are a lot of older fundamental aspects of cycling. And I’m not saying some of these are good or bad. This isn’t a Disney paradigm lecture. I’m not telling you. I’m not assigning value to these things. What I’m doing is processing them and examining them and picking them apart so we can take what we want to take moving forward and we can discard what no longer needs to be discarded. Just as perhaps when your great grandmother used to give you a fruitcake for Christmas every year, one year you woke up and said, Why do I eat this? I really don’t like it. We’re going to disregard some fruit cakes.
Colby Pearce 23:46
So, hinging at the hip. Imagine an athlete’s standing with perfect posture. What does that mean? Well, when you view them from the side if you hung a plumb line from their ear, it would bisect the center The shoulder, the center of the hip, the center of the knee and the center of the ankle. That’s a bit of a crude overview, but you get the idea. There’s not excessive lower cross or upper cross syndrome, which means they don’t have kyphosis, the chest isn’t collapsed forward, the shoulders aren’t hunched forward, they don’t have either excessive lumbar flexion or extension, meaning there’s a natural curve to the lower spine, a proper curve, we can measure these curves if we need to. But it’s common for cyclists to have these curves be out of whack because we spent so much time hunched over not just on our bikes, but of course computing, flying driving all the things we do in the seated position. I happen to be seated right now. So by paying attention to posture and being conscious of our movement and our body position, we can offset this of course, but when we sit a lot, it’s more common than not for people to learn or adopt a crappy hinge pattern. What does that mean? Well, the human spine really isn’t meant to be flexed all the time. So when we have our human standing in perfect posture, if we were to measure the distance from on the front side of the body, we could use the top of the pubic bone to the sternum, or the belly button to the collarbones. Or the nipples to the bumpy prominences at the front of the hip. Otherwise known as the ASIS.
Colby Pearce 25:25
When we take a measurement of any of these markers, and we bend forward, that distance should not get smaller or shorter, it should stay the same. This means your back doesn’t bend. When you bend down to pick up your piece of paper, you drop your paperclip or pet your kitty. It means that you your forward bend happened at the hip. And this is the ideal way for us to forward bend, flex at the hip. And this is primarily how we want to do it on a bike. In fact, one of my happy to do checklists is to have someone forward bend at the hip With a very close to straight spine, when they are riding in the hoods and on the tops, we have to accept that when riders riding the drops, there’s going to be some lumbar flexion for the vast majority of all riders, because that’s a pretty extreme angle. And in particular, if the rider has aerodynamics as one of the demands of their event, they’re going to need some reasonably low handlebar. So we’re going to get some lumbar flexion. That’s just the way it’s going to work. So, ability to hinge at the hip properly, is beneficial. Understand your own hip flexion pattern. And you can do this by the way, if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. There’s this thing that most people own it’s called an iPhone, and you can just set that up on your bookcase and put yourself on the trainer and put that thing, plug it along at 90 degrees. Parallel to your top tube and take 30 seconds of video and educate yourself.
Colby Pearce 26:54
I’m also a huge fan of narcissism when it comes to indoor training. I advise people to go Buy a full length body mirror and put it in front of their rollers. First Choice rollers. And you’ll be amazed at what you can learn about your own posture. Watch your knee tracking, what’s your head doing a bobbin all over the place? Is your nose centered over the stem or is it wildly off to one side or the other? What are your hips doing one hip moving more than the other? Based on what I’ve seen in bike fitting over the last however many years I’ve been doing it 10 years? Yes. The answer is yes, one hip is moving more than the other that’s more common than not. We also need mobile and functional shoulders as bike racers. Most shoulders are frightening and close to being frozen in the world of cycling.
Colby Pearce 27:47
What a lot of cyclists tend to do is hunch their shoulders and draw them up towards their ear lobes pull the shoulders the center of the shoulders up as though they were trying to touch their earrings. graze their ear lobes and hold the shoulders that way kind of permanently. When we’re taking full diaphragmatic deep breaths, that then the last third of the breath ascends into the chest. If the shoulder bench this can impinge breathing motion, although probably only at the very maximum of capacity. pinching the shoulders to the ears does have an aerodynamic benefit, and I’ll get into time propositioning in a bit. But it also comes at a cost of stabilization of the torso. And when we want a stable anchored strong torso, for example, when we’re climbing out of the saddle, especially during explosive efforts, such as attacks on climbs, we want the pelvis to be stable than anchor because we’re generating maximal force with the proximal segments, excuse me, the distal segments, ie in this case, the legs, we need to counterbalance that with what we’ve got to counterbalance it and stabilize the torso and that’s the arms.
Colby Pearce 29:03
So having a functional and mobile shoulder is important. And I see a lot of riders who just sort of deal with chronic shoulder pain. They come into my fit studio and tell me that they’ve had chronic nerve stuff in their neck or chronic pain in their neck or their neck. Sometimes they’ll sleep on it funny so to speak, and then they wake up and then for a few days, they can’t turn their head. This used to happen to me when I was a junior I was well as a as a young senior rider. This was a sign that I had a global stability dysfunction. don’t have that problem anymore.
Global fascia tension
Colby Pearce 29:36
We also need some level of global fascia tension. What am I mean by that? Well, what’s fascia? Alright, let’s just assume for a moment that we needed to find fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that runs throughout your body and it runs literally tip to tail or head to toe, balls to bones, soup to nuts. It goes around and through every organ and muscle in your body. And it’s all connected. Remember that song like bones connected to the hip bone? Well, this is the fascia bone, which is not a bone, and it is connected all the way through. So this is why you see some interesting phenomenon in the world of time traveling. When we go through our arrow rider checklist, we see fascicle tension being a limiting factor. So fascia is a curious thing. If it’s too tight, it can really inhibit our riders performance and cause some global dysfunction very quickly, or some acute pain, but that pain can be referred in places where it’s not necessarily the problem. If fascia is too loose, then we have an issue where the rider gets begins to accumulate too much strength in the distal segments.
Colby Pearce 30:55
What do I mean by that? distal just means far away. So the distal segments What I’m referring to is really your legs and arms. If your legs and arms get really strong, it’s likely more likely your legs and you don’t have the core strength to handle it. Then what happens? We’ve all seen riders who go to stand up on a hill, and they push so hard on the pedals and their quads are super strong and their glutes are strong and they slam on that pedal, but their hips and their ribs twist out of place under that force, right? You see this, this doesn’t happen often at the World Tour level, but you see it in amateur cycling all the time. And this can be a hyperflex acidity of the sling system or the fascial system. If the fascial system is too loose, all the strength in the world won’t hold things together.
Colby Pearce 31:46
What can cause a fascial system to be too loose, well, simply put overstretching or too much yoga. Now I’m not going to bash yoga on the whole that’s a big topic and far outreaches the scope of this podcast. But human body does certain things really well whether or not it was evolved to do that or engineer do that as a different discussion, also a different wormhole. But when we stretch a body’s natural system excessively, it can cause problems in terms of global body stability and systems can become disconnected.
Colby Pearce 32:31
Pop quiz, what is the human body meant to do physically? I asked Chris this question on a recent podcast he got it right he got an A plus. The body is really best at running and walking. That’s our that’s one of our primary functions is vertebrates. And when we run a walk, we engage sling systems. A sling system is simply a coordination of muscles and fascia to give a tension That can help reciprocate motion and stabilize the body to move forward. For example, when you run and you stride with one leg, the contralateral arm will swing and there’s a tension across the back, that helps stabilize the torso. And all that motion and force goes into the ground and the body moves forward instead of twisting or turning wildly out of control or not having any control of the vector of where the person is trying to make the body go. If you’re running from a tiger, you want to go in a straight line away from the tiger. And if you have no sling system, if you have no tension across the back in a diagonal fashion, when you push down with the right leg and swing the left arm, you’d be a bag of bones that would fall to the ground or you your torso would twist under that load and then you would go sideways and the tiger would catch you. This is one challenge we have a cyclist is one of the demands of the sport is to pedal with supple muscle, especially in the lower legs and at times to move with minimal upper body movement not at all times, but during sometimes. And that can disengage that sling system. So when we use a lot of stretching and a lot of yoga, we can also disengage or down regulate that sling system or that facial tension. There’s a natural amount of facial tension that leads to a healthy human body that can have a springiness and a plyometric nature to it.
Colby Pearce 34:31
If you when you learn to look for this quality athlete, you can see the ones who have it in the see, the ones who don’t, I can see that I used to not have this as a younger rider, I was hopelessly disconnected from my legs, and they were just jabbing without, without real effective force. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of different modes of exercise to sort of culminate in that. One of the point I’ll make is that as a society, we tend to glorify or pedestalize, making up words all over the place today.
Colby Pearce 35:05
Flexibility, people tend to think of flexibility as a good thing. Please stop Disney paradigm and everything. It’s not a good character in a movie, it’s not a bad character movie flexibility isn’t good or bad. It’s on a spectrum just like everything else, and you can have too little of it or too much of it. If you have too little of it and you can’t make it to your handlebars, then well either need a bike fit or you need to work on your flexibility. And if you have too much of it, then you become a bag of bones with maybe really strong muscles that can’t make force collectively. And we don’t make force on a bike by only flexing one muscle or use or flexing one joint excuse me or contracting one muscle. We use multiple muscles and multiple joints to make force on a bike effectively. Whether you’re conscious of it or not. So when there’s a lack of tension in the fascial system that compromises the overall stability of the athlete Now whether that tension disappeared because of too much yoga, or not enough collagen, or protein deficient diet or chronic dehydration, all of which are possible or whether the athlete is having deep seated psychic issues about their safety and security, and that leads them to a physical state that reflects this lack of stability in their life. Depends on the athlete requires deeper analysis. But all of those are possible explanations.
Colby Pearce 36:32
And for those of you who are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, yes, there is a direct correlation often between the psychic state of an athlete and the physical challenges they have. I’ll talk a lot more about that concept down the road.
Rate of force development
Colby Pearce 36:49
Moving on. rate of force development is an important physical attribute for bike racers. What do I mean by rate of force development? It’s simply how quickly you can make very high levels of force. And, yeah, a little bit down the road here, I’m going to fight cycling a little bit, I’m going to want to do it from a place of love, because I’m the world’s biggest bike dork, but I’m going to annihilate cycling and talk about all the things that it does to your body that are not positive. The things that downregulates rate of force development is one of those. In order for a cyclist to be effective and be multi dimensional, not be trapped by their aerobic limitations. They need to have a capacity to generate force a lot of forest very quickly. For ceiling.
Colby Pearce 37:42
Anyone who’s a bike racer can see this as being a rate limiting factor Are there times when someone attacks out of the field and you perhaps have tried to follow them, perhaps weren’t able to follow that riders pace the climb? So for 10 seconds, you run the wheel and then seconds 12 through 18 you started to lose the wheel and then second 20 you looked up how did that three bike lanes get there? I’m pedaling as fast as I can. This means that rider had superior rate of force development to yours. all said and done accounting for the physics of the situation and other variables. We’ll get to that in the hierarchy Part 3, cool.
Colby Pearce 38:19
symmetry. Look, here’s the deal. Most bikes are very symmetrical. You know, I mean, yeah, of course, occasionally, people set bikes up asymmetrically on purpose like they might tilt the saddle to the side, one way or the other. I don’t really recommend that normally. Although every once in a blue moon, it can work out in case you’re wondering. Uh, one of my colleagues a coaching colleague of mine realized he had a longer forearm on one side than the other and he once he figured that out, he we started patting his brake lever on one side and his tape on one side and a lot of his back problems in a symmetrical the way his asymmetries of his hips sat on the bike, were resolved. So there are situations where we can set up bikes asymmetrically with intention or maybe you did it by accident because you were one of those people accidentally put on a 175 crank on one side and on 175 on the other oopsies but in most cases bikes are quite symmetrical and all humans are asymmetrical. The question is to what degree I’ve yet to meet a perfectly symmetrical human. But all our bone links are off by fractions of millimeters or maybe a few millimeters here and there. Then we have muscle tension patterns. We got more lobes of lung on one side than the other livers weigh a lot, especially when they’re all full of glycogen because you ate all that pizza or purple potatoes would be my first choice. And you see you’ve got this big liver that’s strong and vibrant and ready to smash kilojoules and annihilate white bombs all over the road. But Huh, that’s weird. Whew. You’re walking quite straight or You’re sitting a little funny because your organs aren’t distributed in a symmetrical fashion.
Colby Pearce 40:06
So, what’s the point? The point is we’re trying to mesh an asymmetrical human body to a symmetrical machine. And that’s going to come with some inherent challenges. It’s just sort of that way. If we study a bit of Kit Laughlin, who’s an Australian practitioner who specializes in stretching and myofascial release techniques – you can look up a lot of his stuff online, if you want. We’ll put a link in the show notes. He’s really brilliant. He’s got a lot of free resources, very generous with his time and knowledge – Kit would tell us that when he’s studied large numbers of subjects, things don’t work out the way you might assume. So let’s put 1000 people in a room and do a flexibility assessment on all 1000 of those people. Now let’s look at the rate of injury correlated to that pile of 1000 people, what do we get? Well, you might assume that the more flexible end of the room or the spectrum would be less likely to be injured. And the more housebreak we’ll call it, side of the spectrum would be more likely to be injured. But in fact, when Kit’s done this exact exercise, he did not find that that was the correlation. Instead, what he found was that the more asymmetrical a person was in their flexibility, regardless of the level of flexibility, the more likely they were to be injured. So it doesn’t matter if you’re Gumby or housebreak. What matters is if you’re, if there’s a significant degree of difference in range of motion between one hamstring and the other, that puts you in a category of likely for injury.
Colby Pearce 41:46
So what does this come down to? As Nicole Devine would say to us, she’s a Czech practitioner who taught one of my courses recently, know your syndromes, or, more broadly, put Know thyself. Know your own numbers. Figure out what your weaknesses are. If one hamstring or one hip is really tight all the time, that’s probably a warning sign that something needs to be addressed. That’s what Paul would call Paul Chek would call refer to as the pain teacher. The pains teacher is giving you a little lesson knocking on the door, giving you a little tap. And if you continue to ignore those signs, well, pain teachers, really persistent tends to not go away. She just hangs out. She’s very patient, she can also get really loud, otherwise known as life is a series of lessons. When you pass the lesson, you may move on to the next one, but until you pass the lesson it will be repeated.
FTP (functional threshold power)
Colby Pearce 42:41
What else do cyclists need physically? We’ve got a pretty good list going here, but we’re not there yet. We’re getting there. Ah, here’s a gym. FTP functional threshold power zone for anaerobic threshold, maximal lactate steady state. Let’s see, I’m sure there’s like five other terms for it, we’ll just we’ll just call all those interchangeable. Some of the lab people out there might not be happy with that. But conceptually, they’re identical if not very close. This is the maximum amount of power you can generate for, depending on the definition one hour or a really long period of time or your time to exhaustion if you’re using Wi Fi. Again, don’t need to separate that. The point is, it’s your it’s your, it’s an assessment of your maximal ability of aerobic engine. It’s the most amount of lactate you can consume without the bathtub spilling over what’s going on there. So as we progress intensity, we pass through the aerobic threshold. This is where lactate production and shuttling and usage begins. So most of you probably know that lactate not only that thing that makes your muscles burn and shut down. In fact, it’s not even really that it’s a fuel. It’s a fuel in your system and we use it as fuel. It’s crucial fuel actually, the issue is that we can’t consume all the lactate we can generate. So there’s a point when there’s an overflow. And when the overflow really starts to escalate, this is the point we’re talking about. This is FTP. Functional threshold power is the number that everyone just absolutely bludgeoned to death right now, and it’s a bit of a red herring. Because my goal is a coach and fitters to see everything and see all rate limiting factors. And very, I’ll tell you right now, this may come as a some sort of mind blowing statement, I’ll just go with that. Very, very rarely is functional threshold power, the most important or even in the top three most important rate limiting factors of how fast one of my athletes can go in a race. But what is the go to metric what are the what when we’re standing around at the start of a group ride and when I we mean we I don’t mean I because I don’t do that many group rides. anymore. And pardon the expression but everybody whips out their dick and starts talking about how cool they are. What’s the number they talk about? functional threshold? Oh my FTPs at 3050 mine’s 310.
Colby Pearce 45:18
Did you hear my sigh?
Colby Pearce 45:19
First of all FTP is not comparable apples to apples. I hope you understand this. I’m sure you do. But just in case some people are wondering what I’m talking about to have an apples to apples comparison to convert it to watts per kilo, right? Because of course somebody who weighs 90 kilos is gonna have a much bigger functional threshold power then me I weigh about 64 kilos. But does that mean they’re going to drop me on a climb? Well, no, not necessarily. We have to divide that by the number of kilograms we weigh. That’s kilograms not pounds, because as you know, I only speak in relevant units. Love you, America. Catch up with the rest of the world.
Colby Pearce 45:58
So functional. threshold power is the go to metric that people like to quantify and improve and strive to prove. And they assume that if they improve their FTP that everything will magically come into place and they spend months or years trying to improve their FTP. FTP is a predictor of race performance. And, look, this is probably ultimately popularized by one guy, Andy Coggan, and I have immense respect for Andy. He’s done amazing things in the sport. We all use the metrics that Andy has invented or conceptualized in our discussions commonly, so we have a lot to be grateful for in Andy’s contributions. That said, in my opinion, Andy’s methods overemphasize the aerobic dominance of cycling. Why? Because culturally when we think of road racing, what we tend to think of is someone winning 120 mile Tour de France road race. The fact is, that that aspect to the sport is almost dead in Colorado. We have about four Five road races you could describe as even close to that model for amateurs in an entire summer. And I’m not bashing race promoters here. Hardest, most painless, thankless job on the planet that I can think of pretty much perhaps other than soup kitchen manager. And look that you’re ice skating uphill in all directions when you try to be a road race promoter in Colorado for sure. In the US, definitely. This is why gravels taking off and etc, etc. Don’t need to go down that road. It’s sad, but true. But that’s how we think of cycling. And yes, when you do a 120 mile road race with three ORS category climbs and cat one and a two that aren’t even on the map because who cares? And a bajillion feet of vertical gain then yeah, probably in most cases, the rider with the biggest FTP is going to have a very high probability of doing well in the race or winning and FTP will be or watts per kilo will say at functional threshold power will be a very good predictor of the outcome of the race. But there aren’t that many races that are like that. And I wish that people could understand that racing comes down to a lot more than that. As I said, most often rate limiting factors in my riders performance is not FTP. It’s many. There are many other variables that include that determine the outcome of an athlete or the performance of an app and the bike that allow their greatest expression or upregulation of their truest potential.
Colby Pearce 48:31
One of those is FRC or functional reserve capacity. Now, that’s the WTO five training peaks term for it. You can also call it w prime. What is it? It’s the number of kilojoules of energy you can expend above threshold without being smoked. What does that mean? Well, you can think of it as the number of anaerobic bullets kind of that’d be a colloquial, colloquial way to say it colloquial. But another practical way to look at it is we’ve all seen examples of this. Imagine at one point in your life, you were watching a criterion because we’re warming up for your race or you got there and you were watching your significant other race while you were warming up for your event, whatever. And the breakaway gets established, and then one person decided they’re going to bridge across to the break and they make it halfway there or maybe even eight tenths of the way there 4/5s will reduce fractions and they just are trapped. They can’t quite quite close that gap and they’re pinned in this 10 second. purgatory for the remaining 20 minutes of the race and they finish. In eighth place spine the seven breakaway riders but firmly in front of the peloton, or even more cruelly, they get gobbled up by the peloton in the last 50 meters.
Colby Pearce 49:54
What happened? Well, the rider’s functional reserve capacity was most likely depleted or exhausted. And they were pinned at threshold. That means that what they could do was simply ride at maximal steady state lactate, but they were unable to lift pace even for that brief moment to close the final 10 second gap to bridge the gap to the breakaway. You can think of many instances where this has happened. I mean, this is basically whatever cyclocross races it explodes in slow motion. Everybody rides they exhaust their FRC. They ride at FTP. Maybe they have my newts amount my minute amounts of recovery of their FRC at periods of a lap. but not enough to bridge gaps or occasionally sometimes places do happen. Place changes do happen in races without dissecting it too much. That can also be changes in rhythm blood sugar, other factors but you understand the point I’m sure.
Colby Pearce 50:47
FRC is a significant contributor to the outcome of bike races. Go back to our last hundred and 20 Mile Road Race example. Why don’t I use miles sorry 190 K, we call it that which we may not be 120 miles, who cares? So the riders are three climbs in there on a half an hour long climb. And the leaders are climbing together we’ll call it a dozen riders and one rider accelerates violently and surges away from the group they attack and they build quickly a 15 second gap and from that point to the line that 15 second gap is maintained. What made the difference in that example this simplified race example, FRC, the rider who attacked had a higher FRC and was able to achieve separation from the remaining riders in the lead group. This is what FRC does. So anyone who doesn’t even know what FRC is or doesn’t train functional reserve capacity, or have a concept of how many anaerobic bolts they’ve got in their holster, is missing out on a huge component of racing. And if you are one of those people, and you have been focused on FTP exclusively, unless the only event you care about the entire year is a 40 kilometer time trial. If you’re doing any mass start racing at all or any racing that involves changing pace. This means road races, criterium, circuit races or even time trials with undulating courses. You need to train FRC if you’re going to be the best bike rider you can be.
Colby Pearce 52:16
Lactate tolerance. Lactate tolerance is a necessary physical ability for riders, obviously. And this comes down to repeated surges in short bursts, where you are generating lactate, usually above FTP, and then you’ve got to process that lactate so the levels – so you don’t swim in it too much. Basically, what this means is when we’ve got our bathtub analogy and we turn on the faucet, we’re filling up the bathtub with lactate. When you’re in the aerobic zone and you’re consuming as much lactate as you are making, you’re burning it for fuel and you’re manufacturing it, then the level of the water in your bathtub stays constant. But the bathtub is full. So to be clear, we turn on the faucet when we start riding, but below aerobic threshold, no water accumulates in the tub. You’re making the tiniest amount of lactate, but there’s no accumulation. So, as we cross aerobic threshold, which is around what we’ll call zone two for most riders, then lactate begins to accumulate in the tub. It accumulates a little more and a little more, but it’s not rising above the rim of the tub. When we cross threshold, or FTP, then the tub begins to overflow and water spills out the side. Why? Because we’ve turned the faucet on more and more so water’s coming in that isn’t able to go out the drain hole. When we train lactate tolerance, we’re making the drain hole bigger. So we can dump in a lot more water, but we’re not quite overflowing. It maybe overflows a little bit here and there, but then the drains quickly. We can pulse the water, we can pulse very high levels of water and still the tub drains quickly. That’s really what lactate tolerance is, metaphorically speaking.
Colby Pearce 54:05
Clearly it has an outcome in any race, which will have a heated moment or period of time with repeated attacks and accelerations – on, off, on, off. This is very characteristic of a lot of amateur races where you have to recover and then cover repeated attacks or trade covering attacks with your teammates. For example, or cyclocross, lactate tolerance. Points racing, lactate tolerance.
Colby Pearce 54:37
Another aspect of physical cycling that a lot of riders aren’t aware of, but it’s becoming more well known thanks to the work of Sebastian Weber primarily and the inside training metrics, is VLamax or the volume of lactate maximum. In the world of track cycling, VLamax is most distinctly defined by the rider who specializes in kilo or possibly team pursuit.
Colby Pearce 55:07
VLamax is the one time hit of maximum lactate production you can make and the higher that number is, the deeper you can go for a single effort. In not all riders, but probably in most riders there is a bit of a teeter-totter effect between VLamax and FTP. Meaning if your FTP is very well trained, there’s a good chance you’re VLamax is pretty low. So Grand Tour riders don’t have very good VLamaxes, but riders who train their VLamax quite well. In the right moment, they can annihilate people. And you can see this phenomenon very clearly in stage racing. When you look at a status that has a short prologue, in particular one that’s less than about 10-12 minutes, but really less than about eight minutes. What you’ll see is the GC riders will be places three through whatever 20 and they’ll all be separate. by a couple seconds or a second are very tight margin. But then we’ll have one rider who happens to have usually by accident a very well trained stage racing, and they will absolutely carpet bomb the field by significant margin. We’re talking 12,15, 20 seconds in a really short time trial – just this massive margin. Everyone is scratching their head like, ‘How the hell did I do that?’ or ‘How did she pull that off? She’s carpet bombed everybody, it was like, not even close, wasn’t in the same zip code.’ In this case, the rider had trained their VLamax to a very high degree through whatever method they were using.
Colby Pearce 56:34
So this comes back to knowing the demands of your event and training for them. If you’re training for a short time trial, you probably want to focus on a lot of a very high VLamax. If you are more geared towards longer events, endurance oriented events and events where watts per kilogram at functional threshold power are going to be deciding factors, than you probably want to scooch towards that in the spectrum and possibly avoid VLamax efforts and training because they’re not going to be productive towards your goal. They’re also going to be unbelievably painful. And probably the stimulus would be so novel that it wouldn’t be productive, it might really ding your system for a couple days and prevent you from doing work that’s more constructive. So, you’re giving up opportunity cost a rider must also have – and I touched on this a bit ago about when I was talking about sling systems – functional neurological recruitment across the sling systems.
Colby Pearce 57:36
What do I mean by that?
Colby Pearce 57:37
What I mean is we need the whole organism to function as a cohesive unit. When does this not happen? Well, pretty commonly when an athlete trains only on the bike for long periods of time, their legs can be disconnected from their torso kind of neurologically, it can be difficult for them to sense what’s happening. But also we’re talking about acute situations. If you crash and fall on your hip, it can shut down the ability of the nervous system to fire certain muscle groups or a particular muscle. If you crash and break a bone, the same thing can happen are cracks and ribs that shuts down certain parts of the body and that can disrupt the sling system from being effective. It doesn’t even mean that you could necessarily figure it out by firing a certain muscle or testing a certain individual muscle. You might only see it in a pattern of movement. But these are things that are necessary for an athlete to function at the highest level. In particular, for an athlete, think of like a Peterson style athlete who’s going to explosively climb Short Hills. When you’re climbing. You know, a cobbled a steep public climb in Belgium, you’ve got to have all the muscles firing properly, otherwise, things are gonna just break down especially after four or five or six hours of racing.
Balanced recruitment of both posterior and anterior chain muscles
Colby Pearce 58:57
In order to express their highest potential as cyclist also needs a balanced recruitment of both their posterior and anterior chain muscles. What’s a posterior chain? Your posterior chain is the group of muscles that simply runs up the back side of your body. If you start at the bottom, we’re talking about the calves, the hamstrings, the butt, glutes, and all the muscles that run up the back, the backside of the shoulders, triceps, and even the muscles that run up to the back of the neck, the neck extensors. This is the posterior chain. Cycling is a sport that can heavily influence a rider to become anterior chain dominant. This means quad dominant and this is gets into the hierarchal list I’ll give later. But when a rider is not recruiting all their muscle groups To effectively made power on the bike, then they’re limiting themselves. Why? Well, I’ll explain that in a moment. Hang tight. Thanks for your patience. I’ll see riders come through my door with a breathing dysfunction. And this can be a big limiting factor in performance. But fundamentally, I’ll just say this. If you’re unaware of your breathing pattern, there are a lot of great resources out there that are pretty useful. One of them is a book by I believe it’s Patrick McCowan called the oxygen advantage. That’s a great starting point. Paul Chek also has some really good blogs, we’ll put a link to one of them about basic breathing technique.
Colby Pearce 1:00:40
I’ll give you the 10 second Cliff Notes, the first two thirds of your breath should happen in the diaphragm. Meaning that when your diaphragm when you breathe in, your diaphragm pushes down and contracts and squishes your viscera out or your guts and this makes your belly pop out and makes you look Like if you’re chubby, or maybe like you’re a little bit pregnant, a lot of people have a restricted or inverted breathing pattern. Or they breathe mostly into the chest. They’ve learned to breed that way for a bunch of different reasons. And one of the biggest ones is that as a society, we tend to not want to look fat, so we don’t want our guts to push out. So we kind of hold our rectus abdominus with tension all day kind of pulling our guts in, it’s not cool to go to the beach and be in a bikini and have a belly pooch hanging out over the lower part of your bikini. It’s also likewise it’s not cool for guys to have a pooch. You know, nobody wants to to be pudgy if your body conscious. So we tend to hold our stomachs in and that restricts breathing and that can lead to an inverted breathing pattern or just a lousy breathing pattern that doesn’t allow the diaphragm to expand. And when your breathing pattern is disrupted, it’s almost Always correlated to a dysfunction in core strength on repeat that that’s really important and basic. If you have a breathing pattern dysfunction, you have a core dysfunction. And if you have a core dysfunction you’re not making you’re not getting all the power to the bike you should because simply put, you’re strengthening your legs all the time but in order for the legs to do their job most effectively and get power into the pedals in particular while standing which happens during decisive moments of bike racing all the time. By that I mean attacks and Sprint’s to the finish. Then, if you’ve got really strong legs and no strengthen the core or disconnect to the core, then you’re just you’re not going to do what you can in the bike. You’re not going to express your highest abilities. Also, if you’ve got a breathing dysfunction, you’re not getting enough O2 into your system or you You’re severely co2 intolerant, and you don’t have proper gas exchange going on. Obviously, you’re going to be limited and not able to ride at your maximal oxygen processing capacity. Right?
Colby Pearce 1:03:14
A key ability for any cyclist in any discipline is to balance the level of effort with technique. Now, the most obvious example for this is cyclocross. Mountain Biking also applies. But really, it happens across all aspects of sport. It’s just more subtle. What do I mean by this? Well, for those of you who have race cyclocross, especially if you recall the first few times you did it, remember that maybe in your first race or your first hard training ride, you may have gone out and just lit yourself up like a Christmas tree in the first half a lap. And then you got to the first barrier section and you tried to get off the bike to discover that your body had become an uncoordinated needed clumsy mess, and you were unsuccessful in your attempt to clip out or you drop the bike or the bike hit the barrier or you tripped over a barrier and did an ass over teakettle cartwheel in front of everyone. Or you suddenly lost the ability to drive the bike through a slippery corner, which wasn’t really that slippery and you hit the ground, or any number of other things. And this is because there’s this relationship is almost like a teeter totter effect where the harder you go, the worse your technical skills get. Now, this is what this Venn nieces of the world can do. They ride their bike at an extremely high output and their technical abilities, technical abilities don’t degrade. They’re maintained. So they’re effectively lifting up both sides of the teeter totter at the same time. As a beginning rider, a learning rider and amateur rider, what you’re doing is you’re pushing really hard on one side of the teeter totter and then try not to let the other side flip up so high. You’re trying to level out that balance between your effort level and Your technical skills. So we can see this easily and cross. Because the lower category riders you see him tripping over barriers and dragging bikes and falling off bikes and running into each other all the time. The reality is it’s the same paradigm in a criterium. It’s the same paradigm in a track race. I’ve seen riders lose track of laps forget when the bell rings and half a lap later through forget they’re sprinting. I’ve seen riders Miss changes in Madison’s over and over again because those are highly perhaps the most technical aspect of all cycling disciplines. criteriums you’ve seen people losing in corners just because they’ve been going so hard, they lose the ability to control their body and they screw up their weight distribution in a corner and before you know it the bikes sliding across the road at 27 miles an hour 47 k an hour.
Colby Pearce 1:05:54
This is a fundamental physical ability that cyclists need to hone and be aware of Your ability to ride your bike with high degree a high degree of technical proficiency while at a high level of output. You can also see some mountain bike racing and cross country for example, you go so hard to the top of a climb, and your your eyeballs are popping out of your skull and then you begin the descent. And Whoa, all of a sudden, the realization comes that maybe my heart needs to be a few beats lower before I can go down this down this descent without running into every rock and tree that comes in my way. So you figure that one out pretty quickly in the first cross country or two if you’re paying attention. The last 500 meters this climb I need to not quite go so deep. It’s different than road racing in that respect.
Colby Pearce 1:06:38
A cool thing about cycling in the world of physical attributes is that it’s a bit of a unique sport. In comparison to other elite sports. look at any other elite sport, you can almost think of horseback riding, or horse racing, I should say. Basketball football, what comes to mind Well basketball, there’s a certain phenotype of athlete, obviously, you’ve got to have a pretty tall athlete. Now, the immediate example is there a couple pro basketball players who weren’t exceptionally tall, a couple 510, five, nine, but most of them are well over six feet. And they’ve got good explosive ability, probably not the best functional threshold power, but they’re not training it. cycling’s a bit unusual, because we have Colombian climbers who are pretty tiny, little guys, we have some European climbers who were taught tiny riders as well. And we also have big giant men who are field sprinters. The same is true on the women’s side of the sport. We have more petite riders who can be climbers. And we have stronger bigger women who can smash field sprints and time trials. And what’s interesting is all of these diverse body types can succeed at the World Tour level. That’s kind of cool.
Colby Pearce 1:07:55
Cycling is a sport that rewards really just hard work. It’s Blue Collar in that respect. It tends to get, I would say old school perspective at tends, it tended to pick up more of the rejects from normal sports, so to speak, meaning, especially in America, I should say, I should qualify that the people who didn’t make the football team, or the basketball team maybe ended up in cycling. Cycling is a sport that requires a lot of time by yourself, you’ve got to do at least some of your training rides on your own. And that means you’ve got to be motivated to do those types of things. So there’s a little bit of a loner aspect to it. Modern cycling, I would say in the last 10 years has become more social, arguably, in some ways, although whether or not riding on Zwift is actually social or not is debatable.
Colby Pearce 1:08:47
The last bit on the physical characteristics of a cyclist that I think is important to cover is simply proper technique. And I’m going to get into this and unpack it a good bit, but broadly speaking, we can break that down into three categories. The first would be pedaling, pedaling technique. I’m sure there are some listeners who are wondering what that means. And no, I’m not talking about scraping mud or pulling up. Number two is posture on the bike. Also not a topic without controversy, and I’ll explain that. And the third is breathing, which we’ve already talked about a bit. We’ve talked about all these to a degree
Colby Pearce 1:09:29
Cycling, especially modern cycling to a degree has brought about the death of technique. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s dissect a bit. If you have really poor technique, and you’re a runner, what happens you’ll get injured quickly, because there’s so much force involved in cycling. If you’re a cross country skier particularly a skate skier, and you have really bad technique. You go dreadfully slow and you fall over a lot. So In both of these sports, there’s a high penalty for having bad technique, which means by necessity when you’re learning the sport technique becomes quite important. arguably more important than developing raw power in the sport or maybe even by necessity. You know, cross country skiing in particular, you can’t go fast on skis until you have a certain baseline of technique and balance, you just fall over that you push too hard and you just go slower or fall over. I know this from experience. In swimming, if you have a really bad technique, you’ll drown. But you also go dreadfully slow, like ridiculously slow.
Colby Pearce 1:10:37
Here’s the thing about cycling. Cycling is a sport that camouflage is bad technique. What do I mean by that? Okay, let’s take an example. We’ve got two identical riders. Well, nearly identical in all ways, and we’re going to give them both a 40 kilometer time trial. They both got super Fancy Aero bikes with hidden cables and skin suits and Aero helmets and they’ve been to the wind tunnel and they’ve got identical FTPs. And for the sake of this example, we’ll say they have identical coefficients of drag. So we set these riders off on the time trial and one has absolutely superb technique. Smooth upper body, good posture, good breathing, even in time trial position, which is challenging. The ability to mold themselves into a nice aerodynamic missile. Smooth application of power, proper pedaling technique, good symmetry. The other rider has none of these things, complete disaster jabbing at the pedals, like a punching bag, weaving down the road, breathing into the chest only. And, but we’ll say for the sake of this argument, just to make it simple, makes the same amount of power even though that’s probably not the case in real life and we look at the results and lo and behold, in a 40 k time trial which might take most riders around we’ll say 55 minutes depending on the course in the conditions and the rider. The punching bag, terrible technique rider rides a minute and a half slower than the rider with perfect technique. And because the riders both have fast bikes and good equipment, they both average well above we’ll say 47 kilometers an hour. So it’s harder to spot poor technique in cycling in particular and a flat race. Because good equipment camouflage is poor technique as well as inertia and flat terrain camouflage is dead spots. So you can have a saddle that’s horribly positioned or horrible puddle technique or both. And we may not necessarily know it just from looking at results alone. Cycling smooths all these edges out. Because why? Because bikes are so incredibly efficient at converting metabolic energy into mechanical energy. They’re just actually amazing machines. humans, we aren’t that efficient as Movers. But bikes really improved that equation. So good job engineers. Very clever, have you?
Colby Pearce 1:13:23
What’s the challenge the challenges, we need to have a bit of understanding about what a good technique actually is, so we can look critically at ourselves and optimize this. And no, I’m not talking about clipping. I’m doing one legged pedaling drills. I’ll synopsize my feelings on those with a single word. Useless. Let’s not kill technique, please. It’s a beautiful thing. breaking things down. One more level into specific disciplines. Let’s look at conventional discipline bins. Just briefly discuss what each of those means in terms of technique or physical characteristics. Again, it comes down to the paradigm of physiology and psychology of the rider versus the demands of the event. Now used to say physiology the rider versus demands the event but recently I realized, especially after studying with Paul that psychology needs to be included in this equation.
Colby Pearce 1:14:30
Because no athlete is ever simply the sum of their physical training. No athlete is solely their vo2 plus their FTP plus their FRC and their hydration status and glycogen levels. An athlete carries with them at all times the psychological load of their entire lives, both acutely and chronically. And The more we understand this as coaches, the more we see and accept that the depth of our coaching really depends on the athletes cumin of life experience. If you’re coaching or even fitting an athlete and you don’t understand or see at least some of the athletes, life perspectives and concepts, you’re not going to be seeing the whole picture because there is a correlation between physical manifestation of injuries pain symptoms, and psychological injuries, pain and symptoms.
Colby Pearce 1:15:34
Note I didn’t say causation. Something some people might want to dissect that and decide who’s what and where’s What did my knee pain come from some physical event or was it an emotional cause? That might be interesting to discuss on a particular case. And it might lead us to insight but for the most part, I don’t care because both of these things need to be addressed. Understood and treated; both of these things being the physical aspect and the psychic aspect. If you treat one without the other, the pain is either going to come back in the same place or it’ll just re manifest in a different form. That’s been my experience. And when I say treat one without the other, what I mean is the palliative treatment or the allopathic treatment of the pain area. while ignoring the psychic correspondent.
Colby Pearce 1:16:33
In road racing, the demands of the event are aerodynamic aerodynamics. aerodynamics plays a large role in the outcome of road races, even hundred 90 kilometer long road races with giant climbs: bike handling power generation over a variety of terrain, which goes back to our discussion earlier about torque and cadence. That means at on steep climb, you’re going to have to be able to apply high levels of torque at a low cadence and on descents or Intel when situations or when the peloton just hauling straight ass, you’re going to need to be able to apply power at high cadences. This includes high speed corners, low speed corners, steep climbs, it also includes rain and wind and every other condition you can think of. If you go into gravel events, then of course, we’re talking about mixed terrain. But for this purposes of this part we’ll call road. So a fitter or a coach must consider the demands of all these things when we’re setting up or training an athlete to meet the demands of this event. When a rider needs to be aerodynamic, that means they need to be able to fold well to hip or horizontal eyes, the torso. This gets into fitting a bit and I’ll just brush on this briefly but it’s a bit of a bone I have to pick with a lot of modern fitters, I’ll say a difference of opinion. And look, there are a lot of really good fitters out there. I’m not here to bash anybody and I’m not here to call anyone out. About fitter. There are bad fitters out there. But there are a lot of really good fitters out there who might have a different perspective than I do. That’s fine. There’s more than one way to skin this cat. And as one of my teachers, Nicole Devine, would say, what you’re doing is solving the fractal. Well, guess what, there are a lot of ways to solve a fractal. What do I mean by that? Human beings are far far more complex than we cerebrally understand. If you look at the number of cells in the body, it’s astronomical. And if you consider the number of calculations the human mind does per day, it’s far more advanced than any MacBook Pro by a factor of some impressive number.
Colby Pearce 1:18:43
So what’s beautiful about humans is God is a novelty generator, meaning we’ve all got our own unique fingerprint, and we are all our own unique expressions of consciousness. That means that whenever I coach anyone or fit anyone what I look for a common denominator patterns, but I do not assume that any one solution that’s provided for one athlete that is successful will work for another athlete. Because we’re all so unique and individual, you have to treat each rider as a special snowflake. That sometimes we don’t use the word special because then they start to get entitled. So when a rider horizontal rises the torso that means going from standing to putting that torso parallel to the horizon. That by necessity closes the angle of the hip at the top of the pedal stroke. And in triathlon fitting in particular right now there’s a big drive to reduce the hip angle. In my opinion, I think some fitters perhaps are a bit misguided in this mission, because what they’re trying to do is turn cycling into running. Cycling is not running and it never will be running. And if a triathlete cannot ride their bike for long periods of time without compromising their run, I argue that the triathlete is not training correctly, because you need to train the athlete to handle the demands of the event. Now, I do concede that many triathlons are dictated the outcome is dictated by the run, not the bike. So you want to prioritize the run. That’s okay. Try not to get too far off topic here or in the weeds, but what I’m saying is, and when we horizontalize, the torso, we have to be able to generate power unilaterally or with one leg with a closed hip angle, at least to some degree doesn’t have to be maximal. You don’t have to be smacking yourself in the ribs with your thigh. But riding with a closed hip angle is part of cycling. That is a fundamental of cycling, it is a demand of the sport. It just is. And so the rider has to adapt to that to some point and if a rider really has a hard time riding with their hip angle being somewhat acute, then they’ve either got to do some flexibility, conditioning, some myofascial release, some strengthening, or maybe they accept that they’re not going to be that arrow. That’s okay too. Not everyone was meant to ride a bike. And by meant to I’m not inferring that some sort of magical ability, it’s really actually pretty random. Because the demands of the sport are very bizarre, which goes into time trials.
Colby Pearce 1:21:28
To be clear, being aerodynamic on a time trial bike is straight up and active contortion ism and is nothing else. I live in Boulder and we have this famous outdoor walking mall called the Pearl Street Mall, close to cars. And frequently we have street performers that come on this mall, especially in the summer and they do you know, the juggling fire and then there’s the zip code guy who can tell you any zip code of any town anywhere in the world or whatever. And that’s all cool. Well, there’s this one guy who used to put himself in a box. It was a Plastic clear box. And this box is maybe I’m going to use irrelevant units just for this description, maybe 18 inches by 18. By 18. I mean really small and this guy’s like six, three, somehow he folds himself into this box and the way that you can’t even imagine like, and then he pops out and then you give them five bucks because you’re just like what? Okay, that’s worth $5. Um, I don’t understand why but it is. This is what time trialing is time trawling is okay, if we look at our to do list for time trailers, and those of you have been fit by me, this will be a familiar discussion. We’re going to give you a to do list and it’s going to start with one we’re going to fold at the hip, but not just some not just to the hoods or not just to the tops. We’re going to go all the way because you’re in a time trial and you’re always in the wind and that means we need to be maximally aerodynamic. So that’s one so that puts global tension on the fashion chain or if you’re familiar with Thomas Meyers, anatomy trains work. On the superficial back line, which runs all the way from the back of the head down to the Achilles, it’s one continuous line of fascia. So as soon as we fold over maximally that immediately strands that line,
Colby Pearce 1:23:12
okay, but Two we’re going to pin your elbows together. So now when your folded over, you used to have this nice wide base of support where you could grab the hoods on the road bike, and the length of that lever that’s used to stabilize you is from your shoulder to your hand, that’s an arm that’s a long lever, we’re going to take away half that lever because we’re going to pin your elbows together and put your elbows and elbow cups, so now you can’t use the second half of your arm. So we made that base of support narrower and we’ve shortened the lever over we’re also going to put it in an effective anatomic position because that lever is going to be completely vertical, which means there’s very little muscle that can actually stabilize that arm. Cool. Okay, keep going. Now we’re going to drop your head as low as you can. Because we want to fill that triangle between your elbows and your Shoulders, we don’t want the air to scoop in under your chin and hit you in the boobs or the, or the belly or the hips. Want to close off that hole for most people, not all riders, but most people learn this way. So we’re going to close that off, we’re going to drop your head down, right. And that means that because your heads dropped as low as possible, going to roll your eyes up so you can see forward while you’re going. So that’s more strain on your system. And for those of you have ever done L-dopa, you’ll know that one of the ways they work the fascia, wring it out, like a towel is kind of how they an elbow instructor would describe it, is they roll the eyes either down or up. And that adds tension to the fascial system. Because your eyes are part of the fascial system just like every other part of your body. Okay, we’re, I don’t know, we’re like six or seven items in Oh, and I want you to pedal. But I don’t want you to since you call this tension in your fascial system. Now you’re pedaling funny, you’re pedaling with your toes down, but I don’t want you to do that. I want you to pedal with your heels down. Why? Well Talk about that in pedal stroke theory later. Got a whole episode lined up on that, because I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on the 22 minutes I blabbed about it in the Fast Talk Labs podcast recently. So clearly that needs to be expanded on because I listened to it and I realized that not only did I sound like I had a lisp, but there are a lot more bullets to add. So hopefully you’ll find that interesting. I want you to paddle with your heels down. Well, that’s really hard. Okay, now what’s the last item we’re going to add? Go as hard as you can. Oh, don’t forget to breathe is your abdomen folded on top of your diaphragm. Well come on to work around that. So usually when we fold people in half like this and give them all these to dues and pin their elbows together, and Oh, I forgot one we got to pin your shoulders to your ears because we want that shoulder. That funnel volume of the shoulder and collarbone area to be as small as possible. We need you to hide from the wind. This is contortion as a man Jimmy in that box and now go as hard as you And what happens you see it all the time, find some photos of your local time trial series and flick through them and count how many riders heads are periscope well above the level of their torsos, and thus, bleeding time. All over the place. It’s going to use some sort of weird analogy there, but we’ll just leave it. The number probably 85% of the riders you can say are healthily, Periscope, meaning the head pops up as a relief valve to avoid the global fascial strain you have on the superficial black backline. This points towards the idea that most riders aren’t properly trained for their event, or maybe they’re just at the limit of what their fascial system can do. Maybe their bar height should be higher. If you want a good indicator of how someone can be quite successful with a slightly conservative bar height, but a very good chin height and talking all the other bits and pieces in the right place. Just consult the almighty google and type in Rohan Dennis.
Colby Pearce 1:27:11
Now we have low, medium and high speed corners, but mostly low and medium over loose terrain on unlimited tire size. This is the art of cyclocross. We’re intentionally challenging the athletes ability to work that teeter totter of maximal effort and skill at the same time, and we’re going to make it even more fun and ridiculous by limiting the tires to 33 millimeters in width. So when you sign up for a cross race, you’re checking the box of equipment limits on purpose, which is kind of weird in a way, but also kind of cool, and makes cross just one of those goofy sports that will never be mainstream, nor should it. It’s just too weird. Love it.
Colby Pearce 1:27:51
And then we have mountain biking. Mountain Biking involves more extremes of terrain both up and down, then cross typically or roads. steeper uphill, steeper downhills, and I’m not even getting into endure- or downhill I’m just talking boring old normal cross country racing here. And that requires a more compressed cockpit on the bike in general, because the further the bars are away from the saddle, the less body language you can use in the less manipulation of the center of gravity relative to the bottom bracket and wheel axles you can do. The shorter the cockpit, the more that allows that and because of the steeper variances and terrain both up and down a mountain biking, the more you have to move your center of gravity relative to that bottom bracket Otherwise, the result is ass over teakettle. Try to take your super-aero road bike with your slam bars down a 25% dirt grade and see what happens. Well, actually, don’t do it as a thought experiment. Don’t do it in real life. While we’re on that topic. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on the internet. Okay, thank you.
My fit methodology
Colby Pearce 1:28:54
loosely speaking, this is my fit methodology. We’ll first analyze the function of the rider, I have to understand how the body works, how the body mind has manifested into this biological spacesuit. Then I will educate the rider about what I’m finding, hmm, your left hamstring has significantly less flexibility than your right one. How much? who really cares? I don’t use a goniometer. But enough for me to see it. That’s all the information we need. That’s actionable. Why? Well, now we’re into the fractal. But we need to figure out at least a way to help equalize the mobility of those two devices, those hamstring devices, because when you use the pedal devices and the hamstring devices are not the same length the pedal devices will be and this causes problems. Then we make some changes, either to the riders position or to their program, meaning their myofascial release, flexibility, strength and conditioning balance. Mobility program, or we move things around the bike are usually some of both. And we observe both in the fit session and over long term. And then we refine this point is key. For those of you have had a bike fit out there. If your fitter gave you the impression that everything in fitting was black and white, and that it was a one time deal. They undersold it, or they blew smoke up your skirt. Fitting is not like that there are aspects of fitting that are black and white. There are parts of fitting a bike fit that are firm, in my mind, I will say your handlebars should be here. There are other parts that are trial and error. The useful part my job as a fitter is not to know everything about the human body. It’s a fractal. I don’t know everything about your body, and even in a five to six hour bike fit which is common for me. I will not know everything about your body because there’s a good chance you’re at least 20 years old if you come to see me for a fit Probably more like 3040 or 50? And how much can I know about you in five hours when you’ve been on this planet for over four decades? Do the ratio there. Hashtag math. So I learned what I can, but then there’s a process of trial and error. The key for me as a fitter is to coach you through that process in an effective and useful actionable way. Meaning, this is what I would like you to do. Go out on the bike, try the saddle, do you feel pressure here? Do you feel planted in stable here? Do you feel grounded here? Do you feel pressure there? If so, email me, send me feedback, good, bad, or otherwise, I want to hear it all. And sometimes the feedback is, holy crap. This is amazing. I never thought it could be so comfortable. And other times it’s Whoa, what happened? This is a disaster. less often I get the disaster emails, fortunately, which helps keep me going in the world of bike fit, but I do get them and when I do, I do my best to serve the client and work with them. That’s the point. The point isn’t for me to brush my ego and talk about how I’m such a badass fitter, and I Fix everybody’s problems. The point is for me to help people and when you’re solving a fractal, helping people is progress towards optimization in whatever form even if you both learn even if you make mistakes
Colby Pearce 1:32:17
There are other fitting philosophies out there who recommend that we fit the bike to the rider. I cannot tell you how much I disagree with this philosophy without overstating it. I can’t tell you how much I disagree with this philosophy. Holy shitballs
Colby Pearce 1:32:41
How many riders have I seen walked through my door who are perfectly symmetrical and functional. I can see you all shaking your heads right now. There is no such human with there are high level compensators there are athletes to soar to the pro tour because they are beautifully symmetrical and beautifully functional. And when I’m in the presence of these godlike creatures, I have reverence and respect. However, I’m also realistic and I know that their time in this window of existence is limited. So we seek always seek to educate and optimize. But I never want to fit a bike to a rider who comes in crooked, a symmetrical dysfunctional, not optimal. It’s not whether you are those things, it’s just a degree of how much there are lots of exceptional athletes who walk through my door who are doing their work, who are stretching regularly, but in proper quantities, not too much. There are athletes who walk through my door who are doing great strength and conditioning programs and are super strong, and are complementing what they’re strengthening on the bike properly with their strength and conditioning programs, meaning it’s properly designed and implemented. As policy, there’s no such thing as a bad exercise just a poorly prescribed exercise. There are athletes who come through my door who are looking after their foundational principles, their six foundational principles, which in case you’re wondering our thinking, breathing, hydration, sleeping, diet and movement. And when you check all these boxes properly, they take care of a lot of problems for a lot of people. But it’s easy to forget, I don’t fit a bike to a rider. The vast majority of the time, I’m educating the rider about how I want them to sit on the bike with better posture about how I want them to make better power. And then I’m fitting the bike to that goal. This is an essential process for me in the philosophy of bike fitting, because if I change a rider’s bike fit, and I don’t tell them why or how I want them to modify their posture or make better power, and I just send them out the door. It’s going to be a train wreck because they’re going to keep making power the same way they used to, they’re going to send in the bike the way they always have and then everything can feel like crap. And then it will be a giant waste of everyone’s time, effort and money. That is not what I’m interested in doing.
Colby Pearce 1:35:08
Fit the bike to the rider is a very old school perspective. It’s born from the idea that a rider just sort of sits on the bike, how they sit, meaning if someone’s going to get on the bike with some weird old, creaky spine, you know, rounded rainbow looking kebab crane thing and barely make it to the handlebars that we’re just going to put them on a 70 millimeter stem and send them out the door because that’s just the way they are. And that’s just a pile of bullshit. Would I have someone start any new exercise with crappy posture form? If I was teaching someone who had never ice skated? to skate? Would I have a complete disregard for any description of how they should properly use the escape to have balance and propel themselves forward? No, of course not. Once Someone’s learning something you start from technique. That is how you teach someone anything new. So why would I disregard technique or posture in cycling? This makes zero sense to me. It completely this perspective would completely disregard the concept of ideal posture or technique. You don’t just start from nowhere or anywhere. You start from a baseline. This is the way to teach sport and practice sport. In many ways, cycling has a lot of aspects that are really stuck in the stone age’s. And, again, that doesn’t mean that we throw away everything that’s all about the sport. I mean, this is the title of this podcast is fundamentals of cycling, but there are many aspects of the sport that we can disregard and leave behind. We just don’t need them anymore. The discernment we have to have is which is what they’re I mean, they’re all kinds of Italian wives tales and fitting that are fascinating. Most of them are garbage, but a few of them are actually pretty on point.
Why cycling is bad for you
Colby Pearce 1:37:02
Okay, I’m going to shift gears just briefly for a minute and I’m just gonna trash cycling. I’m gonna, I’m gonna fight it a little bit we’re gonna get in the wrestling ring. I don’t know, I was terrible wrestler. So this is a bad idea. I’m probably gonna get beat. But here we go…
Colby Pearce 1:37:18
I want people to understand how bad cycling is for you. It’s a terrible sport. What do I mean by that? There’s so many misunderstandings about cycling. People tend to think of cycling as being this thing. This health giving thing now of course, cycling can add to your global health. If you do no exercise and you’re 25 years old, and you’re slightly overweight and you don’t run, you don’t lift weights. You don’t ski you don’t, whatever swim. You don’t play racquetball. You don’t rollerblade but you decide to take up cycling and improves your aerobic conditioning and it helps you lose a little bit of weight and it gives you better energy and better focus. is at work and lifts your mood and gives you endorphins and you don’t get injured, then cycling has added to your health. So in that sense, cycling can be healthy. But most of the cyclists I know are far from this model. Most of the cyclists I know are way too Yang, way to more is better model. Way too in love with a sport to have balance. And everything in life, whether we’re talking about cycling or chocolate or sex or cars or money is about right relationship, everything flexibility. Good example. It’s not too much, not too little, the proper dose at the proper time.
Colby Pearce 1:38:39
Another way to say that is the dose makes the poison. Water will kill you if you drink too much of it. You can drown from drinking water literally. There was a story not too long ago in the in some newspaper about a woman who went to the hospital and doctors couldn’t figure out what’s wrong with her. And after a long series of questions about her medications and our lifestyle, they eventually realized her problem was she decided On our own to only eat bokchoy literally, bokchoy. She made it about three days before she started to have massive internal organ failure. And she was on the verge of death. Now, bok choy is a pretty healthy food I think most of us would agree it’s a green vegetable. I don’t really know what it is. It’s kind of Asian or something. I but it’s got to be healthy because it’s green prize chlorophyll in it and all kinds of vitamins I don’t know about. Guess what? bokchoy can kill you.
Colby Pearce 1:39:33
Okay, cycling ruins your body. Cycling down regulates symmetry. We’ve talked about this. Why? Because we’re all slightly asymmetrical, especially in how we produce power. And what cycling does because it’s so repetitive. It locks you into exactly the same motion thousands of times, even in a single hour and a half bike ride. That these tiny asymmetries become magnified, like compound interest over time. If you’re making point 04 percent less power on the downstroke of one side than the other, just to put it in an example that I think most people will understand. Over time, this can become problematic. It can twist your pelvis around the axis of the C tube, it can cause you to drop one hip more than the other it can cause your shoulders to rotate. This is the fractal. This is Nicole’s fractal. Meaning when riders walk through the door of my fit studio very commonly, I see the same symptom which is one side of the other is a little dominant on the downstroke. A little more downforce than the other. But the fractal comes in where it manifests. The discomfort or pain or sensations can be anything from I feel twisted on the saddle to I’m sitting crooked on the saddle to my left IT band hurts to my right knee hurts. To my left, Achilles hurts to my left shoulder hurts. It goes every direction you can imagine. That’s the fractal. So cycling makes you less symmetrical. I’m saying less Because you started off a little bit asymmetrical, it makes you less symmetrical.
Colby Pearce 1:41:04
It also reduces your force ceiling. What do I mean by that I mean the total capacity for you to produce maximal force. Meaning if you were to go outside and try to move your house by pushing on it as hard as you could, and then someone put a gun to your head and told you to move your house or they’re going to shoot you, that would be pushing on the side of your house with maximal force. Now, some of you didn’t make a hole in the wall. You probably wouldn’t move your house but you’d produce a lot of force hopefully you won’t get shot. Cycling reduces this capacity because the vast majority of pedal strokes that are made are of course, sub maximal by a significant margin, but even when we go to make maximal force, there are limitations to how we can apply force to the pedals because the axle produces is arranged in such a fashion that it produces a fulcrum or it is a mechanical fulcrum near the ball of the foot and the prevents full contraction of all the lower leg musculature except for someone who’s really well trained in this particular aspect, so it tends to reduce maximal force production. In athletes, it also induces functional muscle length changes, or we could call it adaptive muscle shortening. Why? Because when you if your bike fit is well correct are in the right zip code. When your leg is at the bottom of the stroke at bottom dead center or about 530 in the clock model. your hamstring is not extended all the way. Nor should it be in case you were wondering.
Colby Pearce 1:42:40
And so your hamstring – look there’s a rule in striking conditioning you get what you train. So when you train a specific joint angle, range of motion, you get strength in that joint angle, range of motion. And just like when now doctors are figuring out that if they isolate, someone breaks an elbow and they isolate the arm In a cast for eight weeks, and then they take it off and the person can’t bend their elbow, they’ve lost function that joint now they have do a bunch of painful PT to get range of motion back up full range of motion can take a long time. So it’s the same thing when you only ride your bike. You never use your you don’t use it, you will lose it. So it does adaptive muscle shortening is a thing. And really, the range of motion we use in cycling is not great. That’s also why cyclists tend to have very fixed or even frozen shoulders. We have to counterbalance cycling with good strength conditioning off the bike, especially offseason, but really at all times. The longer you ride your bike and only ride your bike, the worse of an athlete you become.
Colby Pearce 1:43:40
So think about a Venn diagram of general athletic ability. It’s a big giant circle. And in that diagram, we’re going to put everything that makes up an athlete vo two, we can put FRC in there and FTP. We can also put things like flexibility or the ability to run or generate a lot of force we can put things like Carry a cooler. That’s an athletic ability requirement, walk your dog, change a tire on your car, right? Build a deck, maybe whatever else you can think of that requires physical exertion climb a mountain. Now as a subset of that pool, that circle of general athletic ability we’ll call cycling ability. Why is it a subset? Because everything that you have to do on a bike is a smaller subset of what general athletic ability entails all of it. The problem is if you only ride your bike, what happens is your athletic ability Venn diagram circle gets slightly bigger because your ability to ride a bike gets stronger and grows. But your general athletic ability Venn diagram circle gets smaller and smaller. The more you ride your bike, the worse of an athlete you are.
Colby Pearce 1:44:50
And for those of you who have cyclists for more than a year or two of your life, you’ll intuitively understand that this is correct. We’ve all heard stories about how bike riders like to go for their first round. In the offseason, and wow, all sudden, they can barely walk down the stairs for the next week. It’s because you’ve got a good base of aerobic ability and also because your habitual habit, habitual eyes forth made up word, habituated, thank you, nailed it. You’re habituated to longer durations of exercise that are non impact, so you’re used to riding your bike for 2,3,4, 6 hours. And so to you a 75 minute run doesn’t seem that long, but you forgot about the fact that there is no con centric load in cycling, zero for all effective purposes. And there’s lots of eccentric load and running and lots of force a lot more force than in cycling and Wham you run for 75 minutes and your muscles are annihilated. All kinds of muscle damage and or maybe worse.
Colby Pearce 1:45:53
multiplanar movement. This is another way of cycling kind of kind of hoses us cycling. is exclusively in the sagittal plane. I mean, there’s tiny bits of movement outside the sagittal plane when you get out of the bike and rock the bike excessively, or possibly, yeah, in cyclocross, when you get off to the same side over and over again, you definitely move outside this actual plane a bit. But for the most part, it’s just straight up sagittal plane motion. So when you only move in one plane, the body becomes really good at moving that plane and same rule, you don’t use it, you lose it. That means we become horrible at jumping jacks, or lateral hops or ice skating or lots of other things that are fun to do when your biological spacesuit is functioning properly.
Colby Pearce 1:46:44
Also, cycling gives us weak ankles. I see this over and over again in the movement screens I do but for my fits. Remarkably poor balance. People think that they have good balance on a bike but more commonly we have dreadful balance, especially on one leg and guess what Cycling is primarily a power sport where you are required to generate power unilaterally with one leg. And it gives us weak stabilizers. What do we mean by that? Well, in particular hip stabilizers, we have all these prime movers that are trained constantly by cycling, you know, the VMO, the rectus femoris, the quad, all the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the glutes, if your bike setup right, you’re using them please. And your calf muscles, lower leg gastroc soleus all these muscles are trained and when they fatigue or under any kind of crazy load at all. We want them to be stabilized. We want the motion to be organized so you’re not leaking torque from the joints. As Kelly Starrett would say you’re not. Um, you’re not disorganized in your movement that helps protect knee tracking helps reduce pronation or collapse towards the midline of the body, which leaks torque and causes inefficiencies or worse case it causes injuries. on particular the knees are pretty easy target for this one. stabilizers help without a lot. So cycling requires these hip stabilizers, and ankle stabilizers but it doesn’t train them. It makes them weaker over time, they’ll get weaker. So it’s this is one little dark black hole of negative feedback we get in cycling one of several. And I’m sorry, cycling I’m beating you up so hard right now you’re going to come back and take a swing at me, I’m sure of it.
Colby Pearce 1:48:32
quad dominance. This one’s really an easy one, but most many cyclists are quad dominant. How do you know if your quad dominant? Well, go for a bike ride, ride for 45 minutes and then pick a short steep hill and ride as fast as you can up this hill. We’ll call it anywhere from 45 seconds to four minutes in duration, and stay seated the entire time. What muscle hurts the most? And if the answer is my quads, Then your quad dominant, pretty simple. When you’re seated, what we want to do is distribute the load over all the lower body musculature. When you have a rate limiting factor of one muscle group, then you’re limiting your performance. This goes into my hierarchy model. Ichabod Crane posture. This is what I like to call it when riders have high focus or forward head posture, the craning of the neck to see up the road, that cranking of the cervical vertebra, the hunting of the spine, the rounding of the shoulders, the shoulders being pinned forward towards your nipples. This is well just not pleasant to look at. And it’s also really bad for your your body. You know, for every about two and a half centimeters of forward head carried carriage you have meaning forward of the midline, your head effectively increases the weight that you’re in neck muscles have to carry by about 10 pounds. So if you’ve got a few centimeters of that going on, you quickly add load to your neck extensors very quickly. And you’re chronically carrying that if you’re walking around with your head poking forward all the time, then that’s a big load on your body and stress on the system that can also play into breathing dysfunction. Cycling tends to disconnect segments of the body kind of break them down into zip codes. Because we want to ride with a still upper body so frequently, we can be so focused on leg strength, that we can lose that tensegrity or global tension in the system that allows us to distribute stress over multiple aspects of the body, right tensegrity can be thought of like a bike wheel. So when you’re riding and you hit a pothole, if The wheel works correctly and the spokes are tension properly. All the spokes and the rim and the hub together distribute or dissipate the stress of that impact. Now, if you hit a big enough bump and you crack the rim, or flat your tire, then you’re changing your tire or calling an Uber. But if your wheel works properly in the holes not too obnoxious, Li big, then the stress is distributed throughout the wheel. This is tensegrity. And this means that any individual component of the system is not that strong, but together. Because of the structure, the geometric structure of the system. The stress can be dissipated throughout all aspects of it. The load is carried by all the spokes and the rim and the hub together. And together those items make a good structure. That’s tensegrity. And this is what the body can do with load, not impact load but exercise load when it’s used properly. And this is a good example of one reason why for a maximum effort at the top of a steep climb for example, riders will stand out of the saddle You’re simply removing the load or you’re migrating the load of pedaling from exclusively the lower body, you’re distributing the stress to a wider system. But if that system lacks the facile tension to distribute that load properly, then all that happens is excuse me, the body twists under load it warps under load the hips, twist, the rib cage, twist the spine rolls, and you can see the rider trying so hard to push on those pedals. But force isn’t going into the bike effectively.
Colby Pearce 1:52:35
Cycling is the most destructive of all the repetitive Endurance Sports compared to cross country skiing, swimming, running. I mean, the injury rates very high in running. Don’t get me wrong, but Cycling is the worst man at it. It takes our general athletic ability into shrinks and shrinks it and we become these little Ichabod Crane bike riders who walk around like we have question mark shapes minds. We have huge aerobic capacities. And that’s an asset to the sport to degree. But there’s a downside to that too. I mean, look at Chris case, his book that he wrote with Leonard about the haywire heart.
Colby Pearce 1:53:18
And what physiologically, physiologically what were we meant to do run and walk well, running for short periods of time, not running for hours and hours and hours on end. So if you’re one of those people who has an ingrained belief system that you need air quotes to ride your bike for 22 hours a week or you’re not going to be worthy of what success prays love in your life. I would invite you to take a look at that belief system that you’ve chosen to adopt, what are you running from? Are you running from your own past? Are you running from your own truth, row and shadow Something you don’t want to look at. A lot of endurance athletes are running, metaphorically cycling away from their problems, burying their stress and their deeper issues with exercise or exorcising their demons. Are you in this category? sport is about relationship Cycling is about right relationship. So please dig deeper. think more critically about your behaviors. Stop being so Labrador like just because the balls being thrown down the yard doesn’t mean you have to go chase it in a million miles an hour until your feet are bloody stumps.
Colby Pearce 1:54:39
I said briefly before I started that last section, but I don’t really think that was brief. Hope you’re into the long format. Thank you. This is what I got. I need to get it out of my skull.
Mental aspects of cycling
Colby Pearce 1:54:53
mental aspects I do ensure you this section is less lengthy than the physical, mental aspects of cycling that are, hmm. required? No, it’s a strong word recommended no that would imply that I think you should be anything other than you are, we’ll say mental aspects of a cyclist who wants to express their highest inner potential. We need a tactical mind, a mind that is capable of seeing the tactics of a bike race and analyzing them but just as our teeter totter cyclocross model explained, how cycling on the physical level requires both a high level of output meaning very high power, while at the same time maintaining the ability to have some level of skill. A tactical mind must also be able to look at a race and understand what’s happening rationally while at the same time producing that high level of effort. So this is your cresting the top of an exposed climb. And there’s a When you have enough presence of mind to understand that you should be on the right side of the rider in front of you not the left, because you’re getting that tiny bit of draft, or tactically, astutely observing that you’ve got just enough sprint left in your legs over the top to close that gap before becomes un-closable.
Colby Pearce 1:56:27
Being able to understand why teams are chasing, or why your teammates shouldn’t be on the front and go talk to him or her, what teams are trying to control the race in what ways using the analytical mind to understand how the race is developing and think about when a good place to attack would be or when a pointless place to attack would be.
Colby Pearce 1:56:49
And this comes down to the balance of thinking and feeling or logic and intuition, or yin and yang or left and right brain because I know there are moments In my race when my racing career, my racing career, I don’t like the word career careers implies that I’m someone famous. My racing history will say, where I did have a strong, powerful intuition, the rational mind was speaking, and the dialogue was happening. But also, I just knew that things were gonna happen in a certain way. And I’m sure some of you will identify with this experience. For example, you start a race and there are the field gets whipped into a frenzy. It’s just an angry wasp nest of attacks and people are going and going and attacking and attacking and riders are falling riders are falling before whatever reason, you know, that’s not what you need to be doing right now. You’re just following 20th wheel you’re observing, you’re waiting. And I’ve even had some moments of my, my racing history where people have come up to me teammates have said, What are you doing? We’re supposed to be covering attacks. And I don’t know what I said. I probably didn’t say anything. What then I just knew. It’s like that intuitive lightning bolt hits you and your spines a little straighter and your cores a little more engaged and you go, this is the one and you follow one attack out of 56 consecutive attacks, and that’s the one that gets separation. And then after the race people go, How the hell did you do that? And the answer at the time was, I don’t know. Now I do know the answer. The answer is I was using both sides of my intelligence, my brain logic and intuition. I was channeling I was the hollow bone. I was allowing the spirit of the moment to come through me as a conduit and I was intuiting what was going to happen while at the same time, not abandoning the rational mind. Some people might call this flow state. That’s what happened. There are other days where I got it disastrously wrong. And I followed 36 attacks in a row and 37th. One was the one that went, or I just didn’t have legs fall any attacks and was hanging on for dear life. Or I was quite certain that attacks number 419 46 and one on one, we’re going to be the ones and in fact, no brick way ever went, etc., ad infinitum.
Colby Pearce 1:59:19
This is the beauty of bike racing. This is why we can’t have too much of a plan going into a race because every race is a whiteboard, and we never quite know what we’re going to get. This is why people sign up for bike races because we knew we were going to get we just have an Ergo test. And you’d go My view is highest so I want but where’s the fun in that? I want to see people deal with their flat tires and deal with their dropped water bottles and deal with the horse in the middle of the peloton and all the unpredictable things that we can’t decide on or can’t predict. can’t anticipate. There’s the word I was looking for.
Colby Pearce 2:00:03
We also need mentally the ability to have perspective in the race. And that can mean several things. We need to recognize that racing in competition is an artificial environment. We all signed a waiver, we all shake hands, shook hands, at least on a gentlemanly philosophical level, because when we sign that waiver, and pin on a number, we all agreed, we’re agreeing, we were signing up for the rules. And we know where the finish line is, well, hopefully, and we’re going to be a bit within the boundaries of decency and safety, respect for each other’s health. We’re going to be very competitive and spirited and try to beat each other in line and then afterwards, we can shake hands and laugh about it. Hopefully, that’s the proper way to compete. But that also should be a constant reminder to keep that perspective in mind. It’s an art it’s an artificial environment.
Colby Pearce 2:01:00
That means that anything that happens in the world of bike racing actually doesn’t have much significance in the rest of your life. The exception to that being if you’re a professional and you’re talking about a race victory or a contract, that’s going to have a lasting implication on your lifestyle and those of your loved ones. So if you’re racing to earn your place in the pro tour, or you are racing to win a race, that competition that will have a significant financial impact on the rest of your life, then that’s different. Like, look, that’s point 05 percent, if that of all races and all racers, even for those at that level, most of the races don’t have that kind of lasting impact or a significant tilt on things. So what I’m saying is take a moment to Have a deep breath and look at your race and think about it and understand that what happens here really won’t have lasting ramifications. Whether you get third or eighth in that weekend criterium in the Masters 35 plus category for race. While it seems like a very important thing at the time, and it is important, I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s thought goals. I’m the world’s biggest bike dork here, like keep that in mind. But I think at moments we can all benefit from having just a little bit of perspective. And understanding that the stakes aren’t quite as high as maybe our reptile brain makes them out to be. Right.
Colby Pearce 2:02:45
Also think like a team member, when like an individual. As fathers used to say, Cycling is a team sport where an individual wins. So Cycling is a bit unusual in that respect. Most team sports are team sports and Most other sports are individual sports. Cycling blends the two in a weird way. That means there’s going to be some weird, awkward tension at times do I lead my teammate out for the sprint? Or do I go for it myself? Do I attack in the end of the race? Or do I intentionally hold back to help my GC rider, make it to the line? Do I attack and blow the group apart when I think it might end up making mounting may get dropped? So we need to have mental perspective and clarity and lessons in this respect
Colby Pearce 2:03:34
from an emotional perspective. We also just need to simply learn from our mistakes, take them forward but evolve. Or as Paul would say, He always talks about how you would like to rephrase our terminology instead of there being winners and losers in sport, there should be winners and learners. And that sounds a little bit like a motivational cat poster but I still love it because man, it took me a long time to learn this lesson. I was such a pouty, crybaby when I would get my ass kicked and races when I was younger. It took forever for me to get over it. So mopey and so crushed. And I’m so glad that I moved on from that phase. But I’m not faulting anyone who gets bummed out after a bike race. But I also want you to keep in mind this goes back to the perspective, like Please, no matter how big your bike race was, it was still a bike race, still just a bike race. And try to try to appreciate that, um, because the reality is we should all be approaching this sport. I think, here’s that should word again. from a perspective of gratitude. The fact is, the ability we have, the opportunity we are taking to compete is an opportunity of Well, luxury really, because there are a lot of people in the world who do not have the financial means the time, the health, the mental clarity, the physical ability to compete, or even just the logistical ability. I mean, there are lots of people live in lots of places the world there is no such thing as bike racing.
Colby Pearce 2:05:20
So, just I think it’s worth examining all the things we have the gratitude we can have for our little happy bike racing lives. That alone can make the competitive experience so joyful, even if you get smoked in your bike race.
Colby Pearce 2:05:40
The last part of this section is intuition. And I’m not going to unpack this fully in this podcast because it will get a lot of unpacking and in a future episode I will do it’ll be titled something like right relationship with technology, which is a huge topic in our sport right now. This is part of the depth of technique in cycling, the focus on FTP, the focus on power and metrics and watts, the engineering aspect of things. And what are we doing? When we focus a bit too much on that side of the spectrum, we lose our intuition. Look, I mean, there are lots of bike races that have been one with no hurry monitors and no power meters. And what I would like people to understand is when you have power as an end goal, you are going to go and just say it, you’re doing it wrong. I don’t like the word that you use that word very often. You are using your relationship with a power meter is suboptimal? We’ll see it that way.
Colby Pearce 2:06:41
Why? Because power is not an end goal for competitive cyclists, nor should it be it’s a metric we use to help us triangulate our position. We’re trying to figure out what’s actually happening in the human body. We’re trying to have an insight into the fractal the black box training program. The problem of how we, the result we get when we put an input in what is training, it’s a black box issue. It’s a black box problem, you give a rider, a training input, and then something happens in the middle, and then an output comes out. Now, it’s not to say that that’s random. It’s not. It’s just that we don’t know all the variables that go on in there, all the biochemical responses and reactions, all the hormonal reactions, all the physics that goes on in a bike race that determine how you got beat in that sprint. We don’t have a model yet for every molecule of air that came around you and hit your wheel more than the other riders, or whatever determine the outcome by three millimeters, or photo finish.
Colby Pearce 2:07:40
So what can you control? What are we trying to do? We’re trying to refine our intuition. We’re trying to know in a key moment of a bike race, how well do you understand your own body? How many bullets do you have left? And I don’t mean the number of cages of FRC. I mean, when that rider attacks you on the hill? Do you shift down three cogs and stand up and match that acceleration or not? Do you think you can make it to the line solo or not? Can you cross that gap or not? How many more attacks do you have in your legs? Do you need to drink the rest of your bid now or in half an hour? What are your blood sugar levels? I don’t need a permanent insulin measuring device stuck in my skin to tell me that it can. But really, if I use it, I’ll use it as a way to craft my understanding. Really, what I want to do is no internally, my blood sugar’s low, I need to eat a banana. That’s the end goal of technology. That’s the intuition. We’re trying to refine by using these metrics. And ultimately, that’s what a good bike rider has is a strong sense of intuition to know themselves as an athlete.
Colby Pearce 2:08:58
This comes down to all things fuel hydration decisive decision making at the key moment of a race, your own internal tachometer, how hard Am I going? How many points left? Do I have? Can I make it on this guy’s wheel to the top of this climb? I’ve got a can have to go. And I’m already breathing through every orifice. How much deeper can I go?
Colby Pearce 2:09:23
Good, you made it so far. And yet there’s a little bit more to go. I’d like to talk about this hierarchy of performance factors.
Colby Pearce 2:09:32
This is inspired by Paul Cheks totem pole. It represents a it actually is a drawing of a totem pole with different things on it, and it’s the fundamentals that keep an organism alive. And we’ll put a link to this in the podcast notes so you can see what I’m talking about. But it’s a pretty cool concept. Keeping in mind that the body is a cybernetic organism or a system of systems.
Colby Pearce 2:10:07
I hope you found this exploration on the fundamentals of cycling useful, it probably went in a lot of different rabbit holes that you may have not expected whether or not those were useful. I don’t know, but I hope they were. And if you have questions or comments, feel free to reach out. I’ll put my email in the show notes. You can comment your heart’s delight. Have a lovely day. Thanks for listening. I’m Colby Pearson signing off.
Colby Pearce 2:10:40
Listen up monkeys. The thoughts and opinions expressed on this podcast are those of the guests or me. They do not represent Fast Talk Labs, Fast talk, Chris case, Trevor Connor, Santa Claus or anyone else. Thanks.