Back pain is one of the most common complaints from cyclists when they’re racing or doing long rides. General soreness is common and if you’re in a race, often the pain starts to peak right when you need to be at your best. If you’ve missed a podium because your back was fighting you, then you’re not alone.
But, what should you do about it? The old school answer of “just ride through it until it stops hurting” is just that – old school. Yes, you might be able to train away some of the pain, but the weaknesses, imbalances, and poor muscle firing patterns will still be there.
So, today, we throw this problem at Jeff Hoobler, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Muscle Activation Techniques therapist at Apex Coaching. Jeff discusses the fact that cycling is a repetitive pattern sport – meaning we tend to do the same movement over and over. This leads to imbalances, and issues with neuromuscular coordination and rotary firing patterns. Don’t worry, he explains what all of these terms mean and why they’re so important to cyclists.
The team also asks him how to improve our neuromuscular firing patterns, including: why we should be careful with static stretching and the importance of building a five to ten minute off-the-bike movement routine. Jeff answers all of these questions with the goal of keeping the back pain-free in mind.
We’ve talked about these issues on the show in the past, but we’ve never dedicated a whole episode to it, nor have we covered it this thoroughly with an expert like Jeff. If you’re concerned about staying healthy and functional on the bike for decades to come, this is not one to miss.
So, get in a couple side and front planks before listening, and then let’s make you fast!
Griffin McMath 00:04
Hello and welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m Griffin McMath and today’s show is hosted by coaches Robert Pickels and Grant Holicky.
Griffin McMath 00:13
Back pain is one of the most common complaints of cyclists when they race or do long rides. It just gets sore. And if you’re in a race, often it’s hurting you right when you need to be at your best. If you’ve missed a podium because your back was fighting you, then you’re in good company. But what do you do about it? The old school answer of just ride through it until it stops hurting is just that old school. Yes, you can train away the pain. But the weaknesses, imbalances and poor muscle firing patterns are still there.
Griffin McMath 00:42
So today, our hosts throw that question at Jeff Hoobler, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and muscle activation technique therapist at Apex coaching. Jeff discusses with us the fact that cycling is a repetitive pattern sport, meaning we tend to do the same movement that leads to imbalances issues with neuromuscular coordination, and rotary firing patterns. Don’t worry, he’ll explain what all those terms mean and why they’re so important to cyclists. But team will also ask him how to improve our neuromuscular firing patterns, including why we should be careful with static stretching, and the importance of building a five to 10 minute off the bike movement routine, all with the idea of keeping the back pain free in mind.
Griffin McMath 01:24
We’ve talked about these issues on the show in the past, but we’ve never dedicated a whole episode to it. Nor have we covered it this thoroughly with an expert like Jeff, if you’re concerned about staying healthy and functional on the bike for decades to come. This is not one to miss. So get in a couple of side and front planks before listening. And then let’s make you fast.
Jeff Hoobler 01:45
Listeners, this is a great time of year to expand your training knowledge join fast talk laboratories now for the best knowledge base of training signs on topics like polarized training, intervals, data analysis, sports, nutrition, physiology, and more. Join fast talk labs today and push your thinking and your training to all new heights. See more at fast talk labs.com/join.
Grant Holicky 02:12
Everybody so what we wanted to spend some time talking about is something that is pretty relevant to just about any cyclist I’ve ever met. As you all know, I come more from the cyclocross world. And this is just omnipresent in cyclocross, low back pain.
Rob Pickels 02:28
It’s like pandemic level.
Grant Holicky 02:29
Yeah, it’s across the board. And you know, we joke a lot of the time that people come out of rides and said, My back hurt. And Pete Weber, who has run boulder Junior cycling forever, his comment has always been well, it’s crush your back always hurt. Of course, if it hurts a lot, you probably did poorly. If it doesn’t hurt that much probably did well. But it’s something that I don’t know, we spend a lot of time on the show talking about. So we wanted to bring somebody in who is I would say an expert in this category. And an old friend of ours, Jeff hoobler. Jeff, welcome to the show. Thanks
Jeff Hoobler 03:00
for inviting me. It’s great to be here. And it’s good to be back in the game with you.
Grant Holicky 03:05
Yeah, it’s kind of been a minute. Yeah, we’re excited to have you here. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, and specifically, how it relates to this subject of back pain and cycling. So
Jeff Hoobler 03:17
my story goes back quite a long time, several years 30 Plus, and I’m a strength and conditioning coach. I do foundations training, I do muscle activation techniques. So I’m well versed in how the body moves. But my background comes from field sports, and multi directional movement and that kind of thing. So fast forward to the last dozen, 20 years. While those go by fast, where it’s been more endurance and linear patterns. I’ve noticed in myself, as well as other people that we tend to have a lot of pattern overload. And that’s kind of where I think we’re gonna get into today, like looking at, for instance, a rugby game, or a hockey game or field hockey, where there’s so much lateral movement, and there’s constant crossover, multi directional stuff versus swimming, cycling, running is all linear. And those pattern overloads tend to intensify or concentrate strain and stress in small areas. Yeah, it
Rob Pickels 04:21
is a pretty unique thing about all the sports that are relevant to this podcast, endurance sports in general. And even I’ll say, even Nordic skiing, even though there’s a bit of a lateral component, there it is, for the most part, a very linear, at the very least, a very repetitive motion. And so, you know, ultimately, I think that there’s a little bit of a balance, but even Nordic skiers are going to run into a lot of these same repetitive, that are going to cause issues in particular areas. And so I’m glad that we’re talking about it today. Yeah,
Grant Holicky 04:49
and one thing we want to note, we’re gonna kind of start this off, we’re talking about muscle pain. We’re not talking about nerve pain. So if you have a sharp pain through your low back or through a leg or something along those lines, so something very, very different. Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff Hoobler 05:01
The muscle pain is generally dull, achy, and you know the difference sharp pains, it sharp and radiates. Yeah, don’t mess with that. That’s something to get checked out right away.
Grant Holicky 05:12
Yeah. And so, you know, I tend to talk about this a lot with my riders, and I oversimplify it. But one of the things that I’ll talk about, and I think this is a nice jumping off point, the glute, your but your powers so much of what we do across all sports, but in cycling, you know, it’s the wattage cottage, that’s where the power is coming from, right, this is what we’re doing when your glutes aren’t activated in our start to fall apart, they can’t stabilize the hips anymore, they’re focused on putting out that power, they’re not going to stabilize the hips and your your pelvis starts to move. And among other things, but this is a nice place to start, because I think there’s some place that everybody can relate to your pelvis starts to move. And now those muscles of your low back now are being asked to not just stabilize your core, but now we got to keep the pelvis. Yeah. And they fall apart really quickly. And
Rob Pickels 06:02
before we get too deep, let’s even just talk about what you mean by not activating, let’s start at the very, very beginning, and then lead in.
Jeff Hoobler 06:10
Yeah, let me paint a picture real quick. And let’s think about this as they are the old would you rather lie on a bed of needles? Or one? Right? Right. So it’s distribution of load, and what you’re saying with your glutes, you know, there’s multiple roles that each of these muscles take on. But let me back it up. Again, Rob, just think about this, like you were talking about stabilizing rent is, you know, the bottom bracket of your bike, that’s where you want it solid. If you have a washy bottom bracket, you’re losing power, right. And you think about your lumbar pelvis area of being the bottom bracket, if your bike, you know, you actually have through your lumbar spine that throttle lumbar fascia, which looks like a big ol spiderweb. And so there’s a concentration right in there. And if you start to take pieces of that web away, you get more concentration in one area, which leads to irritability, etc, etc. And there’s a lot of different reasons that that can happen. It’s not just weakness or activation.
Grant Holicky 07:16
So we’ve mentioned the glutes failing a little bit. We’ve mentioned activation, let’s take a step back and go broader question. What makes our back hurt on the bike? Wow, that’s
Jeff Hoobler 07:26
a big question. But it’s a great question. And it’s relevant, because it’s different in every person. You know, we’ve talked about what happens inside the body, whether it’s, you know, muscles not firing properly, or load distribution already. We’ve talked about pattern overload. We also need to mention what you’re doing on the bike like cadence. Are you Grinding Gears? are you climbing a lot? Are you thrown on the bike side to size is your fit off? All of those things can definitely have an effect on back pain. But I think where we really want to focus is what can we do as a human as an athlete? First to take care of our own body, and then look at the pieces of equipment that we apply that to Yeah, I
Grant Holicky 08:15
like that. I like I mean, taking that step back, because off the bike, we’re all humans and back pains, a major issue off the bike for everybody, too. So if we can take care of ourselves as people, then we can look specifically at what we’re trying to do on the bike. Yeah. So let’s do that as a jumping off point. Why is back pain ubiquitous across the whole population? Not just sport?
Jeff Hoobler 08:37
Yeah, in my opinion, there’s two or three things that are really common. One is definitely pattern overload, right? So not distributing load properly, and having a load concentrated on one or two or three muscles, increasing the strain. But why does that happen? Could have been an injury from a long time ago, it could be small, repetitive patterns, cycling, 100,000 revolutions, you know, in a month running, you know, little things that kind of gradually build over time. That’s where I see most of the problems, acute injuries, like, oh, wow, this ladder fell on me. Right? You know, you know what it happened? Exactly. You can kind of work your way out of it. But oftentimes, those things get ignored, or we’re like, oh, we’re good. And we just keep going. And you know, it’s like run in your car with bad alignment, the tires are gonna wear down and at some point, you’re gonna have a problem. And it seems pretty acute in the time, but it built up over a long period of time. Then I think that there’s this other factor that we can dig into more, and it’s really about I think you mentioned it Rob is coordination and neuromuscular coordination. So if we step back, we have this beautiful skeleton that’s full of bones, right? It’s like leaves, Lincoln Logs. And then we have muscle tissue and fascial tissue that’s like little rubber bands or sheets that hold this thing together, right. And then we have the nervous system. This is the software that’s telling the muscles what to do. And those muscles then create a stable or unstable structure. And so there’s this coordinated effort between the nervous system, the muscular system, and skeletal system. And all of those things have to work in concert. And back to the question, why do we have back pain, usually, it’s a dysfunctional pattern. Why you have that dysfunctional pattern could be different in everybody. One thing, it could be poor breathing, could be dysfunctional breathing, where we’re just really into the chest breath, and we breathe up into our neck, and we’re not creating space. It could be fatigue, right? If you’re doing a long gravel race, which I don’t know any gravel races that aren’t long, right? But you cross Exactly. cyclocross over and over and over. And if you’ve got, you know, let’s take another analogy, let’s take soccer, right, we’ve got 11 people on the field. And for whatever reason, you’ve got four yellow cards, and you got four people on the bench. Now the seven that are still on the field are going to be really irate, they’re going to be upset, and they’re probably get another one, right, you got another one on the bench. Now you can give them orange slices at halftime, and you can give them water and pat them on the back. But until you get the five off the bench, we’re not going to have a synchronous team. And that’s kind of the way I look at this load distribution coordination through the body.
Rob Pickels 11:45
Well, and we have to remember, the body is intrinsically lazy, right, our resources are limited. And the body is really good at turning off things it doesn’t deem necessary, it’s not going to do any extra work, it’s not going to build up any patterns, just in case I get chased by a saber toothed Tiger, I’m going to make sure but as you were saying, Jeff, that continuous overload is essentially telling the body Hey, you only got one pattern, you got to worry about, turn everything else off, it’s not as important and that ultimately leads to dysfunction. When we put ourselves either in a new situation or a longer duration or whatever else. Well,
Grant Holicky 12:22
I think this is important to realize that the new situation or a different situation for a cyclist or runner might be picking something up off the floor, every Yeah. We this side to side, as you were talking about the the side to side movement that doesn’t exist in this sport that we have a repetitive pattern over does exist in life. Now, I can’t tell you how many times I used to listen to a swimmer ago, you know, I was reaching in the back seat, and I grabbed something and I’m pulling in a way trying to pull to the front, oh my God, my shoulder is killing me like your shoulder don’t want to do that. Right? It only wants to do this. One thing that I kind of want to touch base on when we start talking about the rest of life, right. And so many of us and as masters athletes, but even the professional cyclists now is doing other work. We’re all sitting here right now, in this place where you know, we’re, we’re squared off at the hips, we’re usually crunched over a little bit, we’re leaning on a table. You know, your mom used to say to you posture when you were sitting at the dinner table when you were eight, but nobody says that to us anymore. So how we work or sit on the couch watching TV or the killer driving in your car. Right? So what are those things doing to our body? And how does cycling or running help that or exacerbate that? Yeah,
Jeff Hoobler 13:45
that’s a really great analogy. And you know, I like to think of this in terms of tension and slack. So imagine you have a rubber band and you’ve got it in two hands. And you’re pulling it and it’s got a little bit of tension on it, it can pull you let go of it, it’s going to snap, right. But if you create the slack, and you let go, it doesn’t do anything. It’s limp, right? So in a sense, that’s what’s happening to muscles when they’re either not activated or not properly tensioned. So if we talk about these repetitive patterns of sitting, I’m not even talking about on your bike, but sitting in the office or driving in the car. We are constantly in this passive FLACS state where there’s no tension. So if there’s no tension in one space, there’s got to be more tension somewhere else. Right and just in terms of two sides of a joint and there’s arguably, it’s not sides, right? It’s cylindrical, right? And we have, we have multiple muscles, but anyway, when muscles aren’t tensioned properly, they can’t fire properly and it goes into like muscle spindle length and senses, you know, muscle spindles an organ that senses lengthen tension, right. And when it’s downregulated, it can’t do its job properly, there’s
Rob Pickels 15:13
a delay. And to put that, you know, into sizable chunks for people, when you’re stretching, right, you’re holding a static stretch is the muscle spindle that’s detecting I have a constant load, I need to eventually tell this muscle to relax. And that’s where you get the additional length that you’re able to stretch your hamstring a little bit further, by another way a muscle spindle works is this, if you’re standing up and you have your eyes closed, you have your arms outstretched in front of you, and somebody drops a heavy book into your hand, that muscle spindle will detect that stretch. And before you even think about it, you don’t even know that something’s happening, you automatically stiffen up your bicep and you stop that book from falling to the ground, you catch it, right. And so that is how the spindle is really important in the body. And we can even use this in some lifting techniques, right to get a little bit of extra force, right? So it’s really important that spindles are working appropriately, and that the muscle is activating appropriately because you start turning these switches on and off, just by your daily habits, it really can change your muscle function. Yeah,
Jeff Hoobler 16:21
that’s an excellent example, Rob. And I find that when we do these repetitive patterns, sitting is a great example, we are automatically downregulating, all those muscles that are on Slack. And NIMH when we stand up and ask them to do something, they’re like, sorry, I’m on vacation. You know, you just told me I’m not going to have to do anything. I’m just gonna relax. Right? So that is one of the factors that I think that really contributes to this because we go from the office, and then we go jump on the bike, and we try to do stuff really quick. And we miss in that step of, hey, let’s ask our body to get ready to do this thing. Before we do the thing, right?
Grant Holicky 16:59
So you’re sitting in a chair, you’re sitting in your car, the front side of your body through your hips is very, very slack, we are creating tension. Now, in some of those places that were talking about needing low back glute. Some of those things is that am I on the right track here? Yeah. And so now we want to go get on the bike, or we want to go for a run, we want to ask our body to balance out. And typically we don’t. And I don’t know if you’ve ever started to try to go for a run right off literally off the couch. I run like an old man, right? My butt’s out, I’m crunched over, and I can’t get my hips forward. It takes me a while to get
Rob Pickels 17:35
this is every triathlete getting off the bike and the first quarter mile of the run, right? Like you need a cane? Absolutely. At least you feel like you need
Grant Holicky 17:45
to try. So what do we do? What do we do about this in the short term is the one thing I want to talk about. And this is where we come back to activation and what that means. And then in the long term, how do we deal with that going forward, but let’s look at activation first,
Jeff Hoobler 18:00
yeah, activation. So we’ve talked about these, essentially three components that we’re using nervous system, muscle bones, right. And that nervous system is super important. So if we’re coming off the couch, we need to let our body know, hey, you’re getting ready to do some activity, right? And there’s many different ways to do activation. And we’re going to talk about that a little bit more in depth in just a moment. But what we need to think about is, what are we going to ask the body to do? Are we going to ask it to relax? Or are we going to ask it to elevate and that has to do with synthetic repairs, parasympathetic nervous system. So let’s just take one example, I think you brought this up ROM is a static stretch, we often do a static stretch, well, a static stretch is static, you’re not moving. So the message to the muscle right there is take a vacation. Let’s go to bed. Now. Don’t get up and then go run 100 meters, because you’re probably going to pull something right. So we want to flip that switch. So what do we do, we start to intentionally connect with the muscles that we want to use. And then we start to warm them up or activate. And there’s different ways to activate, you know, in a healthy human and you don’t have some issue that you have to compensate for. A good way to warm up the hamstrings is to do some kind of recoil, gentle recoil, gradually increasing speed. I’m sure in swimming, you do something, you know, with the shoulders, and then gradually increase the speed. So you’re telling that body hey, let’s get ready to rock and roll.
Rob Pickels 19:35
And so you’re you’re saying something like a dynamic legs swing is a better way to get the hamstring ready than a static stretch, static stretch and you’re you know, starting out slow and then ramping up maybe the range of motion you’re going through and the speed with which you’re doing
Grant Holicky 19:50
- Yeah, this was always the thing in swimming that we would play that I would play around with was I would watch people Stretch, stretch, stretch, stretch, stretch, jump in the pool now and warmup for a lot of programs isn’t warm up, it’s like you get 200 minutes into the main set. So we would play around with simple things like arm swings or band work, and then take our time through that warmup. And I think that’s something that people really miss with activity, a little walking. Yeah, little, you know, touch the toe and recoil, slow pedaling, as you come out at a high cadence, try to get things fired up. These are things that you can do to get things moving. And when swimming, we would go through the warmup set twice. And the first round, I was like, get here, just mentally and physically get here, you’ve been at school all day, you’ve been sitting in a chair, think about your body, think about what it feels get here. Second set, start moving. Yeah.
Rob Pickels 20:40
And something that I think that we need to consider, right is that we’re not talking about just a warm up, right, this is not riding the trainer at 100 Watts before you do your set. This is these are specific movements that are thoughtfully chosen to address a deficiency, or a weakness or a movement pattern disorder. And to try to get the body working correctly, not necessarily just raise your temperature and your heart rate. Yeah,
Jeff Hoobler 21:11
and let’s take it from there, let’s give you one really simple thing to do. And let’s just assuming you don’t have any dysfunction, before you get on your bike, squat down four or five times and get back up just slow. Bring your knee up towards your nose a few times, you know, just move before you get on the bike. Now let’s take it a little bit further. Like let’s say you do have a pattern dysfunction, like okay, my glutes not firing, everybody has been told that by now. Right? Right? your glutes not firing or your so as in fire or whatever it might be. And, you know, if you truly have some kind of chronic issue that you’ve been dealing with, go see a professional, go see a physical therapist, go see somebody who can sort that out for you and give you some actionable feedback. Let’s take that activation piece. And now say we’re generally healthy population. This is what I do with well, actually all of my clients is I have a daily mobility routine takes 12 minutes if that. And it focuses on rotational stability, posterior chain stability, and firing, anterior chain stability, lateral chain stability, and then gentle movement patterns. Now we’ve kind of jumped ahead because we didn’t really talk about some of these muscles that we want to include here. But just a daily routine to intentionally activate the muscles that we want to use.
Grant Holicky 22:44
Now we’re not and we’re not talking about lifting, we’re not talking about something you need to have a separate change of clothes and take a shower after this is something you can just get up out of bed literally or off the couch or out of the car and go and you can shorten it, it might be 12, it could be five, it could be two, but if you’re moving, this is going to help solve some of those deficiencies as you go into what we’ve already noted is a repetitive movement pattern on the bike or in the runner and this one
Rob Pickels 23:10
will grant some of us were real pants all the time. And so you might have to change into something a little bit more you’re gonna go in your pajamas
Grant Holicky 23:20
would just be the record when I walked in today, this is an important relevant piece I haven’t seen Jeff face to face in over a year. I don’t think Rob made a comment on what I’m wearing and Jeff yelled from the back having not seen me is he in shorts and flip flops? And the answer is yes, exactly what I’m wearing on December 21, four days
Grant Holicky 23:43
Jeff Hoobler 23:44
he be who you are, who you are.
Trevor Connor 23:48
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Jeff Hoobler 24:31
I wanted to bring up a couple other things. So we’ve talked about pattern overloads. We’ve talked about muscles not firing, you know, activation. I think there’s one other thing that we need to realize and we kind of hinted about it earlier, is this rotary stability. Right? And what does that mean? It means the ability to control rotation or counteract rotation. And you know, back to that bottom bracket analogy, you’re pushing on a pedal, right? Mm. It’s one side, but it’s been distributed through this center piece and the load goes back and forth and back and forth. So in the sense of your body, your pelvis and lumbar spine, or that rotary component, people will call that the core, right, which I call the C word because nobody really knows or defines what the core is. But obviously, that there, but when you pedal, you don’t pedal with both legs at the same time you pedal with one, right? So you have to counter that rotation. And the primary muscles that do that are transverse abdominus. So as internal and external obliques, QL, Quadratus, lumborum, right. And you know, then you have got your spinal, erectors, multifidus, Lucas, Dallas, bananalicious, blah, blah, blah. So there’s a lot of stuff going on here. And then down below the hips, we got this, you know, these glutes, these glute Meade, we got TfL or tensor fascia Lata. And what I’m getting at is they’re crossing patterns, right? And they’re rotational, they’re not linear. Right.
Grant Holicky 26:02
And I think that’s a good point. I mean, I think it gets really simplistic when people talk about core, activating your core, do core, everything you talked about above the hits, forms at girdle, basically front to back all the way around that midsection in the abdomen, crunches isn’t going to get everything in that sorted, even planks isn’t going to get everything in that sorted. And then below the hips. These are muscles that we typically think about in terms of our power muscles is how we’re moving the bike. But there’s a huge stability component of what they’re doing, in terms of how we’re riding the bike. Yeah, so this is a good segue, let’s take a moment here and look at strength, what we can do in some of these instances to what’s a normal strength deficiency for an endurance athlete, that might be different for a runner or a cyclist. But I’ll put that question to you first, what do you see typically, in terms of a strength deficiency, or strength issues, for a cyclist or a runner, almost
Jeff Hoobler 26:57
invariably, transverse abdominus is weak or not firing, external obliques, not firing, often. So as and that you know, there’s different reasons for each one of those. But across the board, transverse abdominus is the one that’s the most neglected. And, interestingly, internal obliques, which kind of goes straight down from your last five ribs into the iliac crest. So those are the ones that are bracing that rotational motion.
Rob Pickels 27:27
Yeah, and I want to make a point there, because you’ve now brought it up for the second time. What’s really important when we talk about strength is not necessarily these muscles working, say to provide powerful movement, it’s actually working the opposite. It’s the stability, it’s the prevention of rotation. Because your big strong quads and your big strong glutes are working one side at a time, these muscles need to be resisting that motion. Now, we’re not talking about hitting a home run out of the baseball park and you’re trying to generate all this power using your obliques. It’s very much the opposite and needs to be trained very much the opposite. Absolutely.
Grant Holicky 28:04
And this is a great point. Because I think when we tell cyclists or runners to get into the weight room, or we tell them to lift, yeah, to do core work, right, there’s a lot that’s lost in translation. Here, they see lifting as I’m gonna go do squats. And while there’s relevance there, especially in some of the younger, smaller athletes, and how they fire that, I look at me and Rob, and even you our body types on bikes. We’ve done a lot of that, like, I don’t need to eat Ronger I’m big wool. Speak for yourselves in your jokes.
Rob Pickels 28:40
But even I am but even, you know, Grant grant coming from this when I used to do core, it was this in the same thinking as the heavy squats, right? It was crunch, it was a heavy woodchopper using a high pulley. Right. And that is not what gets us to success.
Grant Holicky 28:58
No. And there’s a place for that in some athletes. Some athletes need that. I mean, I’ve had kids that came at 18 or 19, their sticks, they need hip strength, they need these things. But for a lot of us, that’s not what we need. Well, it’s
Jeff Hoobler 29:10
not the first thing we need. It’s not the first thing we need. And you guys are right on the money. And, and I see this, you know, this is something that’s been a personal journey for me for several years to really work on. I use breathing to access muscles that I find are dormant. There’s some work that Dr. Eric Goodman’s done with foundation training. You know, there’s there’s multiple people that have put this forth. But I think just back to the whole idea, your core is a cylinder, right? You need to work both sides or the entire diameter of that cylinder. And if I can just really quickly, you know, if you’re listening, don’t do this while you’re driving. But if you’re sitting still in your office or standing or whatever, just just take a moment and put your hands on the bottom of your ribcage like put the thumb on the back of your lung was read and put your index finger on the front of your ribs, and just take a deep breath and do your ribs move. Okay? If they do, is it just the ones in the front? Are they expanding upward? Or are you opening those thumbs? And I bet you that 80 to 90% of the people that are doing this are like, wow, they don’t move? Well, yeah, actually, they do. So when we talk about all of the things that can help relieve back pain, we have to tap into all of this source of resources that we have through our body and these muscles back here. So using the breath to identify and reconnect muscles that have been shut down for a long period of time, is one way to create that activation. And the beauty of this is you can do it no matter where you are, you can do it when you’re driving, you can do it when you’re in the line at the grocery store. But he gets the idea, you can do it anywhere, right? And we want to increase this activation, this connectivity of the nervous system and the muscle, and then it becomes in you said this, it becomes involuntary. You don’t have to think about it. It’s there, and you just automatically go to it.
Grant Holicky 31:12
Yeah, and that breathing piece is something we talked about a ton in the pool, and I’ll talk to athletes about it on the bike, you know, it’s one of the big challenges of arrow position on the bike is how do you continue to open up the body and open up the chest and breathe and you can, it just takes awareness and practice, right? And instead of just sitting up on the top bars to get the big breath and opening the jersey because you feel constricted? So you brought it to breathing, which is incredibly relevant in the work you do. And I’ve done that work with you, you know, you’re asking to put the the hands on the ribs and I took a big breath and went Oh, yeah, they both still move. That’s great. Jeff taught me well. And that kind of stuffs really cool. What else can we do from a strength perspective to kind of bolster ourselves as we get older, or as we do more volume on the bike of the run to kind of protect this seaward
Jeff Hoobler 32:05
too, honestly, I think just dedicating a little bit of time every day more than 10 minutes, 15 minutes, doing some bridges on your back, double leg bridge, raise your hips. If you can do that with equal lift on both sides, then you can do a marching bridge, you can go into a single leg bridge. And then you can build that into a single leg bridge with a rotation. So you’re working all of those muscles. You could do a sideline, plank, up on your elbow for lateral stability, you could do an oblique leg lift, which is one of my personal favorites. Where you’re on your hip and you’re lifting your legs Jane Fonda’s No, it was not Jane. Oh God, Jane, it’s Hooper special.
Rob Pickels 32:51
You got hoop, Laura,
Jeff Hoobler 32:53
you know, those are all floor exercises that you can do one in particular, people laugh all the time, because it’s an old wrestling move any wrestlers would know what a sit out is, but you’re on all fours. And then you swing one leg through, but it’s creating this rotational movement where you have to stabilize up top and you have to move down below. So you’re distributing load. So all of these floor movements are great. If you do foundation training, foundation training is great. Just make sure you do it right. There’s a lot of things that you can do, but none of them have to have a load an external load. But if you want to add an external load, sure, just start out small, right? Don’t go nuts. Take your time.
Rob Pickels 33:37
And we’ll get links to examples of these in the show notes for people to hop over to the fast talk labs.com website and make sure
Jeff Hoobler 33:45
that is in his flip flops.
Grant Holicky 33:47
I’ll demonstrate for you my flip flop. One of the things I like about so many of those floor movements is they can double as an activation to you know, you can start your day with this you can also end your ride with these and it has benefit on both sides of the coin. It’s not a huge neuromuscular overload, you’re probably not tapping into a very much fatigue at all when you’re doing these things. But what you’re getting an A benefit had a rider before cyclocross nationals tell me that they incorporated plank, they incorporated some foundations and incorporated bridges into their pre race activation routine. And they said it it changed the game for them now with their back pain.
Rob Pickels 34:29
And I think that you brought up it’s neuromuscular oftentimes, right? And you will perhaps get some hypertrophy of the muscle fibers after a time of doing this. But oftentimes, it’s that neuromuscular connection, that pathway improvement that ultimately improves the movement pattern. And so you’re right, this is not something that’s necessarily fatiguing. It can ultimately be performance improving so you don’t it’s not like you’re doing heavy squats before you go out. Although we did talk about a pre activation like that maybe that’s beneficial to sure we Did
Rob Pickels 35:02
you know but yeah, you get that movement pattern and your body is going to function a lot better, which means you’re putting power down into the pedals in maybe a more efficient manner you’re not getting so your knee waggling inside and out, so on and so forth.
Grant Holicky 35:14
Okay, so that’s a great point. Now, the last place I want to take this, I really want to talk about this is something that doesn’t get talked about very often on the bike at all, which is pedaling technique. And where we could be a creating problems, or be, we have areas of opportunity to get much stronger, get much better or avoid injury. So let’s just start with pedaling on the bike. That’s a big topic. But where do you want to take that out of the gate? Yeah,
Jeff Hoobler 35:40
let’s just get one thing out of here real quick, is crank length, right? Yeah, longer crank lengths make you move more range, right. And if you don’t have the range, it’s going to create a problem. But let’s assume you got the right crank length. Most people over gear, they over gear, it’s a slower, less connected stroke, right? It’s just not smooth, it’s not efficient. And it goes back to the the neuromuscular. And if you don’t train it, it’s not going to be there. So we’ve all known people that do this, you know, you’re cruising along, and they’re dirt a cadence of 65. Right, and then go up hill, and there’s no shift. Right? Right. Right. Big grain grinder. Oh, my back’s hurting. Like, da Yeah, yeah. You know, do you shift down? Yeah, you shift down. But even outside of this, I think that, you know, as a coach, I’m sure you’ve given most of your athletes, canes drills, right? And they’re probably high cadence drills, and like, oh, you know, 110, that’s really hard while you haven’t been doing it, and then there are 130. And then there are 150. And, you know, some of the track riders are like, what you want to 9200 Yeah. And that’s just efficiency in it, you know, we can go into the nervous system, you know, what, what’s firing and whatnot, but it’s really about that muscle being able to turn off and then be able to turn back on, but if you don’t train it, it doesn’t happen. And then you get these compensation patterns. Yeah,
Rob Pickels 37:08
something that’s important to note here, right? When we’re talking about this really low cadence, the duration the muscle is firing for is a lot longer for two different reasons. One, the cadence is slower. So it just takes, frankly, more time to go around. But also, when you’re really grinding through that gear, even if you look at the degrees through which the muscle is firing, it’s actually firing for a longer portion of that pedal stroke. Whereas at the higher cadence, it’s able to turn on and off in much more discreet sort of patterns. And, you know, I think that we do have to recognize, oftentimes, if we’re talking about road riders, maybe there’s more of a choice, mountain bikers, maybe you need to be really good about choosing the gearing for the terrain that you’re on. I will say, I know when I did Pisco stage race, there was steeper climbs than I expected, and I was geared more for Colorado than I was for Pisco and definitely could have gone down a couple teeth. But I do know in cyclocross, oftentimes it’s a choice to stay over geared, right because sometimes it feels better riding on bumpy ground, when you’re pushing a little lower cadence, you’re hovering off the saddle. I know I don’t like to pedal 100 cadence and have my bike be dancing underneath me and it’s bouncing up and down. So to protect our back, we might need to make a conscious choice that might feel unnatural in the moment. Well,
Grant Holicky 38:25
there’s a number of choices there that we have to make. And I think to go to that cyclocross side. This is one of the reasons why a lot of my riders ride double rings. And that’s been poo pooed and cyclocross lighter. How did you ride doubles? Well, first of all, it’s electronic shifting. Now the shift dead on it’s not going to change, it doesn’t fall off. But the range that you’re provided on certain courses is is kind of needed. I want to take a step back here, you know, we talked a little bit about cadence. And I definitely think there’s two things I want to touch on. One is crank length, and I’m just going to touch on it like you did. There’s a misconception that longer cranks tend to have people be in a place where they’re lower cadence and they’re more Mashie that if you shorten the cranks, you’re going to speed up your cadence, that’s actually not that true, it is more about range, it is more about how much you can move through the pattern, which may then in turn, give you an ability to turn a higher cadence. But turning higher cadence takes practice, you have to work on it. Now the other side of that coin is sports specific strength, doing low cadence drills and strength drills purposely in that 50 to 60 cadence RPM range can be very, very beneficial. But now we have to do that with a lot of consciousness on how much movement we have in the hips and the rest of our body. So we can load that pedal stroke, but we have to make sure that we’re keeping everything else stable while we’re loading that pedal stroke, or we’re just going back to everything we’re trying to avoid. Yeah,
Jeff Hoobler 39:59
yeah. add on, dead on, I agree completely. And there is absolutely a purpose and a case use for each one of those hiking, slow cadence whether you’re doing strength endurance. And you said it also is, when you’re doing that low cadence work, you’ve got to pay attention to how stable your core your trunk is. So that the force is going through the pedal not twisting you sideways. And yeah, I agree completely grant, I remember 10 years ago doing, you know, rev that gear up, come out of it quick. And just like you said, it’s practice. Is it the only thing? No, it’s a thing. And it’s a tool that you should have in your toolbox.
Grant Holicky 40:40
Well, and one of the things about locating sits cool is that as you said, you’re under load for longer pieces of that pedal stroke. This is why uphill sprints running can be beneficial, because it can be a strength exercise, because the foot is planted in pressing on the ground for longer than if you were doing a flat sprint. So you’re getting more of that strength push in that dynamic movement of the body forward. And in that position. I want to come back to high kids. This is a thing of mine that I love. And I and I talk about a lot. And frankly, I learned from your boss partner at Apex, whatever Neil is, what is Neil now? Yeah, let’s
Rob Pickels 41:23
call him a partner. Okay, we’ll
Grant Holicky 41:24
go with partner.
Rob Pickels 41:25
So he probably wants me. Okay, boss partner. He’s the owner. learned a lot from that man.
Grant Holicky 41:32
Well, that’s about that’s exactly what I was gonna say one of the things that Neil has always been a big proponent of is high cadence work. Yeah. And you noted it, you kind of looked at me and you said, I’m sure you’re doing high cadence drills with your athletes. But I will say that high cadence work for the general population is under utilized, in how they’re prepping for racing. And we’ll get into why it’s beneficial for racing in terms of being able to response and fatigue or all those things. But how is that high cadence work helpful to the back? And I know we’ve touched on this right, and we’ve kind of danced around it. But let’s look at this specifically, high cadence work, neuromuscular patterning, neuromuscular firing of high cadence work on the bike. How is this helping us? Well,
Jeff Hoobler 42:19
you kind of said it in that last statement, it’s activating that neural input, right? Increasing the nerves. Think of the old times switchboard where you’re plugging in these lines, we want to light that baby up, we don’t want to just have four plugs in, we want 100. And we want full flood of input to every muscle that we’re going to use. And when you go to a max speed, or you attempt a max speed, it causes maximum firing from the motor unit, right? If you don’t maximize the speed, you don’t fire all the guns, right, so to speak. So if you’re just in a comfortable zone, you know, you think of this in terms of faster, you know, just really easy fast twitch, slow twitch, right? When you try to accelerate and go faster, or lift a heavier load. So you’re lifting, you’re only going to fire what you need. Just like you said, Rob, your body is ultimately lazy, but it’s just really efficient. It doesn’t want to use what it doesn’t need to use. So you need to ask it to use everything. So when you do these things, if they’re really fast, they can’t last very long, you know, maybe 30 seconds max, for a cane show. So anyway, we’re increasing the nervous system input to all the muscles involved. And this isn’t just the leg, right? If you if you’ve noticed, you know, if you’ve done high cadence drills, and you’re not coordinated, you’ll bounce right? And that’s because the muscle won’t shut off fast enough, right? And then your upper body starts to freak out. And you’re just like, Oh, what do I do? Right? So it takes training?
Rob Pickels 44:05
Yeah, certainly. And that higher, that higher speed of movement, right is putting more force into the rest of the body that you then need to learn how to counter and it goes back to the stability that we talked about before. But you know, I want to expand a little bit on something that Jeff was just saying, and remind people that when we discuss force production at the fiber level of fiber can for the most part, to squeeze all or nothing, right? It’s all you got. And the only way that we regulate the force or the tension or the speed that something is moving at is by recruiting more or less fibers, right. And so as Jeff is saying, we want the entire muscle to learn this movement pattern, right? And so using speed is a great way to get more of those fibers firing more of those fiber neuromuscular connections working together to learn the movement pattern. Yeah,
Grant Holicky 44:57
and one of the things I kind of wanted to touch on to that goes hand in hand with this is, when we do these cadence drills, don’t do them at high power, high power, we’ll put the resistance into that pedal stroke that will keep you from bouncing, lower the power down below threshold. And I love what you said about that bounce is not turning things off fast enough.
Rob Pickels 45:19
Well, yeah, 120 RPM at 400 Watts is a lot easier than 120 RPM at 200 watts.
Grant Holicky 45:25
Absolutely. And it’s worlds of difference. And what it asks your musculature to do is wildly different to,
Jeff Hoobler 45:32
and I think that you’ll notice it in a fatigue standpoint, not necessarily like being winded. But mentally, that’s a lot. Yeah, it takes a lot.
Grant Holicky 45:43
Well, and it’s the workout that I really liked in sprinting can fall into this to true high end sprinting, because sprint power is going to reproduce at a higher RPM. And I think that’s another one of those kind of gut reactions that we tend to get wrong. We go into a sprint and you’ll listen to people next to you downshift and go into harder gears, like a great I got them. Because you can you can accelerate in that higher gear faster, but you have to have the range up, you have to be able to do that. And so that ability to braise the high end in terms of what the power is, or what the cadence is, offers so much in terms of the total stability. And as you do this more, you’ll notice there’s less bouncing, there’s less side to side movement, because all of this is being strengthened on the bike.
Rob Pickels 46:29
Yeah. And I think the fatigue side of this too, right? You will be good for I don’t know, let’s say five seconds initially, and then you’ll be good for 10 seconds. And I think and Jeff correct me if I’m wrong, because you’re really the master on this. You know, going back to my track and field days, we would do a lot of overspeed strides, but they wouldn’t be for a distance, they wouldn’t be for a time they would be until you stop feeling comfortable until you’re no longer relaxed until your form breaks down. It could have been 70 meters, it could have been 120 meters, it was about your body’s ability to do the movement pattern correctly. And I think that that applies as we’re doing this overspeed cadence training now on the bike as well. It’s not as hard as you can for 30 seconds and then call it good because your form breaks down. And now you’re training an improper movement pattern because you’re just trying to survive
Jeff Hoobler 47:19
bingo, I couldn’t agree more. And then that takes it even back to our pre ride activation. And we’re doing this not for 10 reps or for 15 reps or for 30 seconds or a minute. We’re doing it until it starts to be wrong. And then we stop. You rest. If you’ve got another set, you take some rest you do it right. And when you can’t do it right, stop, because then you’re training something else. And I think that goes back to this whole conversation is, you know, we started out with back pain? Well, first you have to identify that you have an issue and then you have to make a choice to address the issue. And then you figure out what the issue is. And then we take our time and work on it. Right. And it’s step by step. So it’s intentional. And all of these things that we talked about are intentional. It’s not just go get on the bike and ride. Oh, wonder why my back hurts. Yeah, and I
Grant Holicky 48:11
think there’s a beautiful, you know, full circle piece to this right is, as you said, identify the back pain, and then identify your issues that might be creating that back pain is it overuse, is that something you do in in the rest of your life, but this is where guidance can be so helpful from somebody, as you mentioned, go see a PT go see a strength professional, go outside of the pure endurance coach world to find some of these resources for you that are going to give you a lot of opportunity.
Rob Pickels 48:41
So guys, something I want to bring up as we’re closing this episode out is just sort of the inherent nature of the cycling position and bike fit. And this isn’t necessarily an episode about bike fit. I don’t want to get into that too deeply.
Grant Holicky 48:54
No, we’ve done episodes on bike fit. And most recently, there’s one specifically on bike fit with Dr. Andy Pruitt, Episode 220, where he talks about back pain and knee pain and some of those things and how they pertain specifically to bike fit. Yeah,
Rob Pickels 49:07
you know, if we just look at cycling in general, even if your bike fit is great, you’re still in this really compromised position, right? For the most part, our body is cantilever it forward, which is putting that long lever arm on the lower back. Oftentimes our hips are slightly posterior ly rotated, our back is arched, we’re ultimately putting these muscles that are trying to stabilize the body into long stretched positions, which is somewhat different than what we’re always told to do. Right, keep your back straight, sit up straight, blah, blah, blah. We’re not necessarily in that position when we’re riding the bike. And if we try to achieve that position on the bike, it can be really uncomfortable for a myriad of reasons. So, you know, Jeff, how do we rectify this weird bike fit position that we have to be in with either core stability sorry, see words to build So now everybody knows movement pattern, and so on and so forth. Because, you know, cyclists were kind of at a disadvantage here. Yeah.
Jeff Hoobler 50:07
And as you were describing the position of a bike, and then I’m like, Well, yeah, and it gets even worse if you want to be able to see where you’re going.
Grant Holicky 50:16
Right. As we do more and more with aerodynamics, these positions are getting more and more interesting. Yeah,
Jeff Hoobler 50:21
I think the way to go there is to just you have to ask your body to get in these dynamic positions more often. Right, not just when you’re on the bike, so that when you get on the bike, it is a comfortable thing, or as comfortable as it can be, and is efficient as it can be. So we’re going to talk about this was wrap it up, but create your own movement routine that are a mobility routine, I talk about mobility over flexibility, because I see a difference there. And that’s where your range of motion is with the joint with the muscle involved, not relaxed, not passive, somebody else stretching you but where can you move comfortably without pain, and increasing that mobility is kind of a an exercise in patience. And generally, gradually increasing your sphere of movement, so to speak, like imagine you’re inside this ball that’s kind of collapsing around you, and you got to keep pushing on the sides. But if you just push on one side, everything else on the other side is going to clarify. So you got to keep moving around, and moving in different patterns so that whatever pattern, or whatever position you get in on the bike, it’s something you can accommodate,
Grant Holicky 51:40
I think Jeff just beautifully explained, aging. That’s all I can think about. He’s like, push the ball out, continue to get that range of motion. And that’s how I feel like as I get older, but
Jeff Hoobler 51:52
it is then that’s the you know, I have aging parents, and then you know, the thing I say is like, for one keep moving and to keep moving laterally. Yeah. And this is pertinent to our conversation, because cycling is linear. And if we don’t move laterally off the bike, then we’re kind of going down that rabbit hole.
Rob Pickels 52:15
Well, I think another way to apply this as well. And this harkens back way back in the day when I was at a PT clinic and taking some classes from gray Institute, if anybody’s familiar with you know, oftentimes when we do lunges, what do we do we pick up some heavy dumbbells, right? We take this relatively short or or long, right? But we’re keeping our back like very straight, very rigid. Same thing, we’re doing deadlifts we’re got this heavy, you know, load on the ground. And we’re, we’re that extending as hard as we can. And one thing I learned with with gray Institute was, well, that might be well and good for building this very specific strength if you’re trying to lift up a heavy weight. But what happens when you’re reaching across the table to get the ketchup, it’s not that it’s not helping you right now. And the movement pattern that they were, you know, it’s teaching Hey, a great lunge sort of routine that involves some linear stuff, some lateral, but very, very lightweight, a two and a half pound dumbbell, you reach forward, you let your back round, you let your arms reach out in front of you, you let your body resist that movement as the weight wants to keep moving, your shoulders are not in the perfect prime position. That’s okay, you’re teaching your body to pull itself back out of that into a nice, tall, erect posture. And I think that this applies with that sphere of movement that you’re talking about. Even when we’re training and we’re training our core, we’re doing heavy lifts to protect our back. If you think oftentimes, you’re doing that in such a limited range of motion, that the moment you take yourself out of it. Now the body doesn’t know what to do with itself.
Jeff Hoobler 53:43
I couldn’t agree more. And you know, you brought up several really good points in that last statement, right? There is one when you’re reaching across the table with Ketchup, ketchup doesn’t wait 25 pounds. doing the wrong thing. You want to steal things, bend your knees, well, you can bend over without bending your knees if you’re not carrying a huge load. And you also brought up gray. And you know, there’s a lot of really smart people out there that have created programs. You know, we mentioned Eric Goodman with foundations Stuart McGill. Monica Brody was a strength coach has done a lot of stuff with McGill. And it doesn’t matter. It’s just kind of make sense, right? And be smart about what you’re doing and functional movement. Back in the late 90s functional movement got a little bit carried away. You got people doing overhead dumbbell press on a football and then jump on and turn around and that that there was no real
Rob Pickels 54:39
push that was Acrobat more than?
Jeff Hoobler 54:43
Like, yeah, just because you can doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. I wholly agree, be realistic, and we keep expanding and pushing out on that sphere. And so that we maintain that mobility, so that when we are in a confined position, we can do it and we’re used to it and we’ve created It does neural patterns, so that our body stays activated. And we can get in it and we can get out of it. And then if you have back pain that is always there do something about it. Don’t just Oh, yeah, my back hurts. So
Grant Holicky 55:16
the way we like to end these episodes is with take homes. And I think, Jeff, you just started your take home. Take, but we start with the guest, and you our guests. So take a, you know, 30 seconds to a minute, summarize what you want this episode to get forth to the general public. Wow, that’s
Jeff Hoobler 55:37
Grant Holicky 55:38
I know. And I’m asking you to do it inside of a minute. So
Jeff Hoobler 55:41
I’m watching the clock right now. It’s got 1000s of seconds. Using me, yeah, we’re
Grant Holicky 55:48
very, there’s, there’s no stress. But
Jeff Hoobler 55:51
I’ll continue with where I left off. If you if you do have back pain, pay attention to it. And then ask yourself, Where could it be coming from? Could it be coming from overuse patterns that I do every day sitting at a desk? Okay, well, what do you need to do, you need to increase your sphere of movement, that means 360 degrees, one of the places that I would start would be working on breathing, getting some breath through the lower abdominal area, opening your ribcage. And then I would work on a mobility routine that works for you. If you need to consult with a PT to get specific exercises for your condition. Do that. And then make a routine that is short enough that you’ll do it multiple times a week, and then do it and see how that goes. If it’s working. Great. If it’s not checked back with your PT, see what else you need to do. And that’s where I’d start Rob yours.
Rob Pickels 56:55
Yeah, I mean, I think that Jeff nailed all of the points that need to be made. But the one thing I want to bring up is these solutions, they need to be active solutions, right? Nobody gets better, just like you don’t get better in training by being passive. It’s the exact same thing here. And even if you don’t have back pain, that doesn’t mean you won’t have back pain tomorrow. But it also doesn’t mean that this training can’t necessarily help you in your performance, even when you don’t have pain. And I’ll bring up something that hasn’t been discussed. But I’m using my time now to talk about this. I’ve worked with pro cyclists in the past, who when we looked at left, right power, had huge imbalances that were able to correct themselves through activation type exercises, they had no pain whatsoever, and they are at the tiles this floor, right. And there is an imbalance in some people. So not to like scare people or whatever we can correct issues that we don’t even know are occurring, improve our enjoyment, improve our performance, improve our health and safety. This is something that we should probably all actively be doing. You can do it. When you’re watching TV at night, you can do it first thing in the morning when you’re having coffee. That’s when I like to do mine. It doesn’t have to be expensive at the gym, whatever else. Yeah,
Grant Holicky 58:14
I think for me, the biggest takeaway in this comes from a coach, right, I spend all this time developing a training program. And people get very caught up in the training program of ours, like if you make sure my hours I gotta get it green, I gotta do this. And I’ll put strength into or mobility into everybody’s program. And typically, with athletes, that’s the first thing that’s cut out when the time is short, we will choose to do a two hour ride instead of an hour and a half ride and skip the mobility or skip the core work or skip the strength work. To me, as a 50 year old cyclist, Jeff is barely older than me, Rob is barely younger than me. It just becomes one of those things, that it’s worth our time. And I am as guilty of this as anybody out there that I’m going to skip that to get my time in. And listen, we’re not standing around saying Do your mobility five times a week. Don’t worry about the bike. Nobody’s saying that. You’ve got to do the training. But make the time even if that’s pulling some of the total volume off your week. Make the time to do this work. As Rob and Jeff have said it’s going to help your performance it’s going to increase that sphere. And it’s going to help us so dramatically on and off the bike going down the road.
Griffin McMath 59:35
That was another episode of Fast Talk. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. As always, we’d love your feedback. Tweet at us @fasttalklabs. Join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com, or learn from our experts at fasttalk labs.com. or Jeff Hobbler, Rob Pickels and Grant Holicky, I’m Griffin McMath thanks for listening!