Monthly Archives: September 2013

Linsey Corbin’s Lucky 13: kudos from the field

I work with many athletes – and to be honest, I get just as much personal satisfaction seeing a person complete their first 10K as I do helping an elite earn a spot on the podium.  I’m always humbled and honored when athletes seek out my help, and even more humbled when they put out some nice footage such like this as a way of saying thanks.  I’m really just trying to do my job!

Well, professional triathlete Linsey Corbin is also trying to do her job with a stellar performance in Kona 2 weeks from today. Check out Day 2 on linseylucky13.com to learn what Linsey and I have been working on together.

Circles vs. Squares: What’s the best shape for a powerful cyclist?

If there was ever a good topic for an episode of Mythbusters, it would be this: should you pedal circles or pedal squares? We’ve been told that “pedaling circles” is important so that we can apply a smooth even pedal stroke. And word on the street is that this uniform application of power around the cranks is more efficient and makes a better rider.

We’ll lets mock up our own episode of Mythbusters. Let’s pretend that you are doing your thesis on power production in cycling (I did). And let’s also pretend that you are trying to get good data on good cyclists (this was my goal). In my research, I tapped into the best client database I could think of (the US Olympic Training Center). And lastly, let’s pretend that you could examine the pedal cycle of the entire national team, and developmental athletes (I could).  What would you find?

We’ll, this episode of Mythbusters would be pretty clear. World championship and Olympic medals have been won by riders who feature a smooth pedal cycle (circles) as well as cyclists who are mashers (squares). Uh oh. Don’t’ you hate it when real world data flies in the face of what you’ve been told. So where does this leave you?

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn't mean one is better

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn’t mean one is better

Its not to say that pedaling style is not important, because it is. In fact, research shows that elite cyclists have better pedaling mechanics than both recreationally competitive cyclists, and even elite triathletes. So if its not the “shape” of the application of power, what does better pedaling mean? Better cyclists have lots and lots of practice turning the pedals over. All this “practice” helps them produce the right amount of force from each muscle, without fighting, or co-contracting muscles during the pedaling cycle. They ride smoother and don’t fight their own pedal stroke. They also can change their pedaling cycle easily when they fatigue, in breaks, or up climbs. Having lots of “strategies” to tap into help as them adapt to the race conditions and terrain they are facing.

The take home:

▪   If you are a rider that has had success mashing your way along at 75 rpm, it doesn’t mean that you must learn to spin at 110 rpm just because someone else does.

▪   Pedaling technique is a variable that better cyclists adjust based on terrain, fatigue, and surface. It is still worthwhile to learn proper pedaling strategies. If you do want to improve your spin, the most beneficial cues are to “scrape mud” off the bottom of your shoe at the bottom of the stroke, and to “kick a ball” at the top of the pedal stroke.

▪   Traction matters. In general mountain bikers have a smoother pedal stroke to maintain traction. If they put all their power around a small part of the pedal cycle their tires spin out.  If you spend time on dirt, emphasize smooth power to keep your tires hooking up  – especially on the climbs.

▪   Better cyclists don’t necessarily pedal circles or squares. They just pedal better circles and better squares – stop reading and go for a ride!

 

 

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn't mean one is better

Spin Scan Pedal Profile: Looking different doesn’t mean one is better

The Tipping Point: how does aerodynamics impact cycling?

Cycling is a balance act – you want to produce as much power as possible to make your bike move forward, while maintaining comfort, aerodynamics, handling, and safety. But quite often, we loose sight of the big picture in search of the “fastest looking position.” The most common question I get from time trialists and triathletes is, “Can you make me more aero?” Let’s tackle this issue head on using an example, and some science.

TippingPointPicSeveral years ago, I did a fit on a medical resident; we’ll call him Bill. He was three years into his cycling career and was doing quite well at the district and state level. He came and saw me for a bike fit on his time trial bike. His goals were to podium at state and place top 10 at nationals, and also to eliminate his low back pain on the bike. I’ll spare you the details, but after his fitting, his back pain was 100% gone, he won state, and placed 4th at nationals in the 40K time trial. The next year, he stood on the podium at nationals. Bill was very happy.

Right after nationals, Bill graduated and began making more income and sought out the advice of a wind tunnel to squeak out a performance advantage. The folks in the wind tunnel were able to produce a 28% improvement in his drag coefficiency. This is a very, very large improvement in aerodynamics! Bill left and was excited to see how this new position would play out over the season.

Well, things didn’t play out so well. Bill called after several months of riding in his new position. His back pain returned. He hadn’t made the podium in a single time trial all season. And he wasn’t able to hit the same power output on his new time trial position that he could easily hit on his road bike. Guess what we did? We adjusted his fit exactly back to where it was when we last worked together. Bill made the podium in his next race, and the next, and the next, and won nationals. Bill was happy again.

What happened? Bill hit the tipping point. Sure, he was more aerodynamic, but aerodynamics don’t make you ride fast; producing power does. Let’s back this up with some data:

  • The chief obstacle you have below 11 mph is the rolling resistance of your tires. At slow speeds, nothing matters more than tires and pressure.
  • When your average speed is above 25 mph we should begin to have talks on aerodynamics, and when your average speed is above 27 mph we really need to address aerodynamics. But for most riders, you’ll gain more speed by producing more power over your entire race distance rather than aiming to adopt a sleek, aerodynamic position.
  • Comfort matters. For most competitive cyclists, it’s likely you’re signing up events that 40K or longer. Those of you doing Ironman distance events are spending 5+ hours on the bike. Don’t try to replicate the overly aggressive position of a Tour de France time trailer (whose TT is quite short) just because you think it looks cool. You’ll end up so uncomfortable in your aerobars that you won’t be able to stay in them for long.
  • Power comes from your hips, not your knees. If I told you that you had a muscle in your body that had the best leverage of any other muscle, and was more resistant to fatigue, wouldn’t you want to tap into that muscle? You do have that muscle; it’s called your gluteus maximus. Strong quads are nice, but a proper position on the bike optimizes your glut to drive the pedals.

To get aerodynamic, most riders opt for a low, forward position to get their trunk down and out of the wind. This creates two issues. First, it compromises power by shifting emphasis from muscles in your hips (very fatigue resistant) to your knees (fatigue quicker). Poor compromise. Second, I’ve personally been in the wind tunnel with athletes and it is possible to get excellent drag numbers while maintaining a very powerful pedal stroke. This gets complex and very individualized, but good bike fitters can not only help you look better to the wind, but look better to the clock

 

 

Bike Fit: yes, its worth it. But don’t take my word for it.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 3.28.42 AMBike fit is critical. Why? cycling is a pretty constrained motion, and you go through a LOT of repetitions. Even the forces on the body are much lower than running, the volume on the bike can still add up to a lot of wear and tear.

So can it make you faster? Optimizing the position of your engine (you!) over your machine (your bike) does in fact pay off. The research is pretty much all over the place on bike fit. Doing well controlled studies is pretty hard to do for cycling, because people are just different. But when you really nail down what’s different, and work to not just improve the “Fit” but also improve the rider on the bike, big things start happening.  In light of this, I thought I’d offer some feedback from a few of my clients over the past year.

“after years of low back pain on the bike, nothing hurts! – thanks!”
Chris Eatough – Professional Mountain Biker, Six-time World 24hr Solo Mountain Bike Champion, Five time US 24hr Solo Champion

“wow – this is going to be fast! – thanks!”
Ben King – Professional Road Cyclist, US National Champion

“Thank man! Had a solid ride yesterday with the new position! Best power output so far by a ways”
Jesse Thomas – professional triathlete, multiple-time Wildflower champion

“Basically, I feel like a kid in Maine again: Lower seat, cleats further back, putting down the power, and trying to ruin corners. Its really fun”
Adam Craig – professional mountain biker: US Olympian, US Champion in XC, Super D, and Cyclocross, Single Speed World Champion

“Loving my bike fit – fast and comfy”
Carl Decker – professional mountain biker, multiple time Downieville All-mountain Champion, US Super D champion, US Road Champion, Single Speed World champion

“Loved, loved, LOVED it! Bike felt so good – Thank you!!!”
Serena Bishop Gordon – 2013 NUE Series Champion, 2nd place US Mountain Bike Marathon Nationals

“The juice is back – nothing hurts and feeling strong!”
Matt Lieto – professional triathlete, commentator, author, fastest bike split IM Whistler 

I don’t work magic, but I do my best to help you achieve your goals. Give me a call if I can help you out with yours.