Thursday, April 8, 2010
1. Get Low on the Bike
Getting aero is only part of the exercise of keeping a high-speed up on descents; it’s more about getting a low centre of gravity > the lower you can get, the better stabilised the rider-bike system is for getting better traction & control
2. Set Visual Gaze Far Ahead
You will GO to where you FOCUS your view-point; look much farther ahead than the wheel, rider or bend in the road immediately in front of you. It’s a common thing that first-time riders in the bigger packs will head straight into a crash scene they are witnessing from way off in the other side of the group!!
When descending, set your gaze on the point where you wish to end up – AFTER the bend. Peripheral vision can take care guiding you around gravel patches or other riders coming up into the cornering line. Believe me, you don’t want to learn how true this is when you’re going 80kph for the first time, so, pretty please – focus past the bend!
3. Lean the Bike, NOT Your Body
The traction of your tires on the road works best when the heaviest part of the rider-bike system is pressing vertically down upon the tire contact points with the roadway. Put more practically, it’s best if you lean the bike out from under you and you stay above the tire contact points with the road – for maximum control. For motorbikes, this does not apply (because the bike is the heavier object) as much as when applied for a bicyclist (where the rider is the heavier object).
4. Outside Leg Takes the Weight
Riders lose most momentum and time through the corners through lack of rigidity, like when flexing in a bike-frame washes off your precious power as you push it through the frame to the wheels. By keeping the outside leg straight and with most of the body-weight concentrated downwards through the outside pedal, not only do you get more rigidity during the cornering moment, but you can cut tighter lines & keep the bike on the shortest course through the corners more easily.
5. Don’t Sit On The Seat!
For various reasons, it’s a good habit to sit slightly off the seat > off to the side, off to the front, off to the back – whatever gets your weight centered over the wheels – but just in a way that essentially allows the bike to bounce around under your thighs if you hit bumps, cat-eyes or bitumen ripples, rather than bouncing you and your visuals around up above. This natural suspension technique might come & go as you descend different sections of road, but when its needed, it’s a critical safety & control factor to ensure you go more cleanly without having to brake through rougher surfaces.
6. Breathe Out Through the Apex
There is a concentration and muscular-contraction benefit as you exhale, so, while you apply yourself to the most important part of a fast descent (the apex of corners) and try to stay low, lean the bike, sit off to the side of the seat, change line, focus ahead, get ready to keep pedaling, push down on your outside leg and leave the brakes alone – you should also breathe out!
7. Keep the Motor Running
Keep pedaling as the descent progresses; the idea is to stay fluid with movement on the bike, use higher cadences to keep your HR from plummeting – good descending is an exercise as well as some respite; stay warm.
8. Smoothen Out Your Line
Draw a line on an aerial map of the descent course that has the shortest route & least bend in the line of your curves – THIS is the line to take on the road-lane that you have for the descent. Simple.
9. Maintain A Safety Cushion
Things happen much faster at high speed; it’s physics 101. If you go faster, then changes come up quicker on the road (potholes, car doors, slower riders), but your brain still has the same reaction time it had at lower speeds. The most critical thing to adjust as you get quicker, is how much time you allow for decision-making and adjustments to your position on the road. Look further ahead, brake sooner, sit further back from others, pass other objects with more of a berth. For this reason, it’s not worth the risk to have a look back at the gap you’ve got to others; but more time is wasted, more momentum is lost, and the time it takes for you to head-check back may be the same time you just had to avoid a new situation arriving…
10. Double-Braking Habits Work Best
Use more rear? Use more front? Stay off the brakes!?! None of these work too well when you really need to pull up properly. There are 2 brakes partly because there are 2 wheels, but also because you need to spread the pressure of controlling your mass at high speed over as much surface area as possible. It’s good to brake earlier into corners an less during the turn itself as the bike goes through leaning angles, but when it comes to actually washing off some speed because you’re going too fast, use all brake levers possible together!!
Ironically, after reading these TOP 10 RIDEWISER TIPS listed, perhaps the most important tip of all will not be found in any tips list on HOW TO DO IT, but is uncanny in the way it often remedies the skill barriers for many riders. That is, don’t think about these tips; feel them. Like surfing a wave, or catching your kite in a breeze, descending & cornering at high speed requires more ‘sensing’ and experiencing the actual situation than thinking it into perfection. Just go and try it, & you’ll ‘feel’ exactly what I mean.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Group Dynamics In Cycling
by Tom “Tommy P” Pietkiewicz
I am a registered Organisational Psychologist and a sometimes competitive cyclist. When I am riding well I can almost keep up with CT on a training ride…almost. My work involves working with business leaders on various aspects of people in their companies. This includes: Leadership, Development, Effectiveness, Teamwork, Productivity, Recruitment, Succession, Takeovers / Mergers and so on. What is perhaps not immediately clear is how many parallels there are between organisations and cycling. If you can imagine a bunch of riders to be like an organisation made up of people with individual motivations, traits and skills but also common goals and a need to work together, we can start applying many learning’s from the business world.
I have compiled a number of facts and research topics on group dynamics and applied the findings to cycling. This may assist you in understanding group processes for your personal advantage of course.
1. Groups form naturally
Grouping is built into our nature. Studies have found that even the slightest set of common circumstances will begin the formation of a group. If you start riding with a group at a certain time, or from a certain place regularly the process will begin. You will start building your identity based on the group norms and will look for common ground with members. You will actually begin to favour people that you associate with your groups.
2. Joining Groups
Groups will build further identity by having some kind of initiation requirements. You might need to get over a hill at a certain rate or be able to roll turns at a certain pace to become a member. Some groups will have team clothing or other specific requirements. Groups want to test you but also expect you to value your membership. Don’t be a “floozy” and try to be a member of every group or you will not blend with any.
Once in a group we start to search for group norms and apply our behaviour accordingly. This is a very powerful process and many people will often act against their own judgment in order to preserve group norms. Immediately we can think of the big bunch rides. Think of the various training rides that you do. Each have a certain ‘feel’ or ‘character’ that becomes established with newcomers simply playing along based on what they see. If anyone rides the Thursday night Tour de Burbs in Melbourne you will notice a number of traditions. Riding at a high pace through some sections, slow through others. Racing for certain climbs, regrouping. No one really reinforces these, they have developed and now persist even if membership changes over years. A good example to mention is some of the lawlessness that develops on bunch rides. People will run red lights if they think this is acceptable in the group. CT and others have made efforts to change these norms. If enough core and influential members change the group behaviour the rest will simply conform. Many respected riders now choose to avoid some of these rides but a better option is to attend and show leadership.
4. Don’t fit: get out.
Group norms are very powerful. If your group is about Euro style and you wear the wrong length/colour socks, don’t match jersey to knicks or don’t clean your bike, you will soon know about it. If your group is a bunch of hard-men, skipping a few turns and slacking off on training rides will soon result in you not being invited on rides. Alternatively, often attacking a group who is more about just enjoying the riding will have you riding all alone also.
Additionally every group has a member who does not quite fit in. The group will keep this person in but ridicule and point out the various issues. This person is called a Scapegoat and almost every group has one. They play an important role as the group unites and reinforces their values by picking on the Scapegoat. The Scapegoat also is likely to enjoy a level of notoriety. O2’s CJ is a good example. With his wrong kit or terrible socks. All criticisms are out the window, though, when he puts the group in the gutter on an epic suffer-fest.
A leader plays a very important role in a group. It is impossible to simply just assume this role. Most leaders emerge slowly and subtly. Studies have shown that a successful leader is one that fitted the group so well that they have gained trust and acceptance and can then start suggesting new ideas, activities. I always think of Mario Cipollini who was the guardian and leader of the bunch and could set the tempo for a stage, organise a chase or just bring others into line. He most likely exhibited all the traits that many others aspired to and wanted to embody and probably saw as the reasons they become professional cyclists. He was stylish, successful and embodied the whole Euro-pro lifestyle. Think of who this is in your group, it is likely a person who does a lot to keep the group going. Sends emails, organises rides, suggests races you can all try etc. You can’t just enter a group and make a lot of noise. No one will follow.
Riding with others can make us more competitive. We want to beat our friends. We want to get to the top of a climb near the front of our group. At the same time, comfort in a group can make us more likely to “slack off”. A famous study found that in a tug of war, each person in a team of 8 put in only half as much effort as when on their own. Now we have all seen this on the bike. People not pulling turns, expecting others to chase. In fact, the bigger the group and tasks are additive rather than individual, the more likely members will “slack off” to a very large degree. When you are in a break of 4, for example, you are more likely to work your guts out. This is why many relatively small breaks can get away in amateur cycling. I guess the Pro guys would not be Pro for too long if they “slacked off”. No doubt this is why many Pro teams use power meters in races to have effort clearly visible and manageable.
Once groups form an identity we start thinking of “them-vs-us”. This can become quite extreme. This is easily observable on in any local club’s weekly World Criterium Championships. You will notice an explosion in the number of teams in matching outfits. These guys are not professionals but enjoy the increased competition and comradery that group dynamics can provide. Studies have found that group members not only display far more competiveness when part of a group but also begin to distrust and dislike the other groups. Even when you know individual members of other groups you are likely to form a slight (or strong) negative opinion of the group as a whole. I guess this makes racing a whole lot more fun.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Drinking enough fluid before, during and after both training and racing is essential. As little as 1.7% dehydration may impair energy levels, concentration and performance.
Dehydration can lead to:
- Impaired concentration and co-ordination
- Increased perception of effort
- Increased body temperature and heart rate
- Impaired performance
- Nausea, vomiting and other stomach upsets
- Severe dehydration may result in collapse, heat stress and hospitalisation.
General Hydration Guidelines
Priority 1 Adequate fluid volume
- Start drinking first thing in the morning and consistently throughout they day.
- Always carry drink bottle, off and on the bike.
- Individual fluid requirements will vary, based on estimated losses.
- Urine colour is an excellent indicator of hydration levels. Urine that is clear or very pale yellow indicates a good level of hydration (note that vitamin/mineral supplements often cause urine to be bright yellow in colour).
Priority 2 Adequate carbohydrate and electrolytes
- Water should generally be the main fluid consumed throughout the day.
- Other fluids also contribute to daily intake eg. sports drink, milk, juice, cordial.
- Sports drinks are particularly important for prolonged exercise (> 1 hour) and for exercise in the heat where fluid losses are high. Sports drinks are formulated to maximise fluid absorption and provide a source of carbohydrate and electrolytes.
- Sports drink is important before, during and after training/races to provide fuel and electrolytes.
- Athletes identified as salty sweaters will also require higher intake of fluids containing sodium.
- Milk and milk-based drinks can be an excellent recovery fluid, providing carbohydrate, sodium and protein.
Priority 3 Appropriate timing of intake
- Fluid intake spaced throughout the day
- Increased intake during and after training/competition
Tips for Staying Hydrated
- If you turn up dehydrated on the start line then you are giving the rest of the field a head start from the beginning. Drink plenty of fluid the night before, and in the hours leading up to a training session or competition.
- Have a drink with all meals and snacks and keep a bottle with you for all the times in between. HOWEVER, be careful not to over consume excessive amounts of plain water, as there is a small risk of over-hydrating.
- Drink 400-600ml 10-20 mins before your event.
- Begin drinking early and continue to drink small amounts regularly.
- Develop a plan for drinking based on your estimated individual sweat losses (determined by measuring fluid losses and intake during exercise). In general, aim to consume 80% of estimated losses during exercise.
- It is better to adopt a pattern of drinking small volumes regularly, rather than trying to tolerate large volumes at once. A rough guide is to aim for 600-1000ml of water or sports drink per hour of exercise, although the volume will vary between individuals and climates.
- For road races where there are significant hill sections, many cyclists try to reduce any extra weight on the bike and this often results in a choice to carry less fluid. In these situations, a specific hydration plan should be developed to ensure the balance is achieved between optimal weight and adequate hydration for performance.
- It is essential to replace the fluid that you have lost. Aim to drink 150% of the measured fluid loss in the next few hours following exercise to account for ongoing sweat and urine losses. For example, if you lost 1000mL, you will need to drink 1500mL to fully re-hydrate.
- When fluid losses are high and/or rapid re-hydration is needed, sodium replacement may be required. Sodium helps you to re-hydrate by promoting fluid absorption and aiding in fluid retention. Sports drinks and oral re-hydration solutions (eg. Gastrolyte) can help to replace sodium after exercise.
- It can be useful to try some salty carbohydrate snacks for glycogen recovery rather than all sweet options. For example: vegemite sandwiches/rolls, soups, noodle stir-fries with soy sauce, rice crackers or pretzels. Don't over-do it though, speak to a VIS Sports Dietitian to determine optimal sodium intake for you.
* Every athlete is different - understand your individual fluid and nutrition needs and the steps required to achieve optimal hydration and performance. A Sports Dietitian can help you work out the best nutrition and hydration strategies for your specific individual needs.
- After riding through debris use your bidon to rub your wheels clean instead of using your hands. This will save wear on your gloves and avoid getting slivers getting caught in your fingers.
- If you don’t have a tyre lever to fix a puncture try using the quick release part of the skewer.
- Instead of trying to wipe your sunglasses clean from sweat with your jersey, just pour water over them and give them a shake. You won’t risk scratching them and they’ll dry without spots or smears.
- When riding beside someone and you need to look backwards put your arm on the shoulder of rider next to you. This will give you a sense of reference to keep riding straight ahead.
- Tip for cleaning jockey wheels: Let the chain pull a wipe into the derailleur and when gets stuck there it’ll clean as you turn the chain. Then just push the derailleur until it is straight and pull the wipe out.
- Open your energy bars before you start your ride or race. This way you won’t need to fiddle with them while you’re riding and it’ll make you eat more frequently.
- Use babywipes to clean your bike, shoes, chain….nearly everything. I don’t know what they put in these but there’s no better thing on earth to keep your gear clean.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
'Carbohydrate loading' is probably one of the most misunderstood terms in sports nutrition. People commonly think anyone involved in sport needs to 'carb up' and the way to do this is to eat 'flat out' in the days leading up to an event. Read on to get the facts on carbohydrate loading.
What is carbohydrate loading?
Carbohydrate loading is a strategy involving changes to training and nutrition that can maximise muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores prior to endurance competition.
The technique was originally developed in the late 1960's and typically involved a 3-4 day 'depletion phase' involving 3-4 days of hard training plus a low carbohydrate diet. This depletion phase was thought to be necessary to stimulate the enzyme glycogen synthase. This was then followed immediately by a 3-4 day 'loading phase' involving rest combined with a high carbohydrate diet. The combination of the two phases was shown to boost muscle carbohydrate stores beyond their usual resting levels.
Ongoing research has allowed the method to be refined so that modern day carbohydrate loading is now more manageable for athletes. The depletion phase was demonstrated to be no longer necessary, which is a bonus for athletes as this phase was very difficult. Australian marathon runner, Steve Moneghetti has described the depletion phase as making him feel like "death warmed up". Today, 1-4 days of exercise taper while following a high carbohydrate diet (7-12g/kg body weight) is sufficient to elevate muscle glycogen levels.
Does carbohydrate loading improve performance?
Muscle glycogen levels are normally in the range of 100-120 mmol/kg ww (wet weight). Carbohydrate loading enables muscle glycogen levels to be increased to around 150-200 mmol/kg ww. This extra supply of carbohydrate has been demonstrated to improve endurance exercise by allowing athletes to exercise at their optimal pace for a longer time. It is estimated that carbohydrate loading can improve performance over a set distance by 2-3%.
Who should carbohydrate load?
Anyone exercising continuously at a moderate to high intensity for 90 minutes or longer is likely to benefit from carbohydrate loading. Typically, sports such as cycling, marathon running, longer distance triathlon, cross-country skiing and endurance swimming benefit from carbohydrate loading. Shorter-term exercise is unlikely to benefit as the body's usual carbohydrate stores are adequate. Carbohydrate loading is generally not practical to achieve in team sports where games are played every 3-4 days. Although it might be argued that players in football and AFL have heavy demands on their muscle fuel stores, it may not be possible to achieve a full carbohydrate loading protocol within the weekly schedule of training and games.
What does a high carbohydrate diet look like?
The following diet is suitable for a 70kg athlete aiming to carbohydrate load:
3 cups of low-fibre breakfast cereal with 11/2 cups of reduced fat milk
toasted muffin with honey
2 sandwiches (4 slices of bread) with filling as desired
banana smoothie made with low-fat milk, banana and honey
1 cup of pasta sauce with 2 cups of cooked pasta
toasted muffin and jam
This sample plan provides ~ 14,800 kJ, 630 g carbohydrate, 125 g protein and 60 g fat.
Are there any special considerations for females?
Most studies of glycogen storage have been conducted on male athletes. However, some studies suggest that females may be less responsive to carbohydrate loading, especially during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. This appears to be, at least partly, because they have difficulty consuming the larger amounts of carbohydrate required for a complete CHO load. Further research needs to be conducted specifically on females.
What are the common mistakes made when carbohydrate loading?
Research indicates that many athletes who attempt to carbohydrate load, fail to achieve their goal. Common mistakes include:
- Carbohydrate loading requires an exercise taper. Athletes can find it difficult to back off training for 1-4 days before competition. Failing to rest will compromise carbohydrate loading.
- Many athletes fail to eat enough carbohydrate. It seems athletes don't have a good understanding of the amount of food required to carbohydrate load. Working with a sports dietitian or using a carbohydrate counter can be useful.
- In order to consume the necessary amount of carbohydrate, it is necessary to cut back on fibre and make use of compact sources of carbohydrate such as sugar, cordial, soft drink, sports drink, jam, honey, jelly and tinned fruit. Athletes who include too many high fibre foods in their carbohydrate loading menu may suffer stomach upset or find the food too bulky to consume.
- Carbohydrate loading will most likely cause body mass to increase by approximately 2kg. This extra weight is due to extra muscle glycogen and water. For some athletes, a fear of weight gain may prevent them from carbohydrate loading adequately.
- Athletes commonly use carbohydrate loading as an excuse to eat everything and anything in sight. Consuming too many high fat foods will make it difficult to consume sufficient carbohydrate. It may also result in gain of body fat. It is important to stick to high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods while carbohydrate loading.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Many athletes put a lot of emphasis on the pre-event meal believing it is the key element to performance. It is important to remember that food eaten throughout the training week and food and fluid consumed during the event is just as important. Consuming food and fluid before exercise should be seen as an opportunity to fine-tune carbohydrate and fluid levels and to ensure you feel comfortable and confident.
When should I eat?
Food consumed before exercise is only useful once it has been digested and absorbed. This means you need to time your food intake so that the fuel becomes available during the exercise period. The time required for digestion depends on the type and quantity of food consumed. Generally, foods higher in fat, protein and fibre tend to take longer to digest than other foods, and may increase the risk of stomach discomfort during exercise. Large quantities of foods take longer to digest than smaller quantities. Generally, food is better tolerated during lower intensity activities, or sports where the body is supported (e.g. cycling) than sports such as running where the gut is jostled about during exercise. A general guide is to have a meal about 3-4 hours before exercise or a lighter snack about 1-2 hours before exercise. You need to experiment to find the timing, amount and make up that best suits your individual needs.
What should I eat?
Food eaten before exercise should provide carbohydrate. It should also be low in fat and moderate in fibre to make digestion easier and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort. For most exercise sessions, the emphasis on carbohydrate and fluid for the pre-event meal. However, it is also useful to continue to consider other nutritional goals when choosing a pre-exercise meal. This may mean including foods that include protein, vitamins and minerals.
The following foods are suitable to eat 3-4 hours before exercise:
crumpets with jam or honey + flavoured milk
baked potato + cottage cheese filling + glass of milk
baked beans on toast
breakfast cereal with milk
bread roll with cheese/meat filling + banana
fruit salad with fruit-flavoured yoghurt
pasta or rice with a sauce based on low-fat ingredients (e.g. tomato, vegetables, lean meat)
The following snacks are suitable to eat 1-2 hours before exercise:
liquid meal supplement
milk shake or fruit smoothie
sports bars (check labels for carbohydrate and protein content)
breakfast cereal with milk
The following foods are suitable to eat if there is less than 1 hour before exercise*:
* A small number of people experience an extreme reaction following the intake of carbohydrate in the hour prior to exercise. This topic is covered later in this fact sheet.
Are foods with a low glycaemic index better?
Carbohydrate-containing foods have different effects on blood glucose levels. Foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) cause a slower, sustained release of glucose to the blood, whereas foods with a high GI cause a rapid, short-lived rise in blood glucose. It has been suggested that low GI foods could be useful in the pre-event meal as they would result in a slower and more sustained release of glucose during exercise maintaining blood glucose levels for a longer period. However, research has been unable to demonstrate that consuming low GI foods prior to exercise has universal benefits on exercise performance. In addition, consuming carbohydrate (e.g. sports drink) during exercise provides an alternative way to maintain fuel levels throughout the activity and a study has shown that this practice overrides the effects of different types of carbohydrate in the pre-event meal. If you are involved in an endurance event in which it is difficult to take in extra carbohydrate during the session, you may wish to trial low GI foods before exercise. However, keep in mind that many low GI options (lentils, porridge, multigrain bread) may not be suitable as they are more likely to cause stomach discomfort.
What if I exercise early in the morning?
It is not always practical to eat a meal 3-4 hours before exercise. If you train early in the morning you should opt for a light snack about an hour before exercise. For example, some fruit or a cereal bar on the way to training along with some fluid such as a glass of milk or juice. Make up for your smaller carbohydrate intake prior to exercise by consuming carbohydrate during the event or training session.
What if I am too nervous to eat?
You will perform better when you are well-fuelled and well hydrated, and the pre-event meal may play an important role in achieving these goals. Athletes need to experiment to find a routine that works, and foods that are safe and familiar. Liquid meal supplements such as PowerBar Protein Plus powder provide an alternative for anyone who has difficulty tolerating solid foods pre-exercise. You may also find that foods such as cereal bars and sports bars can be eaten if you nibble them slowly over the hours leading up to your competition.
Should I avoid carbohydrate 1 hour before exercise?
Most athletes are able to consume carbohydrate in the hour before exercise without affecting performance, and in some cases it can even improve the outcome of the session. However, a small percentage of athletes experience a drop in blood glucose levels and symptoms such as fatigue, shakiness and dizziness after consuming carbohydrate immediately before exercise. This reaction is a response to the increase in carbohydrate use that occurs after carbohydrate intake, associated with a rise in the levels of the hormone, insulin. When the start of exercise coincides with extra carbohydrate use, it is usual to see a small dip in blood glucose levels. In most people, this is a temporary event which is quickly corrected by the body without any side-effects. However, in a few individuals, the drop in blood glucose is greater, or the individual is sensitive to the change, suffering a pronounced fatigue. If you are affected in this way consider the following advice:
Experiment to find the best timing for your pre-exercise meal. Try allowing a longer period between eating and exercising.
If you need to eat close to exercise, opt for a snack that provides at least 70 g of carbohydrate. There is some evidence to suggest that small amounts of carbohydrate (<50>
Include some low glycaemic index foods (yoghurt, multigrain bread, pasta, oranges) in the pre-exercise meal. These result in a slower release of glucose throughout exercise and a smaller insulin response compared to higher glycaemic index foods.
Include some high-intensity activity in your warm-up. This helps to stimulate glucose release from the liver and prevents blood glucose levels from dropping too low.
Consume carbohydrate during the event.
Should I avoid eating before exercise if I am trying to lose weight?
Exercising in a fasted state (8 hours since the last meal) results in a greater proportion of fat being used as the exercise fuel compared to doing the same workload after a carbohydrate-containing meal or snack. However, it is possible that you may be able to exercise harder and for a longer period if you consume carbohydrate before exercise. Overall, this will result in greater energy use and a better contribution to the negative energy balance that is needed to cause fat loss. To make a decision about eating before your workout, it is useful to consider the goals of the session. If your primary goal is to improve performance, have something to eat before exercise. If your primary goal is weight loss, and you will do the same amount of exercise regardless of whether you eat or not, save your meal until after the session.
Just about everyone who has ventured onto the exercise arena has experienced either a cramp or a stitch at some time. These complaints can range from mildly uncomfortable to severely debilitating and are a great source of frustration to everyone from recreational exercisers to serious athletes. Unfortunately, scientists know very little about the two conditions and how to avoid them. Consequently, there is a lot of folklore surrounding the topic, making it difficult to know exactly how to deal with these problems.
What is cramp?
Cramps occurring during exercise are referred to as Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC), to distinguish them from those that may occur at rest or as a symptom of an underlying medical condition. EAMC’s are best described as a sudden, tight and intense pain that most commonly occurs in the in the muscle groups directly involved in the exercise task e.g. gastrocnemius (calf) while running. They can range from a slight twinge to an excruciating pain, and may last for a few seconds or several minutes. An EAMC can be a one-off or occur several times before the muscle relaxes and the pain goes away.
What causes cramp?
EAMC’s occur when a muscle involuntary and forcibly contracts and does not relax. While this seems to be due to an abnormal stimulation of the muscle, the exact mechanism is unknown. Cramp is more likely to occur in tired muscles and ones that are already in a shortened position. Therefore poor fitness or exercising at high workloads can increase the likelihood that they will occur, while poor stretching habits may also contribute.
While dehydration has for a long time been associated as a possible cause of EAMC, a number of recent studies of marathon runners and ultra-endurance athletes have shown no difference in the hydration status of those experiencing EAMC and those that have not.
Sodium is involved in initiating nerve signals that make muscles contract. While some athletes will incur large losses of sodium during exercise secondary to a high concentration of sodium in their sweat and/or high sweat losses, the evidence that this can lead to cramp is still inconclusive. Cramp has been attributed to the depletion of potassium and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. However, this idea does not have strong support as very little potassium, calcium and magnesium is lost during exercise.
The use of creatine has been linked to cramps, based on anecdotal reports from athletes, and the hypothesis that a creatine-loaded muscle cell may become so "full" with the storage of creatine and fluid, that the integrity of the membrane is disrupted. Although this theory is interesting, studies that have followed the cramping and injury outcomes of groups of athletes have not found any difference in the prevalence of problems occurring in creatine users and non-users.
How can I avoid cramp?
• Allow adequate recovery and rest for muscles after hard training sessions.
• Increase strength and fitness. Stronger, fitter muscles are more resilient to fatigue and therefore cramp.
• Be cautious when changing speed or intensity especially during the later stages of exercise. Fatigued muscles take longer to adapt to increased workloads.
• Wear comfortable, unrestrictive clothing and footwear.
While there remains little strong evidence that dehydration is associated with EAMC, it’s still important that athletes practice good hydration practices both before and during exercise to optimise training and competition performance. See both the “How much do athletes sweat?” and “Fluid – Who needs it?“ fact sheets for more information.
How should cramp be treated?
Resting and stretching helps to decrease the muscle contraction and allow the muscle to relax. Massaging the area may also assist, while applying ice can stop the spasm and help to relieve the pain.
What is a stitch?
In the scientific literature stitches are referred to Exercise-related Transient Abdominal Pain and are described as localised pain usually felt on the side, just below the ribs, which sometimes accompanied by a stabbing sensation in the shoulder joint. The pain can range from sharp or stabbing to mild cramping, aching or pulling. Sometimes people can exercise through the pain, though usually the sufferer is forced to slow down or cease exercise. Stitches usually disappear within a few minutes after ceasing exercise however some people experience some residual soreness for a few days, especially after severe pain. While the stitch seems to be more prevalent in activities that involve vigorous upright, repetitive movement of the torso e.g. running and horse riding, it can occur in any type of sporting activity.
What causes stitches?
Scientists are unsure of the exact cause of stitches. For some time, they were thought to be caused by a reduction in blood supply to the diaphragm, a large muscle involved in breathing. It was suggested that during exercise, blood was shunted away from the diaphragm and redirected to exercising muscles. This theory has now lost favour with scientists as both the diaphragm and the limb muscles need to work harder during exercise, so it is unlikely that an inadequate blood flow is directed to the diaphragm. Another popular theory is that stitch is caused by organs pulling on the ligaments that connect the gut to the diaphragm. Jolting during exercise may cause these organs to pull on the ligaments and create stress on the diaphragm, though this theory does not explain the incidence of stitches in athletes involved in sports not involving a significant jolting action e.g. swimming.
A more recent idea is that stitch is caused by irritation of the parietal peritoneum. Two layers of membrane (peritoneum) line the inside wall of the abdominal cavity. One layer covers the abdominal organs, while the other layer (parietal peritoneum) attaches to the abdominal wall. The two layers are separated by lubricating fluid, which allows the two surfaces to move against each other without pain. It is thought that the stitch occurs when there is friction between the abdominal contents and the parietal peritoneum. This friction may be caused by a distended (full) stomach or a reduction in the lubricating fluid. The parietal peritoneum is also attached to the phrenic nerve, which refers pain to the shoulder tip region, which may explain the shoulder pain that has been described by some athletes.
How can I avoid stitch?
Eating too closely to exercise or consuming inappropriate foods seems to increase the chances of athletes experiencing a stitch during exercise. High-fat and fibre foods are more likely to cause problems. The likelihood of stitch occurring may be reduced by allowing 2-4 hours before exercising after a large meal and choosing high-carbohydrate, low-fat and moderate to low protein options in the pre-exercise meal.
Immediately before and during exercise, athletes should avoid consuming highly concentrated fluids such as soft drink, cordial and fruit juice, as they seem to increase the risk of stitches occurring during exercise. These type of drinks empty more slowly from the stomach than both water and sports drink, thereby leaving the stomach more distended for longer. It is also preferable for athletes to consume small amounts of fluid regularly during exercise, as this is better tolerated than large volumes of fluids being consumed at one time.
How should stitch be treated?
Sometimes the stitch eases if you slow down and drop your intensity for a period. However, the most common way to alleviate stitch is to bend forward while pushing on the affected area and breathing deeply. Sometimes this can be done while exercising but usually the pain eases more quickly when exercise is ceased. Another option is to lie down while elevating your hips.
Does stitch indicate a more serious problem?
The stitch is rarely a sign of more serious problems. However, any pain that is persistent and does not ease when exercise ceases should be investigated by a doctor.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Cycling results in a unique set of aches and pains due to the aerodynamic position used to be more efficient, trying to cheat physics whenever possible; this is what you think about when you're the motor: "I am in good condition, but early season and challenging rides like this can be a wakeup call for the muscles used in cycling."
Classic symptoms of an early-season ride, combined with the weight of the helmet, made for a tired, stiff neck. Triceps are sore, too. Held in a tuck position, tender triceps and wrists absorb the road chatter and vibrations through the bike. Then, there is the lower back. Last on the list are the glutes and legs, the pistons that transfer the power to the bicycle.
Holding his wrists and hands in a stationary position, the cyclist keeps his fingers flexed and wrists extended; therefore, the extensors and flexors of the arms, wrists and hands are common points of stress on the cyclist's body.
Holding his wrists and hands in a stationary position, the cyclist keeps his fingers flexed and wrists extended. While maintaining a forward-bent position, his lower back and arm muscles work to support his upper body, remaining in a constant isometric (characterized by equality of measure) state. Due to this unique linear positioning of a forward motion with the body in tight alignment, specific areas of a cyclist's body are prone to injury.
The extensors and flexors of the arms, wrists and hands are particular problem areas. Ischemia, a temporary blood deficiency, can affect the finger flexors as well as the wrist extensors. Moving down the body, the hip and knee area, including the hamstrings, quadriceps, abductors and gluteals, often experience tightness. The ankles and calves are susceptible to muscle pulls, strains and tears.
Finally, constant strain being placed on the lower back by the cyclist's forward-bent position can result in injuries to the trunk flexors, lumbars and sciatic nerves. And because cycling relies so heavily on a forward plane of motion, the muscle groups not involved in this movement can easily become tightended and shortened, leading to other problems that massage can address.
The neck can really take a beating having to hold up the head for hours at a time on the bike.
Equipment-induced injuries are also prevalent among the cycling population. Even just sitting in the bike saddle for extensive periods of time can cause ischial bursitis, or inflammation of the bursa where the ischeum meets the sacrum.
Furthermore, a saddle position that is too high can result in strains to the Achilles tendon, calves, quads and glutes, while one too far forward can produce anterior knee pain.
Stretching plays an important role in keeping the cyclist's muscles healthy.
If the wear and tear of sitting on a bicycle were not enough, any cyclist could tell you the toll his body takes when he falls off.
7 COMMON BICYCLING INJURIES
1- Numbness in the hands and fingers: Among experienced cyclists who already know that they should change their hand positions frequently, numbness is most likely a manifestation of thoracic-outlet syndrome, cause by the rounded-shoulder posture used by many cyclists.
2- Piriformis syndrome: The proper adjustment of the bicycle is critical to prevent this problem, which severely limits range of motion and stability during cycling.
3- Patellar tendinitis: This is an overuse syndrome occurring above and below the patella, and frequently involves inflammation or a tear to the quadriceps.
4- Cramping: Cramps can occur in may muscle below the waist, but are preventable with PNF stretching, proper hydration and close monitoring of calcium level. Treated with ice, compression and myofacial release.
5- Shin splints: This is an inflammatory overuse condition affecting the anterior tibialis for as mush as its entire length. Results most often from incorrect biomechanics during cycling. Responds well to pre- and post-workout stretching. During the acute state icing is recommended. Corrective work includes transverse fiber friction where the therapist applies moderate tension and pressure along the body of the muscle during an active movement from full contraction to full extension.
6- Knee injuries: cycling is supposed to be knee friendly, but only if the bike is set up properly. For example, if the seat is too far forward or too far back, the direction of force is not directly over the ball of the foot. This can result in anterior and posterior knee pain. Likewise if the pedals and cleats are not properly aligned, knee injuries are likely to occur. Another common cause of knee pain is riding in too low a gear. Even though the pedaling action involves a closed kinetic chain (hence no impact), a gear that is too difficult can place too much stress on the knee joint.
7- Collarbone injury: It takes about 14 pounds of pressure to break this bone, and it takes about 4 weeks to heal. Scar tissue need to be broken up by using deep transverse friction.
Competitve cyclists, as well as weekend warriors, benefit from the many positive effects of regular massage therapy. Massage keeps these athletes relaxed, pain-free, limber - and on the road.
3 PHASES OF MASSAGE
As with most sports-massage routines, massage for cyclists can be broken down into three distinct phases: Maintenance, Pre-race and Post-race
A- MAINTENANCE: Maintenance massage helps keep the cyclist tuned up and prepared for his next race or hard workout. By helping to maintain proper fiber, tendon and ligament function, massage further speeds post-ride recovery. Done regularly, it allows the athlete to rest more comfortably as well as train sooner with less pain and fatigue, which leads to greater flexibility, increased strength and fewer injuries.
B- PRE-RACE: Invigorating warm-up improves circulation and helps break up adhesions. As a goal during a pre-race massage is to warm the muscles, heated compresses and cross-fiber friction, tapotement, percussion, vigorous effleurage and petrissage, or jostling can do the trick, as well as superficial, vigorous, rapid strokes in order to stimulate the muscles.
C- POST-RACE: Post-race work generally returns muscles to a relaxed state after competition in a relatively short time. It also allows the cyclist to return to his next ride fresh and strong: By flushing muscles of waste products produced during the ride and stimulating fresh blood flow to the muscles, it helps prevent a delayed onset of soreness, undue fatigue and even insomnia.
In contrast to invigorating pre-race strokes, slower and deeper long strokes, stretching and trigger-point work are applied.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
While a recreational-level cyclist might do fine with one massage session a month, the more serious cyclist probably has greater need.
For a pro and sport level, a deep-tissue massage two day before the race, after the event, and once a week beyond that for maintenance. Deep tissue work should be done before a day off or before the day of an easy spinning.
Sports-massage therapists also advise incorporating stretching, including both static and PNF, into any work on competitive cyclists. Though by alternating resistance stretching with passive stretching, PNF provides an even deep stretch than static.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
How do you handle those bad days? Here’s what I keep in mind and try to do:
1. FORCE yourself to eat and drink. One probable reason for the poor form on the day is because you aren’t properly fueled. It’s amazing what a can of Coke can do in the short term.
2. Don’t be too proud to sit in and do as little work as possible. Save your energy for getting you home. Let your riding partners know what’s going on and that you’ll be sitting in. They just may have mercy on you.
3. If you’re feeling horrible then listen to your body and don’t fight it. It’s just one bad day. Accept it and keep a positive attitude. This will make the ride easier on you and your riding mates.
4. There can be a massive difference between how you feel when you’re heart rate is at 165bpm vs 160bpm (for example). Ask your mates to slow it up a bit until you’re more comfortable and hopefully you’ll find a pace that will get you home while everyone else still has a good ride.
5. Save your legs, not your gears! Spin, spin, spin. Spinning does a lot less damage to the muscles than big gear riding. Also, every chance you get, stop pedaling, duck down into the slipstream and go for the free ride. Conserve every ounce of energy you have.
6. Break the ride into 30min pieces and don’t think about the rest. Set yourself small goals to reach. The daunting task of dragging yourself 3 more hours can be overwhelming if you’re feeling really bad.
Remember: A bad day’s riding beats a good day’s work…..
A key nutrient that we often overlook is magnesium. It is the agonist and antagonist to the much publicised calcium and both are needed for active muscle contractions and relaxations.The mineral magnesium is something of a ‘Cinderella’ nutrient. Most sportsmen and women know that it’s required for health, but few really appreciate its importance for sport performance.
Current studies show that we do not ingest enough magnesium in our diest and we have declined to less than a half of those recorded at the end of the 19th century and are still falling.
- A study of male athletes supplemented with 390mg of magnesium per day for 25 days, which resulted in an increased peak oxygen uptake and total work output during work capacity tests
- A sub-maximal work study, which showed that magnesium supplementation reduced heart rate, ventilation rate, oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide production for a given workload
- A study on physically active students, which showed that supplementing with 8mg of magnesium per kilo of body weight per day produced significant increases in endurance performance and decreased oxygen consumption during sub-maximal exercise.
A magnesium shortfall also appears to reduce the efficiency of muscle relaxation, which accounts for an important fraction of total energy needs during exercise.
Very recent research has indicated that magnesium supplementation could enhance performance in a hitherto unrecognised way – by reducing the accumulation of fatiguing lactic acid during intense exercise.
The researchers concluded that ‘magnesium supplement may positively affect performance of sportsmen by decreasing their lactate levels’.
All of this sounds really important and the studies that I have summarised below from a great article on magnesium lends credence to it’s importance in overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.
What is magnesium and why does it matter?
Pure magnesium is the second most abundant mineral in cells after potassium, but the 2oz or so found in the typical human body is present not as metal but as magnesium ions (positively charged magnesium atoms found either in solution or complexed with other tissues such as bone). Roughly one-quarter of this magnesium is found in muscle tissue and three-fifths in bone; but less than 1% of it is found in blood serum, although blood magnesium is used as the commonest indicator of magnesium status. This blood serum magnesium can further be subdivided into free ionic, complex-bound and protein-bound portions, but it’s the ionic portion that’s considered most important in measuring magnesium status, because it is physiologically active.
The researchers concluded that not only did supplemental magnesium help suppress lactate production, but that it also somehow increased glucose availability and metabolism in the brain during exercise. This is important because scientists now believe that the brain and central nervous system play a large role in determining the degree of muscular fatigue we feel; higher brain glucose availability could in theory translate into lower levels of perceived fatigue.