Sunday, November 30, 2008


Recently, a New York Times article summarized some research by the University of Nevada that concluded that static stretching for 30 seconds decreased muscular power of the leg muscles of those that stretched versus those that did not. Vertical jumping and torque was unchanged.Power is the application of work within a finite time. Torque is the application of force and does not require movement unlike work. It is important to remember that athletes have different requirements depending on the sport and stretching should be sport specific."Athletes typically include static stretching as a part of the warm-up, but the evidence is clear that this practice will decrease performance in sports that require explosive movements," said UNLV kinesiology professor and study co-author Bill Holcomb, who directs the university's Sports Injury Research Center. He concludes stretching should be done after sports activity. When I asked Bill Holcomb to elaborate on his conclusions he said “The type of stretching to warmup should be dynamic rather than static to prevent a reduction of power. Then, after activity and during the cool down, static stretching can be used to improve range of motion/flexibility for later performance. “ Warming up is also something that can be overdone at the expense of performance.
“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching,” says Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout. Another support to the idea of the inhibitory response is that the other side of the stretched leg has been shown to have less power.Stretching muscles while moving, on the other hand, a technique known as dynamic stretching or dynamic warm-ups, increases power, flexibility and range of motion. Muscles in motion don’t experience that insidious inhibitory response. They instead get what McHugh calls “an excitatory message” to perform.
Citing earlier studies, Stacy Ingraham, an exercise physiologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, says that, "When you stretch, you lengthen muscle fibers. It then takes longer for messages from the brain to travel through them. Stretched muscles also seem to be more sluggish than un-stretched ones. They don't spring back as readily. And every time you stretch, you may be tearing your muscle fibers a tiny bit." Flexibility is speed specific. There are two kinds of stretch receptors, one reacts to magnitude and speed and the other reacts to magnitude only. This also explains why it doesn’t make sense to static stretch prior to dynamic activity.
These receptors are also responsible for the stretch reflex which counters in the opposite direction to the part being stretched.
I have talked with athletes and yoga instructors about overstretching before explosive sports such as soccer and the possibility of too much laxity creating instability and a setup for injury. Clearly there is a balance between how much stretching is done.
This puts into new light the concept of devices such as night splints that use static stretching for structures like the plantar fascia that are already injured. The difference here being that the part is injured and immobilization, a time honored strategy is part of the treatment and the fascia is put at physiologic tension which is not as forceful as a true static stretch. The athletes that use a night splint are also more likley to have a flexibility deficit in the achilles tendon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Efficient Use of Recovey

Words of wisddom by cycling coach BJ Basham on elliminating what we can do without.

Cycling is all about efficiency. It is easy to find stuff we can buy for our bikes that are supposed to make them faster, but the benefits of an efficient training schedule far outweigh any gains that a new set of wheels or carbon bars can provide. A well thought out training plan involves the 2 main components required to improve performance: Overload and Recovery. Your coach can give you specific workouts and there are several tools such as power meters and software to provide you with the most efficient means of getting the right amount of overload, but it is really up to you to make sure you make the most efficient use of the time provided for recovery. It is important to remember that just because you are not on the bike or in the gym, that doesn’t mean you are getting the rest you need to recover from the overload of your last training session.
So what can you do to make the most efficient use of the recovery time built into your training plan. The first step is to look at all the activities in your day-to-day life that might affect your ability to recover. For most of us, this includes going to work and taking care of our houses and families. Then think about what you can do to make the most efficient use of the time you have each day. For example: Could you change your work schedule so that you are not sitting in rush hour traffic each day? Could you work from home? What activities around the house can you change to make more efficient use of your time? Are there elements that add to the level of stress in your life? What can you do to reduce the level of stress? Do you get enough sleep? Are you staying up watching TV when you could be sleeping and recovering?
How about the efficient use of your money to help you recover. As cyclists, we all love to have the latest and lightest equipment, but once your bike is setup to be safe, and a reasonable weight, a lot of thought should go into the next component you buy with the idea that it will make “it” faster. Remember that without the rider, the bike just leans against the wall not going anywhere. You should think about if your money could be better spent in someway to make “you” faster. Since we are discussing recovery, what can you spend your money on to make your recovery time more effective. Most cyclists do not realize that the bike shop is not the only place they should be shopping. For example, a lawn tractor could have a much greater affect on my racing career than a 15 lb bike ever could because the tractor might cut my mowing time down from three hours to only one and also eliminate three hours of walking around in the heat on tired legs. The new expensive gadgets may look cool at the races, but could your money have been better spent to make you faster by helping you to be recovered and ready for the next workout or race.
Always remember that there are two parts to the training formula and that recovery is just as important as overload. You can use your training tools such as your heart rate monitor or power meter to make sure you do not ride too hard on your recovery days, but it takes some personal initiative and self control to make sure that the time spent off the bike also provides the greatest amount of recovery. I read an interview with Chris Horner where he explained that his training program consisted of five to six hour rides followed by the rest of the day spent on the couch. That kind of schedule is not realistic for most cyclists, but it does emphasize the importance of recovery. In order to get the most out of a prescribed workout, it is important that you are fresh and ready to put forth the effort required, which means that you must be recovered from your last workout.
In the old days (1980s) the rule of thumb for cyclists was “Don’t stand if you can sit and don’t sit if you can lay down” . This may be a bit extreme, but the spirit of the rule still holds true. Anything that you can do to improve your recovery can help your performance. And since everything in your life has affect on your recovery, everything can potentially modified to help you recover better

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Running Shoe Cushioning: Perception and Reality

The running shoe industry has built much of its platform on cushioning. In studies by Benno Nigg ,very soft shoes will bottom out when loaded, producing higher impact forces than firmer shoes that do not bottom out. Yet for any of us who have run downhill on concrete the more cushioned shoes seem to be less jarring so how do we reconcile this? I interviewed Benno Nigg, one of the foremost biomechanics gurus on running shoes and he was able to provide a new paradigm which he has published on. He started by telling me that there is no article in the literature which supports the notion that peak force transmission will be altered with varied levels of cushioning. In fact peak force transmission does not occur during heel contact as we might intuit but in midstance where the internal forces in joints muscles and tendons are 4 to 5 times greater than during impact There is something else that accounts for the perception that we are more comfortable in a certain level of cushioning. That something else is explained in Benno' Nigg's vibration model. When we impact the ground our soft tissue compartments (e.g. calf, hamstrings etc.) start to vibrate. However the human body does not like vibrations. Consequently, muscles are activated to dampen these vibrations. The degree of dampening that occurs in various types of shoes is what leads to our perception of comfort in the shoe. Cushioning is better represented by examining the vibrations that travel up the lower extremity according to Dr. Nigg. So we have an innate sense of what works for our bodies that is probably more accurate than any test could demonstrate for us. We must also consider the fatigue that occurs within the muscles that are working to distribute the vibrations. We know from other studies that fatigue can lead to injuries and this may be part of the answer we seek.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Does your Bike Fit You?

I spoke to BJ Basham, a cycling coach out of Fairfax,VA, at length about this and I like his approach of tailoring thingsto the individual as opposed to one set of hard fast rules regarding bike fit. This submission summarizes his views.
Does your bike fit you or do you fit your bike? In other words, is your position on the bike based on the length of your limbs and range of motion about your joints and your riding style, or is it based on the equipment you have chosen or what came with your bike from the shop. Too often, I have found that the latter is the case. Many riders try to adapt the way they ride and the way they sit on a bike to the what the bike allows them to do, as opposed to adjusting the parts on the bike to allow them to ride in a position that is efficient, aerodynamic and allows them to avoid many overuse injuries related to long hours in the saddle. The other mistakes many riders make is worrying about the “look” of their bike or trying to match the position of their favorite pro.
The fact of the matter is that the human body is very adaptable and will learn to work in even the worst riding position over time. There have even been some very successful cyclists who have ridden in very unorthodox positions (check out old photos of Sean Kelly). Another fact is that the damage done by a bad riding position or misaligned pedal stroke may not be noticeable for quite a long time. How often have you noticed a pain in your knee or hips that only comes on when you put in some extra miles?
The goal of a good bike fit is to set the saddle, handle bars and cleats in a position that allows you to turn the pedals efficiently and with no damage to your joints or bones and to avoid undue fatigue. When your riding position fits you, your bones can carry more of the stress of applying power to the pedals and supporting your body, and your joints can work and track within their normal range of motion.
A precision bike fit is one that is based on the length of the bones and the position of the joints that are involved in the process of pedaling your bike. In order to get a precision bike fit, each segment of the limbs involved in the pedaling motion needs to be accurately measured. Short of using an x-ray machine, the best way of getting accurate measurements is by locating and marking anatomical landmarks that can be used to identify the position and shape of the rider’s bones and joints. Using these landmarks, the rider’s ideal position can be determined based on the size and shape of the bones and joints in the rider’s legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arms and feet, and how all these body parts can work together to pedal the bike.
Another challenge cyclists with more than one bike may face is how to make sure they are riding in the same position on whichever bike they choose to ride. It is important to avoid changing your riding position frequently because muscle memory is a very big component of a smooth and powerful pedal stroke. If your saddle height changes up and down and back an forth every time you ride, your muscles will be trying to pull up before your reach the bottom of the pedal stroke or push down while your foot is still on its way up. This lack of coordination can lead to injuries to the joints, muscles and other connective tissue as well as impaired performance. A good bike fit is one that can be transferred from one bike to the next while maintaining accuracy and precision. Remember that your position is your position no matter which bike you ride. What this means is that frame geometry should not have an affect on your riding position. Your butt should still be in the same place relative to your feet and hands.
The type of riding you are planning to do should also be considered when determining your riding position. The requirements of road, mountain and time trial/triathlon riding will result in a different riding position for each style. Aerodynamics, bike handling, sprinting and climbing requirements all have an affect on your riding position.
There are many good fitting systems that use different landmarks and biomechanical measurements and calculations in order to determine the riders ideal saddle, handle bar and cleat position. When shopping around for someone to fit your bike to you, the more precision there is, and the more factors that are included in determining your position, the better. I will admit that there are probably one or two gurus in the world that could look at you and tell you exactly what needs to be changed, but the rest of us need to do some measuring to get it right.
I would recommend that you look for a system that determines your ideal riding position independent of the bike or equipment being used and look for a bike fit professional who will take into consideration other factors including riding style, biomechanical imbalances, physical differences from one limb to the next and neuromuscular issues that may not be fixed by even the most precise setup.
Something to keep in mind if you are planning on having a professional bike fitting done is that the equipment that you currently have may not allow you to achieve your ideal riding position. The seat post or saddle may not allow for the amount of adjustment required or the top tube on your frame may not allow you to get to the ideal reach to the handlebars. The bike fitter will aim to get you in the best riding position, but it will be up to you to take their advice and make the recommended changes.
Also remember that it may take a bit of time for you to adapt to the new riding position. A period of low intensity riding should always be planned for after making any changes to your riding position, especially if the changes are big. Never change your position right before an important event.
Riders at every level have a good reason for having a precision bike fitting done. Riders who only get out once or twice a week will want to be sure they are getting all they can from the time they spend in the saddle and riders who compete or put in a lot of time on the road will want to be sure they are as riding as efficiently as possible while at the same time avoiding overuse injuries from even the slightest misalignment or imbalance.
Remember, your bike should fit you, not the other way around.

BJ Basham is a USA-Cycling Expert coach and an experienced Wobble Naught bike fit professional. For any questions about coaching, bike fitting he can be reached at 703-803-4621 or by email at

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome In Cyclists

This is a submission from Paul Glodzik, DC
An injury that often plagues cyclists as well as long distance runners is IT band syndrome. The symptom most commonly reported is severe pain just above the lateral aspect (outside) of the knee. This usually occurs when there is a sudden increase in training volume or improper bike fit. To fully understand how this occurs I will need to explain the anatomy and the biomechanics of the knee. The IT band is a tough thickened piece of fascia that starts at the lateral aspect of the iliac crest of the hip and extends down to the patella (knee cap), tibia (shin bone) and biceps femoris tendon (part of the hamstrings). Fascia is a type of connective tissue that surrounds muscles and tendons and allows the muscles to glide over each other more easily.
The IT band functions to stabilize the lateral aspect of the knee. It was believed that the IT band would rub against the lateral condyle of the femur (outside edge of the thigh bone) or a bursa (fluid filled sac) and cause pain. Newer research has shown that this is not the case. Most individuals do not actually have a bursa at this location.(1) There is a highly vascular fat pad that is located beneath the IT band at this location. When the knee is flexed (bent) the tibia rotates internally (inward) if there is no compensating external rotation of the femur (hip bone) the IT band increases compressive forces on the lateral aspect of the knee. The increased compressive forces prevent blood flow from passing through the above mentioned fat pad. With the decreased blood flow inflammation occurs within the fat pad causing pain. The pain is usually at its highest intensity when the knee is flexed at 30 degrees.
IT band syndrome is usually treated conservatively with rest, ice, anti-inflammatories (try Bromelain it is a proteolytic enzyme that has the same effect as aspirin or ibuprofen without the side effects of gastric bleeding and increased stress on your liver), stretching and rehabilitative exercise. In a small percentage of patients that have recurrent IT band syndrome surgery is performed to release the posterior aspect of the band.
If you notice that you are starting to experience pain in your knee that is similar to this the best thing to do is to take time off your bike. Now I understand that is not something most cyclists want to hear. It however may be a necessary step to reduce the pain. To aid in the reduction of pain stretching and rehabilitative exercises need to be completed. A recent study on IT Band problems suggests this stretch. Start by standing on the right leg and place your left leg behind and across the right leg. Make sure that you are close to a wall for balance with the right side closer to the wall. Now lean your left hip away from the wall and reach toward the left foot. You should feel a stretch in the outside of your left leg and hip. It is also important to have proper therapy performed on the IT band. There are soft tissue techniques, such as ART (Active Release Techniques) and Graston Technique, which are designed to help break up any adhesions that are present in the IT band.
More important than stretching is dealing with the cause in most cases. The gluteus medius (one of the deep buttocks muscles) is usually very weak in patients that have this syndrome. The gluteus medius is one of the external rotators of the hip and the muscle that is most active when attempting to stabilize the pelvis on one leg.. When your hip is flexed to 90 degrees the gluteus medius helps externally rotate your femur (thigh bone). When you are at the top of your pedal stroke both your hip and knee are flexed. This means that the femur should be externally rotated with the tibia internally rotated. With a weakened gluteus medius the femur stays internally rotated. This causes the fat pad at the lateral aspect of the knee to be exposed to the increased compressive forces from the IT band. The gluteus medius can be strengthened by performing exercises on one leg. By performing these activities the majority of patients who suffer from IT band syndrome receive relief of their symptoms. A good exercise to strengthen your gluteus medius is a one leg step down. Start with your right leg on the edge of a step and the left leg off of it. Now begin to lower yourself onto your left foot (make sure to land on your heel and not the toes). This is accomplished by sitting back and bending your right knee until the left heel touches the ground. Once you have touched the ground push back up. Do not let your right knee collapsing inward. Make sure to keep your knee over your foot. If you have any questions contact
1) Khaund, R and Flynn, S Iliotibial Band Syndrome: A Common Source of Knee Pain American Family Physician 2005 Apr 15;71(8):1545-50

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Straight Talk on Steroids