Over the next few weeks we will be discussing all the elements that comprise the business of making people more powerful, efficient and comfortable on their bikes – Cycle Fitting.
Cycle fitters are not gurus or witch doctors. A good technician will rigorously evaluate every detail that affects your position and efficiency on the bike: flexibility and muscle ranges, core strength, fitness, asymmetry, posture, muscle recruitment, pedalling style, cleat position, foot shape, shoe choice, pronation, supination, limb tracking, stance width (Q-Factor), previous injuries, historical and current pain, rider aspiration and ambition. It’s quite a lot to consider.
This weeks article will concern itself with how you can ‘feel’ comfortable in your present position, but you could still be very functionally poor and inefficient and how you could in fact be storing up injury and pain further down the road.
Bike Interface - Introduction.
Take the most sophisticated species ever to have crawled out of the primordial slurry. Now place him or her on the most complex piece of sporting equipment ever invented. The result will 99 times out of 100 will be a severe compromise. The human/bike interface is so involved and dynamic, that it is fraught with potential for misalignment, inefficiency, discomfort and, ultimately, injury.
Ironically part of the problem of bike set-up derives from the precisely same quality that underpins training for performance improvement – i.e. ‘adaptation’. This means that our bodies will evolve and change to maximise performance and efficiency as a consequence of whatever activity we subject them to.
Repeatedly lifting heavy weights with your left arm will only cause an increase in all related muscle/bone size and density. You will end up with one ‘Popeye’ arm. Your body neither knows or cares how ridiculous this looks, or how it will impede your life in other areas (e.g. squeezing into tight T-shirts etc). Your body has simply adapted to its new environment of excessive physical demands being placed on one distal limb.
Now put your body in a dreadful position on the bike (and most of us do). At first it will feel strange or uncomfortable, but given enough time and repetition, and it will probably feel familiar – we might even describe it as ‘comfortable’. If we choose to contort ourselves onto a modern racing-bike and then pedal 13,000 times in two hours in a less than perfect position/posture, our bodies will unconsciously adjust as best they can. The fact that we are in a sub-optimal position or storing up an injury will pass unrecorded because there is simply no mechanism to do so. Next time out on the bike the position will feel at least ‘familiar’, even if it is bio-mechanically poor.
Unfortunately our bodies are simply not equipped with the technology to reliably inform us of any inefficiencies or problems. Chiropractors, physiotherapists, A and E departments and indeed CycleFit would all be out of business if a siren went off everytime we attempted something bio-mechanically daft. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the human-body has limited capacity to remember pain. (You can remember being in pain but not so well the pain itself). Which is why many of our clients only seek out CycleFit when they are injured or they are experiencing relentless and therefore intolerable pain. On the positive side better cycling position, posture, technique and muscle-recruiment can worked out and learnt. This will in turn give increased efficiency, power and comfort
The red blob diagram above shows the interrelation of our three basic subsystems that correspond to body movement. Our Nervous System initiates and controls all posture and movement. Our innate reflexes are expanded over time into learned patterns through adaptive responses. The Nervous system is constantly reviewing movement patterns and muscle-recruitment patterns based on the signals it receives back from the ‘passive’ and ‘active’ subsystems. On the bike for example: tight hamstrings can tug the pelvis into a posterior tilt. The ‘Control’ subsystem then has to make adaptive decisions that will affect muscle recruitment throughout the entire body and especially in the lower back and powerful gluts. The systems that govern movement operate upon a complex dynamic relationship that generally only becomes ‘conscious’ in the extremes: i.e. pain or radical change in function and performance.
Two things should become clear. It is impossible for anyone to set-up their own bike for optimal performance. You cannot by definition have the necessary objectivity whilst you are the ‘subject’. Your position should change and evolve in response to your body’s own ongoing changes and remember that you are probably ‘used’ to your bike set-up rather than being your ‘perfect position’.
Who are CycleFit?
CycleFit is influenced by and has trained under the most influential and dominant experts in the industry – Serotta School of Cycling Ergonomics and Paul Swift (Greg Lemond Performance). A consensus has emerged from the application of a scientific theory to the subject of bike-fitting. Lance Armstrong’s coach Chris Carmichael adheres to the same philosophy and cites the same influences as CycleFit. CycleFit’s technicians are the most highly trained and experienced cycle-fitters in Europe. CycleFit was also the first company in Europe to dedicate itself this subject. CycleFit’s remit is to make people more comfortable and powerful on their bikes.
To find out more about CycleFit (and what their customers say) check out their website here.
Next week we will look at the single most important part of the cycling bio-mechanical chain – The Cyclists Feet.