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Did you ever have a question, but were too afraid to ask it?

There are so many things that I wish I knew earlier, or asked about sooner.  

This blog aims to help you (and me) find the answers to those questions; to make sense of everything to do with people, sport and performance.  

 

If you have a topic or question, please get in touch.

I can't promise a definitive answer, but I might be able to help you get closer to it.

Deena, founder of drivetrain

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  • Deena Blacking

TL:DR Be strong like a tree 🌲 not wiggly like a worm 🐛


What's the optimal position and posture?


When you climb, you want to focus your energy on pushing force through the pedals. It's the pedalling that gets you up the hill. Nothing else. Have you ever seen someone bob and wiggle their upper body as they climb? It might make them feel like they're working harder, but it's not helping; it's wasting energy and time.


Every time you push force into the pedals, there is an opposite force* on your trunk**.


Have you ever seen a person 'bracing' their trunk

to lift a barbell weight in the gym?


When it comes to cycling, you need to adopt the same idea to keep the force in the right place – the pedals. If you have a weak, wiggly trunk, the force you put in the pedals will dissipate out to the rest of your body. Sure, you don’t need to brace like you would for a deadlift, but you do need your trunk to be reasonably solid (think tree trunk!).



What happens if you don't have a solid trunk?


If your trunk is weak and/or overly relaxed, then a few things might happen...

(1) The force to move the pedals is lost into your trunk

(2) Your upper body moves excessively, wasting more energy as you try to retain stability


If you do a lot of high force work with a weak trunk and/or bad posture, you also increase the risk of lower back injury and putting unwanted pressure on your spine.



How do I know if I have a solid trunk?


What to look for off the bike

Trunk strength exists in FOUR quadrants:

(1) anterior (lower abs)

(2) posterior (lower back)

(3) lateral left (left side)

(4) lateral right (right side)


Optimal trunk health requires relatively even strength in all four quadrants. For example, if you can hold a four minute front plank but only hold a left plank for 30 seconds, it's time to even out those differences. Elite endurance athletes are expected to be able to hold isometric positions for all four quadrants for more than 180 seconds.

What to look for on the bike

  • What do you look like when you are climbing?

  • Can you push the pedals down without bobbing and wiggling your upper body?

  • How much does your pelvis move when you are pedalling?

Ask a friend to film you cycling up a hill. There’s nothing better than visual feedback to help you to make sense of your technique and find out where you need to improve.

Seated or standing?


It’s often said that seated is more ‘efficient’ than standing. Staying seated is better strength training because you don't have the benefit of your body weight to push down on the pedals. When you stand, there is also naturally more movement of the upper body. So it's easier to waste more energy when you are standing because there is more wiggle room 😉


On the other hand, standing on the pedals will likely get you up the hill quicker. Cycling and training isn't purely about training for efficiency. It's also about versatility. A bike race isn’t a controllable event in which riders can choose the most efficient way to cycle at all times. It's vital to develop strength and competence in both seated and standing positions. Once you do this, you will be a versatile rider who can respond to the challenges the environment throws at you!


Ultimately, whether you are seated or standing, a solid trunk is key to getting up that grade faster!



* Newton's Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

**The trunk is a 'global system' that consists of many muscles, spans many joint segments, and forms a muscular corset between the rib cage, spine, and pelvis.


Please GET IN TOUCH if you have any questions, comments or want to find out more!


References

Wolf, Alex. Strength and Conditioning for Rowing. 2020. The Crowood Press: Ramsbury. Grappe, Frédéric. Cyclisme : Optimisation de la performance. 2018. De Boeck Supérieur: Louvain-La-Neuve.

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TL:DR Push those pedals (and embrace the pain)


Power = force x cadence

The previous blog focused on cadence. This blog is all about FORCE. In simple terms, force is how hard you push the pedals. This is a matter for your muscles.


Generally speaking, we have two types of muscle fibres:

(1) ‘slow twitch’ muscle fibres which can go all day but aren't always so good at pushing a big load of force;

(2) ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres which allow us to do powerful efforts up hills, but get fatigued more quickly.


Have you ever powered up a steep hill and then died a death after initially flying up it? This is where it's not just about strength, but about strength that endures.


As the road rises, ultimately you need stronger legs. Full stop. For any given weight (you, plus bike, plus snacks!) you need stronger muscles, both fast and slow twitch.



What training can I do to develop leg strength for climbing?

(1) Off The Bike Strength Training


I HIGHLY RECCOMMEND off the bike strength training. Why?

(1) You can push greater loads

(2) You can develop your strength in greater ranges of motion (ROM)

(3) You can be more targeted in your training


There are two conditioning principles to focus on when you hit the gym:

(1) Your legs need to tolerate higher absolute loads (i.e. increase strength)

(2) Your legs need to tolerate higher load for longer periods of time (i.e. develop endurance)


In simple terms, if you want to continually push the pedals for a long time and actually get somewhere, then your legs need to be used to performing that task.



(2) On The Bike Strength Training


A fantastic way to develop leg strength is to perform over-geared efforts ideally on a hill.


Over-geared hill repeats require a significantly lower cadence than usual, such as 50 RPM, to ensure that you are maximally stressing the muscular system. As a default, this work should be done seated, so that you are relying on your leg strength (rather than the weight of your body) to push the pedals.


(1) To develop pure strength, try shorter intervals with longer recovery periods between efforts.


(2) To develop strength endurance, try longer intervals with shorter recovery periods between efforts.

Remember to keep sight of the task at hand. If you want to push the pedals up hills at a certain speed, you need to go and practice it at that speed. Your legs need to be used to performing that task.



But hey! Coach! Why all this seated stuff? What about those pros who climb out of the saddle?


I hear you. Climbing seated isn't always the quickest way to get up the hill. But when it comes to training, staying seated is a very good way to build overall physical strength, not just your legs.


Ever seen someone climbing and they look like a wiggly worm? Hint: it's not a good idea.


Tune in to the next blog post in this series to find out more about position, posture, and how to make the most of your power.



Please get in touch if you have any questions, comments or want to find out more!

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