Wednesday, August 25, 2010

La Plagne (short workout) Tech and Breathing special

Thursday 24th August 2010

Today's workout was intended to be short mainly because it was started late in the evening after a miserable day of rain and cloud suddenly cleared up and dried. Originally it was only going to be a 30 minute workout, but I felt better than expected and there was easily enough daylight to complete the normal "short" workout.

The recent raising of the saddle height has allowed me to find out that there is a lot of power to be gained when pulling up on the pedal during the upstroke. Last year I'd read in a book of triathlon training that it's not necessary to pull up on the pedal, but was better to just lift the weight off the pedal on the upstroke. This is starting to look like bad advice. I started the climb to Macot both pushing and pulling on the pedals and was amazed at the climbing speed that it gave me - but expected the effort only to last a few minutes at best. To my amazement there was no difficulty continuing this all the way up the climb - reducing my previous best time by over 4 minutes and 8 minutes faster than last years best. With the saddle a few centimeters lower it wasn't physically possible to pull up on the pedals as it was so cramped - but that position had complied to the rule book - permitting the heel to sit on the pedal with the leg straight at the the bottom of the stroke. Since deciding that I didn't like this squashed position the saddle is now about 5cm higher and everything feels much better. (Now using the rule that the saddle height should be 109% of the inside leg length - measured from pedal spindle centre at the stroke bottom) It feels like the glutes and hamstrings can be used now whereas the lower position was only loading up the quads. The calves and ankles can be used - like a push off in running - whereas before they couldn't be used at all. The pedal cycle feels naturally "rounder" as the maximum power of the leg - just before full extension - takes place before the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke, whereas before it seemed to be still loading up the pedals at the bottom of the stroke - which was probably wasteful in energy terms. One other advantage is when descending it is much easier to keep the pedals at equal height. When the saddle is lower doing this feels like a squat position and is uncomfortable so you end up stretching one leg down to avoid it. When cornering on steep hairpin descents you have to make slightly more effort to get the weight off the saddle and completely onto the outside pedal, but this is easily done by pulling up on the inside leg. During this climb the saddle felt like it could go up even more so for the next day I put it up another centimeter and found that it helped again with the pulling up of the pedal, calf/ankle use etc. Starting to feel just a little high though, but can't tell if that's just because of not being used to it. Definitely not having to rock the pelvis or stretch to reach the pedals though.


Despite this being the fastest climb ever - it was done with only nasal breathing the whole way. It's taking time but I'm learning what this breathing is about. A lifetime of overbreathing conditions all our reflexes towards overbreathing. This means that even when we try to change this condition we end up unconsciously looking for ways to continue to overbreathe. When we feel the air constricted by the nostrils we try to breathe more deeply with the diaphragm or we try to force more rapid breaths. Another strategy is to try to grimace to widen the nostrils or to use clips to keep the nostrils open wider. What we just don't do is see this constriction to breathing as a natural defence mechanism by the body - telling us that we are still overbreathing. When we make an intense physical effort it seems to be commonsense that we need to breathe deeply - but have we ever tried anything else? The feeling of air hunger or slight suffocation is a bit scary so it's probably quite reflexive to strain for deep breaths. During this climb I decided to tolerate the air hunger at intense physical levels and try to observe my behaviour. Being conscious of this anxiousness changes everything. The real issue turns out to be the anxiousness and not the air hunger. The air hunger is no big deal and just doesn't lead to trouble. In fact it's the overbreathing that will kill you despite our basic instinct telling us otherwise.

In the available literature they say the the nose getting blocked or the lungs constricting (asthma) are the body's defense against overbreathing - but they don't discuss the general physical constrictions that we encounter during sport. There's a point where by desperately trying to force the air in the nose the nostrils are sucked together, narrowing even more. Why has nature caused this? The answer might be to stop us from overbreathing. Instead of wishing for wider nostrils perhaps we should take a cue from this and work harder at learning to adapt to breathing less.

One other thing I've noticed is that when breathing through the mouth and starting a workout without warming up there is a rapid initial rise in heart rate which then settles back down after about five minutes. With nasal breathing this doesn't seem to happen - the heart rate climbs smoothly and progressively regardless of the absence of the warm up.

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