Friday, September 17, 2010

Psoas Secret?

Wednesday 15th September 2010


Dragged myself out for another workout. Yup, not too enthusiastic. Just a bit tired.
Changed out the rear tyre. The "Continental Grand Prix S" tyre I use for training has done 4000km so far and is still going strong - it'll see out the season. The centre is a bit flat and thin so for extra security and better rolling I put a newer tyre on for racing only.  
The workout today was a standard climb up the Cormet de Roselend to 2000m altitude over about 20km. Bad weather was coming in rapidly as indicated by a really spectacular and dramatic display of high cirrus and lenticular wave clouds. When that happens the Cormet can be a real pig near the top because you get the wind driving you hard back down the mountain.



Deciding to eat some lunch in Bourg St Maurice prior to the workout I ended up with a ridiculously oversized "pain baignat" to eat. It's a gigantic round French tuna, egg and mayo sandwich the size of an average car wheel. OK, maybe not that big - but it feels that way in your stomach afterwards. The half litre of 4:1 carb/protein drink prepared for the bike ride seemed a bit like overkill now.
My normal time for this climb is between 1hr 25' and 1hr 27' and that hasn't budged since last year. This was definitely not a good day to be chasing records. The legs proved to be still tired from Sunday's race and that tiredness no doubt had something to do with over-breathing for the entire race - guaranteeing a major lactic acid build up and a slow recovery.
The hill was climbed with no enthusiasm and with less energy in the legs that could have anticipated. The start - which a year ago I had struggled at with a wheel rubbing against the frame at 8 km/hr was now being covered at a speed of 20km/hr - something I truly never expected to see. The kilometre markers on the roadside did seem to pop up rather quickly though such observations are very subjective when engaged in rhythmic physical effort. The heart rate monitor was going nuts - either that or my heart was packing in. Each time I made a greater effort the heart rate would drop. On relaxing the heart would go up to about 120 bpm and with a strong effort it would creep down to about 90. If I maxed out it would drop down to around 40. Totally weird and a bit troubling. I thought about it for a while and as I felt fine and was breathing easily by the nose I came to the conclusion that my heart was probably a lot better constructed that this damned heart rate monitor - so time to forget the technology. Near the top it started to become clear that I was on for a good time so with 4km to go I dropped the nasal breathing and started gunning for it straight into the wind. Well, sort of gunning it because tired legs didn't let that get too much out of hand. To my astonishment though the time at the top was around 1hr 15' - a very big improvement and more confirmation that even on a bad day the technical changes have really changed the game.


Technical Analysis

Prior to setting off the saddle was raised another 5mm (now 45mm higher than the recommended textbook height with the heel on the pedal etc.) Immediately this felt better. I was now used to the previous height after originally feeling that it was slightly too high and now that height felt too low. I'd suspected that this adaptation might take place.
Riding with the saddle even higher clarified for me what the changes really were in the pedalling. In all the texts I can find people write about pulling up using the hamstrings and the glutes - or they don't actually specify anything. Nowhere can I find anything explaining what I'm actually feeling - and that is that the leg is pulled up by the psoas muscles - the big muscles that attach the pelvis and lower spine to the top of the femur - the major hip flexor muscles. We use those muscles to recover and raise the leg in front for running, jumping, walking - everything. It's how the leg works. Cyclists don't seem to think that those muscles exist - but they are big and powerful. Not only are they powerful but they connect the movement from one leg to the other. The abdominal activity I felt is due to the abdomen preventing the pelvis being pulled down at the front as the psoas muscles do their work. With the saddle even higher this extends the psoas more and so permits a strong contraction and pull up of the femur - simple and effective. The difference to my performance with this is shockingly big - already tested in a 151km race - yet nowhere in text books, Internet articles or cycling magazines do I find any mention of this. Totally weird - but then pretty damned standard.

When I learned to teach skiing I eventually understood that I had been trained by morons who understood absolutely nothing about the phenomenon of mechanics. They discuss "dynamic balance" without knowing that it is a mathematical trick and not a reality. They talk wisely and knowledgeably about "balance" and instruct people to aim for this property that is diametrically opposed to their aims. Absolute professional idiots of the first degree - without a clue.

When I learned violin I struggled endlessly with the scales, always fighting a losing battle to be accurately in tune and not get lost on the fingerboard and with my ear. No book anywhere ever pointed out to me that the task was impossible. The musical scale I grew up with and that almost everyone in the western world uses is called "Equal Temperament". Guitars, pianos all come fretted or tuned to this. No one ever points out that in any octave every note is out of tune - except the notes exactly on the octave, Between each octave - every one of the 12 semitones is artificially positioned according to a mathematical logarithmic scale which has absolutely nothing do do with natural harmonics or the human ear. It's a total mess. Sure you can work around it if you know about it - but otherwise, with an unfretted instrument you are in the s**t.

Does it then come to me as a surprise that no one bl**dy well knows what they are talking about in another physical activity. Well, frankly, no.

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