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Origins of Fatigue – #WednesdayWisdom

Concise is the name of the game here – so read on! It won’t take long.

The Instagram post HERE / Below – has set the tone.

Central fatigue is the big bad bad beast, in the short term its’ easy to over come; like taking 5 minutes between heavy squats, it dissipates and you can lift maximally again. But over repeated bouts of heavy squats or even just a long, long bike ride the central (CNS) fatigue that reduces the drive from brain to spinal cord to muscles is a big performance killer. So think back to back EWS races. It could be a big issue! Because it affects motivation as much as it affects fine motor skills like delicate cornering or perfectly timed manuals. Harder to measure, but reduced drive for explosive movements and far higher perceived exertion will do the trick.

Peripheral fatigue is what is happening in the muscle – this can be felt, legs getting heavy, sore after strength training etc… this is where architecture, energy pathways and the cardiovascular system collide and of course MTB in any discipline has the ability to create fatigue here! Measured with internal load – like same power output = higher heart-rate!

So with MTB we have both, in spades. Race an EWS or World Cup DH and both will hit you harder than you think. Now the affect physiological load or biomechanical load has on the source of fatigue would start to make our discussion complex as all hell. so let’s move on.

Environmental aspects like heat, altitude and rain cannot be forgotten about and neither can emotional load/fatigue like meeting sponsor demands or kissing babies!

So we have the descending loads – bike and body accelerating due to gravity, hitting holes and turns and rocks and roots. It means deforming, crumbling but you can’t because to execute technique you have to maintain posture. which requires muscle forces are generated both eccentrically and concentrically – these forces are created around all joints, in perfect unison of force, time and speed! Angular velocity is the name of the game and of course all of this is extremely fatiguing – both centrally and peripherally. If this is DH then you have to do it repeatable – up to 5,000m descending over 2 days at near max effort to learn a track well enough to win.

For EWS you have elements of the above but also the endless hours outside dealing with the environmental stress and the load of just pedaling that bike from A to B! Add in emotional, organisational and external stressors to this and it’s a big challenge for either discipline! Hence why we see some empty minds and bodies at the end of race days.

Long story short – racing MTB means fatigue off all types in varying degrees! Know your poison to make your cure!

The true antidote to fatigue is capacity; maybe better termed specific capacity. But even that is not a silver bullet as no matter how well prepared you are you will get fatigued! The “solution”, at least as I’ve chipped away at it is categorized below. Along with other systems like a movement, technique or needs analysis this goes to form the overall “training process/planning or paradigm” we use.

Capacity

The bigger the tank the longer it takes to empty! The stronger you are means you produce more force, the more force you produce the less you need to produce in relation to your top limits to achieve the same task goal – hence better ACCURACY (key) and less fatigue both centrally and peripherally. That’s one example but it is a very simple concept that can be expanded across physical qualities and is essential the underpinning justification for psychical prep or strength and conditioning. For example, better ability to use your aerobic energy pathways, less fatigue incurred for climbing said hill at said pace!

Specificity

Where rubber meets the road! Here’s where things can get messy and internet gurus, CrossFit loonies and “sport-specific” charlatans swimming in a sea of BOSU balls will try to sink your ship! Your sport or others very close to it (pump-track) are the only true sport specific prep you can do! As such doing your sport in training to EXCEED the demands that will be placed upon you in competition is critical to battling fatigue and arriving at race day and race runs ready to win. I won’t dig deeper because at this point in time I think we have some Point1 gems in the works here to make good inroads in prep compared to out competition! Although there is nothing new under the sun.

Load Management

No brainer – both acute and chronic! this is a case of sharpen versus saw, general  versus specific and of course understanding the individual time curves of both adaptation and recovery of individual athletes. Generic planning does not cut it here . If you wish to be on form for race week – to maximise practice and arrive at race day alive and ready to kill then you will need to have developed sufficient capacity of physical qualities and specificity of training BUT not be carrying excessive residual or chronic fatigue from doing so. You cannot display what you don’t have, but if you have something and it’s buried under injured or tiredness you won’t be able to whip it out in time,

Manage Nutrition

A big fish to fry, therefore lets keep it specific to racing. The foundations of good nutrient start long before and far away from race day – so you amplify the good come racing and dampen the bad. Adequate carbohydrate during and after peripherally fatiguing exercise like an EWS practice day could be a game changer for some or bread and butter for others. Dealing with reduced drive from increased central fatigue with a tasty double espresso, eating local, colorful and seasonal all week long to cover macro needs and supplementing when necessary! Do the job right but don’t over-complicate

Manage Planning

Last but maybe most important. The forgotten bastard child of bike racing!? All of a sudden this isin’t shredding with “mates”! Now you’ve got limited time to get a maximum amount of work done? Cram 7 runs into 4 hours? Queue outside under the blistering sun, limit recovery between full runs on a 4 minute DH track? Sounds great, not! sounds like you don’t have clue what you are doing.

 

Planning practice, recovery, strategy and tactics. Knowing how practice equates to building a race run or stage win = minimal energy expended for maximum effect and as such less fatigue incurred! Leaving all that capacity and specific prep you did in very perfect working order to go and EXECUTE come race day.

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#FoxDialed: Prime Posture – Post Script

By in large the feedback on our (myself and Jordi Cortes’ video) on posture, performance and suspension was positive. People enjoyed both the concrete advice and the more abstract or philosophical discussion about the cyclical nature of problem solving your progression as a rider. There was of course some negative feedback, which is always welcome and often necessary. Much of the more negative replies came on the now infamous Pinkbike comments section. Instead of directly replying to those comments  and getting embroiled in a slimy pig wrestle where both parties become lost deep in the black hole of internet forum fighting, I thought it better to use some of the feedback to fire up my own skull muscle and delve deeper into my own rationale & understanding behind a “prime posture” and share that with anyone willing to read.

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One of the stand out replies on Pinkbike was from a guy who claimed that Jordi or myself recommended a tall posture on the bike but then contradicted ourselves by saying Bruni had the best posture and as we can all see Loic rides at his fastest in a relatively deep “hip hinge”! The discussion then takes off and Amaury Pierron and his “low and aerodynamic” position on the bike gets dragged in. The true details don’t matter so much, more so the overall idea that 1) Jordi or me recommended an upright position and 2) that because successful riders don’t have *the position* that all advice is null and void. The key for me is having some arguments to refute or at least use them expand on my own rationale for a Prime Posture.

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 The stand out issue is that my doodle of prime posture showed a rider standing very upright, maybe skewing people’s own representation of what I mean. Coupled with that was the discussion about how a deep flexion biased posture is something I see in less experienced or skilled riders. Those two parts of our discussion may have led people to conclude that we were recommending a tall, very upright posture at ALL times. Which of course is not the case. If the over-zealous commentators had paid attention to the key kinematic components on my doodle they would have realized that no matter how low or deep in their hip flexion Amaury or Loic get they still at all times display the common kinematic variables of a “prime posture”. From top to bottom they are; eyes up, neutral spine, stable & square pelvis hinged over strong legs stacked on mobile but “stiff” ankles! You can look at 500+ photos of either rider in question or any world class DHer for that matter and you will see all of the above on display. You cannot however prescribe specific joint angles that are the best across all people. As we all know the variables of limb length, strength, total mass, mass of each limb or joint segment, sensory-motor difference and a whole host of variables due to the inherent redundancy or degeneracy of the human motor-system mean that the details of the postural solutions to the balance problem that is riding an MTB down wild tracks at speed are individual. They just share common features, or Principles of Prime Posture if you will.

 

The more upright posture I was describing was a direct antithesis to the heavily flexed posture of the scared novice. It was not a description of the perfect posture we need in all situations. Continuing as the comments did with both Amaury and Loic as examples of low and aero postures we can dig into just what is actually on display and why. As outlined in the previous paragraph, no matter how low Amaury gets he always displays an eyes up, neutral spine and stable hinged hip posture, ditto for Loic. The more experienced eye will see the commonalities of posture not the differences caused by kinematic or anthropomorphic variables. Going further the true issue with the debate is that it’s comparing tomatoes with bananas. We all know that tomatoes have no place in a fruit salad! As spoken about in the #dialed episode posture on the bike is simply a solution to the problem of balance. Riding bikes is a dynamic balance challenge where maintaining our centre of mass over our base of support is critical. Doing so as we successfully negotiate challenging terrain and apply the right technique at the right time is skillful riding. 

A comparison in subtle joint angle differences for the same "hip dominant" technique
A comparison in subtle joint angle differences for the same “hip dominant” technique

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What we see Loic and Amaury do is solve their own unique balance challenge in the most appropriate way possible given the task demands. In this case that’s getting from A to B down a gnarly World Cup track as fast as possible. As we all know World Cup tracks are fast, often wide and now have less tight turns and changes in speed than before. Average speeds are high, between 35 – 40 km/h for most tracks, peak speeds of up to 75 km/h and there is a variety of gradients but mostly things are steep enough that a rider needs to have a more rearward bias in posture to distribute weight optimally to maintain the needed blend of vision, control, balance and efficiency. The word efficiency here is key, it’s our motor systems search for a cost effective way of solving movement problems that leads to this low or deep hinged posture for many WC racers. It’s the fastest, safest and most energy efficient way to solve the task at hand. Controlling your COM on your bike comes in two main forms; an ankle dominant strategy and hip dominant strategy. When speeds are low, good riders tend to choose an ankle dominant strategy, cruising along nice and tall, using small movements at the ankles and then knee and hip to deal with the very small displacements of COM caused or demanded by the trail. When speeds are high and especially when speed, gradient and the amplitude of displacement of COM is great, then good riders will use a far deeper more hip dominant strategy to control COM. Again, this is a universal concept that has key similarities between individuals but many small differences caused by the vastly different sizes, shapes and motor learning histories we all have.

 

As a visual example of the above principle, hit this LINK to watch Amaury displaying an ankle dominant strategy as the terrain, speed and urgency of the situation dictates that as the most cost effective solution. This is the general neutral position myself and Jordi were talking about. Then watch the following five seconds to see Amaury display his hallmark hip dominant strategy as he shreds some wild terrain at warp speed – HERE. And for arguments sake if you watch all of the clips in the following link from Mont Sainte Anne World Champs you will see a more mixed approach to the balance problem as that’s what the terrain and speed demands. It’s certainly a hip dominant strategy but it’s slightly taller – LINK showing that postures as a strategy to control COM displacement are on a continuum. At all times in the linked videos though, Amaury displays the key movement principles of Prime Posture – vision is stable, neutral spine, hinged hips etc….

 

From here onward I could probably fill 50 pages with endless waffle about the reasons behind how and why individuals choose certain points along the ankle to hip dominant continuum of postural control on a bike. We of course need to speak about the importance of keeping the head neutral and parallel to the ground we travel on as the signals from our vestibular system are key to successful control! The potential questions are nearly endless. Do our postural choices lead to an increase or decrease in the amplitude or strength of the automatic postural responses that are encoded in our spinal “circuits” and brain stem? Does our unique sum of joint angles and inter and intramuscular coordination and length tension relationships caused by our preferred strategies lead to a functional increase in short latency reflex responses or are they still not much to write home about? Are the shapes we make on the bike key to enhancing muscle synergies that drive effortless and rhythmic movement?

A more Upright strategy
A more Upright strategy

 

The questions of why a prime posture is truly prime are pretty far reaching, this little blog post is about refuting the notion that postural choices are absolutes, they exist on a continuum of usefulness or relevancy dictated by the demands of the terrain. Is there an aerodynamic element to Amaury or Loic’s choices? Maybe, wind resistance or drag is one of the key forces acting on riders along with friction, so whether innate or planned, maybe getting low when possible is a choice. I’d hazard a guess though that given the demands of race tracks the deeper hinged, low postures we see are as much about riders femur lengths, torso strength and arm span as anything else.

 

The goal is to ride the bike from A to B as fast as possible. The task is to do so in an energy efficient way while maintaining balance. For this to happen kinematics, kinetics and the redundancy of the motor sensory system needs to be controlled. That challenge is so complex that really the best approach is to focus on the key principles of prime posture. You will see the best of the best share these items no matter what the trail, track or speed demands are.

 

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Real Race Training – #TopTipTuesday

Making the most of Time on the Race Bike – Real Race Training

Training I say? Squats you think? The tide is again turning slowly, but it seems for many involved in racing bicycles, at any level or discipline, when we speak about training, most people’s minds think about the “physical”. Intervals, sprints, strength training, “Vo2” and “cardio”. The specific race training, that “big bang for your buck” on your bike training comes a poor second best. In reality working on areas of weakness and specificity; aiming to arrive in any start-gate truly ready to attack any race course should make up not the majority but none the less a well organised portion of your training time. Especially if race progression is your goal. Here are some top-tips you can apply to your real deal on the bike training as all to often if you search our training advice all you’ll find is FTP, zones, barbells and box jumps.

 

1 – Set a Goal: just like going to the gym to work on maximal strength where you will try to lift the heaviest weight possible for four sets of three repetitions, having a goal for your on the bike training is critical. It sets the tone for the whole session and allows you to organise the details. This can be anything from braking points or visualisation pre-run, to bigger picture work like managing intensity over full runs or hitting top gear after only limited practice run/s. A goal should be individual to your needs but it must be defined both for the session planned and placed within the picture of your overall plan. Short range goals in the context of big product goals. More here from the Harvard Business Review.

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2 – Define Your Process: A goal is only achievable with a process to get there – take that first example of working on ‘braking points’. Without a process that goal stays pretty abstract. Aim to define what features that require braking you are truly struggling with, define if you need to brake more, harder, less or more consistently. Define two to three spots on a track where the consequences of good/bad braking points will be evident. Try different braking strategies and then try to time a section that allows you to learn from different braking approaches. Consequences & knowledge of results are a must. We deployed many of these ideas with Thomas Estaque & Hugo Frixtalon HERE

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3 – Focus: staying focused on the task at hand and your goals is a challenge as riding bikes is FUN! This however is also a  key area that many riders, even the best, struggle with at the races. Staying focused on the job of building a race run. You can try many things to improve focus during training. Key words – like “focus on” and then imagine yourself hitting a light switch. OR try riding a fun track between your focused race training runs. Nutrition can help too – planned lunch time, high carbohydrate snacks between runs and stimulants like caffeine could help.

 

4- Own your Mistakes: The best race training is training that is challenging enough that you make errors often. Mistakes are normal and are a great opportunity to learn. Instead of getting angry or upset about an error, own up to it, learn from it and take the opportunity it provides to grow. A mistake, from being a little off line to a huge crash is the outcome of many choices. So dissect and investigate where the mistake came from, see if you can change it short or long term and then move on. Move on happy in the knowledge that you’ve learned and grown as a racer because of it.

 

5 – Rest & Reflect: Rest between runs, especially timed or full runs can be an area often overlooked. Riders want maximum bike time, fun time or feel more is better, when in reality, better is better! Learning (whether emotional or motor skills) requires time for adaptation to occur. Short term and long term. Acute fatigue can be beneficial at times to help teach a rider how to adapt movement and technique for a tired body, but often the best  training happens with a minimal level of freshness and readiness. Likewise this rest time between runs allows the rider time to reflect on lessons learned and experiences gained in the session. Resting for minutes, not seconds between runs can allow you to adjust your goal and processes and make sure you are doing what’s needed to meet the goal set out at the start of the session as well as mitigate the risk of injury.

5 tips Race Training Copy

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Skills: Car-parks are for parking cars!

Very few mountain-bikers will reach “excellence”; defining excellence alone is neigh on impossible. More importantly very few riders desire world class performance, they desire feelings of self actualisation, belonging and achievement. Competency is the word. Competency of technique application… i.e skills!

Following on from the Skill Acquisition 2.0 blog; this one is short and sweet. The Car-park…the place one may go to “drill” skills, doing skills drills. As that is what many a coach, internet guru or other expert claims to be the key part of the learning process. You see similar attempts in team sports; cones, bags, lights and lightning foot-work.

Mountains
Mountain Skills
Dusty Carpark
Dusty Car-park “skills”

The issue lies in that as we’ve chatted about before, car-parks are not where we ride, no-one has the same kind of fun and experiences of awesomeness in a car-park as you get in the forest, mountains and trails! So while I could waffle on, again, about how the car-park drill serves little purpose as it is not the task environment and as soon as we remove the characteristic constraints of the environment we are then engaging in part practice and basically pissing into the wind, I’m gonna curve ball it as our USA friends would say.

Complex vs. Complicated

A core idea behind the rationale of less car-park more bike-park! Mountain-biking of any kind is complex, not complicated. Complicated is getting an internal combustion engine to work flawlessly for years on end. It takes, planning, design, mathematics, exact step-wise construction etc… Shredding your bike down a mountain side takes skill developed over practice in the environment. Those skills never develop in the same way for two people on the same time course, with the same challenges emerging and being dealt with. Contrast that with the Volkswagen production line…every single diesel engine follows the same exact timeline of construction.

So full circle, how does the distinction between complex and complicated relate to your car-park!? Getting better at applying technique in MTB is best done in the task environment…why? Because not only can you get better at the core skill in question but the complexity of the environment will always lead to expaptations…meaning that while outcome 1 was get better at off cambers, you will invariable through natural process of self organisation get better at or discover other solutions to numerous other movement problems on the hill!

To clarify with an example. Imagine a Long left side off-camber with a right hand corner on exit, numerous tree roots, variable soil type and a long bumpy entry before the off-camber versus a car-park drill with a long plank of wood or MDF propped up against a curb or wall. looking to “mimic” a left side off-camber.

Both may lead the learner to discover the necessary lateral weight shift, posture, speed control and braking to successful enter, roll on and exit the off camber. But only one environment will lead the learner to discover or organise better posture in rough terrain, adequate perceptive skills for organising posture during one skill to prep for the next required technique…only one scenario will allow the learner to discover the effect tire pressure or direction of travel has on bike and body when encountering roots and rocks etc…

The car-park scenario assumes complicated movement solutions to a problem. The mountain allows complex solutions to movement problems to emerge, solidify and exapt other positive learning experiences.

The King of the Pits is impressive but seldom King of the Hill!

 

constraints led diagram
Constraints Led Approach to Skill Aquisition

 I’ll expand on this more soon as we’ve not even covered the possible and plausible idea of “negative transfer” that may occur in exaggerated part practice. Nor have we covered the issue of the “car-park” removing so many affordances that should dictate technique that you may be just simply wasting time.

Comments welcome.

And for those who wish to read more about the above ideas in a general context – click here.

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Top Tip Thursday: Winter Weather Wet Riding

Time to stop giving Facebook so much free content love so here’s this week’s Top tip Thursday on the site for you! January has been kind to some and alot less kind to others – but it is a perfect time to work on improving your wet weather shredding with some of these mud riding tips below!

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These tips where actually something that came up in a discussion with an Enduro racer I coach looking to “solidify” key approaches to winning when muddy!

wet weather top tips

While there is plenty more to riding in the wet and mud – especially in different soils of different gradients – the above is a nice place to start!
Questions welcome.

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Your environment & perfecting “skill”!

Below is a picture taken from an article over on Pinkbike featuring Neko Mulally and Erin Huck; showing very clearer the difference “environment” makes to skill acquisition!

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The XC bike given it’s seat height and overall geometry has dictated that Erin can’t drop her heels or more accurately cannot lower her Centre of Mass (COM) via ankle dorsi-flexion and instead achieves an overall lowering of mass over her base of support by flexing the hips and getting into a very low posture that is arguably extremely inefficient!

Neko on the other hand due to his bike and how he acquired the skill of posture over the years demonstrates that “archetype” Gravity posture, ankles dorsi-flexed, knees in slight flexion, hip angle “open” at about 30 degrees of flexion. Elbow and shoulder jut behind bars etc…

Now, yes, Neko is on flat ground and Erin traveling on a slight downward slope that is possibly steepening and yes we avoid extrapolating to much from one pic. But extreme hip flexion while traveling downhill to help lower COM is not ideal.

It means hips and knee joints are at sup-optimal angles to allow the muscles acting on those joints to operate at their preferred length and thus act most efficient and make use of not just he contractile portion of muscle tissue but also the whole MTU (muscle tendon unit) and the inherent efficiency of elastic strength!

The final two pieces of the puzzle are the joints furthest from each other but both performing important functions and both having interesting effects proximally (towards centre of body)…the cervical spine (neck) and cleat position and it’s relation ship in distance to the Talus bone in the ankle.

Extreme hip flexion for whatever reason (usually COM lowering) results in the necessity of extreme neck extension to see where you are going! This arguably and supported in some research has a knock on effect on the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and leads to a further reduction in para-sympathetic tone and thus possibly more unnecessary stress, when the act of descending should be pretty chilled! Some riders like Nino Schurter display pretty extreme hip flexion when descending as that’s what the constraints of the bike dictate but still manage to keep a pretty relaxed neck position and overall excellent control.

Cleat distance to talus bone is not really understood and it’s only something I’ve recently thought about, but the Talus is considered the centre of your Base of support as a bi-pedal human, and arguably the further the cleat is away from that point the less stable the the ankle joint will be perceived by the brain, CNS and possibly less effective natural or learned spinal reflexes will be thus again leading to more “tight” the posture and the less stable the fluctuators of technique needed to make fast corrections in posture, directions and weight shift will be!

No exact science here – and there never will be when it comes to technique, skill and their acquisition!

Skill is about an end result. The intention of movement and reaching the end place or goal having expended the minimum of energy. Understanding that riding an MTB is a complex taste within a complex system and that the constraints of the task, organism and environment are very, very central to how you learn or perfect something new is what this is all about!

Bike set-up, terrain, dirt moisture, ambient temperature, tyres, muscular or central fatigue among 100000 other things affect your ability to reach that end goal.

So practice really does make perfect; but perfect practice does nothing to help you learn and adapt, So while Erin’s technique is extreme and sub-optimal in a global sense it is the technique she has adopted given the constraints of the environment (bike and terrain) she learned it in. If that technique is consistently applied in a huge variety of situations and terrains then it’s key parts will become stable enough for it to be successful as-long as those stable “parts” consistently allow her to achieve her end goal or intention!

Neko? We’ll I think Neko will be just fine…. 😉

Original article here – http://www.pinkbike.com/news/brevard-ride-camp-with-neko-mulally-and-erin-huck.html