Pedalling Skill

First positive signs in training – both my appetite and strength have returned. The weather had been bad with heavy rain so I eventually went out for a short but hard ride in the evening when things had cleared up a bit. I read that Bradley Wiggins is favourite for the Tour De France and is currently tapering his training back in preparation for the start at the end of June – to five and a half hours per day!  For me “tapering” means staying off my bike for two days or more!

Technique – pedalling skill

This was the first time this year I felt strong enough to tackle my main training circuit while staying on the large chainring. Perhaps that’s because due to it being oval (dual cambered in fact) the “push” phase is equivalent to a 54T chainring and that is significantly more than a standard compact 50T. Using oval rings is supposed to train the appropriate muscles and perhaps this has simply taken some time. Watching Wiggins and the Sky team climbing the mythic Joux Plane during the Criterium du Dauphiné a few weeks ago and completely dominating it – all with oval chainrings – was really impressive. People are naturally accusing him of peaking too early – but he says that the team won all those races at only 96% to 97% capacity – and he has trained to peak in July. Goodness only knows how they can work out things so precisely. I’m currently at 37.4%. Using the big chainring in climbing gave me the opportunity to feel the body mechanics more clearly. If something is misaligned then you either lose power quickly or something will hurt – either the knee or something muscular. Combining ankling with chi technique (hip/spine movement) seems to allow all of the leg muscles to be coordinated right down to the calf – reducing the specific loading on any particular one. The strange thing about this is it gives a distinct sensation of eliminating the circular path of the foot following the pedal. It feels like the legs are just pumping up and down and the circular path of the pedal is just accommodating the natural path of the foot. This means that it’s easier to focus on coordinating the leg extension to get the hip, ankle and contraction of all the muscles better optimised. Ironically, to pedal in a smooth circular path you have to completely avoid pedalling in a circle and get all the legs parts working so that they appear all together to feel like an out/in or up/down movement only. One other unexpected outcome from this is that due to the ankle being extended, the saddle high and placed behind the bottom bracket – the bottom of the extension is slightly forwards of “bottom dead centre” and so the “pulling back” of the pedal – described by some as “scraping muck of your shoe” – happens to you – naturally. In skiing I’ve always said that one sure sign of something being right is when due to external physical constraints it actually starts “happening to you” instead of you trying to do it. In skilful running, when the legs are used naturally, it’s like the leg extends downwards directly below the body – with the foot making contact below the centre of mass (not in front of it). The stride lengthens behind the body as the leg extends and the hip moves backwards. The foot then lifts up high and the knee is pulled forwards as the hip flexors contract. The path taken by the foot behind the body feels like a small circle – though it is probably oval (it goes further forwards than upwards). If you stand up on the pedals and move the body forwards  close to the handlebars you can feel exactly the same movement pattern when using both ankling and chi technique. You can feel this better this way because you are standing and the feet come up behind the body. As in running you don’t try to make circles with your feet – but they happen to you when everything else is right. Danny Dreyer in ChiRunning suggests that when running it helps to become aware of this small circle behind the body to develop the “picking up” of the feet – and to visualise it. The encouraging thing here is that efficient cycling seems to develop exactly the same skills as efficient running. Despite pushing big gears at close to max heart rate I felt absolutely no back trouble and only a very slight stress on the knee if I didn’t coordinate correctly. Considering I’ve had lower back surgery 3 times and have a left  knee that was violently torn internally when a ski binding didn’t release in a fall – for which I refused surgery – this is all pretty good news. Sometimes those weaknesses end up making us stronger – because we can no longer function through mindless brute force and accompanying bad mechanics.

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