Sunday, February 21, 2016

Core Work is a Waste of Time!

Endless crunches are worse than a waste of time, they can even create an imbalance and dysfunction!

When I was a barely an adult, I gained a bunch of weight and just tried to suck in my gut all the time, trying to hide it.  This really messed with my breathing and my mind, due to the breath connecting the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems (Fight or Flight and Rest and Digest respectively).  I found yoga and the science behind it and stopped sucking in my gut for a few decades.  I did have nice abs from time to time with a lot of work and strict dieting, usually burning out shortly afterward.  I developed dysfunction in my back and the pain that comes with it. I have friends with killer washboard abs and terrible back problems.  I think that everyone, at one point or another, wanted washboard abs. The road racing greats said to let the belly hang to get a more complete filling of the lower lungs, where there is more O2 and CO2 transfer, due to more capillaries, which seemed to fit in with the teaching from yoga.

Contrary to my title, I do believe that a strong functional core is vital to riding and most other life activities.  The key word is functional!  And I don't mean doing back extensions to balance the abs or even regular planks, the position between many of the named poses in the yoga sun salute.

Yoga teaches you how to breath as you move.  I may have missed it in all my years of study, but that was one key piece of information that eluded me.  Years ago, I got a clue.  When getting certified as a personal trainer, I learned about lordosis or sway back.  It seemed kind of mundane to a young guy wanting to get big and strong; how wrong I was!

Fast forward many years and I was mostly keeping my back in check, mostly.  I tried chiropractic for some time.  I would get put back in place, but without strengthening the weak muscles and loosening the tight muscles, I was doomed to fall out of alignment sooner or later, hence having to go back and get cracked one to three times a week.  That is when I restarted my yoga and it helped.  I stopped getting adjusted after a doctor blamed my neck degeneration on the repetitive adjustments.  Not sure if it is true, but it scared me off of chiropractic, except for an emergency.  I know this is not their business model.  I went along pretty well for years, as long as I got in at least one yoga session a week.  My body would usually let me know, gently, in a timely matter if I missed a session.  Well, there was a time that I seemed fine and I went a few weeks without yoga, everything was going swimmingly and then the worse pain that I have had in a very long time occurred,  if not the very worse ever.  I went in for an emergency chiropractic adjustment and the chiropractor put me on a machine that checked your alignment.  After it lit up like a Christmas tree, he said I was pretty messed up and would need weeks or months of follow ups, and of course he had a plan.  After the adjustment I did a light yoga session and then every day until the next visit the following week. The chiropractor put me on the machine and was astonished that hardly any lights on his machine came on.  I learned my lesson and never went a week without yoga, until I learned and practiced proper form on certain kettle bell drills and stretches.  More on that later.

Again, I thought I had it figured out.  Last year I had a pretty good Single Speed riding, foam roller and Kettle Bell training plan for Cohutta 100.  I was short on time, but I came along really well and did great for a metric century. Unfortunately, I signed up for the hundred miler not a hundred kilometers!  I was geared too high, got cocky from the training, my standing riding was mostly exhausted and my right lower back started screaming at me, pushing the big gear mostly seated.

Some time afterward, I was cleaning out old photos from my phone and had one of me bending over, marking a road race course with paint.  From the angle I could see that there had been a problem for some time. There was a stiff part that forced the spine above it to bend more than it should.  I looked at my program with this lens and removed any suspect movements.  It did not help that I had a crash over a year before that was still affecting the movement pattern of my left shoulder, forcing some compensation in the right lower back, particularly overhead, but that is yet another story.

I was developing a program for an athlete of mine.  As I would hardly ever see her, I looked for videos of the drills I wanted her to do on line.  She was going to be doing mostly body weight or low weight drills, due to time and access to equipment.  I wanted to make sure she was getting the form correct.  Some of the best I have found that are mountain bike specific are from James Wilson.  But during my Youtube search, videos from Strength Side kept popping up.  Strength Side is mainly about the core power lifting moves, at least from the videos I have seen, squats and dead lifts, etc.  He talked about Lordosis and what struck me was the concept of bracing to keep your hips aligned deep in a squat.  I had gotten good, maybe too good at the hip hinge that is associated with the dead lift and swing and seated riding and all the sitting that life throws at you makes your hip flexors tight. I knew about the hip flexors, but keeping them loose was only part of the puzzle.

Tight hip flexors tip your pelvis forward, by slightly flexing the femur/pelvis joint and slack lower abs let this happen.  So it comes back to that mundane Lordosis, Strength Side says it best, that it just comes down to basics that people would rather skip.

But what about the breathing? Luckily, I recently came across James Wilson explaining Crocodile Breathing.  Crocodile breathing is still diaphragmatic breathing, but you remain braced and let the sides and the back expand more than the front, no more hanging belly.

So ironically, it seems that I come full circle to sucking in my gut.  To quote the band Cake's song Comanche;  "You need to straighten your posture and suck in your gut. You need to pull back your shoulders and tighten your butt.", but with proper breathing.

I should have listened to my mother and straightened my posture, but no one ever explained how to me or I was not ready to hear it.

Great, you may say, but what the hell does this have to do with mountain biking?

Many mountain bikers just want to ride their bikes and have fun and fitness seems to be a four letter word, read an article that puts it in perspective here.

But really it comes down to bracing to keep the hips and spine aligned.  One of the coaching cues on the Heel Tap drill is not to suck in the gut, but to press the small of the back into the ground using your abs to tilt your hips back, or down in this case.  I was very weak in this movement pattern.  My back would actually click if I did not practically cramp my abs to hold my spine down!  Now I was on to something!  Along with Strength Sides; Staying Tight in the bottom of a Squat, I came to understand, train and change my bad habits and "You need to straighten your posture and suck in your gut. You need to pull back your shoulders and tighten your butt."  When you pull the front of your pelvis up with your abs, your glutes reflexively contract, and both stabilize your spine

I started applying this on the bike and found to my amazement that it really helped.  Particularly toward the end of a climb when I normally would be gassed, I felt an extra kick.  Or when my back was acting up, bracing would keep it in check.  Bracing also helps you keep from bobbing on the saddle at a high cadence seated spin.  I started to explain this to a friend, who among other things, is a bike fitter and he immediately thought I was going to say "rock your hips forward", which is the common wisdom of bike fit.  I said no, even though, I have described it the same way before also, leaving out the bracing to let the belly hang for breathing of course.  There are times that you rock your hips forward, the key is to keep the abs braced to stabilize your platform.

It is easier to understand it from a squat perspective.  James Wilson advocates standing up as the primary power position and not the pseudo standing/quasi hovering seated position.  He suggests literally a squat, one leg at a time (you push away the pedals instead of the ground).  You need to brace your abs while you apply force to the pedals.

Bracing your abs also helps, in the seated position and even more important in the quasi standing hovering over the saddle position.  Unlike Bike James, I will not argue the value of each, because I think each is an important weapon to have in your arsenal.  It is easy to let the let the abs slack off and be over powered by the rectus femoris (part of the quadriceps) and a tight psoas. Both flex the pelvis, leaving the pelvis unstable, wasting energy and causing a problem in the lower back.

I have a friend that told me to squeeze my abs when I lift heavy objects. Now I know how!  When I lift a heavy object, I visualize scooping it up, with my pelvis as the scoop.
Just apply these principles to pedaling a bike.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Just WOMBLEing along

We left NC in the rain and the rain followed us most of the way to Arkansas.  It was gray and gloomy, but the there was a break in the rain.  I took advantage of the day and rode the 27 miles the point to point of the WOMBLE trail, early November of 2015.  The WOMBLE is leaf covered this time of year and it is still humid, but cool enough, not to be oppressive.  The trail WOMBLE rolls along,, mostly, with the occasional steep climb, of short to moderate duration.  Mostly small rocks under the leaves, like big gravel, which made for a rough slower ride.  There were a few sections, though, of smooth and flowy trail too and a really cool knife edge ridge that looked down on the river and out across the valley to other mountains.
Plenty of roots and exposure, not the fall off a cliff kind,but in places it could be dozens of feet before a tree stops your fall. That really keeps you focused, there is some tech and switch backs as well.  Plenty of creek crossings, most of which were pretty dry, due to lower than normal rain fall this past October.  Even though it rained the 2 days prior to our arrival..

For the most part the trail is pretty easy to moderate, with it's moments of challenge, far and few between as were the roads, you really felt miles from anywhere!  The length does bring up the challenge aspect some and not being a loop means either a shuttle or out and back, which would double the length.

Note:  The phone app does not show the section north of the lake.  Cross the bridge and the trail is on the left, just after it.  I missed because I had to go from memory and there was construction on the bridge at the time.  The north section is just over the bridge on the left or west side of the bridge.

Trail blaze white and all the major road crossings have a big WOMBLE trail sign.  Until you get to mile marker 27, coming from the SW, that is.  I am not entirely sure that the section north of the lake is still part of the WOMBLE.   I think my Garmin shorted it about 2 miles, due to the twistyness of some sections of the trail.  I finally did find the trail head, but had already called my shuttle (Wife) and she was already on her way.  By the way thanks Tammy!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Power Meters have no place on a Mountain Bike!

"Why would anyone put a Power Meter on their Mountain Bike?"  Some might ask.

Whether you believe this or have been considering powering up your , here are the thoughts of a Mountain Biker that has trained and race with a power meter for years.

Did I loose you already?  If not let's get in to it.

I had trained and raced for years first using an HR monitor (mostly threshold, because that was where my HR stayed for most of the race!  Boy was this not the case!  I will explain later) and first used PMs in their stationary form (Computrainer) and switched to mobile PMs once they moved out of the upper stratosphere price wise.

I was convince about training with power, because I would come out of the off season on the Compoutrainer in great shape, but the threshold power I worked so hard for in the winter would slowly slip away as the season unfolded, as I could not get myself to hit the Computrainer in season, when I could do real riding.  I did not realize it at first, but I was slowly de-training over the course of the season.

Enter the portable on bike PM and you could accurately work your energy systems in the real world. At first I had one of the original Power Tap hubs on my mountain bike (I only had a MTB for some time).  This was prior to disc brakes and the bearings on the drive side were crap and the seals left a lot to be desired, especially for off road.  But is was a start and my experience grew from there.  Now there are other choices, while not inexpensive, are with the realm of possibility for many riders.  Pedal and crank systems are probably best suited for road bikes, as you can't entirely eliminate pedal strikes off road.  If you have a Mountain and road bike and can only afford one PM, it may make sense to get one for the road bike as it is usually easier to find suitable terrain to work the different energy system intervals and you don't have to change tires to put it on the trainer.

While I have PMs on my MTBs and race with them, it is not that popular yet and most riders are surprised when they see it.  Partly to due to the fact for those early terrible durability issues, weight and then no disc brakes.  Saris bought Power Tap and those issues began to be addressed.  First they completely redesigned the hub putting cartridge bearings in the freehub body and shaving some grams, then going wireless with ANT then ANT+ and eventually got a disc brake version with some upgrades to the electronics and shaving some more weight.  The road version became barely heavier than some performance racing hubs.  I still have one of the first wireless hubs on my road bike, that I use manly for training, although I did a few road races with it.  Having a bike with a smooth tire and a PM made the Computrainer redundant, if you have a decent indoor trainer.  I used a trainer mostly in the winter, when light was short or the roads were not suitable for the energy system I was training that day.  I have coached riders that would, on occasion, hit the trainer in the summer due to bad weather or scheduling issues.  Many find indoor trainers frightfully boring, but for efficient use of the time you spend on one, a PM will get your session over as quickly as possible, knowing that you accomplished your training goals for the day.

Now this fine and dandy, but "Why would anyone put a Power Meter on their Mountain Bike?"


If you only own a MTB and want to train with power.
Probably the most important reason is keeping track of your Training Load.
The folks at TrainingPeaks coined the phrase Training Stress Score or TSS.
Why should you care?  Wouldn't you like to know how much training is too much or how much is too little, allowing you find the Goldie Locks zone of your best performance?

The original low tech way to do this is to just multiply your Perceived Exertion times the duration of your workout.  This is better than nothing, but is very subjective and really does not take your bodies actual output into account.  But you can use a very simple spreadsheet or even just log it on paper

A step up is using heart rate instead of Perceived Exertion,  TRIMP is and example of this.  It is easiest to use HR Training software to accomplish the math.   The trouble is that HR is a response to the effort you put out.  Power is actually the measure of what you put out,  just like Horse Power ratings of a race car engine.  Just like strength training is measured by how many reps you do of a particular load (usually weight), PMs will show what you are able to do and if you are improving or just wasting your time!

The math gets even more complicated and unless you are a real math geek like me, you should use Power training software to track your TSS.  Even Stava has it's own version of training stress measurement, although different from TrainingPeaks.

Tracking your training load, can get tricky, but with a PM a simple test and some training software, such as TrainingPeaks (on line) or WKO+ (desktop) you can track your fitness and your freshness and with WKO+ you can see you where your peak efforts are in relation to your training load.

Now fitness most people understand, but if you are tired from to much training you are will not be fresh when you want to be, that big race, event or that MTB trip to Sedona!  Then add to that you can see your 10 top intervals in any duration that you want to monitor, to help you know when you are fit, peaking and the training loads and tapers that got you there.

In conclusion, a Power Meter will help you build your engine by targeting the energy pathway, read interval lengths that work best for your discipline, but most importantly, accurately track your training load!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Daniel Ridge/Cove Creek

In last few weeks, I found two of my favorite rides in Pisgah, near Brevard NC and mad it to Bent Creek near Ashville.  Here is the one.

If you want a pretty technical climb and a boat load of single track on the flip side, I think I've got it for ya!

The Daniel Ridge/Cove Creek combination is pretty killer.  You can park at the Fish hatchery on 475 off of 276 north of town of Pisgah Forest, which is next door to Brevard. NC.  Ride out of the the Hatchery and turn left on 475 and in a few the Davidson River trail will keep you off the road and get you a taste of easy single track to get you warmed up for the 1500 feet of climbing to come.  Take a left back on 475, just before it turns to gravel for a short while before the Daniel Ridge Parking lot.  Cross the Bridge and stay left when Daniel ridge splits.  You will gain some elevation as this trail slants gradually upwards, with just a few tricky spots.  That is, until it turns abruptly right and up, where the bridge use to cross the creek.  This is where the fun begins.  Very technical and some hike a bike will be required my most folks, enjoy the cascading creek to your left when forced off your bike or taking a break.  Continue right where Farlow gap comes in from the get to descend a bit as the trail rolls, instead of going straight up, like before.  But it is still plenty technical.  Watch for a trail that comes in from the left after a period where the trail levels off before the descent of Danile ridge starts.  That left will take you to Cove Creek rd, take a right there.  This rolling mostly DH single track becomes a Forest Service rd.  Watch for the Cove Creek Trail head to come up on the right.  While manly DH, it does roll up and down on it's way back down to 475.  Fast and flowy, with banked turns and new bridges (as of this writing) as well as some gravel filled mud holes, that rode nicer that the hike over them the day before suggested.  A few techy parts and off camber roots here and there that can get sketchy at speed.  Shorty after the fastest section you will see the camp ground on the left.   Turn left after you cross the creek, there is a sign but you come up on it quick, just when you have to navigate over a few log steps, up out of the creek.  Take a right on the FS road.  The creek crossing can be deep, so take the bridge to the left, just as you see the creek.  Take a left on 475, and take the Davidson River trail back the way you  came in to 475 back to the Hatchery.

1500 feet of climbing and less than 14 miles and 2 hours (for me).

I kind of gave up looking for that perfect 3ish hour ride, in this part of Pisgah.  Anytime I tried, ended up being 5 or better hours, with either way to much gravel or some ridiculous hike a bike or death march.  I like nibbling on Pisgah, cause when ever I try to take a mouthful, I always end up


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pisgah Kicked My @$$ Again

Turkey Pen Gap was was much better in the DH direction.  See WTF I Need a Beer or 4 for details!  There still was plenty of hike a bike up Black Mounrtain from Claw Hammer Road.  Some on TPG itself and Cantrell (Can't Tell If if is a creak or a trail) Creak had a fair amount of Hike a bike as well, particularly with the 34X19t.  Funny it did not seem so steep on the way down, just the other day.  Squirrel Gap was pretty fun, but I was shot by then, but could still turn over that big gear, more like a slog.  Even the gradual South Mills River and Buck horn trails back to Claw hammer would probably have been more pleasant on a lower gear, though.  Broke a chain early and stopped to borrow a tube and pump to a guy from Indiana that left his in the car.  "Don't leave home with out your gear" goes double for Pisgah.  I carry two tubes a big air, a pump, plugs and boot material, chain links, tool w/chain breaker, Leatherman, Hanger fixer for when I have gears etc. 

Overlook on The Black Mountain trail

Waterfalls on the South Mills River trail

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Roth Rock Ride Epic State College PA

This is a long lost post. We were just getting moving, for real this time.  We had no internet or cell reception for a hot spot at Greenwood Furnace Campground. Then my PC went out. So it got lost in the shuffle.  But with this years TRANS-SYLVANIA MOUNTAIN BIKE EPIC looming I thought I would drop it.

Even though ROCK is in the name, I thought North Jersey has the rockiest trails that I have ridden so far. I reached out to a local, cause the guy at the shop hurt his back last fall after hitting it too hard on his brand new fat bike. Wider Q factor and chasing around youngsters, he said.

So I show up a little early and and get a warm up in with the president of the local club. I guess Tuesday is the day regardless if the official shop ride is on or not. Most thing are up from the Tussey trail head. Ironically there was enough cell signal for my wife to work a the trailhead while I rode.

I headed back to the trailhead for the arranged time. I was happy to see four single speeds coming off of cars.

Plenty of climbing, be it on fireroad or single track, most of which could be considered a rock garden.  Kinda like Wawayanda on the New Jersey's north border with New York, just with more up!  The landscape has some spectacular groups of rock outcroppings to navigate

Sunday, May 10, 2015

WTF I need a Beer or 4

About half way through, what was supposed to be a 28 mile ride, I figured, if the climbing the stats of 5700 ft, were correct on the file for the route I was taking, that I would be paying for it all on Turkey Pen Gap (TPG).  As I approached mile 22,  those feelings grew.  Then that first look up the stairs should have had me and my 34X19 gearing, scurrying to the road back to the car.  2500 feet in 6 miles is just silly.  The file I had said 28 miles.  I had a little out and back here and there, plus the 3 miles on Squirrel Gap and Cantrell (cant tell if it is a creek or a trail) .  To top that off TPG was so steep, even with the speed coming off the rear wheel, the Garmin read 0.0 MPH and did not gain 1/100th of a mile during the walking sections, which was most of TPG.  The garmin got 33 miles,compared to the 40 from the phone.  Felt like 40.  The file I followed was probably made with a Garmin using GPS for speed and distance, which under states, while the phone app usually overstates, particularly the more you stop or go painfully slow.  So it is probably some where between 33 and 40 miles.