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Under Pressure - A Siogneur's Insider Guide

Due to the stresses we put on our bodies in training and racing, us cyclists tend to be very in tune with our bodies. But few of us take the time to understand the science behind what happens when we exercise. We think nothing of spending considerable sums on upgrades to our bikes but could investing in our bodies be more beneficial to performance? Tweed Bike Boxes caught up with local expert Jill Fairbairn from Jill Fairbairn Remedial and Sports Massage - www.jillfairbairn.com to get a better understanding.

Your body is a clever machine! It’s composed of several physiological systems which work together to maintain the normal functioning and balance within your body. When you ride your bike you’re putting stress on these systems, making them work harder to maintain that balance. I’m sure you’ll have experienced this during a tough cycle. Your cardiovascular system makes your heart beat faster to keep the muscles supplied with oxygen and glucose, your lungs are working hard as you take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Your nervous system sends messages to your muscular system asking specific muscles to contract and pull on your bones (skeletal system) to pump your legs on the pedals as you sweat to reduce the build up of heat. (Sweat loss through your skin is part of the Integumentary system). Everything is working hard as a team to let you enjoy the exhilaration of cycling as your endocrine system releases those feel-good hormones.

Let’s focus on your musculoskeletal system. If you’re training for a specific event (or simply love it!) then you could be out cycling five times each week, potentially spending several hours every week crouched over in the same position. The repetitive nature of cycling can lead to overuse injuries as well as placing undue stress through the knee, hip, shoulder, and wrist, joints, especially if you’re not cycling on a properly fitted bike. Although you’re using your leg muscles drive the pedals, you also use your abdominals and back to stabilise your position on the bike. You use your arms in a supportive role along with your neck and shoulder muscles and so each muscle plays an important part although your legs do most of the work. Sitting with your upper body bent forward, your hip flexors are shortened and your hamstrings never fully stretch out. If you have tight hamstrings and glutes this can create tension in the lower back. Hunching over the handlebars pulls the shoulders inward, tightening the neck and upper back and stopping the lungs from expanding completely. Over time, this can create movement and postural changes, aches, pains and even increase your injury potential.

Cycling is a physically demanding activity and one of the best aerobic workouts you can do to improve your cardiovascular health, muscular endurance and strength. But how can you help yourself recover properly?

Warm Up To help your muscles recover as efficiently as possible, you should be sure they are ready to cycle in the first place! A decent warm up will help increase your circulation and therefore blood flow and oxygen to your muscles, which is important, as warmed up muscles are much more elastic and can cope better with the stresses of your workout. Your joints will then also move more easily and you’ll tire less quickly meaning you will enjoy your ride much more.

Cool Down When you finish your ride what do you do first? Perhaps do a little bit of maintenance to your bike? Put yourself first and cool down, because this is the beginning of your recovery process! Just 5-10 minutes of slow and easy pedalling to gradually let your breathing and heart return to normal, then head for a warm shower and get some dry clothes on. If you can do some stretching or get out the foam roller, now is the best time to do it!

Rehydrate & Refuel 60-70% of our body is made up of water and if that runs low, your body lets you know! When we are dehydrated, our muscle tissue start to dry out and becomes much less responsive to stretch and this leads to inflammation, pain, stiffness or soreness. Water is great, or an electrolyte drink is useful to help you replace minerals lost through sweat. Be sure you have a snack or meal too, a glass of milk or some yoghurt provides easy protein immediately afterwards and if you’ve had a tough ride make sure to add in some carbohydrates too.

Rest Your muscles aren’t built on the bike, they’re built whilst you rest! Research shows that being sleep-deprived can actually encourage loss of muscle mass and hinder muscle recovery after a tough workout. Sleep deprivation can have major effects on athletic performance too, especially for endurance athletes. So build in designated rest days into your training schedule and let your body recover adequately after a strenuous training day. Try to get enough sleep every night, and when you’re training particularly hard you could benefit from a 20 minute power nap during the day!

Massage (My favourite!) Although massage benefits all of your body systems, I’ll continue to focus on the musculoskeletal system. Massage improves circulation, which brings oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, and carries away metabolic waste products and this has been shown to reduce Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Massage relieves muscle tension and so reduces pain and discomfort which in turn restores mobility in potential problem areas, decreasing your injury potential. Think about your hamstrings, they are essential to efficient pedalling, but let them get tighter and shorter you’ll be unable to employ their full power. Regular massage can release and lengthen these muscles, and help them activate, which translates into more power and strength to pedal. As a cyclist you may have a tendency to carry tightness through the front of the shoulders and up into the neck. Massage can provide a great release for tension here, helping to open the chest and let the diaphragm and lungs become more effective. Massage also helps to alleviate stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins which can boost your mood and put you in a more positive frame of mind for the next stage of your training. Regular maintenance massage is a perfect recovery tool which can be adapted to suit you at any stage of your training. Why not try evaluating your own current recovery strategy? The best thing you can do is listen to your body, but being proactive can get you back on your bike sooner, feeling fresher and ready to go!

Tweed Bike Boxes is now taking the expert advice and is away for a power nap. I wonder what my napping FTP is???