Riding Habits: A Collections of Tips from Racing

This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter May 2013

Think back on some of the valuable lessons you’ve learned in cycling. Whether by experience or accident, something “worked” and has become part of the way you do things. This could be foods you eat, the tires you ride, the baggie you carry your patch kit in, etc. I know that I have learned a lot from this vibrant community of cyclists, and I thought it would be interesting to find out what some of those habits are. I emailed members of the Olympia Orthopaedic Associates Cycling Team, a group that I’ve come to know very well, to see what cycling habits they’ve developed over the years. Below is a sampling of the responses that I got and the range is more than I could have expected, straightforward to downright quirky. But that’s what makes the wheel go around! Hope you enjoy these insights and maybe even trying some on for size!

Cat 4 Men 2013Tip: Wool, wool, wool. I have tried tons of technical under garments and nothing compares to Merino Wool undershirts and socks. Bottom line everyone gets wet out there and wool keeps you warm while wet.

Tip: I really like the feel of a new pair of bibs, so i have a habit of folding mine a certain way in my drawer so they don’t get that crease down the middle. I dunno if it helps, but it makes me think the chamois feels newer for longer.

Tip: Fenders make a bike look somewhat dorky but they are soooo awesome!!

Tip: I’ve only been racing for four years however, the 2 years that I’ve started and followed through on a strength training program have made a world of difference. Strength training in the offseason definitely makes a positive impact!

Tip: Making CERTAIN to get 8 hours of sleep a night proves to be incredibly useful. VITAL, some might say.

Tip: If you are bonking really badly and you are riding past the LittleRock gas station, stop in for a roller-heated burrito. It saved my life once!

Tip: Don’t put BenGay or some equivalent on one’s lower back and then get on a bike. When you begin to sweat, it’ll roll down one’s back and between the cheeks, and… that STINGS!

Tip: I’ve come to love using the bike trailer during base training. You can bring as much extra clothes, food, and drink as you want! What’s an extra 5 pounds when you are pulling a 40 pound trailer?

Tip: My favorite road is over Bordeaux along Cedar Creek out to HWY 12 and back. It is a one-lane road for about 8 miles along a large creek. There’s very little traffic and it’s very peaceful.

Tip: I always use the automatic doors at the supermarket and touch as little as possible when out shopping. Hopefully it’ll help to avoid germs that can make a hard-training athlete sick. If there aren’t automatic doors, I’ll let someone else open the door, then slip through!

Which one of YOUR tips should have made this list? If enough people email me their tips, I’ll compile them in a follow-up article. In the meantime, you are left to wonder which of your fellow riders supplied the above tips. Til next month, happy guessing!!

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Improve Your Cycling by Focusing on Your Breathing Style

This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter April 2013

I decided to write about breathing this month, only slightly spurred by the flurry of events that followed Rep. Ed Orcutt’s comments about breathing last month. Though he has now retracted the comments, his assertion about the impacts of heavier breathing while exercising and the impact on CO2 emissions from cyclists was an interesting/entertaining one. The exchange and discussion did spur some deeper research of my own into the carbon footprint of cycling, and I hope to share that with you in an upcoming article, but not quite yet… For the moment, let’s just talk about improving our breathing techniques on the bike.

CBC Breathing NoseYour breathing style on (and off) the bike can influence your performance and how well you ride. From a simple standpoint, our breath is the mechanism that brings a flow of oxygen into our lungs and expels carbon dioxide from energy production. That mechanism can vary in efficiency depending on our techniques. Looking at it deeper, breath control also has the potential to limit anxiety and stress and improve our efficiency while riding (climbing, for instance.) Even further, some approach cycling as part of a meditation practice and use their breath to connect to a higher power. However deep you personally choose to go with it, there is a lot to be gained from learning to connect with your breathing on the bike.

Nasal Breathing: Opening the mouth while we breathe bypasses the structures that warm, moisten, and filter the air that we draw into our lungs. It also has a tendency to activate our “fight or flight”/stress response which will tend to bring more tension and anxiety to the body. (Think about how you feel gasping for air at the end of a climb.) Steady nasal breathing, even though it takes practice, slows down your breathing rate so there is more time for oxygen to be absorbed. There will be times, of course, when we have to breath through the mouth, but this doesn’t mean it should be our dominant pattern.

Diaphragm Activation: Many tips I’ve seen from professional riders and coaches calls for letting the belly drop down to draw the abdominal contents down and away from the diaphragm to draw air into the lungs. This is preferable to hiking up the shoulders in order to strive for the same, but I wouldn’t recommend it as your primary strategy. In my opinion, this leaves the lower back vulnerable to unfavorable stresses, which is not a great long-term strategy on the bike. Instead, a deep breath in should cause the lower ribs to expand outward and the pressure of the lowering diaphragm should create a sensation of filling the abdominal cavity all the way to the pelvic floor, as if the space between your top of your lungs and the bottom of your pelvis is a long balloon that fills up with your breath.

Breathing Rate: One of the most consistent recommendations I find is that exhaling should be longer than inhaling, though certainly people will have differing experiences with this. The benefit of a longer, deeper exhalation is that this creates a higher turnover and mixing of air coming into the lungs, especially into the lower lungs. (Read: delivery of more OXYGEN!) A cycle of 3 counts exhaling and 2 counts inhaling is a fairly good place to start. You can tie the counts to your pedaling rate, though, if you have a higher cadence you may just use the 3:2 ratio as a guide to matching your pedal strokes.

Practice On and Off the Bike: One good place to try practicing your breathing rhythm is on your back with your knees bent and your feet elevated and resting on the seat of a chair. Place your hands around your lower rib cage and practice letting your breath expand your lower ribcage to the side and back. Start by exhaling for a count of 3 and inhaling for a count of 2. On your bike, practice by picking a part of your ride that isn’t too challenging with terrain or effort and experiment with trying to achieve this same feeling you got when practicing at home. If you lose focus or count, just start over and try to maintain it as long as you can. If you are like me your mind may drift while you are on your bike. Don’t worry, just pick up where you left off. Ultimately, you may find that you are able to maintain your cycling posture for a longer ride without as much low back fatigue as a side benefit of improving your breathing strategy.

Simple advice like this doesn’t suit everyone’s needs, but as a starting point, a simple change like this can often clean up a large amount of dysfunction, especially if practiced consistently. See you on the road!

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Incorporating “Spin” Biking into Your Training

This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter March 2013

Spin bikes are fixed gear stationary bicycles with a heavy flywheel that you most likely will find in a gym for group fitness classes. And, like anything else that causes some degree of voluntary suffering, some people love them and just as many people hate them. This time of year, many outdoor cyclists have shifted over to an indoor season of cycling to avoid the miseries of PNW weather. There are some benefits and pitfalls to doing so, and the rest of this article is devoted to some of these topics.

Exercise Bike RacingConvenience/Safety/Fun
Riding in the rain can be fun, and I don’t discourage it, but there are times when the convenience of being able to hop on and off a bike for a good workout within an hour is handy and you won’t even have to clean grit out of your teeth! Most of the time there’s plenty of good spirit, music, and camaraderie to help shake off some of the dreariness of winter. It also can keep you off the roads at night or in icy conditions which can keep you from injuring yourself. In other words, your ride can go on despite conditions that otherwise would shut down you down.

There are many companies making these bikes for home or gym use, but most often you will be limited to whatever is available to you at your gym. They can range from low tech basic models up to bikes that easily cost several thousand dollars and include watt/speed measurements and other data. A basic set-up should at a bare minimum be able to adjust so that you can duplicate your road fit position as best as possible. This means you need to be able to adjust saddle height, saddle fore and aft, handlebar height, and handlebar fore and aft. You are usually stuck with whatever crank length and pedal combinations are on the bike. Some gyms may let you change the pedals or saddle, but it’s unlikely.

Fitness Progression or HammerFest?
If you are attending group fitness classes, you will do well to assess the nature of the instruction to see how that matches your personal goals. Most group fitness classes are set up for full-on, high intensity. In my experience, this format downplays the year-round/progressive nature of cycling as a lifestyle. The higher intensity, depending on how well you recover, can be very stressful to your body and set you back somewhat if you do end up getting injured or overreach your ability to recover before the next workout. At a minimum, I would recommend using a heart rate monitor so you can monitor your training efforts. Most cyclists will end up pushing too hard on these machines and without the basic feedback of a heart rate monitor, it’s easy to go overboard. Again, this matters more if you are using the spin bike sessions to progressively build your fitness. If not, just aim to have fun, listen to the music, and let it rip!

Injury Prevention
…and what would my articles be without an ounce of prevention? Poor technique seems to be at the root of what I consider to be the major pattern of injuries that come from spin bikes. First, is the amount of resistance these machines can produce. It’s too easy to overload the resistance and place major stress on the knees. Secondly, low cadence work on spin bikes can produce high/steady pressure on the knee joints. Many of the climbing simulations I’ve seen in classes invite injury (low cadence/high resistance.) Learn how to maintain your cadence and let that be your guide, along with heart rate, just as you would on the road with the benefit of gears.

I hope these tips give you some guidance when you consider using a spin bike in your training program! See you on the road… or in class!

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The Benefits of Massage for Cyclists: An Interview with Amy Murry, LMP

Amy Murry LMPThis article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter February 2013

I recently visited with my friend and colleague, Amy Murry, LMP. She works as a Licensed Massage Practitioner (LMP) here in Olympia in her practice, Human Body Works, that thrives on endurance athletes. Over the years, we have had the pleasure of co-managing a number of active cyclists. In this interview, I wanted to find out more about her practice and why massage is such a good fit for cyclists. I hope that you will learn something new about this healing art and how it might help you enjoy your time on the bike and get more out of your workouts.

Why is massage important for cyclists? With all of the gadgets and equipment available to cyclists, sometimes it’s easy to overlook the care of the muscles that power it all. While cycling, our legs push and pull by lengthening and shortening, tensing and relaxing … over and over. Massage deals with creating a better environment for muscles to heal after this kind of highly repetitive exercise.

What are some of the benefits of massage therapy for cyclists? Massage therapy reduces adhesions, increases circulation, increases cellular metabolism, speeds up recovery time and increases tissue flexibility. Massage therapy scheduled within a training cycle or around big, intense rides is ideal for flushing through those muscles and smoothing them out. It encourages the body to rest, recoup, and rebuild.

Do cyclists need to get regular massage treatment to see any benefit? No. While a regular massage program is ideal for injury prevention and to optimize recovery during training, just one good massage can open up old adhesions and provide incredible stress relief.

Does massage reduce inflammation? Yes and No. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce inflammation in muscles post exercise and injury. When massage therapy is applied to adhesions and ropey muscle tissue, however, it actually brings about a healthy level of controlled inflammation to the muscle. This increases circulation to the cells, and is vital for recovery by bringing nutrients and oxygen to the cells and carrying away waste products.

What is an “adhesion” and how do you find them? Adhesions come from the chronic stress of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) to our muscle tissue. Eventually, over time, repairing the same areas over and over leads to an over development of scar tissue that can harden and affect circulation and movement. Experienced therapists know what healthy flexible tissue feels like and feel your muscle tissue for consistency, plasticity, smoothness, and bounce back. Sports massage therapists are also trained to work on common areas of concern relating to a particular sport.

Many people use foam rollers. Do they also need massage? My clients who foam roll regularly make my work a lot easier. They are a great flush and can reduce muscle tension after exercise. A foam roller doesn’t have the tactile response, pointed focus and feedback a therapist can provide, however. And, like anything, using the foam roller too hard can be damaging. Used cautiously and cooperatively, foam rollers can help body work last longer and take the edge off pre-massage.

When should massage visits be scheduled? Most people prefer to schedule massage therapy on their ‘off days’ so they can rest, hydrate, and allow the work to settle in. Some like to come in immediately after a hard workout, and the latest science would back them up. Massage therapy after a strenuous workout actually increases cellular mitochondrial growth! At minimum an athlete should see a massage therapist on a monthly basis, and more often during the build phase of training or after a big event. This helps maximize recovery, prevent injury, and increase muscle efficiency. Keep in mind, though, that all deep work should be done at least 3 days before a long ride or event. Massage one to two days before an event should be a lighter flush and is certainly a nice time to clear your head, as well!

For more info about Amy’s practice browse to her website or facebook page. She also publishes a very informative email newsletter that is always full of useful tips and information.

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Introducing the Stealth Align foam roller by MuuvSport

Recently, Michael Palizzi, Founder and CEO of Olympia’s own MuuvSport dropped off a very unique looking foam roller for me to try out in the office. He and co-founder/VP, Ernest Peralta, refer to the Stealth Align as the next generation of foam roller, as it departs from the typical cylindrical shape of most foam rollers. They have succeeded in creating a roller that targets the muscles just to the side of the spine while at the same time keeping pressure directly off the bones of the spine. To my own delight, the Stealth Align provides a unique stretch to this area and has consistently given me fast and effective relief. Part of my daily work involves leaning over patients many times a day and can certainly give my back stress and tension, and this feels great to stretch over. Like any foam roller, it’s convenient enough to have around and use throughout the day. They also provide a large selection of videos and other material to support the use of the product. I hope you will take the time to listen to a recent interview with Michael Palizzi to learn more about the Stealth Align and MuucSport.

Listen to the Podcast!

Here’s a video of how they use the Stealth Align for targeting the muscles of the middle back:

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Keeping Safe in “Off the Bike” Group Fitness Classes

This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter December, 2012

fitness classWith the winter holidays coming to a close, and 2013 coming into focus, many cyclists face the age old decision of whether or not to go into the gym. This year, more than any other, there is greater opportunity to join a group fitness class or “boot camp” style fitness class. For many, these can be a great choice, and for others, they may need to be taken into consideration very carefully. The rest of this article will take a look at some of the things you need to keep in mind if you want to try out some of these classes.

Group fitness classes are a great way to get a workout! They are fun, motivating, & economical. Often times, they are choreographed to good music, and it’s easy to be exposed to exercises that are new to you. The physical benefit of these classes is that you are off the bike and working on areas that are generally neglected by cycling. Many of the classes have a heavy emphasis on core workouts, which we all need to work on!

On the flip-side of all those benefits are some very strong challenges that come with working out in this setting. First, they aren’t one-on-one training, they introduce challenging exercises that not everyone can do, and they often work a person into a fatigue zone where injuries can be common.

Despite the best efforts of the instructor, it’s nearly impossible to provide a one-on-one experience for a class of 10,20, 30, or more! As an instructor myself, I try my best, but it’s very difficult due to the pace and focus of the class. Especially hard is when there are new exercises to introduce. Everyone, it would seem, has a different interpretation of the verbal and visual cues when trying out a new exercise.

One of the major problems we have is that cycling has the potential to create some major imbalances and dysfunctions in the body. So, how do you ease into a class, then? If a cyclist is totally new to “land-based” exercise, I’d suggest taking 1-2 weeks of working out on your own before jumping into a class. You can practice some of the typical exercises by yourself at your own pace prior to joining into the class setting. Some good ones to focus on are bodyweight squats, pushups, planks, side bridges, lunges, and low back/gluteal bridges. In addition to all of that, you’ll also benefit from doing some general strengthening for your upper body either on machines or with free weights. Once you have done all that… then you can consider yourself better prepared to workout in a group.

When you consider the class you’ll take, I’ve found it helpful to ask friends who their favorite instructors are. Instructor style can vary and this will influence what happens in the class. In my opinion, they should be attentive to class members and regularly call out cues for keeping good form. You also want to make sure that your instructor is someone who won’t drive you into the ground and push you to fatigue. You should have the opportunity to focus on doing high quality repetitions with your workout. A good instructor will also know modifications to the exercises they offer in class, so if you have a problem, make sure you ask. Be aware, however, that there will be some limitations to how much time they can spend with you, especially during the flow of the class.

I hope these words of caution won’t stop you from taking and enjoying a good class this year. They can be very rewarding and give us many benefits that help our bodies be more resistant to injury! As always if you have any questions about these topics or more, please feel free to email me!

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Preventing Injuries When Starting a Group Fitness Class & Fitness Bootcamp

It’s December, and right now, many people are looking ahead to the end of the holidays and kicking off their new year with fitness goals! Group fitness classes and bootcamp style classes are very popular choices that are attracting many new participants. Although I love group fitness classes, and in fact teach one myself, I have to be honest and say that they are not all a bed of roses. I’ve watched people become transformed by these classes, but I’ve also seen a rise in the number of people I see in my clinic for related injuries, as well. This podcast introduces a few of my ideas as to why this may be, and also tips for helping to limit your chances of being injured in class. My perspective comes from being a chiropractor treating these injuries, and also from my experience in teaching a group fitness class for the past 7 years.

Listen to the Podcast!

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Difficulty sleeping may be linked to your electronics…

Okay! I said it. Mounting evidence points towards the disruptive effects that backlit screens such as those found on iPads, tablets, and phones, can have on our sleep. Ironically, I first read about this small (but mighty) research study from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute deep in the night when I was “just checking my email.” More and more of us (and our children) have access to these electronics at night, and it’s important to know what the impact can be.

According to the findings, activities such as reading, playing games, or watching movies on your backlit device surpresses melatonin levels by up to 22%! Melatonin is a hormone that carries information throughout the body during sleep. Lowered amounts of melatonin can disrupt our circadian rhythms and lead to poor sleep, and chronic disruption is implicated in more serious illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, and even breast cancer.

I think this is very important information for people who are recovering from injury and also for athletes and others involved in a training program.  Our sleep, especially in the earlier hours of the evening are vitally important for our body’s natural production of growth hormone, which is vitally important for repair & recovery processes.

Until manufacturers create screens that take these findings into account, some of the recommendations that have been suggested are to limit your time with these devices in the evenings, turn down the brightness of the screens as much as possible, use alternative devices such as a kindle, or just read an old-fashioned book!

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Understanding Knee Pain in Cycling and chondromalacia patella

This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter November, 2012

You would think I’d be tired of writing about knee pain by now, but the truth is, it continues to be one of the most common reasons people come to my office for consultation, especially among cyclists. In general, knee pain is the most common area of complaint for cyclists in the lower extremity. Narrowing it down a little further, the anterior/front part of the knee is the location of highest involvement. For the rest of this article, I would like to focus on pain in this area of the knee that is caused by a condition called chondromalacia patella.

Background/Symptoms: Also called patellofemoral syndrome, the term chondromalacia patella itself means “bad cartilage” and describes the condition of the cartilage on the underside of the knee and/or on the surface that the patella glides along in the groove of the femur. Some of the symptoms include pain in the front of the knee, especially going up and down stairs, and while kneeling or squatting. Specific to cycling, is the potential for pain while pedaling or after long hard rides, climbing, or using low cadence & heavy gearing. Often, the cyclist suffering from this syndrome may continue to feel soreness in the knees on days after such rides. Some patients I’ve encountered will often refer to their knees as feeling stiff and hot. Another common symptom that is often associated with this condition is the sound of crackling/popping in the knees when they are bent and straightened Usually the sound is just loud enough to make a squeamish observer cringe…

Evaluation: Evaluating the knees often involves checking alignment and range of motion of the knees, and palpating to observe swelling. Also, muscles are tested around the joint, along with other tests as needed. X rays may also be useful in helping to determine if there is any degeneration to the knee, cartilage that has worn away, or other potential causes for the pain. In my office, I’m also particularly mindful of checking out other areas besides the knee. I like to evaluate the hip and lower back, as well as the calf and ankle. One of the more common things that I find is that the hips are very tight and that the deep muscles of the hip area are extremely sensitive to pressure. In fact, with very little pressure, this is one of the easiest areas to have someone jump with surprise at how tender their muscles are.

Cycling Focus: Some of the things to keep in mind when dealing with this syndrome are riding habits, training load, and equipment. Because of the repetition of cycling, bad habits can quickly amplify and cause problems. If you are accustomed to the feel of heavy gearing, it may take outside monitoring like a cadence meter to help you change this habit. When your symptoms are worse, try to keep your cadence above 80 rpm and stay on flat terrain while riding. This should help ease your pain. Another issue is training load. If you are piling on miles and steep terrain faster than your body can recover/adapt, there is potential for breakdown of the cartilage. As the cartilage becomes inflamed, it can begin to soften and wear grooves and pits that lead to the crackling sound you may hear. Regarding equipment, the anterior knee is the site of focus for incredible stress when the saddle is too high or too far forward. Proper bend in the knee is vital for maintaining good healthy knees in this sport.

Treatment: Common treatment strategies include temporarily decreasing how much and how hard you ride in order to diminish the stress on the joint. You can do this by using higher cadence and choosing flat terrain for riding until symptoms diminish. Other ways of getting the area to calm down may include ice and anti-inflammatory medications, but check with your doctor about this before doing so. I have found more long term success in dealing with hip dysfunction/weakness directly with stretching and strengthening exercises as a way of taking stress off the knees. Of course, making sure your equipment fits you is also extremely important as poor fit can undermine all of your other efforts. Repeated issues with this condition may warrant further imaging and consultation with a specialist.

It’s my hope that most people reading this article won’t need all the details included here, and find that a few simple changes can help your knees. For those of you who do need more, however, you can see that there are a lot of potential avenues for correcting this particular problem so you can enjoy cycling for years to come.

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A Little History of the Indian Creek Building

Many people ask me questions about the building that we occupy here at 705 4th Avenue. Until recently, I had only known that it was once an automobile showroom, and had thought it was built in the 1920’s, but I’ve recently learned more!

The building is named the Indian Creek Building and was built on this site in 1918. It is right on the edge of what was the historic shoreline of Olympia’s tidal flats. It was built not long after the flats were filled and Moxlie Creek and Indian Creek were piped underground, right next door to us under Chestnut Street.

The building itself is of masonry construction, and was the home to McClain Motors, one of the first automobile dealerships in Olympia. Although the first floor is now separated into three different businesses, originally, I imagine it was one big open showroom. Most people don’t know that there is a large ramp in the back of the building. Though the current one is probably not the original, there must have been one like it there to move cars to the upstairs portion of the building. When I first moved into the building, there were oil stains on the ceiling, and my romantic side imagined that those stains were from some of those early cars.

The one-way road in front of the building, 4th Avenue, was then, as it is now, one of the main roads out of town. It has carried the historic designations of US 99 and US 101 when those highways were in service and the main thoroughfare. The state recognizes the building as representing the local shift from water-based transportation to land-based. Later the building was home to McMahan’s Furniture store.

How about prior to the current building? Prior to the Indian Creek Building, the site was the home of Charley Vietzen, a German immigrant who operated Charlie’s Place Saloon on the corner of 4th and Capital Way where the US Bank is now. Each day on his way to work, he would have had to cross a bridge over the Swantown Slough (which was later filled as described above.) Before Mr. Vietzen, of course, this location would have been occupied for millennia by early ancestors of the Squaxin Island Tribe.

Today, and most days, I think about all the people who have occupied this space before me. It’s been a good home for me, and I enjoy my neighbors Doo’ps Copy Tech and Courtyard Antiques. I hope the next time you are here you take a look around to appreciate the building and it’s location as much as I do.

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