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PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2016 1:39 pm 
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Been working on my "core" strength a bit lately, mostly exercises for the back. This wasn't even for cycling in the first place, but to compensate for lots of sitting.

But I'm noticing, that when riding hard uphill, flexing the lower back a bit helps me not to drop the heels, which has been a long-standing issue for me when going all-out. Stronger back also helps me to keep the arms relaxed even on very steep inclines, which in turn helps breathing more freely. Never thought a little cross training could make all that difference. (I have a notoriously unmuscular runner build).

Does anyone have a similar experience? Is that even common knowledge maybe?

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Posted: Tue May 31, 2016 1:39 pm 


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PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2016 4:13 pm 
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You raise a number of issues here.

1. Core strength development -- yes, definitely good for almost anyone, including any cyclist.

2. Dropping the heel -- many riders tend to force the pedal stroke through the knee (basically, a quadriceps extension) past the point where they need to transition to a calf motion through the bottom of the pedal stroke. As a result, they punch to a very heel-down position at the bottom of the stroke and lose a lot of power and cadence that way. Riders need to learn the limits of appropriate leg extension and then make use of their soleus and gastrocnemius muscles to transition through the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. You can't do that when your heel is already too low.

3. Flexing the lower back -- you can adjust your pedal stroke length and not have to modify your back position just to get a good pedal stroke. You should have an optimal back position and protect that. You may change it for certain kinds of riding, such as out of the saddle climbing or riding on the rivet, but when you arch your back you are basically limiting your hip clearance, which means you are giving away flexibility and power to control an issue that can be controlled independently. Protect your back and hip position first of all. It's the core of your power.

None of these are uncommon issues, but they are all things you should train around.


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PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2016 5:11 pm 
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I wasn't aware that heel dropping, in itself, was a "problem" that needed to be avoided.
Merckx was a notable "heel dropper".
And not that I believe everything Steve Hogg says, but here is at least some plausible argument that heel dropping is not a problem in itself.
https://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/bi ... t-is-best/

Of course I guess there are matters of degree, and if it is causing you discomfort or concern.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 10:37 am 
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11.4 wrote:
many riders tend to force the pedal stroke through the knee (basically, a quadriceps extension) past the point where they need to transition to a calf motion through the bottom of the pedal stroke. As a result, they punch to a very heel-down position at the bottom of the stroke and lose a lot of power and cadence that way. Riders need to learn the limits of appropriate leg extension and then make use of their soleus and gastrocnemius muscles to transition through the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. You can't do that when your heel is already too low.


Thanks 11.4, always much appreciated. I think this describes very well how I used to ride, especially when fatigued or going all out. Basically "stomping" on the pedals with little ankle action at all.

But when focusing on stabilising the pedal stroke from the back, it seems much easier to get a little kick out of the ankle. Almost feels like a some muscle engagement in the lower back primes the entire "posterior chain" in the legs to be ready for ankle extension. Or is that totally off?

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 11:12 am 
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But does it actually make you any quicker?

Serious question, because at the end of the day, thats all that matters.

If it doesn't, then spending time on an "ideal technique" is pretty pointless.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 3:56 pm 
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HillRPete wrote:
11.4 wrote:
many riders tend to force the pedal stroke through the knee (basically, a quadriceps extension) past the point where they need to transition to a calf motion through the bottom of the pedal stroke. As a result, they punch to a very heel-down position at the bottom of the stroke and lose a lot of power and cadence that way. Riders need to learn the limits of appropriate leg extension and then make use of their soleus and gastrocnemius muscles to transition through the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. You can't do that when your heel is already too low.


Thanks 11.4, always much appreciated. I think this describes very well how I used to ride, especially when fatigued or going all out. Basically "stomping" on the pedals with little ankle action at all.

But when focusing on stabilising the pedal stroke from the back, it seems much easier to get a little kick out of the ankle. Almost feels like a some muscle engagement in the lower back primes the entire "posterior chain" in the legs to be ready for ankle extension. Or is that totally off?


I can't quite visualize the action you're talking about. However, if your ankle is flexed upwards because you've extended your heel down past your pedal at the bottom of the stroke, you are at the weakest point in mobilizing your soleus and gastroc to help with crank arm movement.

To the last point, of whether it actually makes one any quicker, the answer is likely to be "sometimes." This is because when you are punching really hard, such as a seated climb or a high-geared time trial, your soleus in particular is a very strong muscle and can do a lot for you. It isn't a muscle that responds as well to very rapid cycles, so in riding at a 120 rpm cadence you can't expect it to do much. The point here is really that if one is expending energy to push one set of muscles (mostly the quads) to go through a longer range of motion than needed, one is both relying on one part of your musculature disproportionately and also making it do more than is necessary. That combination can't be ideal. And since one point of riding a shorter crank is to limit the range of leg motion, why recreate the original range by hyperextending the leg?

Every individual is going to be different and any individual is going to have to train some of these behaviors. That means there often isn't an instant benefit to a different crank arm length (and this applies to most other changes in both bike fit and personal flexibility or strength development). Creating the strength is easy. So is flexibility. Adapting to the range of movement and turning it into an efficient improved pedal stroke is what's hard.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 7:38 pm 
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jekyll man wrote:
But does it actually make you any quicker?


Frankly, no idea. But from my background in middle distance running, I know that using good technique in the first place gets you further. One can run fast intuitively, but there comes a point where the going gets tough. With good form and the fitness to hold it, ideally you would not have to start to labour, even on the home stretch.

And more importantly, you get in the zone much better and deeper, and it's way more satisfying. It just feels better.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2016 10:08 am 
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Thanks for the honest answers guys :)

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2016 3:26 pm 
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Rick wrote:
I wasn't aware that heel dropping, in itself, was a "problem" that needed to be avoided.
Merckx was a notable "heel dropper".
And not that I believe everything Steve Hogg says, but here is at least some plausible argument that heel dropping is not a problem in itself.
https://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/bi ... t-is-best/

Of course I guess there are matters of degree, and if it is causing you discomfort or concern.


Agree, never realised there was a problem with heel dropping through the stroke...obviously within reason though...

Everyone is different but for me if my saddle isn't in a position to allow me to drop my heel I lose power, especially while climbing..."toeing" is fine on the flat, easier to keep a high cadence but less power through the stroke, particularly the bottom...as soon as I hit a climb I feel like I'm riding on the tips of my toes so I don't totally agree with 11.4.

Too low and there's a lack of extension through the leg/muscles...too high and there's a lack of power with hyperextension...

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2016 3:39 pm 
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Must excercise for a core as a whole but imho abs must be stressed more than back.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2016 9:24 pm 
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It's not just isolated back or abdominal muscles. It's also hip flexors and extensors, pelvic girdle, lateral musculature on the torso, internal hip musculature, and lots of things going on in the shoulders, neck, head positioning, and so on. If you drop your head and thus curve your back more, it changes your hip position and thus the point at which you can obtain ultimate power through the bottom of your pedal stroke.

Fundamentally, why do you want to raise or lower the mass of your legs, or hyper flex your ankle joint, when you're pedaling? Think about where your calves are the strongest and it isn't when your heels are well below the ball of your feet. The leverage in your ankle joint is strongest when your heels are approximately even with the rest of the foot. (And by the way, remember that it's your soleus that is much stronger than your gastroc, and is where your stabilization really comes for cycling.) I'd argue that if you have to drop your heel in a high-output pedal stroke, you need to build strength in the calves. You're also risking heel spurs if you drop your heel like that. Ask yourself what the core of the problem is and try to fix that problem, rather than modifying something else. In this case, the primary issue is whether you can support your pedal stroke with a flat or slightly elevated heel (as in a more souplesse-style pedal stroke). Don't ask another muscle to work harder, over a longer range of motion, and ask your weak joint to engage in a greater range of motion than needed, simply because one group of muscles can't carry the load. Train the calves. Remember that cycling doesn't do a lot to build power in the calves -- that's better done in the gym -- but if you get it done, it pays big dividends in a hurry.


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