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phys-mech: or the haptics of the pedal stroke

It seems as though the big boss started a trend. If'n he don't watch out, I'll start posting up pieces about THE MOST IMPORTANT CYCLING EXERCISE EVAH (it will turn out to be about napping).

Anyway, the post about q-rings, and knees, and what-not stuck in my head for awhile during today's absolutely gorgeous ride. I mean, seriously, we've had a bit of rain, so stuff's green, and while most of the big bloomy-days have gone by, there's still color--and--today--there was almost no wind. And, apparently, when my mind doesn't have to gauge wind speed every instant, it can think. Follow me over the jump for a short little meditation about the difficulties of talking about pedal strokes and stuff like that.

Ok. a detour first: Barbara Crousen, the head track coach at the little 'ol Methodist school I work for has won a national championship and won the NCAA D3 coach of the year in 2001. A former pro MLB player came here to run track for her, currently there are several kids who could have gone to D1 schools (and, alas, one will probably transfer out--homesick), but came out here to work with her.

What's odd about this is that she didn't run track or do field events. Which, as one of her decathletes (and an English major) explained it to me, turns out to be a great strength: "Since she didn't run, she has no preconceptions about what a technique should feel like. She tells you what it should look like, and leaves you to figure out what it's gonna feel like when you do it."

Similarly, I found that video of Cipollini assisting his women's team fascinating for the images of how he corrected pedal strokes--it didn't appear to be one of those yoga-esque bogusities like "uncoil your DNA" (a joke phrase my wife and I came up with after our instructor (a friend) told our group to do something physiologically impossible in the relax phase of a session--instead, he was showing how and explaining why.

During the whole discussion about q-rings, fit, and pedal strokes, those little bits kept floating around in my head. Especially the distinction between what we think a sport-specific activity like a pedal-stroke should FEEL like, and what it should LOOK like.

Cycling is kinda weird compared to the sport I really know most about teaching (swimming . . . once upon a time I was a Water Safety Instructor): it requires careful observation, but it IS possible to distinguish a good arm-stroke (for whatever stroke) from a not-good one. Same with kicks.

BUT . . . maybe because there are so many "deep" muscles involved in making kicks happen (like pedal strokes) or maybe because we don't have fingers at the end of our legs, so the nervous pathways aren't as used to communicating lots of info about what's going on, it was always difficult to teach even something as apparently easy as a 'correct' flutter-kick: telling someone "kick from the hip, not your knees" is great, but harder to do.

AND . . . even though it looks pretty straight-forward, there are lots of subtle differences in the patterns of muscle-firing that people use to get pedals to go around--I pay way more attention to what my abs and butt muscles are doing than what's going on with my quads or ham-strings these days, because I've finally re-learned that even if coiling up the tummy can produce a minute or two of more power, bad stuff happens pretty quickly if you're shoving your stomach into space your lungs would like to have to respirate . . .

SO . . . in the spirit of giving us stuff to think about, any one want to share what physiological markers you pay attention to?

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