People ask, “Why do you still race?” Well lots of reasons, but mainly it's an opportunity to continue to learn and improve, on many levels. This includes the opportunity to apply principles in practice vs simply learning in theory by reading books or taking classes. As I embark on the journey toward a Masters in Sports Science I appreciate, even more, the opportunity to apply what I am learning in real life situations.
I had just such an opportunity this past week...
As a result of an injury I had the reminder of the importance as, healthy, uninjured athletes to maintain our body’s pathways of communication from the brain to the muscles in order to recruit the right muscle at the right time (in sequence down the chain) to produce efficient and powerful movements. As athletes we, in part, function and move well, by maintaining mobility through the soft tissues as well as range of motion through the joints. Mobility facilitates clear and effective brain to muscle communication and in turn allows proper feedback and proprioception.
Of course there is never a silver bullet to performance, and mobility, which also provides for alignment, must be accompanied by stability in order to provide the stable platform for the prime movers to direct the force in the intended direction. From a movement and muscular standpoint, performance is also based on the prime movers possessing the required strength-endurance to repetitively make, precise, controlled movements, and delivering a powerful punch in the pedal stroke (or with running in the foot strike).
So I had this opportunity for one of my studies of one, imposed upon me when I took a spill on my mountain bike. It went like this…A friend and I had finished the most technical part of our ride, and were finishing up on a benign gravel, flat road. I was talking, and for whatever reason felt the need to be Italian-like, using hand getures to enhance my story. Then for whatever reason, I inadvertently grabbed the front break, and boom I was down. The handlebar end drove in to the belly of the left quad, and the frame slammed my inner thigh. Ouch! It was one of those falls that hurts so badly, it takes the breath away.
It qualified as my worst charley horse ever with severe muscle spasms and contractions. This tightness persisted and due to pain and inflammation I could not apply pressure with that leg. Biking felt like a single leg activity. Slowly the pain was dissipating, but the quad was still inflamed and tight, consequently not firing during activity.
With this leg, that was basically along for the ride, I was on the fence whether to the race this past weekend, but since it was an opportunity to see athletes I coach in action, I decided to give it a go.
The race, with a less controlled effort level than training, made the lack of efficiency crystal clear - power output was jeopardized and the aerobic system was overly taxed. I was working way harder than I should have been, and lumbering along. During the race on one of the climbs, I was not saying "Shut up legs," but rather “Quad wake up and talk to me.” It was strange to feel such brain to muscle disconnection, and the need to concentrate so hard on getting that muscle to do its work.
Post-race the body provided feedback with pinpoint precision on those muscles and joints that were picking up the slack for the slacker quad. The body seems to be creative in its ability to compensate around that weak link in the chain to produce the intended movement.
This “study” re-emphasized to me the importance of the investment we make as healthy, uninjured athletes off the bike, with consistent, purposeful activation, mobility, stability, strength and neuromuscular movement training to maintain our body’s ability to function at the highest level in our endurance pursuits.
See you on the mat!