Bike Fit, VO2 Testing, Bike Sales, and Bike Rentals
Below is an article by Dan Empfield from Slowtwitch.com. I like his perspective of the bike fit system industry. It used to be very simple... dogma (belief system). Fit kit did it this way, Serotta and other companies did it that way. Now that the bike companies are jumping into the frey... is it dogma? Or is it about sales? Believe me I am not bashing bike shops taking this approach. many bike shops need bike fit training. I get irked with the approach by a sales rep steering the client through their fit process with the end result of making a sale.
Please read and then post your thoughts:)
Written by: Dan Empfield
During the mid 1990s we formed what we called the Quintana Roo Traveling Road Show. Steve Hed, John Cobb, I and a few others would go from town to town and give a series of seminars to the triathletes around the country. What struck me about this exercise was the number of folks desperately wanting to be fit aboard their tri bikes. We'd cater lunch—a nice lunch—free of charge, with a compelling speaker, yet folks would not avail themselves if it meant giving up their places in the bike fit line.
I did not have the wherewithal at the time to do what Serotta did, or what Specialized and Trek are doing now: develop a bike fit school for our retailers. Nevertheless, it was clearly needed, then and now.
I unburdened myself of corporate duties in 1999, passing the baton of tri bike manufacturer to those better equipped for that battle than was I. This meant that I had time to do what I should have done earlier, but didn't: the F.I.S.T. Tri Bike Fit System debuted shortly thereafter.
In recent years, Specialized and now Trek have taken up the cause. Each has a bike fit school training and certifying fit specialists. To this I say bravo with an asterisk. Let's talk about the asterisk.
And this is where I think we ought to stand back and ask ourselves a pair of big picture questions. I'll start with the first.
Advocacy or marketing?
I feel like I'm picking on Specialized lately. It's not personal, and if I'm nagging it's because this company is a robust force doing so many things right; but I'm concerned that it's seeking tactical leverage in ways that are out of step with how I think our industry runs or ought to run. I'll refer to this fine company in the paragraphs below, in the spirit of friendship and in the hope that what appears a very fine fit school (BG Fit) might remain on its righteous course.
Bike companies are correctly discerning a truism: When a consumer walks into the door of his LBS, he's not there to buy a bike, but to enter a process. Somewhere early on in that process is a bike fit session. So far so good. My concern for all the company-developed schools and processes—by Specialized, Serotta, Trek, Guru, and whomever may come after—is that some companies see this process as ecumenical and as advocacy, while others see it as a way to gain a tactical advantage. I believe strongly that bike fit is advocacy, no less than Rails to Trails and Bikes Belong and Share the Road.
If you believe as I do, then here are some hallmarks of a program that believes a bike fit school is advocacy, and not just a way to lasso more of your buying dollars:
1. Does a bike manufacturer's fit process identify for that customer what is his best bike, saddle, cycling shoe, footbed product, or frame geometry? Or that company's bike, saddle, cycling shoe, footbed product, or frame geometry?
2. Does the company's fit school accept all interested and eager-to-learn bike retailers, as well as coaches and fitters? Or is the school only open to the retailers selling that company's products?
3. Are the protocols transparent? Is the information a company has developed on how to properly fit and service customers broadcast to the industry, or hidden from all those in the industry other than a select few with whom the bike company does business?
In my 22 years of working in the triathlon industry, I've identified two areas of advocacy that help grow our sport, and keep those in our sport from leaving our sport.
First, leverage your time and treasure toward helping race promoters: When there are more triathlons, there are (or soon will be) more triathletes.
Second, identify and solve the biggest problems triathletes have interfacing with their equipment. Specifically, make swim, bike and run less mysterious and less alchemic; rather, more comfortable and more fun. Bike fit schools fit into this category of advocacy (or if they don't, they should), and your best bet as a consumer is to sidle up to those companies that treat their fit process as advocacy, rather than simply as strategy.
Yes, a part of solving triathletes' problems is through making better products. But try as I may, as a manufacturer my products could not solve all problems for all athletes. Sometimes I had to send a customer down the road, because an Ironman wetsuit might fit that customer better than did the one I made. This means I had to both know when another product was more appropriate than my own; and be willing to help this customer by sharing this information.
This is what I mean when I say the best processes are ecumenical. The thing is to determine—brand independent—what a customer needs. If, as a manufacturer, you did your homework right, then your product fits the need better and more often than those in your competitive set.
If your proprietary system, your process, your school, your certification, is not open to scrutiny, is not open platform, is not ecumenical, it not only falls short of advocacy, you'll miss helpful peer review that will push your process forward.
Whomever among the flagship bike brands will have the chutzpah and the vision to build the first ecumenical, industry-leading, all-comers, fit school, that brand will be the first billion dollar complete bike company.
Distribution matched to expertise?
Trek, Specialized, Giant, Scott and Cannondale all make great tri bikes, and all are going to sell fewer tri bikes than they should. The problem is as follows. Each of these companies has spent up the wazoo on the development of their timed race bikes. They've not done this because of the triathlon market, rather because they've spent quadruple squared the wazoo sponsoring their Pro Tour cycling teams, each of which needs a first class TT machine.
So, now we have these machines, all very nice ones. Fortunately, there is a market to which to sell them, and it's a pretty big market, recession resistant, and still growing: triathlon. But these companies are all full service. They sell BMX bikes, MTB bikes, upright, comfort, commuter, leisure, kids, women's, touring, entry road, pro road, and categories I don't even know exist. Each company's largest dealers are full service shops who cater to all these markets, and order size runs of all the models in all the categories.
Except, there is one category that these full service retailers frequently ignore. They rightly understand what they don't understand: triathlon. They know they're out of the league. These full service retailers would be glad to order in your Equinox TTX, Transition, Plasma, Slice, but how many of these bikes do these retailers actually floor? How many do they sell in a year?
Meanwhile, there are plenty of triathlon specialty retailers that would buy gobs of these bikes, and agree not to take the rest of the line (they don't want the rest of the line). But the rule, not the exception, is for the full service retailer to deny the manufacturer the right to sell (tri bikes only) to the triathlon specialty store down the street. Some or most of these manufacturers I list above are waiting—like airlines waiting to see who's going to be the first to start charging for in-flight pretzels—to see who'll set up a second line of distribution; a parallel set of dealers who sell tri bikes (no $100-million-plus company wants to be the first to try this experiment).
What does this have to do with bike fit systems? Specialized is the leader, I think all would agree, among full service bike companies that offer a robust fit system. Let's consider how this might work, today, in practice.
As I search (using Specialized' website) a 50-mile radius around that company's corporate headquarters (which would incorporate the entire San Francisco Bay Area), I note 20 Body Geometry Fit Specialists (regular and advanced). Each is tied to a Specialized shop, and these 20 certified fitters work at a total of 10 shops. I called each of these 10 shops, and the only shop that had any Transitions on the floor was the Specialized concept store (Concept Cyclery) two miles away from Specialized' headquarters.
I don't offer this narrative to cast aspersions on Specialized' attempts to upscale its dealers through educating them. Rather, to point out that what matters, in the end, is execution. If you want to go into a store and see the bike you want, and ride the bike you want, and get fit by an expert in that store, that doesn't seem to me possible anywhere in Specialized' own immediate region, unless you go to the Specialized concept store in Morgan Hill.
How, in execution, is this program any different from Elite Bicycles, where in metro Philly if you want both that company's tri bikes, and that company's fit expertise, you have to make your way to the company headquarters? Certainly Specialized is better equipped than Elite Bicycle to situate its tri bikes, and trained bike fitters, inside the same door? Isn't it?
Without putting too fine a point on it, listen: I'm a triathlete. If you want me to buy your bike, sell it in a shop that wants to sell to me; has the knowledge to fit and service me; and has the confidence in your tri bike to stock a couple of size runs. If you decide to do this for me, you're going to have to break the paradigm of a dealer network that is self-selected against triathlon. Face it: the big, full service shops that are your backbone dealers aren't going to sell your tri bikes. So, open tri-specific dealers to your bikes, and to your fit school. Then, you'll deliver to triathletes what you advertise: an executable process.
My final exhortation is to Specialized, and Trek, and Serotta, and all the other companies that may embark on the very good work of fit-specific dealer education: Don't champion your fit school. Champion every fit school worth championing. Empower and enable your retailers carrying your tri bikes to learn about tri bike fit, whether you teach them, or I teach them, or Paul Levine or Paul Swift or Chris Kautz teaches them.
Above all (as the Good Book says) don't hide your light under a bushel. If you've got a good fit system, show it to the world, and invite the world to avail themselves of it. It's your good work, it's your reasonable service to our industry, it's your proper advocacy. As you do this I'll know you're about growing triathlon and helping triathletes, not just growing your revenues and selling to triathletes.
$250 gets you a dialed in bike fit and VO2/VCO2 Metabolic Test. Do not second guess your bike issues or switch your nutrition at the last minute. Sure go ahead and buy that aero helmet and aero wheels instead... but don't make any excuses if you are not happy with your result. If you try to buy speed without the basics you will be unsatisfied with your results. Be smarter than that. Get comfortable and efficient on your bike. Believe me you will run better. And know what your best pace and nutritional needs are too. Once again... believe me you'll run better. Schedule now before the slots fill up. Time is not running out but it is getting close to the big event:)
This detailed bike fit and assessment typically cost between $175 and $200!
And a VO2/VCO2 metabolic test typically costs between $140 $175!
The article below from Velo Reviews (March 2011) bashes Crossfit for cyclists (since the article is two years old maybe some of these folks have changed their minds). I agree if a cyclist and coach adopts a pure crossfit approach they will most likely have poor results and/or injury. This principle should apply to all activities right? If a cyclist jumps into a yoga class and they attempt an advanced pigeon pose I bet there will be bad results.
As you read the article below you will realize weak mobility and stability links cyclists and triathletes typically have. My recommendation is that a cyclist, triathlete and their coach conduct a physical assessment and determine their weak areas and then develop a speciific crossfit training plan. If the athlete has poor shoulder mobility and cannot do a weighed overhead press, front squat, clean, etc. Then scale (modify) these movements with a pvc pipe and begin working on technique and range of motion.
When I began incorporating crossfit in my training I scaled all of my exercises... band assisted pull ups, reduced weight deadlifts, presses, and squats and so on.
Also as you read the article the author points out many weak areas core, glutes, shoulders, etc. Many of these areas are weak since many cyclists ride on their bikes with poor core stability since their pelvis is not rotated in an anterior manner, but in a posterior manner. So with the core not engaged the cyclist will most likely pull their pelvis off access when they reach for a water bottle or riding hard to stay on another rider's wheel. Believe me one leg is stronger than the other and that stronger leg has more leverage to pull the pelvis off access when the core and pelvis is not stable.
So what if the cyclist is being coached by a coach on the internet what should they do if they want to begin a strength and mobility plan? There are many options but I recommend the athlete do at least these two things:
#1. Get a Functional Movement Screen. Seek out a certified practitioner in your area. Even google it. Then try some of the screening exercises.
#2. Get a proper bike fit and assessment. Call your local shops or fitters in your area and set an appointment. I think you should do a little homework in advance and also ask the fitter about their background, ask them do they assess for asymmetries, recommend corrective exercises, do they use wedges, and spacers on cleats. In my opinion wedges and spacers should rarely be used. These devices mostly address a symptom not the problem.
So why am I a fan of crossfit? You do not need machines and or even weights. You can use anything for resistance... body weight, sandbags, cinder blocks, and other devices.
Enjoy reading the below article and post your comments.
Crossfit and Cycling: Doesn’t Seem to Match Up
You’ve probably heard of CrossfitF (CF), wondered about what it is, maybe even done one of these workouts. This exercise methodology has gained momentum in the last few years. The faint of heart, or body for that matter need not apply.
Start talking CF with trainers and its devoutees, and you may as well bring up religion and politics at a family function. There as many opinions on it as there are exercises that it covers.
CF was founded in 1995 in Santa Cruz, CA and is predicated on what the calls the “10 Fitness Domains:” cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and accuracy (we’ll get into this one a lot more, so sit tight!). It defines fitness as increased work capacity across all these domains.
CF athletes run, row, jump rope, climb rope and carry odd objects. They frequently move large loads quickly over long distances, and use powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting techniques. CF athletes also use dumbbells, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, kettlebells, and many bodyweight exercises.
Sounds like the perfect off the bike training program doesn’t it?
Well, I wanted to find out for sure, so I asked around, a lot. I spoke with USA Cycling Level I coaches around the country to see if they were using this with their athletes. This also includes Jim Rutberg, Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) Pro Coach and/or Co-Author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” and “Time Crunched Triathlete because I thought, if it is cycling related, who better to talk to than the people who helped Lance win seven Tour titles?
I also reached out to strength coaches Carl Cantrell, a cycling coach from New Mexico and former competitive weight lifter, and Dr. Stuart McGill ( professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada and author of “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.”
Does it Apply?
The main thing I wanted to know was how a methodology done primarily on two legs with Olympic lifting with extremely high intensity over short periods of time translated over to an activity that is done producing power, strength and endurance with only one leg over the course of several hours. My intial thoughts are it doesn’t, and there is too much recovery needed from a CF workout that would inhibit someone’s ability to maximize time in the saddle to improve cycling fitness.
“Sore today means you can’t train tomorrow,” said Dr. McGill.
I also wanted to know how a population with limited movement skill off the bike was supposed to perform Olympic lifting, including overhead work, correctly. These are extremely complicated movements that have very high form requirements.
I’ve worked with over 200 cyclists in the last six years, and the majority of them all had one thing in common: several lower body muscle imbalances, very tight hip flexors and quads and very little to zero glute activation. Not too mention limited shoulder mobility, especially in the overhead position.
“In promoting the Olympic lifts, they are endangering beginners who don’t have adequate coaching and experience for such weight lifting,” says Coach Cantrell whose coaching career began in 1984. “These are dangerous lifts for even experienced lifters.”
His competitive lifting days ended when he discovered he birth defect in his right shoulder which prevented the proper muscular strength in his trapezius muscles.
“They are not worth the risk for the average person, especially the snatch, which is the most dangerous lift in weight lifting.”
“Experienced and well coached Olympic lifters are hurt doing these lifts all of the time. I know very well how to do these lifts properly, you can be seriously injured doing these lifts and they are not necessary for good general fitness.”
The squat is a motion that requires quite a bit of glute activation to be done correctly. Assuming someone has the freedom of motion to perform the first half of the movement correctly, which most of the cyclists I’ve worked with couldn’t because of the accumulated repetitive stress motion of cycling.
“Firstly, cycling creates many muscle imbalances and any cyclist who tells you they don’t have any body muscularskeletal issues is either a liar or is naive!” said Kenda p/b Geargrinder rider and Day by Day Cycling coach Ben Day. “These imbalances are important to rectify in the endless search for symmetry, which we all know will never be 100% on a human body.”
That being said, Day agreed if someone does have muscle imbalances in their lower body (which typically will affect upper body movements as well at some point) it will make it more difficult to perform the most basic of movements.
“In Applied Kinesiology muscle testing, as quite often performed by chiropractors, activation of muscles is an indicator of a good neurological system – basically the processor that sends the signals to our muscles to fire. Surely having a clear and healthy pathway for this signals to be sent is of benefit,” Day says.
CTS’ Rutberg feels if a rider has an overuse injury from cycling, you first have to determine whether the injury was caused by a change in your body (muscle imbalance, lack of flexibility, limited range of motion, etc.) or from the interface of bike and body (saddle position, worn cleats, etc.).
If the problem originates with something your body is doing incorrectly, then Rutberg says off-the-bike exercises “can be part of the process of returning to pain-free cycling.” He says the problem typically originates because of poor body position on the bike or worn out equipment, then you have to fix those issues before off-the-bike exercises are going to help.
This is where the CF methodology can lead to injuries.
According to Dr. McGill the risk of injury from some CF exercises, such as cleans, snatches and deadlifts outweighs their benefits when they are performed with poor form in timed workouts.
“There are similar risks in other exercise programs but noted that CF’s online community enables athletes to follow the program without proper guidance, increasing the risk,” said McGill.
In the CF environment you have a group setting with everyone doing something different across a wide variety of fitness levels. This is a tricky formula when you’ve got athletes who have muscle imbalances that may require a more individual approach.
“Several Principles are at play here. No two people are the same, have the same patterns of strength or movement. People need a detailed assessment in an individual setting, can’t get that in a group,” says McGill.
McGill feels since most riders don’t activate glutes well, this style of training doesn’t translate well to cycling to making cycling improvements.
Frank Overton a Physiologist from North Carolina State University, USA Cycling Level I Coach and founder of Fast Cat Coaching in Boulder Colorado said “CF isn’t designed to focus on the legs and core to improve power on the bike.”
“There aren’t any cycling specific movements,” said Overton. “When we work with riders we focus on being able to move bodyweight correctly and mobility before we get into plyometrics and any type of squats.”
In his article “The Truth About CF,” Chris Shuga wrote “if you have a specific goal in your training — top-level competitive mountain biking, bodybuilding, a 600-pound deadlift — then CF isn’t for you. You need to specialize.”
USA Triathlon Level I coach, Kim Boere, B.S., CSCS, NASM CES, CPT from Optimize Endurance Services in Indian Hills, CO agrees.
“It isn’t cycling specific, but it is a potential option for cross training,” said Boere. “It would not be my first choice for cyclists.”
One of the principles of CF is to train to the point of exhaustion. Since it isn’t uncommon for a cyclist to have muscle imbalances that limit joint range of motion, you need to weigh the risk vs reward by doing this. Once fatigue sets, movement skill will typically decline.
“You should have perfect form with body weight before high velocity/intensity,” says Anne Trombley, PT, MS, USAC Level I Coach from Trailmaster Coaching and Physical Therapy. “You really have to look at someone’s background/training experience before they start flipping tires, pushing heavy weights, full body activities.”
The former Olympian and author of “Serious Mountain Biking” feels that it Doesn’t translate to full body improvements on the bike.
“What are you doing in the sport? What does it require? Where is specificity? If not, then you don’t need it.”
At CTS, the concern is programs that feature high-intensity, ballistic movements like CF are that their athletes are maintaining the appropriate balance of exercise workload and recovery across all their activities, and that the athlete has the skill and form to complete the ballistic movements without getting injured.
“Let’s face it, some of us gravitated toward endurance sports because we’re not very coordinated,” Rutberg said.
Exercise enough with improper form, and you begin to move poorly and develop poor motor programming.
“To correct lower body muscle imbalances, you need to train intelligently. If it hurts to hit the thumb with a hammer, you don’t use a bigger hammer, you take the hammer away,” said Dr McGill. “You don’t train to exhaustion to reach excellence.”
McGill said constantly being sore reduces ability to work and full recovery before next output is how you build improvements.
“Bringing an athlete to peak has little to do with taking them to exhaustion. It isn’t about how many in how long. Train while fresh to improve.”
He also said reaching this state can very often compromise form and that you “need to be careful when fatigued to prevent form breakdowns.”
Makes sense, right? The program goal should not be to take someone to exhaustion every time they train. You should also progressively plan a strength program. You also need to find out where someone has muscular imbalances and correct them. Taking someone to exhaustion won’t fix this. The only way to do it is by building the correct motor patterns.
“This is where a complete movement assessment prior to moving comes into play. This will reveal what tissues are firing, which ones are inhibiting proper movement sequencing and determine if there are arthritic concerns to be aware of,” said McGill. “You don’t send someone to CF to get corrective work, they will just end up getting hurt.”
He also feels that CF doesn’t build the right motor patterns, but it can make them worse. “You need to ask what are the movement restrictions? How do you eliminate them?”
Rutberg feels that adding new exercises alone won’t fix a muscle activation issue.
“If there’s truly an issue activating glutes, then that’s a problem than has to be fixed by retraining the muscle and neuromuscular patterns to regain function,” he said.
A typical competitive cycling training program is a six day a week ride schedule. This includes strength training twice a week on top of this. I asked Dr McGill and Coach Rutberg how CF fits into this from a recovery perspective, and he said “Its an American Mindset: “work hard is good, work harder is better.”
“The key is clever rest = better performance. Focus on restoration is under utilized. Russians have mastered this. A six day a week training program on the bike doesn’t allow for proper rest,“ he said. “Rest needs as much thought as movement.”
McGill also related how one of the major tenants of surgery is to focus on forced rest before rehab, and that by resting and rebuilding motor patterns very often you can eliminate the need for surgery.
“With limited time available for all forms of training, diverting a relatively small amount of time and energy to strength training – and thereby reducing on-the-bike training time by that same amount – means people can’t devote enough time to strength training to make gains that could enhance their cycling performance,” says Rutberg. “In other words, if you’re purely after improved cycling performance and you have a full-time job and a family at home, spend as much time as possible on the bike.”
That being said, how can someone do the CF workouts at the recommended or accepted intensity, recover from those and still put in hard efforts on the bike without either burning out, or becoming injured?
“There’s the rub,” Rutberg said. “Some can and some can’t, depending on their fitness level going in and how much time they plan on spending on the bike.”
Critics fault CF for lack of periodization, the process of building a strength training program on cycles of work for given periods of time.
“One thing that bothers me about the CF program is that there doesn’t seem to be any balance to it,” said Coach Cantrell. “It just seems to be a program designed around doing squats with whatever thrown in for more gym work. I don’t see a function or purpose in the design of the program, definitely nothing which would show the use of exercise physiology or kinesiology being used in the design.”
Based on the questions asked, and the answers given, it would be difficult to see how CF would benefit the cycling community.
A new study from a team of exercise science professors found that runners who transition too quickly to minimalist shoes ("barefoot" five-finger running shoes) suffer an increased risk of injury to bones in the foot, including possible stress fractures. With minimalist shoes now making up 15 percent of the $6.5 billion running shoe market, the findings are nothing to run from. "Transitioning to minimalist shoes is definitely stressful to the bones," said Sarah Ridge, study lead author and assistant professor of exercise science at BYU. "You have to be careful in how you transition and most people don't think about that; they just want to put the shoes on and go."
The research, appearing in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, studied 36 experienced runners over a 10-week period. Each runner first underwent MRIs on their feet prior to the study period. Half of the runners were then asked to gradually transition into five-finger minimalist shoes while the other half continued to run in traditional running shoes. Subjects in the experimental group followed an industry suggested protocol. They did one short (1-2 mile) run in the minimalist shoes the first week, and added an additional short run each week so that they ran at least 3 miles in the new shoes by week three. They were then told to add mileage in the minimal shoes as they felt comfortable, with the goal of replacing one short run per week in traditional shoes with the new shoes. At the end of the 10-week period, MRIs were again conducted.
The MRIs revealed that those who had transitioned to the minimalist shoes suffered greater increases in bone marrow oedema (inflammation causing excessive fluid in the bone) and more stress injuries than those in traditional shoes. "Whenever a bone is impacted by running (or some other repetitive action), it goes through a normal remodeling process to get stronger," Ridge said. "Injury occurs when the impact is coming too quickly or too powerfully, and the bone doesn't have a chance to properly remodel before impact reoccurs." Interestingly, the study found the majority of those who suffered stress injuries were women. The authors said the study does not mean minimalist shoes are bad. Rather, to minimize the risk of injuries, runners should transition over a longer duration than 10 weeks and at a lower intensity (miles per week). "People need to remember they've grown up their whole life wearing a certain type of running shoes and they need to give their muscles and bones time to make the change," Johnson said. "If you want to wear minimalist shoes, make sure you transition slowly." This is the first of many studies looking at minimalist running shoes, the authors said.
Journal Reference: Sarah T. Ridge, A.Wayne Johnson, Ulrike H. Mitchell, Iain Hunter, Eric Robinson, Brent S. E. Rich, Stephen Douglas Brown. Foot Bone Marrow Edema after 10-week Transition to Minimalist Running Shoes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182874769
Researchers recently have discovered, this so-called static stretching can lessen jumpers’ heights and sprinters’ speeds, without substantially reducing people’s chances of hurting themselves. Now, two new studies are giving us additional reasons not to stretch.
One, a study being published April in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, concluded that if you stretch before you lift weights, you may find yourself feeling weaker and wobblier than you expect during your workout. Those findings join those of another new study from Croatia, a bogglingly comprehensive re-analysis of data from earlier experiments that was published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Together, the studies augment a growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.
Many issues related to exercise and stretching have remained unresolved. In particular, it is unclear to what extent, precisely, subsequent workouts are changed when you stretch beforehand, as well as whether all types of physical activity are similarly affected.
For the more wide-ranging of the new studies, and to partially fill that knowledge gap, researchers at the University of Zagreb began combing through hundreds of earlier experiments in which volunteers stretched and then jumped, dunked, sprinted, lifted or otherwise had their muscular strength and power tested. For their purposes, the Croatian researchers wanted studies that used only static stretching as an exclusive warm-up; they excluded past experiments in which people stretched but also jogged or otherwise actively warmed up before their exercise session. The scientists wound up with 104 past studies that met their criteria. Then they amalgamated those studies’ results and, using sophisticated statistical calculations, determined just how much stretching impeded subsequent performance. The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more. While the effect is reduced somewhat when people’s stretches last less than 45 seconds, stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.
They also are less powerful, with power being a measure of the muscle’s ability to produce force during contractions, according to Goran Markovic, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Zagreb and the study’s senior author. In Dr. Markovic and his colleagues’ re-analysis of past data, they determined that muscle power generally falls by about 2 percent after stretching. And as a result, they found, explosive muscular performance also drops off significantly, by as much as 2.8 percent. That means that someone trying to burst from the starting blocks, blast out a ballistic first tennis serve, clean and jerk a laden barbell, block a basketball shot, or even tick off a fleet opening mile in a marathon will be ill served by stretching first. Their performance after warming up with stretching is likely to be worse than if they hadn’t warmed up at all.
A similar conclusion was reached by the authors of the other new study, in which young, fit men performed standard squats with barbells after either first stretching or not. The volunteers could manage 8.3 percent less weight after the static stretching. But even more interesting, they also reported that they felt less stable and more unbalanced after the stretching than when they didn’t stretch.
Just why stretching hampers performance is not fully understood, although the authors of both of the new studies write that they suspect the problem is in part that stretching does exactly what we expect it to do. It loosens muscles and their accompanying tendons. But in the process, it makes them less able to store energy and spring into action, like lax elastic waistbands in old shorts, which I’m certain have added significantly to the pokiness of some of my past race times by requiring me manually to hold up the garment.
Of course, the new studies’ findings primarily apply to people participating in events that require strength and explosive power, more so than endurance. But “some research speaks in favor” of static stretching impairing performance in distance running and cycling, Dr. Markovic said. More fundamentally, the results underscore the importance of not prepping for exercise by stretching, he said. “We can now say for sure that static stretching alone is not recommended as an appropriate form of warm-up,” he said. “A warm-up should improve performance,” he pointed out, not worsen it.
A better choice, he continued, is to warm-up dynamically, by moving the muscles that will be called upon in your workout. Jumping jacks and toy-soldier-like high leg kicks, for instance, prepare muscles for additional exercise better than stretching. As an unscientific side benefit, they can also be fun.
Weak hip muscles lead to poor hip motion, and poor hip motion can cause knee, hip, and back pain. By exercising to strengthen the hip muscles that control how your hip moves, you can reduce your pain in these parts of your body. The 2 key muscles to include in your exercise program are the gluteus maximus (the chief muscle on the back of your hip—your buttocks) and the gluteus medius (the main muscle on the side of your hip). However, it is often difficult to strengthen these muscles without also strengthening a muscle called the tensor fascia lata, which is located toward the front of the hip. Too much activation of that muscle may create unwanted hip motion that may worsen knee, hip, or back pain. A study published in the February 2013 issue of JOSPT (J Orthop Sports Phys Ther) provides information intended to help physical therapists and their patients select exercises that target the buttock muscles without causing other unwanted muscle actions.
In this study, the researchers had 20 healthy people perform 11 different hip exercises commonly used for both fitness and rehabilitation. While the participants performed the exercises, fine wires were used to record the amount of electrical activity within the 3 muscles. This indicated how much each muscle was working. The researchers’ goal was to discover which exercises used the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles the most, while minimizing the action of the tensor fascia lata. They found that 5 specific exercises worked best: the clam, the single-leg bridge, hip extension while on both hands and knees (with the knee bent or straight), and the sidestep.
Patients with certain types of knee, hip, or back pain may benefit from focusing on the 5 exercises recommended by these researchers. Your physical therapist can help determine which of these exercises are best for you and customize a treatment program based on your diagnosis, your level of pain, and your current and desired hip function. Even if you do not have any pathology or pain, you may want to incorporate these 5 exercises in your general fitness or strength program.
This news is based on an article by Selkowitz et al, titled “Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromyographic Assessment Using Fine-Wire Electrodes,” J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2013;43(2):54-64. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4116.
Get the article PDF including patient handout http://www.jospt.org/members/getfile.asp?id=5943