Archive for the ‘Physiology’ Category

Sorry, I can’t tell you

31/07/2014

Sorry to be annoying but there are a few things I can’t tell you in this post – such as who, where and when. And I can’t show you any pictures. But I can tell you what.

Last week, having done a respectable few road miles including a surprising 20% climb, I caught the train.

Opposite me was a guy who looked about the same age and he had a well-appointed 29er. He told me where he’d ridden from that day and I suggested it was about 80 miles away.

He looked blank and said he hadn’t done the sums but yes, it had been off-road all the way. He was training.

He was a little disappointed with his training ride because he’d been trying to keep his average speed down to 7.3 mph but hadn’t got it below 7.8 mph.

Most of us train to cycle faster so what kind of training, I asked, involves trying to keep your average speed down?

Long distance, he said.

How long is long distance?  I asked.

400 miles, he said.

Off road, he said.

Non-stop, he mumbled.

Right, I said.

“Are you insane?” I thought, but didn’t utter.

Some time soon he’s going to spend 52 hours pedalling, while eating, drinking and sleeping, his way across 400 miles of rough tracks, up thousands of feet of ascents and down thousands of feet of descents. He’s going to do it because it’s not been done before and he likes a challenge. He might not succeed.

Either way, at some point soon, I’ll be able to tell you more, about who he is, where he was riding, when and how he got along.

Until then, I’m going to respect his modesty and his own, mistaken, belief that nobody would be interested in him.

But please, even though you don’t know much at all about his inhuman escapade, do wish him luck. That’s the least he deserves.

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Better out than in?

27/01/2014

Is it more effective to train outdoors than in?

In 2003 a woman with Parkinson’s Disease was the stoker on the back of tandem. To keep the pace being set by the male captain, she had to pedal much faster than was easy for her during the ride across Iowa. The happy result was that the symptoms of her degenerative disease were lessened significantly.

Since then, repeated intense exercise has been considered a good way to mitigate the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

One result is that patients have been encouraged to work out on stationary bikes in gyms. As many cyclists know, this experience just doesn’t compare to riding the open road. It lacks the movement, fresh air and engagement with the real world that is afforded by a real spin.

Now research has shown that intensive cycling hard out on the road could benefit a person with early Parkinson’s Disease more than the same level of exercise on a gym bike.

Why is this?

“If person’s living with Parkinson’s were to be free to ride safely on a recliner bike or tandem bike, the external cues of other people on the bike trail and wildlife may do more for the person and their disease than riding on a stationary bike at home,” says Megan Joanna Avilla, in her Masters thesis, Acute effect of intense exercise on rhythmic gait in persons living with early Parkinson’s Disease.

She may be right. The experience of changing scenery, moving air, seeing people and sensing the environment might enhance the physiological effects of exercise.

If Megan Joanna Avilla’s thesis is correct, does it mean that all outdoor training for any cyclist is more effective than exactly the same exertion on rollers indoors? Do our bodies get fitter by riding through the open air than within four walls?

The implication for all cyclists, including those without Parkinson’s Disease, is that working out could be better than working in.

How much better? Has this been tested? If not, I volunteer (weather permitting).

training ride

Better out?

gym bike

Than in?

The Lessons of 2013

28/12/2013

Every week I scan the abstracts of about 25 new papers published in peer reviewed journals and by universities. Sometimes I have access to complete papers.

They are all relevant to cycling and I try to stick to the one that have some basis in, or relevance to, science. Considering I read only those written in English, ones that cross my radar and ones that I have any hope of understanding, clearly there’s a lot out there that I miss. Nevertheless, the pickings are rich and diverse.

While I tweet nearly everything I find (@cyclingscience1), here’s a summary of  a little of what I’ve learned this year from those thousands of diligent researchers who continue to add to our understanding of cycling.

I don’t necessarily agree with any of them.

• Yoga stresses the heart and respiratory system less than cycling
• The weaves of skinsuit materials affect your aerodynamics
• Bike reviews criticising comfort are largely untrustworthy
• Regenerative braking for e-bikes is going to blossom
• Cycling in London is either more dangerous or the safety models were wrong
• The Mayor of London is more worried about commerce than road safety
• Mountain bikers suffer the worst injuries in the first third of an endurance race
• French riders in the Tour de France live longer than mere French mortals
• Traffic calming and separate cycle paths make cycling safer in Netherlands
• Medics worldwide believe that bicycle helmets are fantastic
• The health benefits to US society of cycling outweigh the costs
• Caffeine definitely helps if you drink it, but not as a mouth rinse
• Cars don’t pass helmeted cyclists any closer than they pass bare-headed riders
• Steer by wire is on its way for e-bikes
• Support for, and research into, safety in numbers is growing
• Male cyclists have bigger thighs than triathletes
• The secrets of bicycle stability and steering remain enigmatic
• The best time to ride along Oxford Street in London is 10:07 on 25th DecemberOxford St cycling 25 Dec

To stay ahead of the bunch in 2014, buy a copy of Cycling Science and follow the tweets @cyclingscience1

Strava users help sports science – unwittingly

20/11/2013

Do you use Strava? If so, you may have contributed unwittingly to pioneering research that could help all cyclists.

Three Italian researchers accessed the data of almost 30,000 Strava-using cyclists. (Put simply, Strava is the social fitness app that tracks your ride and creates a leaderboard for all rides on the same route) The users were anonymous to the researchers so it could be anyone’s data – including your’s.

SocialBlog_In-Situ-1024x592Then the researchers mined this mountain of data. They wanted to see what kind of exercise leads to better performances.

Sports scientists, doctors, physiologists and others have been doing the same kind of research for decades. They’ve come up with a lot of credible theories – but they’ve been based on the results from a few dozen professional or, occasionally, a few hundred experienced participants.

Those old studies look tiny compared to the cohort used by Paolo Cintia, Luca Pappalardo and Dino Pedreschi of the Dept. of Informatics at the University of Pisa, Italy. Thanks to the Strava data, they had an enormous sample size of 29,284 cyclists to study. The vast majority of them would have been amateur (that’s you and me) and their fitness levels would have ranged from the near-elite to the pathetic (me).

In the old days the quantity of data would’ve been too much information to handle easily but, with every second of those riders’ activities in stored in digital form, the researchers were able to drill down relatively quickly.

Fortunately for all sports scientists and coaches, the findings from the huge sample corroborate what’s suspected already from the old, small studies. Exercise on its own doesn’t make you perform better; it’s down to training.

“Athletes that better improve their performance follow precise training patterns usually referred as overcompensation theory, with alternation of stress peaks and rest periods,” say Cintia, Pappalardo and Pedreschi.

“To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first corroboration on large scale of this theory, mainly confirming that “engine matters”, but tuning is fundamental,” they say.

Sadly the potential for data from Strava and other social fitness platforms to help scientists get new insights is now restricted. Paul Mach, an engineer at Strava and creator of Raceshape, implied by tweet that the researchers had only acquired the data because they had “hammered the v1/v2 API before it got shutdown. We blocked an Italian univ[ersity] IP a while back. Probably them.”

Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 15.55.01

This approach by Strava gives the company more control over who can access the anonymised data of its users. “Data acquiring has been a fundamental part of our work,” the Italian researchers say, “We did it through Strava’s API (version 2.0)*. Unfortunately, Strava changed his [sic] API policies in June 2013, so it is not possible to download data anymore.

“At that time, we asked Strava and they were still developing the new version of API. Now it seems that such new version is finally available but you need to request the access to Strava developers.”

Neveindexrtheless, expect more results soon from the Strava data that Cintia, Pappalardo and Pedreschi harvested before the tap was turned off. “Currently we are investigating other fascinating aspects emerging from Strava data, we hope to get new results for helping cyclists in their training life. Specially because we are cyclists, too,” they say.

And if Strava relents and let’s scientists get fresh data, it’s likely to be just one source of information that could benefit all of us, including the most pathetic riders (me) in unexpected ways. “We are sure that the increasing diffusion of training devices (powermeters, heart rate monitor etc) and social fitness applications will give us the possibility of a deep and new study of training science,” say Cintia, Pappalardo and Pedreschi.

Their research paper is available here and they were scheduled to present it in December 2013 at a workshop of the IEEE International Conference on Data Mining in Dallas, Texas

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*Update at 16:56 GMT 20/11/13: From Paolo Cintia – “The data acquisiton was done after a request to Strava developer, explicitly highlighting the scientific and anonymous use. Furtherrmore the access to the API was public.”

Update at 09:00 GMT 5/3/14: From the researchers: “We are currently working on some improvements and extension of the cyclists’ study. Our purpose is to create a model able to detect if a person trains in the right way or not. In the meanwhile, we opened a blog where we tell in a divulgative way our scientific works. You can find a post about the cyclists’ study here

Ouch! How to hurt good on a mountain bike

03/09/2013

MTB injuries

Read on, online, dear reader

29/05/2013

Cycling Science by Max GlaskinWith your shelves now groaning under the burden of all the editions of Cycling Science (in at least five languages if you count US English and UK English as different flavors), then you will be pushed for space to store any more books. So here’s the first round-up of websites that you might find useful to further your interest in science related to cycling.

For aerodynamic drag force formulas (formulae?) there’s Rainer Pivit’s explanation – try not be put off by the symbols. They only want to be your friend.

The dynamics of the peloton aren’t as clear as they might appear in those sweeping shots from the helicopter during the Grand Tours. In fact, it’s a dynamic of transient mathematical beauty and it is being explained in all it’s glory by Hugh Trenchard.

Hugh Trenchard's peloton modelIf you want to cut to the chase, Hugh has built a great model online that you can actually play with – choosing rider numbers, speed, drafting distance etc. It mimics the real thing convincingly and is just as entrancing. (Personally I like the way the whole page looks. Somehow it reminds me of the early online scientific animations of the mid-’90s, although it is far more sophisticated and driven by powerful algorithms.)

What else? Ah yes, how about a short diversion into physiology. How on earth do your bulging leg muscles work? Don’t ask me, ask the experts. There is everything you need to know and more at the ExRx site for exercise professionals.

Me and my muscles before I put on my Lycra

Me and my muscles before I put on my Lycra

And just how much extraordinary power are your muscles producing? Well, you could buy some power cranks or one of the many other devices you can fit to a bike or you could simply enter some data into the site created by Walter Zorn and watch it calculate the answer in a jiffy. Walter Zorn died in 2009 but his family and friends maintain it in his memory.

That’s it for now. More soon.