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Updated January 22, 2016 | By Bob Fugett

Your Bike Is Not An Orthotic

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Mary (The Black Widow) was staring down at her feet like someone had replaced them with elephant toes.

Standing beside her was Lauren Warren who listed Elite Athlete in her credits along with being an exercise therapist.

She was looking down at Mary's feet dubiously saying, "I see. I guess."

A little off to the side Michele Yasson, a well known veterinarian who was new to athletics so not necessarily very interested in people's feet, was also looking down blankly as if thinking, "Ok, a foot."

But she said nothing.

Mary had just pulled off her socks to show her severe bunions and explain how they made it impossible for her to step full force on her bike pedals.

It was Lauren who had suggested one of the books Mary was using to address her foot problem (among other things), but Lauren had made the suggestion from a distance via e-mail after reading online stories about all the training problems Mary was having on her way to her 23+ Widder's Hump, so Lauren had not seen the full extent of the problem.

I was turned away at the computer looking up something online so missed the beginning, but I heard Mary starting to explain how bad her bunions were, how she always had more power by pulling up while seated, how she could not generate even a few extra watts by standing a few quick strides.

When I heard Mary mention her feet, I was glad that finally somebody who could understand was going to see those gnarled rough red feet and know exactly what they were doing to her ride.

Except when I turned to look, I was as befuddled as the rest of them, because... the bunions were gone!

At the time, the thought of miraculously healed bunions was shocking, because Mary had spent years moving from one type orthotic to another under the advice of a string of doctors, until she knew it was time for surgery—just as soon as she could decide which six months she could afford off her feet.

A few months later, Mary's continued work on her floor routines and exercises revealed that the healed bunions were actually tracking perfectly with the equal improvement to her hips and knees, and the shock over her healed bunions was replaced by the greater incredulousness of wondering how she could have ever thought she needed surgery in the first place.

The floor routines had begun soon after an early spring test ride where I asked her to bring her 1 min effort up over 400 watts from her current PB of 333. We managed to get it at 30 seconds, but even after discussions about not overworking and spinning smoothly in order to get extra power, she was still falling apart at around 50 seconds.

I put her on Mount Eve (a really good attack hill), but she immediately complained of pain in her lower back and we called off the attempt.

I rode behind her back to the parking lot as she went easy, and I watched her position and pedal stroke.

She was rotated forward left on her seat which was typical, but for some reason I was extra frustrated this time, because I still couldn't decide where the problem was, so I had her clip out and do very slow turnovers one leg at a time while keeping a very light contact on the pedals.

And there it was, bright as day.

She could not pull her left leg over the top of the spin. She had always been using the right leg down stroke to help her left get over the top. Since then I have seen this in one or the other leg of almost every rider I've tested, but at that moment it was a revelation.

I said, "Pull over in the next driveway, and let's get your hips aligned."

She didn't quite get what I was asking for, so I had her stand facing perpendicular to her top tube to sight the distance her right and left hips should be from the tube in order to be parallel with the bike and square with herself.

Even with that helper task, she just couldn't get straight.

I realized it was not a matter of her misunderstanding what was needed (as I had always assumed), but it was a matter of her physically not being able to do it.

I said, "Uh, oh. This is the kind of thing that is going to take some time to fix. You can't do it in a week, a few weeks, or probably not even a few months, but it is absolutely necessary for the 23+ Widder's Hump."

I continued, "These are things you can fix off your bike. You don't have to work on it while riding, but we are going to have to go back to square one and wind this onion (you've gotten yourself into) back out again from the inside... layer by layer."

I started devising exercises to help her inability to lift her left leg, such as dribbling a soccer ball on her knee, or doing a variation on the runner's stretch.

I was checking her progress by having her stand in a doorway and alternately picking up her knees to see how far she could lift until her lower back side-bent to compensate for the restricted range of motion.

That's when Lauren Warren read what we were up to and took the opportunity to suggest Egoscue, 1992

When the book got here, I flipped through and shouted, "This is great. There are at least three of these exercises that directly address what we are tying to do."

Even more exciting was the fact that the book's overview of stable, square, symmetric body movement really clicked with Mary, and she started doing the exercises at least 5 hours a day.

Whatever else she was doing, she was always taking breaks to work on the floor exercises. She was getting up mornings extra early to work on the basics, and even began sleeping half her nights while alternating the static floor press with the supine groin stretches.

My dental hygienist (Linda Yasek, also a Pilates instructor) suggested the Calais-Germain: Anatomy of Movement book, and I got it with the companion Exercises book, then started a morning routine of floor exercises while memorizing what muscles do what to where.

I funneled what I learned into Mary's program.

In less than two years she had remedied not only her bunions but also a piriformis problem with associated numbness in her feet, and she had gained control of her hip to the degree that the chronic caving in of her right knee was erased.

She could finally step up onto the 12 inch step from our bedroom to living room without pain and wobbling, and her left shoulder which had been almost destroyed by her career as a full time watercolor artist was well on its way to settling back into correct position.

The effect on her cycling was significant.

Group rides that had previously been a challenge were now too easy, and very strong riders who tried to match her with their own power to weight specs were catching on that the 23+ Widder's Hump was no bullshit.

A few more of the riders who witnessed her impossible West Point climb were beginning to say, "Yeah, we knew she could do it all along."

We added bench pressing free weights to her routine for her to learn what strength training means, and what a true maximum effort is, and how easily a few quick reps of maximum effort can effect your performance for a couple days not just the few moments after somebody attacks the bottom of a hill and suckers you into maxing out a stride or two—forcing you into paying the price for your indiscretion all the way to the finish line where you've got nothing.

Still, despite the raging success she was enjoying on some group rides, her performance was still erratic and inconsistent, so not everybody was getting to see it.

Plus, the little step exercise I was having her do in the doorway refused to get much better.

I got worried that I might be misunderstanding what should be going on with her hip and knee, and maybe even that what I observed when showing other people a few of our simple very cycling specific tests was in error.

I decided that somebody probably worked out these sorts of details already, so I went looking to find out who to make sure I was using at least the standard terms.

That's how I found Gray Cook's: Functional Movement Screen, and was excited to confirm the correctness of the doorway hip lift test we were doing, and doubly excited to find he called it the Hurdle Step and added a few elements to make it easier to see what it was showing, plus a way to grade and rank it.

I saw right away that the FMS Deep Squat was addressing issues I was pointing out to people using my own Cycling Step Test, and I was not in the least surprised to find FMS included a Trunk Stability Push-up which repeated one of the first things we had been doing with Mary to check the same thing.

The rest of the seven exercises in the FMS screen DVDs were obviously great precursors to use before showing somebody the Flight Check and Spun Crystals, etc, while the self-test from Gray's Athletic Body in Balance book should be the very least requirement for anybody to do before I even bothered speaking to them about their cycling.

These books and DVDs are all found in references.



from Egoscue, 1992; Brourman, 1998; Calais-Germain, 2007 & 2008

If you want to skip the description of how this scene came about, just get the following four books, and start on the Egoscue as described below.

Egoscue, Pete, and Roger Gittines. 1992. "The Egoscue method of health through motion : a revolutionary program that lets you rediscover the body's power to protect and rejuvenate itself." 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0060168811

Brourman, Sherry, and Randy Rodman. 1998. "Walk yourself well : eliminate back, neck, shoulder, knee, hip, and other structural pain forever--without surgery or drugs." 1st ed. New York: Hyperion. ISBN: 0786862939

Calais-Germain, Blandine. 2007. "Anatomy of movement." English language ed. Seattle: Eastland Press. ISBN: 9780939616572 (alk. paper)

Calais-Germain, Blandine, and Andrée Lamotte. 2008. "Anatomy of movement : exercises." English language ed. Seattle: Eastland Press. ISBN: 9780939616589 (alk. paper)

While you begin reading through the books you can start right away on the Egoscue (1992) by going directly to the bottom of page 79 where it reads, "If you were in pain, we wouldn't be doing anything other than the three basic exercises to suppress it... static back press, supine groin stretch, and air bench..."

You really don't have to know anything at all to start with those three exercises (they are passive and safe), and they will have an immediate effect on your overall health and well-being, but read the book's disclaimer on the page just before Chapter 1 (and apply to everything you read here) just to be sure.

I have only ever seen one single person on a ride who might not benefit from these three basic Egoscue exercises, and that is Brand New Bruce Pollard who is a former Marine and who has apparently continued his training throughout life. He already rides square and true. Everybody else can use some correction. Most people can use lots.

The static back press, supine groin stretch, and air bench are described on Egoscue 1992 pages 117, 118-21, and 86 respectively. Get the book and start them today. You might be surprised how much overlooked pain you can find in your body by carefully doing those three exercises.

Get this straight first: your bicycle is not an orthotic, it is an amplifier.

A bicycle amplifies your strength, your speed, and your happiness. It also amplifies your dysfunction.

Do not expect it to fix problems you have such as knee, back, hip, and neck pain that are due to the way you sit, walk, eat, dress, or think. Get those fixed first. They will just get worse on a bike.

The Flight Check is a good way to determine if you are ready for a ride, and it is also a good way to see if you are ready to work on the deeper techniques described in Cycling Performance Simplified.

The simple Flight Check is a quick overview of your functional range of movement throughout your shoulders, hips, knees, and feet, neck, elbows and hands. If you run into trouble during the Flight Check, it usually means you have problems that are better addressed off the bike because (that's right, go ahead and say it),  "Your bicycle is not an orthotic."

There are lots of ways to get your body ready for cycling, but the following gives a simple path.

A problem with all exercise methods, styles, programs, or religions is that absolutely every kind of exercise (no matter what) has such an astounding and powerfully positive effect on your body, it is very easy to conclude (after the first week or two) that whatever program you are following has been a magical cure, and you can return to your normal routine of letting it all go to shit.

Actually, everything you have ever heard about exercise is true, and even those endless weight loss infomercials are providing you with some pretty good information.

If you just do something (anything), using some device (any device or none), you will be a lot healthier.

Even Pilates.

The first I heard of Pilates was from somebody who was certain that the true path to health and well-being ran a direct line through breast augmentation to liposuction to eating disorders. There are lots of people like that, and this particular one was making a career out of it.

Therefore, it isn't very surprising that I had a real attitude about Pilates right away, especially since everything this person had to say about it afterwards just seemed like basic calisthenics to me... except of course for some absurd idea about a special and arcane approach to breathing which was supposed to be the central secret of the program.

It wasn't until years later that my dental hygienist mentioned that she was herself a certified Pilates instructor that I decided to take a closer look into the matter.

My dental hygienist is definitely best of breed, so hearing the word Pilates come from her mouth sent me immediately on a new quest to track down the basis of the system.

Turns out Pilates is not a magic made up word, it is just the name of the fellow who started it, so I went straight to his original writing and was shocked to find out that I had already read it when I was 14 years old.

That is probably why I always considered it to be nothing more than basic calisthenics which of course it is.

When I read the original work years ago I probably thought the guy's name was Pee-lots (if I thought anything about it at all). He had a severe case of asthma, therefore a special interest in getting every bit of oxygen out of the air that he could which explains the simple element of breathing technique being elevated to a sacrament.

Fortunately, I double checked my work by bringing the original Pilates book to my next dental cleaning, and asked, "It appears that everybody with an Internet connection has written a book based on this guy Pilates' work. What is the current best book on the subject."

Following under construction: skip to below next horizontal line

Blandine Calais-Germain Anatomy of Movement plus companion Exercises

Quick Fix: Egoscue 1992, Big 3

The Brourman book (overview coming soon)

Overview: White Nights clip

Caveats: mirrors, exercises are more difficult than you might think (Mary and the downward dog)

Any of these systems works fine. After all, they each of them is talking about the same human body, and a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and be as impossible to describe.

Actually, even the smallest amount of exercise (any flavor) has such a positive and immediate effect on your health and feeling of well-being, you may conclude that in whatever program begun you have finally found the new and mystical "method" that surely could not have been known until it was put together by the marketers who just sold you the book on it.

In fact, the wonderful effect of exercise and movement has been well known since at least the beginning of history, and certainly from the time when daily life became antithetical to movement for some—then more, then many, and now in some places most if not all.

What has not changed is the incredible resistance to the idea that moving around is good for you, while sitting on your ass most of the day is bad for you. People just can't believe it, but it is true—no matter how important to humanity your work being done sitting at a desk, or commuting to that desk in car, is supposed to be: it is KILLING you, and most likely everybody around you.

Cycling Performance Simplified is about simplicity, so here are the bare essentials to health and happiness, "Listen up, people, just get up on the dance floor and MOVE!"

That being said, there is also something to be said for efficiency and making your time count, so a really good book that outlines the basics as simply as possible and provides a philosophy for why what does what where, and why you would want to know what does what where, is Egoscue 1992.

It is a solid reference giving you the tools to improvise your own future health, freedom and range of comfortable motion.

Calais-Germain, 2007

possible confusing term: flexion

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