Riding by Feel

Riding by Feel.

What exactly is “feel” for elite athletes in general? In interviews, Michael Phelps could describe with great clarity areas in which he could have done better. His coach not doubt records the split times but also notes the quality of the performance in terms of the sequence of the details of the swim. How many cycling coaches are able to analyze the features of cycling at that level of detail? Answer: None.

This discussion has centered on the physiological approach to coaching, and when the research focuses on physiology and restricted focus of the biomechanics, it gives the feeling that the training approaches have been validated. In fact, it seems the science and the coaching are intertwined in a self-reinforcing loop.

In a Medlines search, all research is fully focused on the physiology and leg function. I could not find a single reference on movement patterns that involve the torso and the pelvis (with one exception), not surprising when you look closely at all other sports it is those patterns which, to a significant extent, distinguish elite from amateur. That difference is plain to see, and this is what Contador, Kristin Armstrong, Wiggins (to mention a few) rely on for superior performance. Much is said about the science to back this or that. If the question is not asked, there will be no answer.

Understandably, people cling to their perceptions and experiences. Especially if you coach elite athletes, the physiological approach seems to somehow validate the process, then you may be able to ignore those movement patterns and not know if refinements are available.

Pure physiological approaches will benefit all athletes, reinforcing the existing movement pattern. If the athlete is elite level, they will by definition have a superior movement pattern, then a physiological approach may be appropriate. If the movement pattern is absent or has “swiss cheese” characteristics, then there is only one solution, you need to teach it. Early in the training, the focus may require a good dose of torso and pelvis movement pattern instruction, ie. motor skill learning and attention. As the athlete progresses then heavier doses of physiology may be in order. Keep in mind that regardless of the training plan, you are always reinforcing the physiological as well as the movement pattern and motor learning. Nothing special here, exactly the same principles that other sports apply. These are in my opinion actionable features of coaching. Select the right combination of coaching approaches for the moment in time of the athlete’s development.

Cycling: “Skilled Interplay of the torso and pelvis with the lower extremities to propel the bike effectively”, the sport is therefore a Highly Skilled – Endurance Sport. Relevant features of this definition include the “Performance Movement Patterns”, Physiology and Endurance, Cycling Specific Strength and Motor planning.