Saddle Health – One size does not fit all

Last week Jon Wild and I delivered an online workshop about saddle health. As a Bike Fitter, Jon is equally passionate about supporting people to be comfortable and efficient on their bikes. It was a real pleasure to deliver the workshop and share our enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject.

Working predominantly with females of all levels, I coach youth and junior riders through to adult women. In my experience, saddle health is not only a common topic of discussion but also a barrier to enjoyment, participation and performance. I am often asked for advice about saddles or saddle related issues like sores or re-occurring injuries.

The opportunity to present a workshop seemed like a pro-active way to offer support and advice on the many interacting factors involved in saddle health. I discussed self-care, preventative measures, clothing and hygiene while Jon shared his expertise on bio-mechanics, position and saddle fit.  Together we were able to deliver a comprehensive session covering the many different aspects that affect health and comfort on the bike.

As a Coach I want to encourage women to talk openly about their saddle health and normalise conversations around the topic. In my experience performance and enjoyment are increased significantly when issues are addressed early, enabling riders to pedal further, faster and more frequently.

I’m not going to write my ‘Top 10 Tips to Saddle Happiness’ because it is very much an individual thing, based on many different factors. You need to go on your own journey which is shaped by the type of rider you are, your health history and your own personal goals and needs. It may take some time and I would encourage you to talk to trained professionals working in the sport – Bike Fitters, Physiotherapists, Coaches and of course medical professionals for chronic and urgent issues.

Our workshop was provided to Parallel Coaching Club members as part of their monthly coaching package. If you would like access to the full workshop recording and resources, please email me for a link.

Useful reading:
Saddle, Sore: Ride Comfortable, Ride Happy by Molly Hurford

Making the most of indoor training

Recent sales of turbo trainers have been unprecedented with many people in the last three months either using the turbo as part of their staple training during Lockdown or taking advantage of the new popularity of indoor racing. At the beginning of Lockdown, Sigma Sports reported a 440% increase week on week in the number of orders placed on turbo trainers, as well as static bikes.

Whether you are new to indoor training or have been doing it a while here are some considerations.

Time efficient training

If you have a busy lifestyle indoor training can help you train around your commitments and lifestyle. With many of us working from home, indoor training is becoming an increasingly popular way to fit regular exercise into new daily routines.

  • No distractions – With the absence of external distractions such as traffic, road junctions and traffic lights it’s much easier to complete focused efforts. Riding in a controlled environment means that efforts are also not affected by weather conditions including headwinds. You can concentrate on the numbers and get your training done.
  • Targeted training – Sessions can be more purposeful by spending time in specific training zones and eliminating junk miles. Before getting on the trainer ask yourself ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ Structured sessions that form part of an overall training plan will provide the best results.
  • Bad days – On cold and wet days motivation to ride outside can be hard to find, particularly in the UK. Putting on your kit on and walking downstairs to a turbo trainer removes the faff of finding all the right layers for the weather conditions. The addition of your favourite tunes can really enhance your mood and make the session more enjoyable.

Create space to learn

Indoors can be a comfortable environment to try new things. Away from well-meaning advisers an indoor set-up provides a safe space to learn at your own pace and expand your cycling knowledge.

  • Power and heart rate zones – Understanding your personal training zones can be easier in a controlled environment. Learning to ride at different intensities and getting to know how each zone feels can be beneficial when you take your rides outside. Once you are familiar with your zones, you can become more aware of changes in your fitness.
  • Clipping in – Indoors is a great place to start with clipless pedals and gain confidence. Get used to clipping in and out of the pedals whilst on the trainer without the worry of wobbling off. Practice every day for 10 – 20 minutes until it becomes second nature. Once you are comfortable with the concept and feel of clipping in and out, you can move outdoors to practice on a large grassy area.
  • Pedalling efficiency and cadence – Comfortable cadence (pedal speed) is different for everyone, however it is possible to improve efficiency whether you pedal fast or slow. High cadence pedalling drills can improve pedal stroke and help identify any dead spots where power isn’t being produced. Try using easy gearing and increasing your pedalling in short bursts of up to 30 seconds whilst keeping your pedalling smooth.

Find your comfort zone

Training indoors presents a few comfort challenges. Your indoor set-up presents a different environment which will impact your comfort on the bike.

  • Static position – Riding on an indoor trainer doesn’t offer changes in surface, corners or (unless you have a more expensive trainer) gradient, which means that you don’t move your body around dynamically to adapt your position like you would do naturally whilst out on the road. Indoors, you’ll need to cue your own position changes to keep yourself comfortable. Setting an alarm on your handlebars at 20 minute reminders can help.
  • Comfort essentials – Invest in quality padded shorts, chamois cream, and a big fan. These are all essentials to keep cool and comfortable when riding indoors and in a fixed position. With a warmer environment comes increased sweating, so make sure you point the fan at your groin area and stand frequently to air your chamois and rest your bum. It’s also essential to take in fluid before, during and after a session to prevent dehydration. 
  • Always pedalling – When riding outdoors there are plenty of opportunities to give your legs a break for example when you freewheel, stop at traffic lights and if riding in a group (outside of COVID times) drafting. On an indoor trainer your legs are never at rest. Essentially you are always pedalling so it’s sensible to limit indoor sessions to a maximum of 90 minutes to account for this. 

Keep clean and safe

It is essential to look after your indoor equipment and keep it well-maintained to keep you and your bike healthy and hygienic.

  • Clean from corrosion – Human sweat contains a high amount of salt and minerals which are extremely corrosive. As sweat gathers on equipment, it can damage and deteriorate metal parts and cost you money in the long run. Use a towel to cover your headset and cockpit area. Best practice is to clean and dry your equipment each time you use it. Keep your heart rate monitor accurate by washing the strap in warm soapy water and keeping the contacts dry and corrosion-free.
  • Bacteria breading ground – Bacteria thrive in sweaty, damp, and warm conditions. Without cleaning, your indoor equipment offers a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Even if you aren’t sharing your equipment, bacteria from the outside world can gather and grow. As you go about your daily business you accumulate germs everywhere you go. They live on your body throughout the day and are transferred to your equipment when you work out. Wipe off sweat and use an anti-bacterial spray (designed for bike use) to clean touch points like the saddle and handlebars.
  • Healthy and hygienic – Wash and dry your kit after each use. Water sitting against your skin causes breakdown so it’s good practice to change out of your shorts straight away after a session and to get air to your groin. A good quality chamois cream, chamois and hygiene routine will keep everything healthy and free from saddle distress.
  • Check your A,B,C – Do a simple A, B, C check on your bike each week to identify any issues. Air in your tyres is still important to prevent wear and damage. Brakes aren’t needed, but cables can get a little seized on rim brake bikes if left on the trainer for a while. Chains should still be cleaned and lubed because warm environments can dry them out.
  • Technical issues – These can get in the way of starting a session. Make sure that you carry out software updates and turn on your devices in plenty of time to make sure everything is linked up and working correctly before you plan to start a session. This is particularly important if you are attending a virtual meet-up on Zwift where you can easily miss the ride depart.

No substitute for the great outdoors

Whilst indoor training has lots of benefits, there is no substitute for riding outside in the real world. A combination of both is ideal to cover all aspects of cycling.

  • Training volume – This is difficult to achieve with just a turbo because it can feel boring over long periods of time and mental fatigue can set in. Longer steady-state endurance rides are best completed outdoors where there is more to see and riding conditions are more variable. The mental health benefits of riding outdoors are also not to be neglected.
  • Bike handling skills – These are accumulated and developed outdoors. Riding on and off-road is where you will improve cornering, group riding and perception skills which are all essential for safe and efficient riding. Restricting your riding to the turbo trainer will have consequences when you make it out on to the road or trail.
  • Muscle groups – Some can get over worked if you are only cycling indoors, particularly in hard or repetitive efforts. By nature, there is less lateral motion on a turbo trainer, therefore you will be using less stabilising muscles in and around your hips and ankles therefore outdoor cycling (and off-the-bike training) is essential to keep balanced and to avoid injury.

What are your thoughts on indoor training? Have you recently bought a turbo trainer or joined a Zwift race? Get in touch if you need any support.

The power of enjoyment

The recent increase in people riding bikes is amazing! The sunny weather and quieter roads during lockdown have provided ideal conditions to discover the joy of cycling and embed a new habit. This has got me thinking about how positive experiences can provide motivation.

It’s all too easy to get excited by a potential goal and then feel overwhelmed by the training required to reach it. As a coach I support people to reach their goals and make training achievable. I believe that the (often forgotten) feeling of enjoyment in cycling can help to improve training and achieve an important balance between physical and mental health.

Question your motivation

Explore where your motivation (or lack of motivation) comes from. Intrinsic motivation (from within) really shows when an athlete loves their sport and is driven by a sense of personal satisfaction. Medals, money, praise and social recognition are rarely good motivators alone because they can create pressure and disappointment, having a negative impact.

Find what motivates and excites you. It could be as simple as enjoying a view from the top of a challenging climb. You can use this as motivation for your hill reps. Take a photo from the top and share this highlight with your friends.

Stop looking sideways

Focus on your own goals and cycling journey. Making comparisons to other people promotes feelings of inferiority and actually deprives us of joy. Strava is a great tool to track cycling progress but it can also feed a desire to benchmark ourselves against others. Everyone’s training, physiology and history is unique, so comparisons are unfair.

Celebrate your own successes – and this doesn’t just mean winning! Think about the skills you have learnt/improved or a distance you’ve cycled, the milestones you’ve reached. Build a positive memory bank to remind yourself of achieving your goals and draw upon these to drive your motivation.

Clean up your feed

Use social media and online platforms to inspire you, connect and share the enjoyment of riding. The online cycling community can be a brilliant extension of your own personal support network and a place to celebrate success with others. Facebook groups like VeloVixen offer a welcoming and safe space to share and support others. Keep interactions healthy and take care not to fall into the trap of making comparisons and posting for affirmation or external validation.

Take some time each month to go through your social media feed to work out what makes you feel good and what doesn’t. Try unfollowing or muting accounts that annoy you, upset you, or take up too much of your time.

Do what you love  

It’s simple really. Find the type of cycling that excites you and that you enjoy. If you like mountain biking you might decide to set some goals to challenge yourself and improve your off-road skills. A vital part of any training programme is consistency, which is much easier to maintain if you enjoy what you do.

Taking one ride a week with no data can provide some mental relief. Leave your GPS at home, or if that fills you with too much dread simply cover it up. It’s easy to get caught up in average speed, power and heart rate zones and fixated on the importance of data. Try just riding on feel and noticing how your body behaves at different training intensities.  

How have positive / negative experiences affected your cycling? I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment and let me know!

Shifting your focus in lockdown

One month into lockdown and a new way of living has emerged as we find our new ‘normal’ in an uncertain world. Work patterns, personal commitments and our environment have all changed.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and UK lockdown have impacted cycling at all levels. The pause on group riding and cancellation of events has affected most riders preparing for summer.

Despite the many limiting factors that this situation presents, there are positive ways to develop your cycling potential on and off the bike.

Use a set-back to step forward

A set-back can be a valuable part of growing and learning as an athlete. The situation itself is not controllable but we do have control over how we respond to it.

Reflect for a moment on your last set-back; an injury or missed event. What did you learn? How did you respond? A set-back can provide an opportunity to discover a new perspective and a better way to do things.

Patience pays off

You may be eager to begin looking for an event that you can enter next year and start mapping your journey. There’s no hurry. Take time to re-assess what you want to do, particularly if you have found yourself feeling stressed in this situation.

The current ongoing uncertainty pushes big goals further from reach. There are still so many unknown factors so you may be putting unnecessary pressure on yourself by aiming for another event too soon.

Plan your response

  1. Scale things back and focus on a more immediate timeline. Look no further than a month or two ahead and choose achievable process (controllable) goals to maintain motivation.
  2. Work on your weaknesses. First list your strengths and evidence them, then acknowledge which factors are limiting your cycling performance. Common weaknesses might be mobility, injury, skills, nutrition or mindset.
  3. Start researching and take action! Find a specialist to get advice and put you on the right path. Physiotherapists, Personal Trainers, Nutritionists, Bike Fitters and of course Coaches are all running online consultations during this time.
  4. Recognise and review your progress. Keep a training diary to record your journey and see what you achieve during this time. Establish simple benchmarks so you can monitor improvements.

Ultimately, taking a holistic approach and keeping your attention on small achievable goals will help you keep motivated and become a more rounded athlete. You might even surprise yourself and make some real gains that aren’t based on physical power.

How have you been spending your time during lockdown? What changes have you made to your training? Get in touch to find out how I can support you.