Most of my customers are not front-of-the-pack racers. Many are new to cycling and have taken this sport up because they want to get back into shape, or maybe have taken an extended break from riding. I'm lucky to meet these people who are so excited about cycling - it really is a lot of fun, there are a lot of great, enthusiastic people in the various flavors of the sport, and it can be a great low-impact path towards greater fitness and health. But, as many of us soon realize, cycling can be painful. Why does something so simple have to be so complicated? Why does it hurt? Why can't I be as fast as that guy?
This is the often the point where people come to me. People get a bike fit for a variety of reasons - discomfort or pain being at the top of the list, but getting faster on the bike is right up there. One of my philosophies on bike fitting, which may be a bit misunderstood, is that it is not about the bike - it is about the body. We are a pile of meat and bones with a history that has shaped us to be where we are today. A good bike fit will accommodate us where we are today.
There are certain geometric conventions used in bike fitting that have been derived from typical measurements of average people that have been proven to be effective in helping us be as efficient as we possibly can. Most of those conventions are a working range. For example, we adjust seat height based on a knee angle measurement, which has a range of about 10 degrees. Ideally, for maximum efficiency and performance, we need to be close to the top of that range. As a fitter, I could shoot for a specific angle and call it good, but using the same formula for everybody who comes in to me would be irresponsible. Unfortunately, most of the people that come to me can't ride at the top of that range safely. It often manifests itself as pain and can result in injury if not adjusted.
As I fit an individual, we identify where in that range that person can safely be. This is where the individual is at their best - finding the limitations of their body and accommodating that. I can make you faster via your bike fit, but there is a glass ceiling, of sorts. Your body's history, composition, asymmetries, pains, past traumas, and past injuries all add up to make you who you are today. As we get older, that history gets longer. Your history might prevent you from getting the most out of your bike. You are only as fast as you can be, but you want to be faster. While the bike fit can accommodate your current potential, how can you truly unlock your potential?
I lose a lot of sleep trying to answer that question. I want to help everybody I meet be pain-free and fast. When fitting people, I've often seen some interesting movements and imbalances that I can accommodate, but can't necessarily fix. Some result in a referral to a medical professional. It is one thing to recognize abnormal motion and accommodate it, but another thing to understand what is causing it and correct that. How do we lift the glass ceiling? How do we unlock someone's real potential?
Functional Movement Screening (FMS)
We have to look at the source of our movement to find these answers. We need to look at how well you move. I feel I have found something that can help move you in the right direction: Functional Movement Screening (FMS). I am now an FMS-certified professional.
FMS is not just about bike fitting. Matter of fact, when I took the certification course, most of the people there were some sort of strength-training professional - personal trainers, strength coaches for college and pro teams in various disciplines, CrossFit coaches and gym owners, etc. I felt a bit out of place, but was quickly assured by the instructor that I would fit right in because we all care about how someone moves. FMS is about looking at the human body as a species rather than as an athlete in a particular sport.
When you look at us from top to bottom, as a human and as a system as a whole, how well we move is a function of how our various muscle, neurological, and skeletal groups work together. We can't necessarily think of movement as what the quadriceps or hamstrings might be doing, but what they are doing as part of the entire kinetic chain. In any given movement, such as pedaling a bike, some muscles are used to move us, while others are used to stabilize us. A different movement may change the purpose of a specific muscle. Often, if certain muscles are unable to do their job, the related muscles get recruited to do that job. A muscle that might be used to push the pedal (i.e. the glutes), may be compromised and used to stabilize us because of weak "core" muscles or a mismatched/poorly adjusted saddle. Compensatory actions prevent us from using the muscles for their best purpose in that movement.
These compensations hold us back and are often the reason we get injured. I fit a lot of Ironman triathletes. Many of them come to me with some sort of overuse injury. Once injured, we are 2-3 times more likely to get injured again. We often short-circuit our rehabilitation in an effort to get back into our sport. This isn't just triathletes or cyclists, we see it all the time in sports (and don't even get me started on the state of kids' sports these days, when 10 and 11 year kids are having "career-ending" injuries once limited to adults).
Part of this tendency for re-injury is because we think in terms of "getting stronger" as a metric for how well we've recovered. We tend to think of strength as how much weight we can move or, in cycling, how many watts we can generate. We shouldn't confuse strength with power. Strength is just a component of power. Being powerful requires having the following elements:
These can also be thought of as a pyramid - mobility forms a wide base, motor control is a smaller step on top of that, and strength is the top, smallest step. Too often, we neglect mobility and motor control for strength. If you've ever been to a gym, you've probably seen somebody moving some big weights with poor form. I see the same thing with cyclists, it's just not quite as obvious.
So, to have true power, we must train all 3 elements. The question then becomes, "where do we start?"
This is where FMS comes into play. I tend to think of FMS as having two distinct parts:
1. Screening - The testing battery used to identify and measure our movement deficiencies.
2. Correctives - Exercises prescribed to overcome those deficiencies.
When I first started looking at FMS, my plan was to utilize the screening as part of the fitting process. I soon realized that the value lies in being able to provide corrective exercises to help "fix" people's deficiencies.
FMS and Bike Fitting
At Vector Cycle Works, an FMS screening is now incorporated into the bike fit process. I can also do the screening for non-cyclists. The screening takes about 15-20 minutes and involves doing 7 movements which are scored on a scale of 0 to 3. A perfect score is 21, and that is pretty rare. Most folks I've scored so far have been between 6 and 14. I scored a 12. The scoring system is intentionally simple - it's not about picking out the specific muscle or reason for poor motion. It's about identifying the weakness as a whole. A low score indicates a lot, including the potential for injury, especially where there is asymmetry in movements (many of the FMS movements are scored on both sides, and the lower score is used for the final score).
Additionally, I now offer 1-hour corrective sessions along with prescribed exercises that customers can do at home. This allows you to do some "off the bike" work to improve your experience on the bike. The screening score by itself doesn't tell us much - it's the scores of the individual movements that tell us where we need to start. We can identify your biggest deficiencies and concentrate on those first. Often, focus on a weakness will improve your score on the other movements.
The cool part of the FMS process is that we can spend some time together to identify the exercises that actually work for you. Try an exercise and re-measure. If we see an improvement, we'll keep doing it. If not, skip that exercise and move on until we find something that works. A poor score can indicate tightness or weakness, and how we respond to different exercises will help us understand which it is. We use progressions to work our way through mobility exercises, motor control exercises, and strength exercises. It's pretty fascinating stuff.
This discussion wouldn't be complete without mentioning pain. Pain is what drove me to become a bike fitter and pain is an important factor in FMS. When performing the screening, any motion that invokes pain is scored as zero. This is where I draw the line as an FMS professional and refer you to a medical professional. There are SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment) medical professionals to whom I can refer you. I've made a few good connections in the Indianapolis area.
As a bike fitter, I am really excited to offer FMS as a service to my customers. The idea of identifying what is holding us back and working to move that out of the way will help you find your potential. FMS corrective work is separate from the ForeverFit bike fit, as that is about an accommodative bike fit. Come in, get ForeverFit with an FMS screen, do some corrective work, we'll adjust your fit accordingly and we'll work together to get you a new PR!
You can schedule your FMS screening and correctives at https://vectorcycleworks.appointlet.com. Come in and make 2016 your best year ever!