Some people are training like crazy, yet still struggling to PR a Strava segment they’ve done 200 times. For others, it’s finding the time and balance in their life, feeling the signs of aging or experiencing low back or neck pain after an hour in the saddle.
These challenges all have one thing in common: the underlying problem isn’t being addressed.
We foam roll muscle knots, pop anti-inflammatories to recover and ice inflamed tendons. We have the best intentions for improving our health and performance, but many common recovery tools and injury treatments are designed to treat symptoms, without actually treating the source of the problem.
The goal of my practice is to reduce the noise created by symptoms and help my clients uncover and treat the true source of their symptoms.
Our bodies are only as strong as our weakest link. I found this out the hard way in 2005 when I crashed hard on my mountain bike trying to clear a log pile. My ankle took the brunt of the fall. After it healed, pain in my calf, IT band, knee and hamstring developed.
My left calf seized after crossing the finish line at a 65-mile road race in 2013. From then on, I never left home without calf sleeves and ibuprofen. I foam rolled and stretched every day, but the symptoms never fully subsided unless I rested for a week. But on the first ride back, the symptoms returned.
I was lifting a light box one day and my back went out. I was off the bike for several months, completely bummed out and feeling old and broken before I even turned 30. Doctors diagnosed me with a torn hamstring and several bulging, degenerative discs and suggested I seek a pain management specialist and get fitted for orthotics.
Long story short, I refused to give up. When I finally stopped trying to massage away everything that hurt, I discovered the core issues that were keeping me in pain. This led to a massive shift in the way I assess and treat clients. The body will tell you exactly what it needs, but really listening is the challenge.
So how do you address the underlying problems keeping you from becoming a stronger, faster cyclist or from finally healing from your own injuries? While there isn’t one answer that applies to everyone, there are a few common themes I see in cyclists.
What if reduced anxiety, better sleep, digestion, recovery and improved aerobic performance could all be achieved without a box of recovery tools, pricey supplements or endless hill repeats?
When working with pro and amateur cyclists, I often notice one thing right away: their breath is stuck in their chest and many favor breathing through the mouth over the nose.
A pro cyclist came to me with back pain and after working on shifting the breath, the pain diminished greatly by the end of the first session.
“Really learning how to breathe changed everything,” reported another client who races a full season of cross and had been dealing with chronic neck pain and numb fingers.
Having a healthy breathing strategy directly plays into how well you can engage your core. So what does your breathing strategy have to do with increasing performance and preventing injury? In short, everything.
If you want to learn more about this, I’ll direct you to a blog post that explains why breathing through the nose is so important for preventing everything from acid reflux and high blood pressure to anxiety, poor sleep chronic allergies and other issues.
For the next week, pay attention to where you initiate your breath. If it comes from your mouth, focus on closing it and see what happens. You may need to create some strategically placed notes or a phone alert to keep you on track. If your nose is too clogged for the task, leave a comment below and I’ll send you some tips.