Monday, July 28, 2014

Tour de France: All Those Falls

Here's an interesting story: When those Tour de France riders crash and fall, they're getting injured more than in the past, and it's because their bikes are made of all carbon. It's lightweight, but it's brittle, too.

Crashes in the Tour de France often send riders hurling to the road because carbon-fiber frames and wheels tend to break. Credit Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
From the article:   
Unlike steel or aluminum, carbon fiber does not bend in crashes. Rather the bikes and wheels frequently shatter, often hurling riders to the road and, many fear, increasing the severity of injuries.
“Anyone in a team who’s being honest with you will tell you how frequently their bikes are breaking; everybody knows,” said Mark Greve, a physician and assistant professor of sports medicine at Brown University who studied injuries to 3,500 competitive cyclists. “Few people in the public appreciate how many bikes a pro team will go through in a season, because they break for one reason or another. The bikes, they completely explode.”
And check out this section, about how light these bikes can get:
The International Cycling Union, concerned about the potential danger of ever lighter carbon bikes, imposed a minimum weight of 6.8 kilograms (about 15 pounds) in 2000 for bikes used in high-level races like the Tour. But that applies to the whole bicycle, including the wheels, leaving bicycle makers to continue a marketing battle to produce ever lighter frames. Professional teams simply add weight, sometimes pieces of chain, to a bike that doesn’t meet the minimum.

Before the Tour started, Trek launched the latest salvo in that war: the Émonda SLR 10, a frame that weighs 690 grams (about 24 ounces), making it, the company says, the world’s lightest bike. It sells as a complete bike for $15,750.
You'll probably want to read the whole article, which has details about how the new bikes are constructed, and even about how the carbon fibers themselves are made. It's fascinating. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Big Legs! (And the Tour de France)

Rick, who was my coach-for-a-day during last year's Reach the Beach bike ride, told me he used to coach a college women's crew team. At first he would encourage them by shouting, "Big legs!" Then one of them pointed out that as women they didn't really want to have big legs. I totally understood.

But as I watched the finish of Stage 21 today, and the winners on the podium at this year's Tour de France, what struck me were their strong legs. (No, I don't have any kind of fetish about this.) Of course, that's how they won, how they kept going and going, apparently about 40 mph in the final laps around the Champs Elysee, after all they'd been through: Big legs.

I haven't seen any video on YouTube yet of the winners on the podium, but will add them when I find them. Meanwhile, these guys are real heroes to me, as are the ones who crashed at various times and got right back on their bikes to keep riding.

I couldn't help but cheer for Marcel Kittel as he surged forward to win this final stage. Big legs, indeed! But I realize that even with his physical training, his mental toughness was just as important, or maybe even more important.

This photo came with the note: "Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali will be a worthy winner of the Tour de France and, from his early days in the sport, he has always been anti-doping." 

Friday, July 25, 2014

More About CrossFit

Thanks to Laura for pointing out an article on this topic.

I've read through it and it hasn't deterred me from trying this program, though I won't have the time or money to do that immediately. It will certainly help me be careful when I do check it out, though!

Laura mentioned in her first comment that she's heard some people are injured doing the CrossFit program, and now in a new comment that some researchers had found that indeed 16 percent of people in one CrossFit program they investigated had ended the program early because of injuries.

What is striking about this whole thing is the outrage from the CrossFit community, as seen in this article from "Outside" magazine, reporting on the report. This article comments that the injury figure is "a soft number" and does not represent overall injuries. The original research concluded that people of all fitness levels "...all lost body fat and saw a jump in performance over 10 weeks of CrossFit training. The injury statistic was, literally, an afterthought."

So, what's the big deal? When I get a chance to try this out, I'll be careful, as Laura originally suggested, to stay within my body's limits, not respond to peer pressure to lift more weight than I can reasonably do or to do exercises I know will strain my already-strained joints, and so on.

The "Outside" article concludes, "That's a great description of the impasse CrossFit now faces. Desperately wanting approval, it has circled the wagons and worked actively against the very means to its validation. The biggest problem CrossFit has is itself."

Anyway, thanks again, Laura. And I've found another book comparing various fitness programs, which I'll review when I finish reading it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Sayings of Donna

I originally met this instructor in a class in another gym, and she was amazing.

She's the one who told off the guy who came into the class to complain about the loud music, and then when she told him it had to be that loud because, hello, it was a cycling class, came back again and shut the door. She went out and gave him a piece of her mind, and we all cheered for her when she came back in.

(And then she taught the yoga class right after that spin class, with soft ambient music and a totally different approach, and bent her body in ways that encouraged the rest of us to do yoga poses we hadn't been able to do before.)

(I'm going to attend her cycling and yoga classes again on Saturday, so I'll probably add some more sayings after that.)

ANYWAY: The other day she subbed for one of the regular cycling teachers at my gym, and, guess what, she was even more amazing.

One thing I loved was how she let herself huff and puff and sweat. Just like the rest of us.

She kept wiping the sweat off, until she said, about halfway through the class, "My towel won't accept any more sweat. It's full."

Here are a few more of her sayings:

Warming up. About five minutes. You should be sweating by the time we finish this.

And now for something completely different. 

Come on! Get up! I'm standing, can't you see? Stand up!

I loved the music she played, too, including this song, "Love Runs Out," by New Republic. (I know I included this in "The Sayings of Liz," but they both played it. And it's great for spinning, and dancing, and whatever.)

Later, when she played "Switch Me On," she said, "If I were a stripper, this would be on my playlist."

More sayings:

Okay, you're burning. Which is okay. It's good to burn. Well, except when you pee.

Let's pretend you're tired. And you want to stop now. Just ask yourself, "How would my butt look in  a mirror, naked?" That's all I have to do at ten o'clock at night when I want a snack. I look at my butt in the mirror, naked, and I realize I do not need that snack after all.

I'm horrible. I know it. But that's okay. It's just the way I am.

I need CPR. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Has anyone who reads this ever tried CrossFit training? I just read a fascinating article about it, and some friends at the gym swear by it. On the other hand, one of the women I talked to, who said it had changed her life, also said she'd had to quit doing it and return to the gym because it was too intense.

After reading this, I can see why:

The modern gym has been deliberately designed to not require any coordination, accuracy, agility, or balance. The attributes of fitness that bind the body and brain together have become the exclusive province of athletes, dancers, and the few lucky children who still climb trees, pop bicycle wheelies, and hang upside down from monkey bars. The stripping-away of coordination, accuracy agility and balance from physical culture – from our modern notion of fitness – has made us weaker, because power, the ability to apply maximum force, requires neural circuitry that’s impossible to develop on a pulley cable.

But it’s worse than that. If all we lost in the transition from functional fitness to circuit-trained muscle development was power, we’d be losing something the modern world doesn’t demand. Most of us can live pretty well, in a physical sense, without building huge amounts of physical power.

The problem is, the area of our brain that’s responsible for full-body movement…that’s not all it does. The brain controls movement in three areas, depending on the complexity of the movement. The primary motor cortex, the lowest-level switch box, is responsible for simple movements like shifting the position of your head. Slightly in front of this area is a more sophisticated set of controls for integrated movements, like reaching for an object. In front of this is a third, even more intricate control center called the attention association area. The attention association area is the part of the brain that controls complex movements that involve the entire body. This is where coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance live...

...When CrossFitters talk about how the workouts have influenced their lives by making it easier for them to get their act together, they are describing a biological process. On the flip side, the way we allow health club machines to stabilize and limit our range of movement, to literally keep us on track, leaves us less purposeful. The abandonment of complex movement and physical intensity has rendered us, in some fundamental way, less intelligent. We have been kinesthetically brain-washed by the machines that are supposed to make us fit.

(Turns out the article is an excerpt from a book that came out this year, "Learning to Breathe Fire." I think I'll try to find it at my library instead of buying it. But it seems like it might help me take my next fitness steps.)

I Googled CrossFit in my area and found a gym not too far from me, with some very impressive testimonials from people who have been doing it for awhile. But I'd like to hear more.

Can Women Do Pull-ups?

Is it true that women can't do pull-ups? Not really. Of course. But it's hard for most of us.

Some people have studied why it's so difficult for many women to do pull-ups, and their results sound convincing to me.

(Their results also remind me of the very interesting book "The Sports Gene," which Madame L will be reviewing soon.)

From this article in the NY Times Magazine a few months ago:

To do a pull-up you need "a combination of strength, low body fat and shorter stature. During training, because women have lower levels of testosterone, they typically develop less muscle than men...In addition, they can’t lose as much fat. Men can conceivably get to 4 percent body fat; women typically bottom out at more than 10 percent."

If you're interested, you should read the whole article. Anyway, it did my little heart good to see this amazing woman, Kacy Catanzaro, blow up the course in American Ninja Warrior Tuesday night:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Sayings of Liz

Liz is the mother of an eight-month old. Unlike most of the other cycling teachers, she is not a size 0, but looks like a normal person --- in other words, like the other women in the class.

This makes her more of a role model for me, unlike the ones who are spending hours every day at various fitness activities. I also like the way she talks and sings along with the music, which is, by the way, great music. Here are some of her sayings as she led us through a workout:

Here's a good question for you: Do you want to be different? If you want to be different, I'm going to need you to work a little harder.

Sit. Tighten your core. Stand. Tighten your core. Sit. Reduce.

We're going to go through this about 6 more times now. But listen to your body. If it's telling you to slow down, then slow down. Take a drink whenever you need it. Don't wait for me to tell you.

Add enough resistance to stand up. This is just a little bump in the road.

Ready? Sit. Add a little.

Take a look at your legs and a look at my legs. Do they match? They should.

I'm gonna push you to get fitter.

Ready to go? If you are, go. If not, don't go. It's a choice. You're making the choices.

Open your chest so you can breathe. Relax your neck. Shoulders should be down, away from your ears. I know it's hard. But I'm here to get you fit.

When you're standing, you need more resistance, so your butt doesn't bounce.

I'm taking a water break. Join me if you need it.

If we train at the same speed and resistance the whole time, what does it train? It trains our slow-twitch muscles, which are already strong enough. We want to train our fast-twitch muscles.

Don't be afraid. Come with me.

Why do we hold on when we ride? We want to be strong and steady. We need a base to push from. Now, brace your core. Stand up.

(Now she's huffing and puffing loudly through the microphone, which I especially love, because it shows that she's human and she's working just like we are. I don't understand why some teachers tell us they're not using their highest level of resistance because they "don't want to be huffing and puffing." Maybe if that keeps them from talking, yes. But they can pause before they speak, right?)

How you should feel now: Breathless. Uncomfortable.

So now where are we going? We're climbing and racing again, through this same cycle again, hard resistance and slow pedaling, then sprinting. Why? Because that's where we make the changes we want to make. Anything else, you're not going to change. And we're here because we want to change.

Right. Left. Right. Left. You're doing good. But you can do more.

Three. Two. One. Take the edge off. Now take another edge off. Go faster. Sprint.

Dare to be different. Dare to be stronger.

Find the beat, add some resistance, now stand.

Now, relax. Take the edge off. Relax your back. Relax your arms.

Now, what you took off, add some back. Ready? I don't know. You're the only one who knows. But I believe in you. Match your feet with the beat. Good. I'm right with you.

Here's one of the songs Liz played during this workout:
She said, "I love this song! I dance in the kitchen with my baby to this song. She loves it, too. She giggles."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Sayings of Angie

Another fun cycling teacher, Angie, is also the mother of a high-school-age girl who runs, so she tells us sometimes about her daughter's adventures at track meets.

But also Angie tells us about her own adventures as a runner and cyclist. And when I say "adventures," I mean tough, hard training.

She told us the other day that right after class she was going to meet another cycling instructor, Chantel, to go riding together.

She added, "She's already been out there riding since seven o'clock this morning. She goes on these five-hour rides. I don't get that. I think riding a bike is hard enough, why would I want to stay on one for six hours? It's long, it's boring, it's painful, it's no fun. Why do people do that, anyway?"

(pause for ironic chuckle)

Anyway, here are some of Angie's motivational sayings from a recent class:

You're sprinting now. You're getting into the anaerobic zone. There is no oxygen for your muscles. You have to switch to another energy system, and it's painful.

I know you're having a hard time. You should be having a hard time.

Pick up the pace. Flush out those legs.

It's on you. Nobody else cares. No one shares the suffering with you. You're all alone in this room.

I'm talking about post-exercise. If you work hard in here, your body will still be burning fat cells two to three hours after we finish.

Your body is always stronger on the home stretch. The harder you work now, the better your body will work later.

Don't sink into the pain. Posture!

I'm looking for muscle recruitment. The more you struggle with those pedal strokes, the more you'll be building new muscle strength.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Sayings of Christina

Christina is the pregnant cycling teacher I mentioned earlier.  When I got home from the Huntsman 140, I was privileged to enjoy another class with her.

This must have been her last class before giving birth, because she said at the end, "I guess I'll see you...whenever." Someone in the class said, "Seven weeks?" She said, "I believe I said three weeks, but we'll see."

Then I heard her telling someone, "Yeah, I felt a couple of contractions there!" So, who knows, maybe she gave birth that same day.

Anyway, I loved her motivational sayings that day, including:

I can't break you down. You're stronger than that. All I want is your best.

Everybody wants a good looking body. That's why we're here.

(To a guy in the front row, looking surprised as she approached him:) Yes, I'm gonna pick on you. You're in the front row. You can throw up if you want. Just don't pass out. It tends to bum out the rest of the class.

(To the song "Legs":) Come on, you've got legs. Let's see you use them.

I'm a little more sympathetic toward my mom now. I've got two kids, seven and five, and I'm looking for a summer camp for them. I used to think my mom was so rude, putting us in camp, so cruel and uncaring. But I'm going crazy. You know, the constant fighting. "She's looking at me!" ... "She's breathing!"

I used to be that person in the back, barely looking up, never saying a word. And now I'm in front, with a microphone, talking constantly.

This is not a picnic. You're in boot camp. You're thinking, "I'm stronger than that. I'm better than that pregnant chick." Whatever motivates you.

Okay, give me 30 more seconds. It takes a lot of strength, I know it.

Nice job, guys. See, that wasn't that horrible, was it. (One person says, "No.") You'd BETTER say no.

Come on, out of the saddle! Pop up. Use your legs. Don't haul yourself up with your arms.

You've got to prepare yourself mentally. Now is not the time to say, "I'm tired."

I'm gonna be right with you.

Get uncomfortable. That's when it really starts. Harder! Stronger! You want this! The last half of the class is where you make the progress. Your body is desperate for carbs. You have to make the switch to a different form of energy.

It's mental. Tell yourself, "I don't care. I can do anything for 4 minutes."

Fact: We all hold out just a little bit. That's your mind talking. Keep going. The end is NOW! Those quads should be screaming bloody murder at you. Keep going. You know it's coming.