Cycling Evolution Posted on June 19, 2013, 2 Comments

 

You remember those jumping jacks we did as kids?  Well, all that jumping jacked us up.  Though, I don't know if you can place all the blame on our elementary school P.E. teachers.  One, they probably didn't know any better.  And, two, you probably had a head start on dysfunction.  Jolly Jumpers and the like (along with overzealous parents) have screwed up the natural infant development of many kids.  And the insult of being forced into a field of gravity before we were fully prepared has left a whole bunch of us as orthopedically challenged adults.  So while I may be playing a bit of catch up, I'm here to help you turn things around. 

What's so bad about jumping jacks, you ask?  Yeah, I know.  They're a heck of a lot better than square dancing.  I mean, you never see football players doing do-si-dos during their warm ups.  And even though the 80's may have seen the Ickey Shuffle during in-zone celebrations, I have yet to see anyone go promenade after scoring a touchdown.  

But the problem with movements like jumping jacks is that they are homolateral actions.  And regardless of your sexual persuasion, your body was made to move in a heterolateral fashion.  No, I'm not talking about baggy clothes which do a poor job of matching and are even worse at hiding your beer belly.  I'm referring to cross-crawl patterns, actions which involve movement of the arm and the contralateral leg.  Running is a good example.  Walking is, too, of course.  But before we do either of those well enough to chew gum at the same time, we must first learn how to crawl correctly.     
When a baby first begins to crawl, he uses a homolateral pattern--using the left arm with the left leg and the right arm with the right leg.  He looks like a lizard.  And his neurological organization is about the same as a lizard's until he progresses to a more efficient stage of locomotion.  
 
Integrating opposite sides of the body--in this case the left arm with the right leg and the right arm with the left leg--is characteristic of a more advanced stage of evolution.  And this heterolateral movement is a skill which earns him the distinction of mammal.  Yep!  That kid is growing up. 
Soon he's standing.  And as he get steadier on his feet, walking becomes his choice of transport.  Then running.  If that boy's moving, he's not walking--he's running.  Or falling, picking himself up, and running.  You can literally watch him develop as his movement skills increase and he learns mastery of his own body.
Then he discovers the bike.  And the devolution begins.
Now, I'm a cyclist.  I've raced bikes for over half my life.  I've left skin in more countries than most Americans could find on a map, so I think my allegiance to the cycling community should remained unquestioned.  But, as a group, us cyclists aren't exactly the most coordinated people in the world.  And I say this knowing full well that it's going to piss some of my fellow cyclists off.  Some of you reading this might get so mad you'd like to take a swing at me.  Unfortunately, your hand-eye coordination is somewhat suspect and you have the upper body development of a T-Rex.  So I'm not all that worried if what I say stings you a bit.  The truth often does.
When I was at the Olympic Training Center, the coaches had all of us cyclists on the basketball court during the winter.  They wanted a "fun way" for us to work on coordination--train our weaknesses and race our strengths, I guess.  And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that if I had a dollar for every basket that was made, I'd probably be in debt up to my eyeballs.  These guys who could literally rip your legs off going up a mountain and then carve the road apart coming back down were so incredibly inept with ball handling they'd give masturbating a bad name.  And I don't know if it's because I had played basketball along with plenty of other team sports growing up.  Or maybe I didn't have enough miles in my legs to squeeze out the final shreds of dexterity from my DNA.  But I was the best guy on the court.  And I'm 5'4"!!!
See, cycling is not a heterolateral movement pattern.  Except when climbing or sprinting, the arms are not engaged that much.  Indeed, I was taught by some of my cycling coaches that the hands should be relaxed enough--even during the most intense, lung-searing efforts--to play the piano.  Propulsion is accomplished primarily by the legs.  And when the arms are called upon to help propel the bike, the focus is on pulling.  But you're pulling with the right arm at the same time you're pushing with the right leg.  This is homolateral.  And I hate to borrow a quote from conservative religion, but "that just ain't natural!
Two heads are better than one.  Yet when pulling with the arm and pushing with the ipsilateral leg, a cyclist is empasizing the hemisphere of his brain which controls that particular side of his body.  Carl Delacato, author of The Diagnosis and Treatment of Speech and Reading Problems, was one of the first people to explain how this unnatural movement pattern can impact a person's health.  In his research he found that people with neurological dysfunction were often fixed in periods of locomotion characteristic of earlier stages of development.  Other experiments showed how these homolateral movements actually created a cerebral imbalance which devolved the study subjects both in cognition and in strength. 
Now I'm o.k. with cycling making me stupid.  Hell, to ride a bike in Atlanta where I live, that's almost a prerequisite.  But I'm not down with weakness.  And while I can limit those losses with quality work in the gym, one of the reasons I strength train is to be strong on the bike.  There's gotta be a solution.
And there is.
Push instead of pull.  When one leg is pushing down on the pedal, the opposite arm should be pushing the handlebar away.  This integrates the left and right sides of your brain.  And anytime the hemispheres are balanced, your functional capacity is optimized. Try it during your next sprint or out of the saddle climb.  It's really the same motion you were doing before, but the intention is different.  Focus on pushing with one arm while you drive your opposite leg into the pedal. 

And I can hear some of the protests: "But I shouldn't concentrate on the push.  That's pedaling squares!"  Look--no matter how proficient you are on a bike now, there was a time when you needed a little help.  Some guidance until you learned how to balance on your own.  That's what you can consider this post to be--training wheels.  Master the basics, and I'll teach you how to integrate this pattern throughout a fluid, circular pedal stroke.  There are even ways to balance the two hemispheres while on a bike which don't involve pedaling.  But how 'bout we start you with the simple concepts.  It'll seem odd at first.  Especially if you have an extensive background in jumping jacks.  But you eventually learned how to crawl, right?  So, I'm confident this herterolateral movement will help restore you to the lofty status of mammal.  Even slow down your devolution, perhaps.  Limit it to just all the genetically modified, processed, C.R.A.P. in your diet.  And with a bit of practice, it'll probably even become natural.  Maybe like riding a bike.

Because it is.