Worst Innovation in Triathlon [1]

Short cuts, short cuts, and more short cuts… unfortunately the sport of triathlon has become more of a sport of short cuts, then a sport recognizing proper training, proper skill, tactic, strategy and execution.

Instead of years building a base, nope… short cut… go straight to HIIT, to all-out efforts.

Instead of learning how to move with ease, with agility, balancing and coordinating the entire body, doing so effortlessly so as to maximize efficiency, nope… short cut… go straight to swimming, cycling and running at peak effort, peal power, max speed.

Instead of starting with entry level equipment, and learning to differentiate between gains made by training, and those available through equipment and technology, nope… short cut… go straight to top of the line equipment.

Well, the short cuts are finally starting to catch up with triathletes, and if the double pronged and/or cut out seat is not the worst short cut of them all, then I do not know what is.

The double pronged or cut out seat were created it seems for the sole purpose of solving the numbness and the pain experienced by those riding in a time trial [TT] or aero position on a triathlon bike.

To solve the problem of pelvic floor pain and numbness from an engineering perspective: eazy peezy, find the bones in the pelvis, support those bones, cut away everything else and boom… an evolution in seating! But did anyone stop to ask an health professional? Did anyone stop to ask if this problem is a problem that should be solved in this manner? No way, there are just too many triathletes and cyclists with painful pelvic floors, so stop talking and start selling a short cut that is sure to make millions.

But what if you are an athlete who has even the slightest interest in…

  • retaining urinary control in your later years (not becoming incontinent),
  • retaining the ability to have an erection without it being chemically induced,
  • not having a prolapse of the bladder, urethra, or rectum,
  • not having a prolapse of the uterus or vagina,
  • not experiencing pain during sex as a result of pelvic floor dysfunction,
  • not having to endure any form of treatment or surgery to repair a damaged pelvic floor,
  • not causing and then having to live with damage [that you did to your own pelvic floor] as a result of poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique, then I suggest…

(a) take your pelvic floor pain and numbness issues seriously. They indicate that something is wrong, so seek appropriate, trained, experienced assistance from a registered health professional to heal and recover fully, then

(b) take yourself to a coach who is knowledgeable in anatomy, biomechanics, and physiology, and is experienced in teaching and progressing athletes in cycling technique and take the time to actually learn how to ride with proper technique, and

(c) either get the appropriate bike for your skill level plus a bike fit or if your bike is suitable then get a bike fit with the technique focused coach present during the fitting, so that the fitting reflects your current level: your current flexibility, mobility, and current level of cycling technique and skill set.

Cycling is as technical as swimming, as running, as Olympic Lifting, as any sport. Coaches who do not know the technique of cycling, or don’t have the slightest clue how to teach technique… dumb-down the sport to their level of ignorance teaching that cycling is simply grinding or pounding out power readings.

If you truly are in sport to learn, to discover, to explore your potential, to regain health, to live an active lifestyle, to model healthy living for your family, then start at the beginning… start with technique.

Abdominal Anatomy and Biomechanics Basics

Here’s why and how poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique can lead to pelvic floor damage and eventually dysfunction.

The diaphragm (top black line) is your primary breathing muscle. The pelvic floor (bottom black line) is made up of a collection of muscles which create a concave shape mirroring the shape of the pelvis with a primary role of supporting the internal organs.

Anatomy of the Abdominal Cylinder

Click Image to Enlarge
Image Attribution: GilbertoASanchezA

Between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor are all your vital organs.  Your organs do not compress which means that in order for you to take a proper diaphragmatic inhalation, your organs have to shift downwards when your diaphragm contracts. When your diaphragm contracts it moves downwards expanding the thorax so as to expand the lungs causing air to rush in.

Click Image to Enlarge

When you relax your diaphragm, it recoils back to an ‘up’ position as shown in the image above. Meanwhile, your lungs compress, pushing air out of them, resulting in exhalation while your organs shift back into their ‘up’ position.  This up and down shifting can be called the abdominal piston (see gif image below). The abdominal piston and the breathing cycle are synchronous in an healthy individual. An healthy individual is healthy because they have a proper and healthy breathing pattern, and have proper neuro-muscular awareness, tone, and control of their all their abdominal muscles (including those of the pelvic floor).

An healthy individual is healthy because their abdominal piston moves smoothly, easily, effortlessly throughout its full range of motion.

Click Image to Enlarge
Piston Gif Attribution: R. Castelnuovo

To review… when you inhale the piston head (vital organs) shifts down and when you exhale the piston head shifts up. This is proper use of your anatomy, this is proper and healthy breathing biomechanics.  The result of these healthy biomechanics is that you do not create excessive intra-abdominal pressure, you do not compress and stress your vital organs (e.g. stomach, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries), you do not stress your pelvic floor, you do not pinch or compress blood vessels and nerves which travel through your abdomen. With healthy biomechanics – i.e. with proper use of your musculo-skeletal system – you do not lock, brace, make rigid any of the musculo-skeletal structures in your core. With healthy biomechanics you do not stop the abdominal piston from moving… not ever.

What Happens When We Use Our Anatomy Incorrectly?

Click Image to Enlarge

We have conscious control over our diaphragm even though breathing to a large extent is controlled subconsciously.  We can allow our diaphragm to be used by our body as the primary breathing muscle, or we can use our diaphragm to do something that it was not designed to do… that is to act as an immobilizer of our lower thoracic and lumbar spines, and as a result an immobilizer of our abdominal piston.

Our body was designed to be dynamic: stable yet simultaneously mobile at all times; never fixed, immovable, or rigid. Elasticity – as in flexible movement – prevents injury. Rigid immobile structures bear load until load exceeds their tolerance and then the only option for those structures is to fail.

Fixed bridges do not bend, they either take the load or they fail and collapse under the load.

Your core is no different. When you brace and lock your core (i.e. your spine, back muscles, gluts, hamstrings, obliques, etc…), you stop the abdominal piston. When your core is locked, when the piston is stopped, your core structures can tolerate a small amount of load. Beyond that point, one or more structures will fail. Which one? The weakest link in the group fails and results in injury to one or starts of a cascading effect where more than one structure ends up strained, sprained, or worse, ruptured. In one person the injury may manifest as an inguinal hernia, in another its spasms in their back muscles and/or gluts, in another it results in a bulging lumbar disc placing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Injury with a locked core, injury with a stopped abdominal piston is not only predictable, it is inevitable.

When you lock your core, the first question is how long will be it before something gives?

The second question is how much damage will you cause to yourself as a result of locking your core?Third question is how extensive will the clean be, how long will it take to clean up the mess, then to heal, then to recover and then to start rebuilding?

Is this what you want? Is this what you signed up for from training, from starting an exercise program, from hiring a trainer or coach?

If all an athlete does is heal from an injury, or worse jumps back into training never retraining how to use their core, then re-injury is as certain as the initial injury. Once an athletes starts on a vicious cycle (aka negative training cycle or doom loop) then they are stuck alternating between being injured and not training or training but in pain, never fully healthy, never truly recovering, never truly rebuilt; that is until they take the time to properly retrain themselves.

Your core is not built or designed to function like a fixed bridge, its built like a suspension bridge with distinct support structures, and structures which have the capacity to move and are supposed to move resulting in a bridge that can bend, twist, adapting to extreme loads (e.g. as with high winds in the image below). Imagine if this suspension bridge was fixed, unable to swing, bend, move… then like the stone bridge or the wooden railroad bridge it would fail when stressed. Suspension bridges will fail at some point as well, but their failure point requires far more load, far more stress, far greater forces in order for that to happen.So, what kind of core do you have? What kind of core is your coach training you to have? Is your coach training you to lock and brace under stress, setting you up to inevitably fail; or is your coach training you to be dynamic, flexible, mobile, able to yield and prevail under extreme stress?

Think about it… competition is a form of extreme stress, business and life both can exert extreme loads and forces upon us, what are you training to do under stress? What is your coach or trainer teaching you do under stressful loads? Prevail or lock up and collapse?

If your children are enrolled in sport… what are their coaches training them to do? Are your children learning skills while practicing their sport which translate to competition, and more importantly into academia, into relationships, into life?  What are your children’s coaches training them to be able to do… prevail or lock up and collapse when stressed?

Attribution of Abdominal Anatomy image from Wikipedia:

  • Link:  https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Abdomen_Anatomy.jpg
  • Author:  GilbertoASanchezA
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

Attribution of Piston gif from Wikipedia:

  • Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piston.gif
  • Author: R. Castelnuovo
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca