Low and Slow: The Fast Track to Muscle Imbalance

There seems to be quite a bit of interest in low intensity looooong duration base work vs higher intensity short duration. It is no secret I’m not a fan of long and slow. There are several reasons as to why, but the biggest one is how that accelerates the body breaking down faster, and here’s why.

Most people have desk jobs. Those jobs shut down glutes and tighten muscles all over the musculoskeletal system by shear virtue of being in the seated positition all day. They then take tight muscles and put them through massive amounts of repetitive stress in a single plane environment. This will make tight muscles tighter, and weak muscles weaker over time.

The one thing that never comes up
Multiple hours spent moving with dysfunctional joints (which 90+% of the 400+ endurance athletes I’ve worked in the last six years have) accelerating/perpetuating/worsening muscle imbalances.
This leads to altering both length tension relationships (the relationship between the length of the fiber and the force that the fiber produces at that length.) as well as force couple relationships (muscle groups moving together to produce movement around a joint). This is probably one of the biggest reasons endurance athletes break, and yet it is never really brought up.

I know this first hand, because I’ve “broken several times” in the last five years since I’ve started racing my mountain bike, and I’m a trainer! I am doing everything I should be each week, but the shear volume of repetitive stress catches up to me from time to time.

If most athletes knew these activities fast track the body breaking down, and that they will, not might, will, become injured at some point from only moving in one plane of motion, this population might be a lot smaller. Which I wouldn’t mind, it would make my races more fun!

We are meant to move in 3D
The human body is biomechanically engineered to move in a 3D plane with full body total joint integration to provide support to exert force. Not in uniplanar movement for umpteen hours at a time. Supported, which is worse, if you are riding a bike for prolonged periods of time.

This is why conversations of “when I was at my PT clinic for the 37th time on three months the other day,” or “my ART/Graston person KILLED me today” and “my doctor says its a tight IT band” conversations are so common amongst endurance athletes. If you haven’t had one, you will. If you haven’t, its probably because you don’t ride, have never run, or don’t swim.

This doesn’t even take into account neural fatigue from riding in states of extreme fatigue literally rewiring the way your brain gets the muscles to move the bones. If you’ve ever seen someone’s chin damn near on their stem at the end of a long ride with their upper flopping all over the place, you’ve seen this.
Keep in mind it takes approximately 3500 reps of movement to correct dysfunction in the kinetic chain. It only takes 350 to learn a movement pattern. Think about the 10’s of 1000’s of rpm’s you turn over in a week on a bike moving in the presence of muscle imbalances. Pretty daunting isn’t it? Anyone want to go for a ride or run yet?
The Key to Survival: Functional Training
“Functional Training on a regular basis can significantly reduce injuries by 75% and training days lost to injury by 90%,” Mark Alexander, Physiotherapist for the Australian Triathlon National Team.
This means you need to spend quite a bit of time working on single hip strength and stability to keep your kinetic chain from breaking. If you are going to be out on a bike, run or swim for multiple hours at a time, this is critical.
Since cycling is a single leg strength/power dominant activity, functional training will make you a better rider.


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