Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Exercise physiology and cycling mythology

I keep reading in mags and online about lactic acid buildup and the importance of massage and stretching and I keep thinking "but, but - recent research says...".

I don't know the truth, after all what is truth? Perhaps only mathematics can truly be 'proven'...

Anyway, in my personal experience (based on feel as much as biology) there are both aerobic and anaerobic energy sources phasing in and out during efforts and probably interacting in a fairly complicated way. And each person has individual limits in oxygen transport (blood flow , haemoglobin content, heart size and cellular uptake) and energy delivery and use that can be modified by training. Apart from these training-induced changes, the upper and lower limits of these physiological processes are individually set, probably genetically, and vary across a lifetime and probably to some degree day to day.

Most people will feel and report upon these processes and their limits; the heavy breathing, limp or leaden legs and a burning feeling in the muscles or the lungs for example. The 'I can't go any harder or faster' feeling, if you like. And no amount of massage erases these feelings - or any other feeling. However if you are a spiritual person - and cycling can be very spiritual in its regimentation, beliefs and repetition - and you have the faith, then yes massage - and stretching - may work for you. If it seems right for you and clearly doesn't injure you (in the broadest sense) then it's probably OK.

For me I'll stretch when I'm warm because it's good to gain and maintain flexibility; but I'll warm up by exercising at a lower pace for a period and then gradually lift to the level I need to be at for my intended activity. Stretching can be harmful if you exceed common-sense bounds and massage is really - sorry about this - all in the mind. As for lactic acid being the evil behind post-exercise pain and a limiting factor on your performance - well maybe we are seeing this the wrong way and making bold assumptions! As I said, there may be no truth outside of maths.

Try this for an enterprising overview of cycling physiology. By Faria EW, Parker DL, Faria IE. Exercise Physiology Laboratories, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, USA. In part it states "The positive facets of lactate metabolism dispel the 'lactic acid myth'. Lactate is shown to lower hydrogen ion concentrations rather than raise them, thereby retarding acidosis. Every aspect of lactate production is shown to be advantageous to cycling performance." Myths begone!

No comments: