So you’re a runner. Or a rider. One requires little equipment. The other quite a bit of equipment. So the concept of a tuneup should vary quite a bit between runners and cyclists right?
Well, yes and no. Your body (if you’re a runner) and your bike (if you’re a cyclist) always give off signs when you need a tuneup. So there are some similarities. Here are some friendly, informative reminders of what to consider and how to do a body and mechanical tuneup when you need one.
Know your starting points: Runners
Most of your running efficiency, health and ability to maintain speed boils down to mechanics. So here’s a few simple rules to help you “tune up” if you’re a runner:
- Build proper running form. Back in 1971, I read an article in Sports Illustrated about running form. It said that good runners (distance runners, anyway) all do some basic things the same. They point their feet straight ahead, not out like a duck. They run “over the ground” with a mid-foot strike when running full pace. They lean forward slightly over the full length of their frame when running, and make this possible by carrying the arms forward so that the hand reaches the height of the shoulder in mid-stride. It’s that simple. Nothing’s really changed in the last 40 years. At 14 years old, however, I practiced those stride habits, and at all speeds, and that commitment has delivered good running form in all kinds of circumstances. It really does make a world of difference. You must be disciplined about knowing good running form and practicing it. If you don’t know what you look like when you’re running, find some store windows. Then watch yourself run from the side. Watch yourself run from the front. If your arms are flinging around or you run crooked somehow, either you can fix it through practice, or else biomechanics are likely to blame. Many great runners have biomechanical flaws, but they minimize their effects through practice of good running form.
- Maintain proper running form. Ever notice how your running form tends to go to hell when you’re tired? That’s because the muscles that do most of the work are fatigued. When muscles (big and little) start to tire, you cannot maintain the function or foundation of your stride. If you haven’t disciplined and trained yourself to practice and implement about good running form, you’ll simply lose it worse in a race when you’re tired and can’t possibly think. So it has to become second nature.
- Strengthen your running form. What this means is to use weights or exercises to build up the small muscles and ligaments that support your knees, hips and even shoulders. An overall fitter body, especially one with a strong core, will respond much better to the muscular demanded by good running form. So tune up your body with pushups, one legged knee dips, simple planking exercises and some weight work if you can manage it. Doing your strength work before you need it, or to recover from the occasional and inevitable injury is the first step to any tuneup.
For cyclists: Melding body and bike is the trick. But start with the bike.
1. Tune your machine. You simply cannot ride with efficiency or even safety if your bike is so out of tune that it holds you back. If you have not learned the most basic mechanics of your bike, this can be tough to understand, and you’d best take your machine to a bike store mechanic and tell them you want a tuneup. They’ll check your chain for length and wear, inspect your wheels to see if they’re true, test your shifting cables for tension, test the derailleur so that your bike shifts well, and check your brakes so that you can stop.
2. Tune yourself to your machine. The next challenge for bike riders is fitting your body to the machine. This is an entirely different issue than tuning up the mechanics of your bike. But it is just as important. And while I’d like to tell you that fitting yourself to the bike can be done on your own, it just isn’t true. There’s no facet of cycling in fact that does not require some outside perspective. And unlike running, getting help to tune yourself to a bike usually costs you some money. So amortize. Spend $150 or so on a bike fitting with a good shop and you’ll know at least that you’re “in the ballpark” on how your body relates to the machine. Trouble is, there are no hard or fast rules here. One cyclist that is 6’1″ and 160 lbs may ride a 58cm bike frame while another of the same height and weight might ride a 56cm frame with seatpost, front stem and saddle angles all different. If you have a long torso or short legs it’s all going to vary. Tuning yourself to your machine is a question of lengths and angles. Go get help. Or suffer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
3. Tune your body to cycling. Runners can’t just jump on a bike and use their endurance to keep up with other cyclists. Well, most runner’s can’t. A few gifted geeks like Matthew Busche of RadioShack have proven that theorem wrong. But they are a rare breed, the Busches of the world. Most of us have to ride a considerable number of miles to get efficient and comfortable on the bike, and it may take years, literally, to build up muscle to support your body on the frame and then to drive your pedals forward with efficiency. Again, a strong core is especially key to maintaining good form on the bike. So if you do nothing else in your personal tuneup, spend time making your gut strong. The rest of your cycling form will be forced on you by the sheer effort of trying to keep up with others. It will come sooner or later. It just hurts a little. Every year. Even if you train all winter. Cycling is an annual tuneup of the body and soul. No getting around it.
Of course this is general, practical advice for doing a “tuneup” on your running and riding. But basics are always the best place to start, and reminders of the basics have saved many a soul much suffering.
The great thing about running and riding is that there are some “tradeoff” benefits from one sport to the other. Cyclists need to run some to maintain bone density. And when runners hurt themselves by pounding on roads, the bike can always help you maintain fitness.
If you’re hurt too badly to participate in either sport, there’s always swimming. But we don’t like to talk about that. Don’t let it get that far. Tuneup first. Don’t make us talk about swimming. Please.