Saturday, March 12, 2016

The NFL and Cycling

I've been reading a lot in the past year about NFL pro football players using cycling to enhance their offseason workouts and the reasons why it's effective. When you look at the science it makes perfect sense. First of all the recovery time for cycling is very rapid, far quicker than running. It's due to the type of muscular contractions the body goes through. Running for example causes eccentric as well as concentric contractions, the eccentric contractions are a result of the muscular system acting as a type of shock absorber when you land. Upon landing your muscles contract in the lower body very suddenly which basically braces the joints for the jolt of landing. This repetive process of landing can be hard on the lower body and requires a high recovery time. On the other hand cycling emphasizes the concentric contractions in the lower body not eccentric, there is really no sudden pounding of the joints. You can compare this motion to the lifting or pushing phase of a weight training movement (power phase). Looking a little deeper the concentric contractions during cycling are longer and deeper in duration than running causing higher lactate loads. The end result is a very controlled way of elevating one's lactate threshold and stimulating the mitochondria for energy conversion. Interestingly, you'll find an athletes running threshold HR a little higher than in cycling due to cycling's higher level of concentric contractions (muscular engagement) and high lactate loads at a lower HR for cycling.

Getting back to the NFL it also mimics the sudden quick explosive anaerobic movements that go with football but easier on the joints and recovery making it ideal for football players in the off season. As one player said, those long endurance rides aren't much benefit but those 20 - 30 mile hard punchy rides can simulate anaerobically what happens on the field that's where the benefits show. If you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal they recently published and excellent column “The rise of the NFL cycling nerd" interviewing some NFL pros who cycle for off season fitness.