5-Building a Better Bicycling Body

5. Building a Better Bicycling Body

I just did that because it’s a bunch of words that start with B.

Well, I needed some sort of title, lol.

And even though we are talking specifically about cycling uphill, there is information here that is food for thought for helping anyone in their training endeavors.

OK, moving on, gaining some strength in the midsection and upper body will certainly help a cyclist grind those hills better.

A bicyclist isn’t penalized as much as a runner if he gains some muscular bulk and more strength.

A larger muscle has the potential to exhibit more strength than a smaller muscle. So don’t be afraid to pack on a little extra size as a cyclist.

But keep in mind that any supplemental training meant to bolster your sport, and in this case cycling, should complement and not compromise your performance in your sport, recreation or occupation.

As a person’s strength improves, at some point more sport-specific training needs to become the focus of the program and strength training moves into more of a maintenance program, which takes less time and effort.

Strength gains may still be sought, but it’s not the focus.

This leaves more time to train SPP and more time for recovery.

In the last article and video we looked at using hill sprints on a bicycle to develop more strength for climbing hills. I mentioned using about 70-80% effort on these sprints.

As a person gets used to this type of training, they should begin to increase their effort on these sprints or hill-repeats.

The whole purpose of hill-repeats on your bicycle is to develop greater ability to pedal at your lactate threshold.

You’re also developing greater strength to keep your bike under control and not start weaving back and forth so much.

I’ll touch on this in the video in a way that perhaps means nothing, and then again?

You’ll know just what I’m talking about in the video when you get to the section using black-board math.

If you’ve greater strength and strength endurance you can ride the hill a cog or two up from what you used to use and maintain a certain pedal cadence or wattage output.

Beginners should do shorter duration hill climbs, resting adequately between each hill climb. If you’ve only a short hill and can pedal it at a good clip in one shot, that’s fine, ride down, rest and repeat.

Work up to a higher cog or two.

Someone with a longer hill can do the same, only riding one portion and repeating that over and over or they could simply break the long hill climb up into sections, using each section as one repeat or sprint.

As strength and ability improves, longer duration hill climb repeats become the norm.

You also need to measure your effort somehow, either by HR monitor, time frame, cycling cadence or power-meter on your bike. A cycling cadence sensor can be bought pretty inexpensively.

A cheap power-meter for a bicycle costs about $400 and go up to $2k.

However, a cadence sensor can be had for $40. Buying one for about $90 will get you a bicycle monitor that will measure HR, speed, pedaling cadence and mileage with trip meter and timing functions.

Can’t beat that with a stick, lol, or maybe I should say bicycle pump.

If you’re serious about improving hill-climb-ability or dealing with pedaling into head-winds, I’m sure you could find much better ideas and articles out there, lol, from those that are experts in this field.

I’m no expert on cycling and not ashamed to admit that.

I am merely offering up strength and training ideas that come to my mind about hill-climbing on a bicycle from my own perspective.

In the video I’ll share a few other ideas that may or may not help a cyclist gain some more upper-body and midsection strength that could relate more directly to pedaling.

In any sport, recreation or occupation:

1. Stick with the tried and true, what is known to improve performance.
2. Keep an open mind about training.
3. Test out ideas that seem to have some merit, but only one idea at a time, lol.
4. Learn to filter out what doesn’t work and focus on what works best for YOU.

It is only in this way that a person may stumble upon some idea, some method, some exercise movement that fills in a gap or personal issue that makes a big difference in their performance.

One thing can make a difference.

Some people, no matter whether an SME or not, develop a fear of trying new things.

Often it’s really a fear of failure, because when you try something new you’re not going to be very good at it and no doubt are worrying about how it looks to others.

This often happens with coaches and professional trainers. There’s a certain amount of peer-review pressure in any sport or endeavor.

Rock the boat too much and you’ll find you’re on the outside looking in, unless you can show results that are indisputable.

So when it comes to experimenting with exercises and training methods, it can be a dicey dance for some intrepid people especially if they follow crowd-wisdom.

It’s funny, because this was the case with kettlebells when they were reintroduced to the USA by Pavel Tsatsouline back in 1998, in his article entitled: “Vodka, Pickle Juice, Kettlebell Lifting and Other Russian Pastimes” in the pages of Randall J. Strossen’s MILO magazine.

I still have my copy.

It took more than a few years before KBs were found in nearly every gym and became a part of many athletes training and before you could buy them at the local W-mart store.

For another example, look at Steve McLendon of the Pittsburg Steelers, NFL nose tackle. He uses ballet to improve his sports performance:


Now, don’t get me wrong, a person can’t do everything all the time and not everything will help every athlete in a given sport.

But as an individual be willing to learn, make mistakes, adapt and grow. Remember:

Training is about facing challenges and growing from the experience.

As a coach or trainer, experiment with an idea yourself or with one or two athletes in an off part of the season or with a small control group.

Note the results and go from there.

Keep the territory you’ve earned, but be willing to conqueror new territory.
You cannot do that if you always walk the same turf.

Every sport, recreational activity and occupation throughout history has a story of someone who innovated and changed how things are done or how one might prepare for a specific endeavor.

Your video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBpEKErInkQ

Thank you for reading!


4-Bicycles and Hills

Getting back to Vegpedlrs question on pedaling uphill, upon further input from  him, I found that he is mainly referring to those long uphill climbs wherein the cyclist is seated and cranking away on the pedals.

He is not trying to sprint up the hill; he’s just trying to make steady progress.

It’s really a long slow grind uphill, though just because the bicycle may be moving slow, do not make the mistake thinking your pedaling must be slow too.

There are actually a lot of factors that can come into play that may help a cyclist pedal up a long hill. 

These same ideas also apply to riding a bicycle into a headwind.

The effect of both is that terrain and/or weather conditions can slow you down and cause the cyclist to drop down a gear to make pedaling easier.

Now, with bicycles we have cogs or sprockets in the back and a chain-ring or sprockets in the front.

The language of changing gears on a multiple-speed bicycle can get confusing for some, because the combination of the front sprocket with the back sprocket gives us a particular gear ratio.

And that determines whether the pedaling gets harder or easier.

Just be aware that in referring to dropping a gear I am talking about selecting a gear ratio that makes pedaling easier.

And if I say shift up a gear, it means select a gear ratio that makes pedaling harder.

If we maintain the same pedal cadence or wattage output as we shift up a gear, we go faster.

Pedaling a bike takes more strength and strength endurance when faced with a headwind or an uphill climb than does a nice level path with little to no wind.

Training for hill climbs or headwinds is a specific part of bike riding plucked out of the entire bike riding experience.

It’s a very specific thing, so we need to not only engage in general physical preparation for bike riding but also sport-specific training for this one particular area.

Anything we add to our training that has a negative impact on our sports performance needs to be deleted.

What if we don’t seriously engage in any one sport or maybe we’re just a recreational cyclist?

Well, the same thinking really applies to many things, like other outdoor activities or even our occupation.

Our training exercise selection and program design can impact our ability to back-pack, hike, canoe, play tennis or work as a Tactical Officer, EMT or construction worker.

Any exercise or method of training will have one of three effects:

  1. It improves sports, recreational or occupational performance and other everyday activities.
  2. It decreases the above. Any injury caused by training falls into this category.
  3. It has minimal or no discernable effect on performance.

Thus, in looking at training to improve our ability to pedal a bicycle uphill we need to look at things that may help.

Some things are pretty easy to rule out, while others we may need to test out for 4-8 weeks to really ascertain whether it helps or hinders performance.

Everyone is different, and what helps one person may not help another. 

One cyclist may have great midsection and upper-body strength and another may be lacking in this area.

With that in mind, something like the suitcase deadlift or suitcase farmer walks may be very beneficial for one cyclist but not so much for someone else.

You have to determine what are your weaknesses.

Then, will training that weakness actually help your performance in a given sport?

For example, a 1.5 to 2 times bodyweight deadlift may help a cyclist. It probably would.

But developing a 600 pound deadlift is not going to help a cyclist.

With any method of training there comes a point of diminishing returns. 

We have to learn how to weed out ideas and training methods that may not work for us or that would hurt our performance in a certain activity or area we need or want to improve.

Yet at the same time we must keep an open mind to the possibility that something odd, strange or new to us may help.

I bring this up because I will often think outside the box and look at unrelated areas to see if some principle is transferable to the current problem.

Sometimes it works and other times not so much, lol.

Outside of sport-specific training, like an Olympic Weightlifter practicing Clean & Jerks, be aware that there is not one coach or trainer in the world who can emphatically say with absolute certainty that a particular exercise is a must for all athletes.

It may be a common to a particular group of athletes, which should tell us something, but it may not be for us as an individual even though we are competing or active in the same sport.

Kettlebell swings may be a great exercise for many athletes and people in general, but it may be absolutely contraindicated for some people.

So stating that something like skipping rope cannot help a sprinter improve his sprinting performance cannot be absolutely proven true across the board.

It may and can help some sprinters and yet be of no benefit for others.

Thus, as I share ideas, exercises and all sorts of thoughts on training, keep in mind the thoughts in this article.

Learn to decide for yourself when to dismiss something, when to test something out and when to immediately run with an idea.

If you’ve got a broken ankle that’s pinned and frozen up, then skipping rope is no bueno (no esta’ bien).

If we’ve always had lower back issues, a slipped disc or whatever, no matter how much someone may scream at us we need to do heavy back squats:

Well, no we don’t!

Beware of those who emphatically state that their way of training is the only way.

Back to bicycles, I share several ideas for training uphill climbs on a bike in this video:

It may be useful for some and not so much for others.

Regardless, I’m sure you will find some interesting connecting thoughts when it comes to bicycles, and I’ll be sharing more as we go along.

Thanks for reading!









3. Bicycles, Pedaling and What Do I Know

Ok, just so we’re on the same page, well, we actually are on the same page, lol.

Just as a heads up, that little number right before the title is there to help people read things in an orderly manner. At least that’s my hope.

On my old site, Sinew & Steel, I had over 80 articles and they were not organized very well, sad to say. My bad.

Anyway, at some point I may revamp those old articles and maybe put them in a book, who knows?

Where were we?

Oh yeah, white-line-fever.


Well, that’s an expression from over-the-road truck drivers and getting highway-hypnosis wherein they can’t even recall the past x amount of miles they’ve travelled.

It’s a dangerous lapse in concentration.

That’s the old school definition.

Younger ones are inclined to believe the meaning is in relation to a person crossing a line while playing sports and suddenly becoming overly aggressive.

Back when I was younger people used a three-letter expletive to describe such a person.

In the last article and video you’ll recall we covered counter-steering and others things related to bicycles, scooters and motorcycles.

Vegpedlr had asked a question concerning training a unique aspect of riding a bicycle while pedaling fast and hard. It had to do with keeping the bicycles handlebar, and thus the bike frame stabilized while pedaling hard.

Spiderlegs (I love some of these names people use in forums, lol) brought up something we need to take a look at. I’m just going to quote him directly, as he said:

“In regards to the hands, I was taught to sit on the bike like I was playing the piano and keep the hands loose on the handlebars.”

This makes total sense to me.

We want to keep the body light, so-to-speak, on the bicycle, scooter or motorcycle. Being overly-tense will prevent us from reacting well to surface conditions and the surrounding environment.

Having too much tension in the body will create greater fatigue at a faster rate.

Too much tension is mentally draining and impedes reaction times.

Too much tension can cause a person to transition more readily into white-line-fever, a decrease in concentration or attention.

Too much tension prevents the body and mind from sensing input from the two-wheeled transport as it reacts with the environment.

Not good!

When riding two wheeled conveyances it’s best to stay alert and ready to act and react and be “relaxed-ready”. 

It’s definitely a case where using feed-forward and feed-back loops can keep you alive.

Now in regards to the last article and video concerning having a certain amount of upper-body stiffness, perhaps I used a poor choice of words, lol.

Grabbing the handlebar with a firm grasp and sort of man-handling the bars really only apples in a narrow set of circumstances while riding a bicycle.

Of course, if you are doing downhill racing in the dirt on back-road trails and narrow paths, lol, you’ll definitely have a firmer grasp of the handlebars than a typical cyclist riding down the street.

As with all things, we need to look at the context. Sometimes we take something someone mentions and have the assumption they’re saying it applies across the board.

But that’s OK, we’ve all done that, lol, I’ve done this myself more than once.

To clarify my thoughts on this upper-body stiffness, I’m not talking about a death-grip on the handlebar nor the upper-body sort of freezing up with tension.

In any movement we undertake there must be a contraction in particular muscles to cause movement, unless we go totally limp and fall down.

Any time a muscle contracts it creates a certain amount of tension or stiffness in the body.

The quicker and stronger the contraction the more stiffness is imparted to that part of the body, even if just for a moment.

Of course, we want to make our movements fluid and transition from one positon to another in a graceful manner and not herky-jerky, particularly while riding any two-wheeled bike, whether it’s people powered or has an engine.

Let’s drill-down and specifically take a look at pedaling the bicycle fast and hard while sprinting up a hill or trying to overtake a competitor.

And specifically look at the bike frame flipping back and forth as a result of pedaling so hard. For a good presentation of this motion check out this video on YouTube, and then get right back here, OK?

Don’t get lost in all the other videos there. Stay focused on the topic at hand.

Here you go:

Notice the bikes flipping back and forth?


We want to minimize this.

Some will say it is done in an attempt to keep a competitor from getting too close, trying to bump you out of place. Well, maybe, lol.

My suggestion?

Pedal harder and leave him in the dust, lol.

Why waste energy pumping your bike back and forth?

Now I know this sort of happens automatically as a cyclist starts pedaling really hard and fast.

But, as with many things, just because we perform something automatically does not mean it is right or is the best way.

To minimize this flipping back and forth we must have a firm grasp of the handlebar and apply upper-body strength to mitigate the action of cycling the pedals hard.

In this case, a light touch on the bars won’t work.

When pedaling extremely fast and hard, the cyclist is attempting to wedge his body between the pedals and the handlebar and thus apply more power than could be accomplished with merely using bodyweight on the pedals.

For more on this subject and other reasons why a cyclist may be flipping the bike back and forth, go here:


I’ll see you next week with something new related to all of this.

Until then, have an awesome week!

©Copyright 2018 Walter Dorey







Bicycles, Scooters and Motorcycles-It’s in the Hands

The handlebar, that is.

This will be the first of several articles and videos that will address a question that came up on Coach Dan John’s forum. Vegpedlr (his forum name) asked about something that is unique to bicycles.

I’d never really given it any thought until he brought it up. I learn something new every day, lol.

So here’s the issue with riding a bicycle:

As a person pedals a bicycle, particularly if pedaling hard, the handlebar and frame begin to flop back and forth. Is there a technical term for that?

I don’t know, lol.

I’m not referring to what’s known as a “tank slapper” on a motorcycle.

If you’ve ever pedaled hard and fast on a bicycle, you understand what I’m talking about. Most of us have probably seen this happen as people pedal their bike down the road and suddenly start pedaling harder and faster.

As the person applies force and bodyweight to the pedals and handlebar, the bike begins to lean from one side to the other in response to the rider input.

In some cases the bicycle is really leaning back and forth quite a bit. 

Why do we want to minimize this?

And how do we build the requisite strength to control and minimize this from occurring?

It’s important for a bicyclist to minimize this affect, because allowing the bike to flip-flop back and forth wastes energy and this flip-flopping creates a longer line of travel.

Essentially, a cyclist needs to improve their upper body strength and the strength of their midsection. A coordinated interaction must occur between the upper body, the lower body and the bicycle in order to mitigate the “flip-flop” of the bike.

A weak midsection and a weak upper body will negatively affect the riders output. 

On a longer ride, or during a competition, not having enough reserve of upper body strength will allow this flip-flop to become more pronounced as the miles add up.

Vegpedlr brought up the salient point that merely riding the bicycle will not really improve cyclists strength and ability to minimize this occurrence on the bike.

It would seem that a certain amount of upper body semi-stiffness is needed to add to the bikes frame/handlebar stiffness and stability.

The upper body in a sense becomes an extension of the bicycle frame.

An added ability to stabilize the frame through the upper-body-handlebar-connection would allow the lower body to impart force more effectively compared to a loose, lax upper body.

If we are pedaling hard and have the strength to keep the handlebar from flopping around, we can “wedge” our body into the pedals more effectively and transmit more pedaling force to the wheels.

Of course, the amount of upper body stiffness would be predicated on numerous factors, such as whether a person is coasting, simply maintaining a pedal cadence or sprinting on the bicycle.

A weak upper body allows the bike to squirm around, so-to-speak, underneath the rider and this equates to a power-leakage when pedaling hard. 

Now this next part may seem unrelated, but it is a very important part of riding any two-wheeled form of transportation.

In taking an initial look at Vegpedlrs question, I thought it pertinent to the discussion to first look at how two-wheeled forms of transportation are steered.

This information applies to scooters and motorcycles even more, because they out-weigh a bicycle by sometimes many hundreds of pounds.

Many people that ride scooters and motorcycles believe that steering is all in the hips.

Often this is what they are told by ignorant riders, some of whom may have years of riding under their belt.

An interesting point was made at a Motorcycle Foundation Safety Course (MFS) that my wife and I took years ago:

Many people have six months to one year of riding experience and they merely repeat that same knowledge over many years. They never learn anything new.

They never practice basic skills nor learn new skills. They simply go out and ride.

So even though they’ve been riding for 40 plus years, their total experience really amounts to one year of riding.

Not too reassuring if you’re a passenger on their motorcycle, lol.

The truth is, above a particular speed, counter-steering is the MOST effective means of steering a scooter, motorcycle and in some cases, even a bicycle.

Body-English does come into play, especially on lighter bikes and two wheeled vehicles that are ridden fast on pavement or off-road in rough terrain.

Counter-steering is important when negotiating turns at speed and when swerving around objects in our path.

Those who do not understand this concept and fail to implement it will often run wide going around corners and are almost always the persons that run right off the road and have an accident because they “couldn’t take the corner”.

Properly counter-steering a bike, scooter or motorcycle can literally save a persons life.

Thus, in looking at Vegpedlers question concerning a unique aspect of bicycles, related to the fact that we pedal them to impart forward motion, I thought it was the perfect time to also address this issue of counter-steering.

For a more in-depth look at all of this, check out this video on my YouTube channel:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mFqJyeszl0

And in regards to merely repeating our one year experience in riding skills over and over for 40 years and never developing greater or newer skills, is that how we approach training in the gym or our backyard?

Next week we’ll delve deeper into specific exercises for the cyclist.


©Copyright 2018 Walter Dorey




Hello world!

Welcome to Ability to Adapt! 

After thinking about an intro article, I simply decided to jump feet first into a topic. There’s enough information on the front pages to give you an idea of what you may find here as new articles are added.

So in the next post you’ll find my first article on this new site. So, please be patient and as time goes on I’ll be adding new articles here and videos on my YouTube channel, often interconnected.

And in time I will be adding in a subscription site where information not presented here will be available, for a small fee. I’ll announce when that is ready.

We’ll cover a wide range of topics here on my blog and also on my YouTube channel. Some topics may on the surface appear to be unrelated to physical training.

However, every single topic we consider will relate to our physical and mental capabilities .

We will consider things that hopefully will enable us to improve our ability to adapt, improvise and overcome whatever challenge we are facing.

But don’t worry, this isn’t some dooms-day-prep-gun-toting-survival-zombie-apocalypse-site, lol.

It’s about having fun while facing new challenges in training and developing various capabilities through that process. It’s about learning new things that can help us in everyday life, sports and recreation.

And interestingly enough, those same things can help us when unexpected challenges occur.

There’s more to training the mind and body than just bench presses or training strength or endurance.

Doing the same thing over and over will develop a skill.

But at some point the return on investment of training time diminishes to the point it has a minimal impact on further improvement of that skill.

In other words, at some point improvement of the skill is barely discernable despite continued training of the skill.

There is a point where enough is enough.

It’s been found that children learning to write letters freehand develop better skills than those  who trace an image of the letter or simply type a letter.


Because the brain is allowed to make mistakes, correct them, make more mistakes, correct them and this process is called practice. The brain is given the opportunity to fail and then through practice finally succeed.

So exposing our mind through bodily movements to new stimuli carries the mind along this same path of learning something new.

There’s a place in training for sticking with basics. And there’s a place in training for continually exposing the mind and body to new things, to variety.

The mind and body want and need both. 

Well, you get both here.