I live in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment. It sucks. After four years of living here, those stairs have not grown any less heinous; however, over time, I've devised several mind games to play with myself to get them to pass by in a slightly more tolerable way ("tricking myself that things are fun when they're actually wretched" is my default coping mechanism for life, by the way). Earlier this year, I began to appreciate that climbing these wretched steps can actually be used to improve my pedal stroke. 'Huh?' you ask. Fo' real -- it's an opportunity to perfect your hip and knee alignment, just extra practice to work on the same things you focus on in class.
In fact, there's a ton of other "everyday activities" that, just by cognitively framing them differently, can be used to help us improve as cyclists. Read on:
1. Climbing Stairs -- keep your hips square, lift your knees directly upwards towards your chest (think: "square hips!" every time you lift), keeping the knees parallel to the hips. Any time your knee starts to veer outwards towards the side, pull it back in towards center.
2. Walking (especially uphill) - visualize your hamstrings and glutes engaging, pulling your legs upwards (think: "lift!") as you go.
3. Ankle rolls: Under your desk, on the subway... wherever you want (and as often as you can!): loosen up and strengthen your ankles and calf muscles by rolling your ankles (clockwise, snap up and down, counterclockwise). You might feel some popping - that's ok, but stop if you feel pain. Any time you feel tightness, stop and hold that position. Resume rolling. Loosening up down here is going to help you keep your heels down while you're pedaling (when your muscles are tight down there, it's VERY hard to pedal correctly...). If you need a reminder on WHY we care about pedaling correctly, do click the links to the left on the "perfect pedal stroke" and "riding form."
4. Hip flexor stretches wherever you can fit them in! Lifting one foot onto a chair (the other on the floor) or a few steps higher than the other foot on a staircase, push all your weight forward onto your hip flexor (feel a nice strong pull in the front-top of your leg). When we cycle, our hip flexors shorten and we end up using other muscles to compensate for activities that require them... and we end up injured like me!
*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study
12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.