Wednesday Shorts

Is massage a waste of time? No but it may only offer tiny performance gains says a meta analysis of sports science literature.

The effects of massage on performance recovery are rather small and partly unclear, but can be relevant under appropriate circumstances (short-term recovery after intensive mixed training). However, it remains questionable if the limited effects justify the widespread use of massage as a recovery intervention in competitive athletes.
Sports Medicine, 2016

Anecdotally I’ve often wondered about the use of massage. It can be relaxing to lie back and chat to a soigneur and the ritual itself can be soothing for some but does rubbing muscle tissue actually achieve much? It’s one of those things that has been copied unquestionably in cycling. The study says there are tiny gains so given teams are on the hunt for help this may explain things and of course sports science literature is testing matters and venturing the results but techniques and gains could be different in cycling. Sports science literature can be plain wrong, for example when EPO emerged in the 1990s papers followed saying any performance gains in oxygen carrying ability would be negated by slushy, viscous blood so it was not worth using. Only of course riders, runners and more are still being caught.

One future topic on here is to explore old cycling lores. Things like this:

  • pull out the white inside of bread and only eat the crust
  • melted cheese is more fattening, eg pizza is ruinous; a mozzarella caprese is good
  • it’s high risk to get a haircut on the eve of a race
  • red wine in strict moderation but avoid white wine at all times
  • train in the morning, not the afternoon
  • to peak for a big race soon add some motorpacing after a day’s racing

These “rules” appear in biographies and tales from time to time, generally relating to old school school directeur sportifs and they live on in places today. Often dietary but not always, I’ve got more stored up but if you can think of some then please share in the comments below or send them in by email. The idea is to explore the merits of the thinking, was it daft or could there be a justifiable scientific rationale behind them?

Call that a Tour of Spain?
Riders can be sure of plenty of evening massages if they ride the Vuelta, the lack of long transfers means plenty of time in the hotel each evening. The Vuelta route was out last week and it’s very Northern, so much so that the Queen Stage is in France. Races do move around a country and the idea is to level things out over time. ASO aim to visit every region of France once at least once every four or five years and presumably their Spanish subsidiary Unipublic will do the same. The Northern route means cooler temperatures which, added to the lack of opportunities for sprinters, means it’s not great prep for the Worlds in Qatar. That said the alternative stage race is the Tour of Britain, no use for heat acclimatisation either.

Patatas cobardes
Talking of the Vuelta, the 2010 Vuelta had several of stages across the south of Spain. It also had a fuss over Ezequiel Mosquera who was stripped of his second place following a test for hydroxethyl starch, a blood expander that can be used to mask EPO. Mosquera said he was innocent, that HEX wasn’t a performance enhancer, but in representations during the hearings never said how the substance ended up there. Now we know: potatoes. Or at least that’s what he claims in an article out this week in Spanish paper He’s been cleared by the Spanish authorities of doping but this contradicts the UCI and Court of Arbitration for Sport’s verdicts which still stand. Just watch out if you want some chips.

The Young American
David Bowie’s “Young Americans” was riding high in the charts in 1975 and apparently Pierre Rolland has been using retro training techniques from this era too in an interview with Jonathan Vaughters on Velonews. An exaggeration of course but this still brought a defensive reaction from a few French commentators. Rolland did seem to have some old school methods and only seemed to use a power meter in 2015. We will see, now Vaughters has raised the bar on expectations of Rolland now but if it works expect former team mate Romain Sicard to appear as a project for other team managers, a raw diamond with little coaching support.

GP Nobili cancelled
The Italian one day race has been cancelled due to a lack of funds. It’s been used by some as a tune-up ahead of Milan-Sanremo, a way to keep the legs ticking over after Tirreno-Adriatico and before La Primavera. Other races are vanishing and October’s Tour de l’Eurométropole stage race has been reduced to one day for 2016. All these changes get feed through to subscribers of the pro cycling calendar.

3-2-1 Koalas
You can tell the season is about to start when riders reaching an airport makes the news. The Tour Down Under makes a big deal about the stars arriving and we’re now hours away from the first images of riders holding kangaroos and koalas as the race village opens soon. This Sunday sees the criterium before the race starts next Tuesday.

74 thoughts on “Wednesday Shorts”

  1. I didn’t have full-text access to the article but from the abstract it seems most of the studies were performed with very short periods between the two excersises (20 mins and longer is ‘long’), not clear if they looked at the compound effect of day-long excercise such as you have in a grand tour. My experience with sports science research is that they usually don’t have the resources for studying effects in large groups (n>>100) or over long periods. The abstract also says a +1.3% gain in performance for endurance excercise, which they call a small effect. That equates to a 1kg weigth difference an a steep climb for a typical pro cyclist, I think they would find that relevant.

    • Agreed, 1.3% in cycling isn’t a small effect at all, it is pretty massive. Sounds to me like this study proves that massage is essential.

      These guys fight for every kg, so as you mention 1.3% equates to 1kg, which is a massive massive performance benefit.

      • We don’t know what the study’s definition of performance is, so please don’t leap immediately to the 1.3% being additive to cycling. This is equivalent to so many cycling media articles about “revolutionary” equipment bringing amazing performance gains with charts and graphs to prove it.

        IMO, massage definitely helps recovery. I’d get one every week if I could. Every day would be amazing.

        • It’s not a ‘study’ btw, it’s a meta-analysis of many different studies. So probably there are also many different performance metrics being averaged to get to 1.3%. Getting curious for the fulltext, maybe it is available somewhere.

          • As ever with these meta-analysis, they can only sum up the surveys that were actually published – so there’s always a danger when there’s only around 20 results that as surveys that don’t show results might not end up published as often as ones that do, the reality could be even less favourable. With a very large number of surveys this would show up in the statistics, but for 22 it might not.

    • Post-exercise massage used to cripple me.

      I’d have rubber legs for days, just in time for the next rub. It felt like severe bruising, the after-effect didn’t improve with time and it took half a year to figure it out. With time, it was no longer painful during administration but the general tiredness and discomfort didn’t go away until I’d stopped for a couple of weeks, suddenly I felt much fitter and my timed performances were better (yes, I know there could have been other factors). I revisited massage a couple of years later and the result was pretty much identical.

      A physiotherapist told me, in her experience, not everyone responded well to general recovery massage and a sizeable percentage of people (she estimated 5%) had clear performance degradation after manipulation and they usually didn’t habituate with time.

      I wonder if a negative effect (as opposed to something psychosomatic) tilts this meta-study findings? That the majority see a benefit but a minority who suffer damage shift the baseline closer to zero?

      OK, I was never a Pro but I wonder how many professionals would win more by abstaining from the Soignieur’s table?

  2. Hard to argue with science but back when I raced (terribly) I used a masseuse whenever possible and even long after that went off to a warm-weather “training camp” one time where the training load went from pretty much 0 to 60 and I was a wreck. Felt much, much better after the massage therapist worked me over to the point I wished she’d been there every afternoon.
    Vaughters has set himself up to look a fool if Rolland fails to produce some big results. Again hard to argue with science but bike racing’s got other components that might be more important?

  3. It’s interesting to learn about Rollands training techniques (or lack of) in light of the issues with bike sponsors at what was Europcar. I wonder if he would have wanted to use a wind tunnel for TT testing even if Colnago had stumped up for the cost. He’s a classy rider nonetheless.

  4. I suspect Vaughters was also referring to the format of Rolland’s training, that is, heavy use of base mile rides, no specific plan of intensity tied to power metre (instead using HR or “feelings”), etc. We’ll see how much Vaughters can change his training, but Rolland isn’t a kid so it is harder to make big changes at his age.

    I do understand how Vaughters can help Rolland improve his inrace tactics, Europcar was brutally in terms of strategy. They never really protected their leaders so they’d lose many minutes in the early stages.

  5. Wasn’t there something about chewing on red meat (beef steak I guess) then spitting it out? Opening scenes of “A Sunday in Hell” talk about eating steak for breakfast if I remember well. Does that still happen?

    • Reminds of a Gino Bartali story. Those steaks ALWAYS had to be rare, (“al sangue” in Italian) so Bartali’s kid is with him in a ristorante long after Gino’s career is over. He orders a steak – well done. The kid is puzzled, asking why he’s ordering steaks well done after eating them rare for what seemed like forever. Bartali says something about HATING rare steaks – only eating them because of the myth. No longer racing, he can now have ’em any way he wants ’em…and that’s (“ben cotto”) WELL DONE!

  6. Lore to explore:
    Eating ice cream – remember Lemond shocking other pros with this; same with him leaving the windows open at night while sleeping.
    Then there’s the biggie – sex before big events – yes or no? (Almost typed ‘yes or now’ – hmmm.) Remember Sean Kelly’s comments about abstaining during the classics. Made me wonder if there was one day/night where timing lined up… And made me feel a little sorry for his wife!
    Vegetarian pros? – Linda McCartney team and how that worked out.
    How about – how do pros actually train in the off-season, in terms of riding hard? Do we amateurs/blokes ride way too hard most of the time?

    Tip of the iceberg. I’m sure there is a lot of lore out there!

  7. Related to getting a haircut – how about the practice of not shaving before a race or during a stage race? Something about taking too much energy or losing some edge…?

        • So, that is dead weight. I do not know how much, but it is more than a water bottle! Do the pros, hmm, which is fine, take something or worse do something, to be as light as possible?

    • No no no… Not shaving the day of a race is a sign of unprofessionalism. Guimard used to get on his riders about this constantly, Peter Post too.

      The only rationale I can find for the haircuts is Sampson and Delilah.

  8. ‘Carrots are good, tomatoes are bad’—don’t know how common this one was, but it was repeated to me by a few Junior coaches back in the 1980s. Also recalls Inrng’s post on grated carrots.

  9. Good to see the Spanish authorities keeping up their fine tradition of never finding their own riders guilty, regardless of the evidence.
    I often criticise Cookson, but well done him for finally taking these matters out of national federation hands.

  10. When I was racing, I didn’t believe massage would be helpful. Until a masseuse convinced me to give it a try. Changed my mind. In my experience, massage offers significant day-to-day recovery after a hard day in the saddle. If the study came up with any other conclusion, AFAIC they blew it somehow. Bad study.

    • Agreed. Note however that the study said it gave a “small performance effect” of only 1.3%. But 1.3% is not small. In a sport of inches, 1.3% is massive.

  11. Shaving the legs – I always thought it was just vanity or peer pressure thing, but apparently it saves you as many watts as buying a fancy aero wheelset. Source: Specialized wind tunnel.

    • Yeah, no. If you want to do it right, you would leave the front of your legs unshaven to “break up” the wind.

      When you crash though, shaving helps. It’s much easier to clean and care for road rash with shaved legs.

      • that’s funny I heard it was the back of the legs you leave unshaved to break up the airflow (or something…). I wondered though, because those socks Wiggins wore with ‘wind tripping strips’ appeared to have the trips on the side of the calf….

  12. So sad about the GP Rubinetterie Nobili. Is it officially pronounced dead, or is it possible that it returns next year?
    And nothing surprising about the Vuelta. It is usually quite confined to the north of the country. The lack of ITT in the first week of the race is the big problem, but not only in Spain.

  13. Lore (this is from Australia, out in the country, raced in late 1970’s early 80s):
    1. never have a bath the day before (or day of) a race, the water would ‘take away strength’ – swimming also applied.
    2. should always wear a singlet that covered your shoulders under race jersey (afforded more protection when you fell), and related, you should/would never only wear a jersey, had to be a second layer too
    3. shaving your legs because a) made all those massages easier (discussion of why it didn’t apply to any other male sport was best avoided), b) when you fell it made the wounds easier to manage (though apparently since we only shaved legs injured elbows and shoulders were magically excluded), c) made you faster (which as noted in comments even the Specialized wind lab was surprised to find was true). The real reason of course is the cyclist’s extreme vanity about their legs, and shaved legs look more buff.
    4. Keeping your legs warm at all times imperative. Knee warmers, leg warmers, you’d just about only train in knicks in summer. The logic was something like ‘your legs are what it’s all about, cold means the muscle has to do more work, so don’t make them work unnecessarily’.
    5. there was a list of taboo foods for the morning of a race, but I’ve forgotten them.
    Then etiquette:
    no half wheeling, be in the gear you needed to get up the climb before you’re on the climb (if that makes sense, from the day’s of downtube shifting so you were expected to begin the climb in the gear that you’d probably finish the the climb in), always know who was behind you and where, only getting out of saddle on down stroke if you had rider/s behind you, don’t smash through on your turn, be smooth, down in the drops on dangerous descents (if you weren’t you’d be told very bluntly where to go), if you’re going to blow your nose and you’re not at the back of the bunch swing slightly to the side so you didn’t disgrace yourself, don’t have a noisy bike, you were given about one chance if your singles (tubulars) rolled, only wear a shop’s jumper if they gave it to you, always stay together as a bunch – except on long climbs when an informal race was inevitable, always wait for punctures or other repairs,.

    • you were expected to begin the climb in the gear that you’d probably finish the the climb in

      This was quite right at the time. In friction shifting days, the rear mech was not very good at its job.

      • There are people like Grant Petersen who still think that friction shifting is the best method of shifting. Certainly very good at its job.
        Google retrofriction or power ratchet.

      • Certainly not. I don’t want to fund Jerry Hall’s exorbitant lifestyle.

        Just hope that this isn’t the start of SS taking more races – costs about 10 times what Eurosport does. (Did SS have the TDU last year?)

        • Yes sky did have the TDU last year (and possibly the year before).

          Think the coverage and commentary was from the host (or maybe Phil and Paul) but Sky’s presenters were in a studio.

          Can’t say it was the best coverage, moved around the schedule a bit as well (but also not the worst coverage).

          • Thanks – I won’t be forking out ~£40 a month to Murdoch just for this (or for anything else). Reassuing to know that it’s just the TDU (as of yet).

  14. I love reading about the old rules of cycling. It reminds of of when at 16 and moved to Italy from the US and starting riding and racing with a local club. I was quickly schooled on HOW to do things. The list is long. Despite evidence to the contrary, I still struggle with breaking the rules.
    One rule I still follow, keep the knees/legs covered in weather colder than 15 C.
    A full length article on the topic would be fun.

  15. As explained to me in 1981 in provinces outside Bologna, Italy.
    Winter riding- only on flat roads in the small chainring. At the time it was generally a 42 x 17
    Minimum of 500 k’s until the above was satisfied.
    A real ride had to be at least 2 hours long.
    Motor pacing is essential.
    Nothing fried, bad for the liver
    Do not shower after eating, otherwise risk of blocking the digestion
    Never stand in one place, which usually meant, never give up a seat on the bus, even if an elderly person needs it
    Wool undershirts year round

      • Many is the French amateur who told me his liver hurt. Can your liver hurt? If it does, you should seek medical attention immediately.

        • The so called “liver pain” or “spleen pain”, since you can feel it on the right or on the left… It’s that hurting sensation which goes along a deep aerobic effort usually at the beginning of the season, when you aren’t trained enough, way more common among beginners (someone also says it’s probably also related to when and how did you eat).
          It’s a well-known phenomenon albeit without a specific medical explanation, yet (I think).
          Sometimes it’s ascribed to the physiology of the diaphragm. In the case of right-side pain, it might also be really liver-related, but no reason to worry if it happens under the usual conditions (lack of training etc.), whereas if it’s something which goes on happening despite better training, medical attention might indeed be opportune.

  16. Never half wheel on a training ride.
    Never be at the front if you don’t know the directions of a training ride.
    Always keep your pump ready in areas that are known to have vicious dogs.
    LSD ( long slow distance) till first race of the season.

    Oh the days…

  17. Biologically speaking, so many of these are utter horse manure. Cheese being more unhealthy when it’s melted? Showering blocking digestion? No inside of bread? No bathing before a race? Absolute hokum.

    • Heat can definitely change the chemical properties of food and affect the body. E.g. reheated rice is harder to digest. Olive oil is less healthy once subjected to high heat. I don’t know either way on the cheese question, but it is certainly possible. For sure, heating cheese changes its taste, at least.

    • in his book he did recommend it because its low fat and cheap.

      I haven’t read that book in 25 years but the bit about horsemeat sure stuck in my mind.

    • I remember Eddie recommending all kinds of wild game. And something about having your bare ass somehow exposed to the sun to kill off any bugs that might cause saddle sores. Don’t know if you were supposed to join a nudist camp or what?

  18. The “no ice-cream” rule sort of makes sense if you’re a pro (0.1% of us, then). The point is that in the sort of cheap hotels that they stayed in, it was in and out of the freezer all evening so it had a chance to melt and grow bugs, risking a dodgy gut for a day or so.

  19. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. I’m a troll, have been reading everything on this site for 3 years. You’ll a great bunch. I love the diversity, just seems like a great bunch of people.

  20. Why run if you can walk.
    Why walk if you can stand.
    Why stand if you can sit down.
    Why sit down if you can lie down.

    Don’t drink in winter during training or you will be addicted in the summer (Russian school).

  21. I thought one of the biggest changes that has occurred in recent years is the importance of hydration. In the old days they didn’t drink much, cyclists and long-distance runners, although personally I don’t like to drink too much even in the summer and often leave my bottle at home for shorter rides in the winter.

  22. With the start in Orense and four other stages, I’m tempted to make a trip to see my friends in Galicia. The third stage goes very close to where they live.

    As for Ezequiel Mosquera the Galicians do eat a lot of potatoes.

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