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Blog-Um, Just a Thought

A Canadian's Thought 

Grinding your Gears

Edward Geddis

Pardon the interruption. I totally spaced last week and forgot it was winter break here on the Cape, so instead of sitting at my desk and writing in my blog, I was in Upstate New York skiing. With that said lets continue our discussion on Gears.

Last week we started to look into the concept or idea of gears, not just from a speed standpoint but also an overall power standpoint. What I mean by that is there is more than one way to skin a cat. We can get from point A to point B with either a very high turnover or cadence but an easier gear or a lower turnover/cadence but with a harder gear. In either case we end up at the same place but we challenge the body in different ways to get there. In the first scenario we are really taxing the heart and lungs or upstairs. These are the spinners, they have a very high stroke rate, cadence or turnover. They tend be smaller and lighter but not always. The second scenario tends to tax the legs or downstairs. These are the grinders and tend to be bigger and more heavily muscled. One way is not necessarily better than the other but rather each has its place depending upon what we are asked to do. We tend to stick with one or the other and find it difficult to transition or even perform drills in the other, quickly abandon or avoid training our 'off' style. This is a very poor approach and will limit you and your performance in the long run. One of the things we need to do is identify our weakness and then train to that weakness to become a more well rounded athlete.

As an example, I am by no means the biggest guy in the world, in fact, I like to race at between 145 and 148lbs and I am a spinner. I am most comfortable at a cadence approaching 100 on the bike and 184 when running. While this style suited me well for short total speed based races, moderate rolling terrain and climbs, it was not great at producing a lot of power for sprints or steep climbs. Even though I knew I needed to do big gear work to become a better all around cyclist I avoided it at all costs, relying instead on a good heart and a big set of lungs. As I transitioned from short course racing to long course racing this style became a huge limiter. No longer could I rely on my ability to suck up the pain of going all out for 12-15 miles, spinning like a madman knowing it would soon be over but rather I had to become more like a grinder, lowering my cadence and increasing my power output as I increased the distance I needed to cover in each race. Not practicing and training both systems resulted in a very slow run in my first Olympic distance race which was very hilly and nearly a DNF in my first 1/2 Ironman, again because of a poor run brought about by a poorly executed bike.

Each discipline has its own reason as to why we need different gears and also an approach to developing them.

In the pool, I find gears to useful to improve body position, improve ones catch and to improve the overall rhythm of the swim stroke. By swimming slow, I mean really slow, you have to truly engage core, and focus on a long taut body to prevent your legs from sinking. Swimming fast, sometimes with the help of fins, aids in timing breathing to the stroke, not to early, not to late. Additionally, changing ones stroke rate up or down may help in developing overall better swim economy and speed through improved technique.

On the bike, big gear work is king. Not only to out improve the amount of power which can be generated on any given stroke through improved neuromuscular recruitment, you also to learn to take some of the load off the heart and lungs, placing instead on the big power generators, specifically the gluts.

Finally, by upping your foot turnover or cadence in the run you begin to develop a run based more on elastic recoil, free energy, think of snapping an elastic band, rather than pure muscular force. The goal of running, within reason, is to try to have the feet touching the ground for as little time as possible. A slow plodding gait, means a very long contact time and requires your muscles to work so much harder than a fast light gait resulting in more speed with less exertion.

So what does this all mean. Quite simply we must train at different speeds, different cadences and different terrains so we develop all our gears because one never knows when you may have to grind for a while.