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A Look At Distance Running, Competitive Cycling, and Chiropractics – An Interview with Dr. Ron Fritzke

ron fritzke

There are many doctors who can give you good advice. There are also many cyclists who can give you good advice. Today we’ll meet someone who is both a competitive cyclist and a practicing Chiropractor who can give us some good advice on preventing various aches and pains, especially from those pesky psoas muscles…

Joining us today is Dr. Ron Fritzke. Ron comes from a rather unique perspective with regard to the blending of physical medicine, high-level athletics, and re-entry into competitive sports in the master’s arena.  He’s been a Chiropractor for over twenty-five years, has competed as a long-distance runner on a national level, and then re-entered competition as a master’s level bike racer.  Additionally, he’s kept his finger on the cycling world by writing product reviews at Cycling-Review.com.

 

Coach Levi: What’s one of the biggest differences you noticed between your training as a long distance runner and as a road cyclist?

Ron Fritzke: The amount of volume a cyclist can do in a training ride was very new to me.  When I was running, an hour-long run was ‘par,’ with recovery runs being half that amount and harder runs being up to an hour and a half.

When I started training to race my bike I was in my early fifties.  But even though I was twice the age I was when I was running, a two hour ride was ‘par,’ a one hour ride was a recovery ride, and some rides would be three or four hours long.  It blew me away how much training volume a cyclist can consume when they aren’t having to deal with the micro-trauma to the legs that a runner does.

Along those same lines, I was shocked by how doable it was to stack several long, hard workouts back to back. In the running world, it was hard to run at all the day after some of the hardest workouts. In the cycling world, there were times my coach had me doing some killer workouts on consecutive days.

 

Coach Levi: How has being a Chiropractor given you a unique insight into what a cyclist experiences?

Ron Fritzke: I’ve spent over twenty-five years working on my patients.  Throughout the day I’m visualizing the different parts of the spine and muscles I’m working on, so it’s second nature to be able to isolate which parts of the body are being affected by different postures and different movements.  It’s been very interesting to integrate what I know as a Chiropractor with what I’ve experienced as a bike racer.

The aches and pains that I’ve dealt with get processed through my Chiropractor brain.  Usually I know exactly which structures are hurting and have some insight into what is causing it. I’m my own one-man experiment.

Something I’m obsessed with is ‘balance.’  When I’m looking at a patient I’m constantly noticing differences between different sides of the body. When I’m on my bike (it’s even worse on my bike trainer since there’s nothing to distract me from the issue,) I’m usually annoyed at my lack of symmetry on the saddle.  I’ve dealt with some decades-old injuries, so there’s a rotation in my pelvis that keeps me from sitting equally on my sit bones (ischial tuberosities.)  That rotation has plagued me in the form of left-sided sacroiliac pain.

 

Coach Levi: You’ve said that because there isn’t shock in cycling, a rider doesn’t have to deal with the micro-trauma to the legs that a runner endures.  But what are some of the injuries cyclists face?

Ron Fritzke: Right from the start, it was hard for me to envision how a cyclist could put out a supreme effort while bent so far over at the waist. Runners who convert to cycling tend to want to put their saddles too high so that they can achieve some semblance of leg extension. As they get used to the cycling posture, they lower their saddles.

But there’s still the issue of a very restricted range of motion when cycling.  One of the muscle groups that’s doing a good portion of the workload when cycling is the hip flexor group. Within that group, the iliopsoas muscle is having to contract over and over while already in a shortened configuration. This leads to a muscle that gets tighter and tighter… which can lead to painful trigger points within the belly of the muscle.

Any weight lifter knows that you don’t put a load on a muscle solely within a limited range of motion.  That would be similar to a weight lifter doing his biceps curls up and down within a three inch arch.  That’s similar to what we are doing with our hip flexors when we’re cycling.

 

Coach Levi: I know the pain of those trigger points all too well! Besides trigger points, does a tight psoas cause any other problems?

Ron Fritzke: Because the psoas originates from the the last five vertebrae, crosses through the pelvis, and attaches to the femur, it can have a profound effect on many structures in the low back.

One of the most common parts of the low back to be effected are the sacroiliac joints. These are the joints where the sacrum (the lowest part of the spine) and each ilium (the pelvis) articulate.  A lack of symmetry between how taut each psoas is will translate in a rotation in the pelvis and pain in the sacroiliac joints.

 

Coach Levi: I’m no stranger to back pain either! What can cyclists do for themselves?

Ron Fritzke: There are some very simple but effective stretches for the psoas which go a long way toward addressing this problem.  Something else you can do is limit the amount of time you spend in a prolonged seated posture.

When you think of it, sitting has your legs and torso at a ninety degree angle… which also shortens the psoas.  Because we spend so much time sitting, we’re making our cycling-induced short psoas muscle problem even worse.

But with a few preventative measures, cycling can be unparalleled in the exercise world.

 

Coach Levi: Speaking of sitting, what do think of those standing desks? Would you recommend them to cyclists who can fit one into their lifestyle?

Ron Fritzke: Sitting at a desk puts the body in the same problematic position that cycling does. The torso is at 90 degrees to the femur, so the hip flexors are once again in a shortened configuration. Standing at a desk rather than sitting at a desk lengthens out the hip flexors, which is important for a cyclist to be constantly doing throughout the day. So yes, trying to work a standing desk into the equation is helpful in that regard.

Additionally, there is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating that an ‘unstable’ base is beneficial to ‘core tone’. When a person is sitting there is very little the neuro-muscular system has to do to keep the body upright. But when standing, there is a lot of interaction between the proprioceptors (sensors throughout the body that give feedback regarding where the body is in space), the nervous system, and the core muscles. Every little alteration in position necessitates compensatory muscle contractions to accommodate the shift in the center of gravity. The result is much more involvement of the much talked about core muscles.

There is also some talk about increased circulation in the legs because standing and moving the legs causes the muscles to contract, ‘pumping’ the venous blood up through the one way valves in the veins of the legs.

The lists of benefits can go on and on…including additional calories expended, upper body slouching when sitting, as well as other factors. In short, incorporating a standing desk is well worth considering.

In fact, my Civil Engineer friend came over to my house a few months ago to use my table saw. We made a stand to put his entire desk on so that he can stand while doing his desk work. It’s working out well for him.

Happy riding!

 

Coach Levi: Thank you Ron for taking the time to do this interview! I’m going to go stretch my hip flexors and do some foam rolling right now!

All my readers – if you have any follow-up questions for Ron, please post them in the comments! I’ll try my best to get Ron back to answer more questions about cycling and running injuries, mobility and stretching techniques, and whatever else you request!

 

Are you an endurance sports expert who wants to be interviewed here on CoachLevi.com? Send me an e-mail with your bio and we’ll talk.
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5 Comments
  1. Levi,
    Thanks for publishing the article. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for any discussion and/or questions regarding what I wrote.

    I look forward to contributing any additional information you may find helpful to your readers.

    Ron

  2. I have sciatica, unrelated to bicycling. Possibly from walking and jogging on the treadmill. No one mentioned my psoas. Should I ask my doctor about this in relation to my back?

  3. @Rodger

    Probably not a bad idea to discuss this with your physician!

  4. I’m going ina for a bike fit coming up an was wondering if I should get a report of some sort from my local chiropractor first? To make sure the fitter better understands my needs?

  5. @Finn

    If you’re going to a good, experienced fitter, they probably don’t need to know anything specific in a report like that. It probably wouldn’t hurt, though, especially if you have issues you’ve been working on.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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