He just didn’t have the legs

Just a short post about recent physiotherapy experiences (and apologies for the rather grim photo. It’s the only thing I could think of which matched the title)

When I went to Physio in Jan 2010, I couldn’t bend my leg in a straight line – it wobbled all over the place. No wonder I had knee problems back then. I was really shocked because I spent so much time cycling. I assumed time on bike must = strong legs.


In Feb 2012, the leg was stronger, I could bend it in a straight line. But, on a seated leg press I could only lift:

  • Right leg – 30kg
  • Left leg – 20kg.

The left leg was 33-50% weaker, so again not surprising some problems.

After 4 weeks of simple physio exercise, I was interested to see what I could lift on seated leg press.

  • Right leg 50kg (Just)
  • left leg 40kg

My left leg had doubled in strength and right leg had got marginally stronger. It’s nothing to write home about. If you’re a climber and timetriallist, leg strength really isn’t that important. The most important thing is how much oxygen you can get through your body. When we say ‘he didn’t have the legs’ it would be more appropriate to say ‘he didn’t have the oxygen uptake necessary’ – I don’t think it will catch on ‘he didn’t have the legs’ has a better ring to it.

But, length strength does have some bearing on power. (I don’t really know the exact sports science). Stronger legs won’t win you every race, but they can’t do any harm. Again I was really quite surprised that simple exercises for four weeks could effectively double leg strength – and most importantly reduce the imbalance. If I can further correct theĀ  imbalance hopefully, it will be even better.

The knee is definitely better, though there are still niggles and I had to rest for 2 days after last race; I’m not 100% – But, I’m fairly confident / hopeful it will continue to get better.

Some observations

  • I’m not a member of a gym (and really don’t like the places), but I want to regularly test the strength of respective legs with something like a leg press machine.
  • I have been guilty in past of ‘turning up my nose’ at ‘core strength exercises’ – I kind of wrote it off as a ‘fashionable’ training buzzword. – I always thought you could do all your training on the bike. But, since I’m quite susceptible to knee problems, it seems quite important in my case. I don’t have a desire to build up super muscles like a Mark Cavendish. I’d be happy to maintain current strength, rather than keep getting stronger. It is hard to combine really hard endurance training with leg strength.
  • Rather than concentrating on stacking up the miles, a week or two concentrating of leg strength work may have given me a better return (though cycling is always more fun than leg presses!)


6 Responses to He just didn’t have the legs

  1. Neil April 12, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    Like you, I’ve also been unfussed about the gym; I cycle and run, what more do I need to do? But since the past 5 months of bad weather I’ve regularly been going to the gym, doing circuits and pump classes (as well as spin). It’s only recently I’ve got back outside and I’ve done nothing than beat PBs! I think the extra muscle must do something.

  2. Al-Bo March 19, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    I have one bad knee and it seems likely to be because of a muscle imbalance. I did a bit of strength work over the winter, but like you say, it’s hard to balance with cycling. If my legs are worn out from squats, I can’t cycle well and if I’ve just cycled a bunch of hills, I’m hardly capable of doing weights.

    I also find it unnerving to do squats, because there’s a clunking sensation in my knee cap at a certain point. I guess this is very much the problem and the squats should address it, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling the movement is exacerbating things.

    It’s encouraging to hear you’ve felt improvements though. Maybe this will help me persevere.

  3. Pete Coomber a5 March 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    I have just returned to the saddle after a five month lay off due to a couple of torn discs. I went through the normal route NHS physiotherapy private physio, chiropractors, the most improvement was gained by pilates. (no don’t laugh). From not being able to walk to slipping back into the saddle took just five weeks of pilates. At the age of sixty eight I thought by riding days had come an end, not anymore.

  4. Tacky March 15, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Put them away!

  5. Ben G March 14, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I know you’re not a Doctor (of Medcine) – but It’d be interesting to know what exercises you did.

    • tejvan March 17, 2013 at 9:05 am #

      Hard to exactly explain but a few squats on one leg and standing up out of a chair one legged

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