Studies have examined the effects of combining strength and endurance training and have concluded that there is a cumulative benefit above what would either exercise type would deliver individually.
This theory is taken one step further by performing strength and endurance exercises simultaneously with the SaddleBar® cycle utility bar and resistance bands.
A self-study was spawned by the recognition that SaddleBar® enabled B.O.B (Bands On Bike) resulted in a perceived rapid positive adaptive effect on leg force while indoor cycling beginning in 2019 and throughout 2020.
Training consisted predominately of a daily 40-60 minute indoor cycling session while synchronously performing isometric and isotonic resistance band exercises on the bike. Additional leg exercises were done several times a week also with resistance bands along with an occasional ankle weight or leg extension routine. No squats, no dead lifts, no bench presses, no dumbbells – so what is going on.
Enter the pandemic with ample home bound time to trial a new version of the SaddleBar® and the opportunity to determine if adaptive leg force strength gains continued. To assist with the study, time was devoted to an autodidactic understanding of the neuromuscular and anatomical pieces at play specifically in relation to the type of exercises (B.O.B) performed and the adaptations experienced.
Gaining a thorough in-depth knowledge of the morphology and physiology between the somatosensory area of brain, upper/lower motor neurons, afferent and efferent spinal neuronal communications, reflex circuitry, and mechanics of skeletal muscle contractions assisted greatly in understanding perhaps why indoor cycling with resistance bands is so beneficial.
Below maps out what is proposed as possibly in play during the SaddleBar® self-study - aka the secret sauce.
The intent is not to present dissertations on the topics that follow but will instead supply proposed secret sauce ingredients with brief descriptions and reference so you too can follow up on your own individual research journey and conclusions.
1a. Jendrassik Maneuver – there appears to be supportive evidence and scientific acceptance that the amplitude of a muscle’s contraction (electric charge -i.e., action potential) is enhanced when there is an active remote isometric (static) contraction present at the time that the muscle is reflexively stimulated. Note skeletal muscle reflexes involve the same alpha motor neurons, spine-to-muscle circuitry, and motor units (all fibers of one type) as voluntary muscle contractions.
Being that B.O.B. utilizes upper body (remote from working legs) isometric contractions extensively, can it be suggested that cycling muscles are awash in amplified action potentials (greater stimulus) resulting in additional force production. In addition to also sensitizing the sensory muscle spindle’s (type 1a and type II) afferents and efferent gamma motor neurons – all of which benefit voluntary leg force production, muscle spindle sensitivity with intensified proprioceptive communication to the central nervous system.
1.b The Jendrassik maneuver was also potentially in play while cycling in a spine-neutral vertical posture afforded by the SaddleBar® cycle utility bar. In the seated vertical position, the angle of the hip to quadriceps was greater thus allowing fuller engagement of upper quadricep muscle fibers throughout the entire pedal stroke.
The SaddleBar® handlebar attachments provided a convenient and ergonomic cycling position with isometrically contracted straight arms grasping the rear handlebars which provided the trigger needed for the Jendrassik maneuver during cycling in this spine-neutral position.
Note: the vertical cycling position was employed extensively throughout the self-study
2. Residual Force Enhancement – the scientific community appears to be in agreement that isometric contractions that are incorporated while an active muscle is being stretched are stronger than if the isometric contraction were done in isolation.
The underpinning physiology has not been definitively identified in studies to date, but the most logical theory offered appears to be that the muscles (sarcomeres to be exact) myosin-actin cross-bridges are individually enhanced and for longer periods of time. If future studies do confirm this hypothesis, will there also similarities to the enhanced patterns of action potentials / cross-bridges in play during the Jendrassik maneuver.
Again, we see the possible role isometric contractions play in neural muscle stimulation and commensurate force production. B.O.B. is well grounded with resistance band isometric contractions in a wide array of movements through multiple planes of linear resistance each of which provides opportunities of positive adaptive changes for the exerciser.
Lower body resistance band exercises for quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip abductors are afforded the same benefits with off the bike isometric exercises for strength, flexibility, and balance due to maintaining sensitized muscle spindle’s participation in reflexive and volitional muscle activation and relaxation.
3. Reciprocal Inhibition – a built-in feature of the neural musculature circuitry that prevents opposing (antagonist) muscles on either side of a joint from contracting in opposition at the same time as the agonist joint muscle.
Example pairings include extensor quads - flexor hamstrings and flexor biceps - extensor triceps – as the agonist muscles are contracting, the antagonist muscles are inhibited from receiving action potentials i.e., forced to ‘relax’.
This forced relaxation was leveraged with B.O.B. exercises targeting the arm biceps and triceps during cycling while the quads and hamstrings were targeted off the bike with resistance bands and /or ankle weights. The aim of using this protocol was to fully stimulate the targeted muscle through its full length and thereby sensitize as many muscle spindles and muscle fiber cross-bridges as possible.
A typical technique would be to:
a. stretch the target muscle with light-medium warm-up band resistance to recruit through the slowest Type I fibers and prep the Type II fibers for reaching fuller muscle tetanus.
b. Isometrically contract the target muscle at 3 different muscle lengths for 6-10 s each.
c. Switch to the antagonist muscle and hold a 6-10 second isometric contraction at an angle to maximize cross-bridges formed. The purpose of this antagonist switch is to force the agonist muscle to relax in preparation of upcoming full length muscle contractions.
d. Switch back to the agonist muscle for full length isotonic contractions and ending with a 6-10 s isometric contraction at or near full muscle length. The thinking here is that full length muscle contractions at various linear planes affords more complete and synergistic flexibility and strength adaptations.
4. Muscle spindles – are elegant encapsulated sensory organs imbedded deep within the extrafusal skeletal muscle fibers. Spindles are key to providing feedback of dynamic stretches (how fast) as well as the final length of the stretched muscle. This is important for proprioceptive (sense of body position within space) coordination and control of any movements involving skeletal muscles. Neurons that innervate muscle spindles will tend to atrophy as we age if not stimulated and sensitized on a regular basis thus leading to loss of coordination, muscle tone and vestibular coordinated balance.
Fibers within muscle spindle (nuclear bag and nuclear chain) detect how fast and to what degree muscles are stretched which is integral feedback to the spinal cord and cerebellum for reflexive and voluntary contractions respectively.
Is it proposed that voluntary leg force is increased due to longer durations of high amplitudes of electrical impulses (action potentials) transmitted to muscle fibers. Muscles reach maximum tension (fused tetanus) after the orderly recruitment of slow first then and fast fatigue resistant then lastly fast fatigue-able muscle fibers.
Reaching a fuller tetanus status quickly logically follows a well exercised and sensitized muscle spindle circuitry that incorporates isotonic and isometric contractions. B.O.B resistance bands contractions on and off the bike are done in a manner to facilitate muscle spindle excitation whether it be directly from the afferent neurons firing within the spindle or from higher brain areas coordinating what is termed alpha-gamma coactivation (muscle and spindle sent action potentials simultaneously.
To assist alpha-gamma co-activation B.O.B. concentric contractions are performed at a more deliberate (slower) speed to allow the muscle spindle intrafusal (bag and chain) fibers to remain taunt and sensitive to any subsequent muscle stretch.
As a matter of fact, B.O.B. sessions could reasonable be labeled as ’Spindle Classes’ due to the nature of the resistance band induced muscle contractions performed in conjunction with aerobic cycling.
The SaddleBar® used as an adjunct to indoor cycling will afford participants opportunities to acquire strength, flexibility, and neuro-muscular sensitivity that until now were not realized with cycling alone or in combination with hand-held weights.
The fact that B.O.B can be utilized on any indoor or upright bike allows participation of more mature exercisers who would benefit most by maintaining strength and preserving balance thereby reducing chances of experiencing and recovering from injury as a result of a fall.
Resistance bands have stand-alone merit in any fitness program, and it is the hope of MySaddleBarTeam that we can continue to provide exercise guidance and knowledge that benefits the wellness and enjoyment of many.