• Colin Liggett

The Neurological Bike Fit

Updated: Feb 26

Ottawa SMR is offering a world-first - The Neuro Bike Fit, which enhances riding ability and reduces the risk of injury for all cyclists by adapting the nervous system to the bike.

Key points:

  1. Increases power and efficiency, and achieves better overall riding experience.

  2. Complements the individuals' personal bike setting and NO adjustments needed to the current bike setup.

  3. The nervous system has built up dysfunctional movement patterns over a lifetime, many of which will cause non-optimal firing patterns when on a bike, including inhibition as a safety response.

  4. The nervous system does not want to be dysfunctional and will adapt rapidly when correctly prompted.

Detailed info:

I optimize people's nervous systems so as their muscles fire correctly. I can test just about any muscle in the human body. Years ago I only checked people lying down on the clinic table, once I got all their muscles working correctly on the table I’d send them on their way. Then I realized that the nervous system has different and more complex movement patterns for when an individual sits, stands, bends, etc. Thus their Glut Medius muscle could function correctly when lying down, but not when standing, etc. Since then, I have been refining my functional tests to make sure my athletes function perfectly in every given situation. The Neuro Bike Fit is an extension of that philosophy… get my client functioning at 100%, at any given time in their chosen activity.

A traditional bike fit optimizes the angles and positions of a bike to maximize the mechanical efficiency of its user. During a neurological bike fitting session, the settings of the bike are not further adjusted, but the nervous system is checked for compatibility to the bike position. If the nervous system is responding negatively, the corresponding dysfunctional proprioceptors can be corrected, allowing for optimal motor control when cycling.

Most clients' nervous systems respond negatively to sitting on the saddle. When a cyclist places the sit-bones of their pelvis on the seat it will create increased specific pressure on that area, further movement also causes a sheer force on pubic symphysis and pelvic ligaments. This often can causes faulty stretch receptors to fire, triggering a safety mechanism from the nervous system that inhibits muscle function.

What about those cyclists who walk around all day long with their feet slightly turned out, yet when they clip-in, the feet are forced into a parallel position. Is the nervous system going to be happy? No - the nervous system likes the stability of a wide stance. Forcing the body into a more mechanically optimal position without fixing the proprioceptor dysfunction associated with the position will cause a safety response from the nervous system, but the rider is probably unaware of the decrease in power.

To understand further why a Neuro Bike Fit has been a missing part of professional cycling, I have to explain some basics of how the nervous system works. When we receive sensory inputs from our body, the brain interprets this input and sends motor control output based on this information. There is a constant feedback loop between intended movement and actual movement that is forever tweaking the muscle firing patterns and assessing our environment.

Within that feedback loop, safety mechanisms are built. These safety mechanisms protect us if sensory input is faulty (or perceived as faulty). There are two primary responses the nervous system can engage in if a threat is perceived. One is to have an inhibitory response, which down-regulates or decreases the maximum force output of a muscle. This will have the effect of weakening a muscle and can occur locally or globally. You are less likely to rip muscles off bones or brake joints/bones during an accident if a force can ripple through an inhibited set of muscles.

The second is to lock or up-regulate the muscles. This is the usual fight or flight response. It probably sounds like a good thing to have your muscles up-regulated, but trying to cycle efficiently when your body is stiffening up to gain stability is not a good thing.

Ideally, our nervous system should be able to inhibit and activate our muscles around each joint. This keeps our joints centrated, allowing optimal movement with minimum wear. A threat response breaks the fluid movement, reduces efficiency, and can cause injury.

Unfortunately, we all have compensation patterns that have built up over life's injuries that cause us to go in and out of these threat responses. They can cause both acute injuries and chronic pain as they are the leftover neurological mishaps of our ever working brain.

The good news is your brain doesn’t want to be dysfunctional, it wants to be optimal. Show it the dysfunction, the reason for the dysfunction, and a more optimal way to perform, and it will adapt immediately.

For previous clients, the Neuro Bike Fit takes about 30 minutes to perform. That’s because I’ve already fixed the compensation patterns that limit them in day to day life. For new clients, I first need to assess and treat for 1.5 hours, then have them come back for a second visit to do the bike assessment. For anyone with chronic issues or a long list of previous injuries, I need to correct all that first, so it will probably take three sessions.

My methodology is: make sure all the muscles of the body are firing correctly when on the treatment table, then ensure the muscles of the body are firing correctly when seated and standing. It’s not until then that it is worth testing clients on their bike, as it would be like trying to fix a flat wheel when the drivetrain has fallen off.

For the Neuro Bike Fit, I mount the clients bike into a Tacx trainer. This allows me to test the rider in several positions and throughout the range of motions of the pedal stroke. The client will also need to bring their shorts, helmet and cleated shoes.

Book your appointment here... Neuro Bike fit - Initial treatment/assessment