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Legs on fire but lungs breathe easy...whats up with that?(19 posts)

Legs on fire but lungs breathe easy...whats up with that?Milliet
Oct 13, 2003 11:54 AM
I have only been riding since August. I just started riding with other people and notice something that seems odd. Rarely do I get winded while on the bike. Unless I am sprinting up hill, I just don't feel the urge to breathe hard. Now my legs are burning like hell in the lower quads, just above the knees. That is what limits my speed, not breathing. Other riders I noticed are huffing and puffing while on a 60 mile ride. I breathe about the same at the end of 60 as I do at the start. Overall though, I cannot out ride them, my legs hurt too bad.

So, not sure what to make of it. Should I be forcing myself to breathe more? Should I just push past the pain in my legs until I feel the need to breathe more?

I am 5-11, 35 years old, 170lbs and in average condition. I do play amateur soccer twice per week so I run quite a bit. I cover a 10 mile, flat TT at about 20MPH/avg and would like to improve if my legs would let me.

Hattiesburg, MS
Between the two of us, one good rider ...Humma Hah
Oct 13, 2003 12:24 PM
... be happy with what you have there. I'm the opposite, more limited by my cardiopulmonary function than with my leg muscles. There is more room for improvement in legs than lungs, so I would expect you to improve rapidly in the leg department.

Eventually, you'll be huffing and puffing with the rest of us, but you'll be faster. If you're keeping up but hurting now, you should be leaving them behind in the future.

Just keep doing the miles, perhaps with a bit of interval training (short sprints and hillclimbs) to build muscle. Don't feel you have to induce pain to train.
You haven't ridden enoughfiltersweep
Oct 13, 2003 12:29 PM
Only riding since August?

You might want to increase your cadence. This will be less taxing to your legs, but more taxing to your cardio system.

I'm guessing most riders who have been riding for years do not experience this burning to the degree you describe. My legs are always a bit sore, but they never really burn anymore... if that makes any sense. Certainly not "burning like hell."

Frankly, I really don't notice other riders "huffing and puffing" on a 60 mile ride unless there is a long climb. Is it possible you are riding with people a bit out of shape?

If you really want to know what is going on, you might want to try using a heart rate monitor.
work on leg strength and enduranceColnagoFE
Oct 13, 2003 12:30 PM
sounds like your muscular endurance/strength is not up to par with your cardiovascular fitness. consider lifting weights and doing hill repeats and more big ring work. once your leg strength improves you'll be able to push the limits of your lungs more.
Oct 13, 2003 2:09 PM
I don't know if that would be the best way to approach this. His problem may not have to do so much with leg strength (He does play soccer twice a week, which is essentially running intervals) but more of muscle memory. Running and cycling use leg muscles in different ways, so while his legs might be strong, they may not be used to the motion of cycling. Doing squats and leg extensions probably wont help him as much as spending more time in the saddle.

I would suggest just riding more. If your legs are burning as much as you say they are, you're probably applying a great enough stress to them that they will recover and build themselves up a little stronger then they were before. You're still very new to the sport, and it does take a while for your legs to become accustomed to the cycling motion.

I'm sure within a few months your lungs will be your limiting factor.
yeah...the point was he needs to get strongerColnagoFE
Oct 13, 2003 2:55 PM
Cycling alone should do that assuming he gives adequate time between hard workouts to recover and improve.
How fast is your cadence?dzrider
Oct 13, 2003 12:31 PM
Spinning faster is easier on my legs and harder on my cardio-vascular system. It may be the same for you.
What about your HR?MKD
Oct 13, 2003 12:44 PM
My HR can be 160-180s and I am not really short of breath, but I am at or above my lactic threshold. So then my legs begin to burn after a period of time. I think you probably need more time on the bike since you just started riding a few months ago. Maybe invest in a HR monitor and work on some long, low intensity rides over the fall/winter to build a better base for the spring. Good Luck.
sage adviceFTMD
Oct 13, 2003 1:01 PM
Something I read on here once:

Hurting in your legs - lower the gear and spin faster.

Hurting in your lungs - increase the gear and spin slower.

I still remind myself of this from time to time and it helps.
badda boom, badda bing! (nm)Kerry Irons
Oct 13, 2003 4:56 PM
We have a winner...........Len J
Oct 13, 2003 1:51 PM
increase your cadence.

Old biker addage:

"Increase your cadence to rest your legs, & Decrease your cadence to rest your lungs."

I utilize different cadences at different points in my ride, depending on my heartrate, how my legs feel & how much hard effort I have put in or will put in. Experiment, the wider the cadence range you can ride comfortably in the more efficiently you ride.

Good luck.

re: We have a winner...........The Human G-Nome
Oct 13, 2003 3:07 PM
the real trick is when you're racing something like a hill climb and your legs are burning AND you lungs are about to bust. you pretty much just have to grin and bear it and tell yourself it will all be over soon. of course, you'll often see the stand-sit-stand-sit for every other peddle stroke as a quixotic way to somehow make the pain stop.
also-pedal circlesrufus
Oct 13, 2003 3:11 PM
his legs may be sore because he's using mainly the quads to push down on the pedals, rather than utilizing the calves and hamstrings to pull through the stroke. a good pedal stroke can save your legs by using all the muscles more efficiently.
wrong gear & cadence...C-40
Oct 13, 2003 4:42 PM
Sounds like a typical beginning rider to me. You are probably riding with a cadence below 80rpm and habitually choose a gear ratio that maintains this low cadence.

Power = torque x cadence. If you pedal at a low cadence, then you must apply a large torque and the result is burning muscles that are pushing into the anaerobic zone.

Speed up the cadence by choosing a lower gear. Almost guaranteed to make you breathe hard.
re: Legs on fire but lungs breathe easy...whats up with that?deliriou5
Oct 13, 2003 7:10 PM
I would also like to relate my experience, when I was just getting into cycling also. When I started out, I was in pretty decent shape because I was running regularly prior to that. I also had a heart rate monitor, which will back up my story. When I ran, I would cruise easily with no fatigue up to 180bpm. However, when I started cycling, I struggled to get it up to even 140 bpm. My legs would be burning, I wouldn't be winded, but I couldn't push myself harder to get my heart rate up. So 2 things I think account for this: 1) I had the cardio training, but not the muscle specific training required for cycling, so my legs would give out before my heart/lungs would. 2) My cadence was very low, just as the other person in this thread mentioned. I think part of my conditioning that allowed me to push myself harder came from riding at a higher cadence.
Maybe you're in great cardiovascular shape from playing soccerNatC
Oct 13, 2003 9:12 PM
...but your leg muscles don't have cycling specificity yet? I don't like running, so even when I'm in good cycling shape I still run as if it were my first time. What a mess.
FOLLOW UP--answers, comments, etcMilliet
Oct 14, 2003 4:09 AM
Great advice all, I really appreciate the bandwidth.

First, I have not yet purchased a HRM and my rather simple cycle comp does not do cadence. I will buy these eventually. So I cannot give firm numbers, only relative "feel" for how I am doing.

I did buy my Trek from the LBS which is owner/operated by a 7,000+ mile per year roadie. I quizzed him to death about all sorts of stuff including gearing and cadence. He set me up on a trainer with my bike in his store and tweaked the trainer and gears to illustrate proper/improper gearing effect on spinning. So I had at least an idea of what it means to spin rather than mash. I am spinning, but perhaps not enough. I fell like if I gear down even more I will be out of control and decrease speed. Likewise, just to satisfy myself about the gears I run, I have geared up while on my commutes and quickly suffer the consequences in the legs.

Many of you noted I am a beginner. No doubt...bought the bike in August and in about 10 weeks have ridden 700 miles.

Pedal stroke/muscle utilization - I am very interested in this. I feel like I only use my quads. The rest of the leg seems to do little. In soccer, I use every fiber of every leg muscle (gluts, calves, hams, quads). In cycling, just the quads. I have read some about pedal technique, square pedaling, scrape mud from your shoe, etc. Just all feels so unnatural. Advice here is greatly appreciated.

Muscle training - I maintain a regular gym routine that started over a year ago. It always included a "leg" day that was very intense and focused just on legs. I tried to maintain this when I started cycling, but quickly paid the price in cycling performance. Just too much time for recovery was needed so I have abandoned leg work at the gym in favor of time in the saddle. My legs are strong and I am one of the fastest guys on our over 30 team (soccer). However, I think they are "cycling weak" if that makes any sense. I still spend 3 days/wk in the gym on the rest of the body. For what it is worth, I did notice a HUGE gain in my performance on the pitch with regular leg work in the gym. Not sure the same would be true for cycling.

Thanks again.
pedalling circles.rufus
Oct 14, 2003 7:13 AM
yes, most people describe it as similar to you trying to wipe mud from the bottoms of your shoes, that motion you make pulling the foot back on a mat. if you feel that you are just using the quads to push down, then you should empahsize the movement at the bottom of the pedal stroke, pulling the foot back and then up. this is much easier to do if you have clipless pedals, which i assume you do.

it may feel unnatural, and as i said, you may have to make a concentrated effort at first to do it, but over time it becomes more natural. often when i'm tired, or trying to push harder, i find myself using my quads too much, and just pushing on the pedals. when that happens, i just talk to myself, reminding myself to "just turn the pedals over". that gets me back to concentrating on a smooth circular motion, and makes pedalling easier as well. by pedalling circles, and not stomping on the pedals, i'm more efficient and actually end up being faster overall.

you may want to check your saddle position also. perhaps you are sitting just a bit too far back, and instead of sitting on top of the cranks, spinning them over, you're pushing them over using your quads more.
What's your cadence?Mariowannabe
Oct 14, 2003 5:56 AM
Sounds like you're riding under 80. You gotta get more cardio goin'.