Tuesday 23 October 2012

British Cycling: The Truth Behind the Performances

We have rounder wheels than everyone else!

That was the response from British Cycling when others questioned the amazing performances on the road and in the velodrome this summer. If this was the case it might well explain the multitude of medals and a Tour de France victory.

Of course this is blatantly not true. British Cycling would never give away the secrets of its success. The only thing we can be certain of is that it wasn't drugs and the wheels weren't any rounder. However, anyone who has followed this blog over the last few years will know that I like to seek out the truth and I am not afraid to say what needs to be said.

I've been spending lots and lots of time in darkened rooms watching cycling footage in minute detail, scouring the newspapers for secret messages and looking at white noise on our very out of date analogue TV (the government wants you to think it's random....). As a result, today I can reveal the truth behind the success, and in the interests of fairness I feel duty bound to share this so that when we head to Brazil in 2016 other teams have a chance of some medals.

The breakthrough is.......Breathing.

Yes, you read that right. Breathing.

No, don't be silly, I'm not suggesting that British cycling breathed whilst everyone else didn't, although that would certainly confer significant advantage, it is the way they breathed.

Imagine you are cycling along and trying to go as fast as you can. You breath. In and out. In and out. The problem is that up until now, everyone has been doing it wrong. As is often the case the explanation is incredibly complex, fully of mind boggling equations and only the brightest of boffins and geeks would understand if I explained it in full (I have a degree in physics, don't you know). Luckily I am a geek and have worked tirelessly to simplify the explanation so that mere mortals may understand.

So here it is.

Are you ready?

Then I'll begin.

So you are cycling along, trying to win a gold medal in a time trial. You set off and due to your exertions you have to breath.

Breath in through mouth

Breathing in is good of course, but the best way to breath in is through your mouth, not your nose. Breathing in through your mouth makes you go faster. As you suck air in, you suck it from in front of you, thus pulling air backwards. Due to Newtons Laws (just trust me on this) any action must have an equal and opposite reaction, thus sucking air from front to back (air going backwards), pulls you forward. Furthermore, as the air heads down into your lungs, the downward movement of the air (again thanks to our friend Newton) lifts you up a bit, effectively making you lighter (air goes down, you go up).

Breathing in through your nose, does not work as well, as your nose takes in air from below and moves it upwards into your nostrils. That doesn't pull you forward, and it effectively makes you slightly heavier.

Breath out through nose

What goes in must come out, so you have to push it back out. Pushing the air out through an open mouth causes problems as the opposite reactions occur to breathing in, i.e. you effectively slow down due to pushing air forward (air forward, you go back), and you'll be heavier due to pushing air up(air up, you go down). Unfortunately there isn't much you can do about the air going up the way out of your lungs, but you can stop the slowing effect of breathing forwards. So good old Newton, suggests (he didn't actually suggest it, but if he was around he would work for British Cycling, of that I have no doubt)  breathing out through your nose.

Hopefully, you'll have worked out the logic now. By breathing out your nose, you aren't pushing air forwards, instead you are pushing it downwards. Thus there is zero force slowing you down, and you will effectively be a little lighter.

Are you still with me?

Amazing, isn't it. It's a bit like a paper clip. Once you've seen it, it's so obvious, but only once you've seen it. The same goes for this theory (though it's no theory as the results speak for themselves). One you know it it becomes blindingly obvious.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. There are situations where the breathing technique needs to be adjusted. For example when you are climbing a very steep hill and your are off the saddle with your head down (parallel to the ground). Breathing out through your nose certainly works, but breathing in gets complex. In fact finite element calculations suggest that using the bagpipe playing technique of breathing in and out at the same time might be best in this situation. Analysis is still ongoing, and this lack of hill climbing advantage played a part in Mark Cavendish's failure to take the road race gold (there were too many hills).

Of course, with any ground breaking reveleations such as these, there will be doubters. In fact I am sure that people will go and look at the footage and claim,

'Bradley Wiggins had his mouth closed when he should have been breathing through his mouth!'

But remember, British Cycling only held this advantage whilst the other teams were in the dark, so subterfuge was critical. In fact, when Bradley looked like he had his mouth closed, he was in fact breathing through a specially designed prosthetic that was hidden behind his lips most of the time, but occasionally dropped to make it look as if his mouth was closed.

I expect these to be banned by the UCI very soon.

So there you have it.

I expect you will all now adopt this breathing technique. In fact the ultimate way to breath for any budding Bradley Wiggins is to combine this technique with Graeme Obree's breathing technique.  However, that is quite advanced and you should probably talk to your doctor before attempting to combine the techniques.

 Of course science and cycling don't stand still, and next year British Cycling will have upped its game. There are suggestions that this will involve manipulating pulses, but that's just an idea that's blowing in the wind.....


  1. Re Wiggins not on drugs... I don't buy it for one second.. half the pelaton at the tour this year was suspicious... reminded a lot of people of US Postal.. remember them??? Time will tell if he did it clean...

  2. I always thought breathing in through my mouth was a good thing as I could operate like a whale sweeping up vast loads of plankton in the sea, I just ride forwards with mouth open and pretty much gulp down air, the effect increasing as I go faster :-)
    Maybe what we need is a mini mouth-sized turbo charger to FORCE more air into our lungs?

    Another advantage of the mouth air scoop is during heavy rain you can forgo a water bottle :-D