The Movement Library is a collection of resources. Each volume in the library is dedicated to mastering a specific movement. Reading that volume allows you to study, learn and apply the information. Troubleshoot your movement and pick up valuable tips & tricks.
Model Discrepancies & Online Qualifiers
Since the Assault Bike is the most commonly used AirBike in the Sport of Fitness, I chose to break it down rather than other brands, such as the Rogue Echo Bike or the Schwinn AirDyne. Not all AirBike brands can be created equal. Each model measures units (distance, wattage, calories) a little different.
Even within the Assault brand there are discrepancies between individual bikes.
Each one uses the same algorithm and therefore shows the same wattage at each corresponding RPM (Revolutions Per Minute), but heavy usage during a bike’s lifespan frequently result in older models being easier to pedal while registering the same wattage and RPMs.
This is largely due to warping of the fan blades so they create less drag as they cut through the air. Newer models (2nd and 3rd Gen) of the Assault Bike are more resistant to damage, and therefore registered power output tends to be more similar bike to bike. The fact that so many CrossFit competitors own different brands of AirBikes, combined with the fact that there are discrepancies within the same brand, is the reason why we haven’t seen an AirBike in online qualifiers like the Open yet. Until the AirBike can be universally standardized, it will be reserved for competitions that have a fleet of bikes within the same model (e.g. CrossFit Games, Sanctioned Events, Local Competitions).
Mobility – Strength – Skill
One incredible aspect of the Assault Bike is that it has an extremely low barrier to entry: there are almost no real requirements for mobility, strength or skill to maintain the safety and effectiveness of the movement. As long as someone has the ability to climb into the seat, he or she can get a solid workout on the bike. Just because there are four power-generating points (two handles and two pedals) doesn’t mean you have to use all of them, making the Assault Bike a great option for de-conditioned populations, injured athletes, adaptive athletes and the elderly.
Because there are very little mobility requirements, almost everyone can express their capacity on the Assault Bike. For one, this is because both the arms and legs are used, allowing the heart rate, respiration and general fatigue to climb quicker than local (muscular) fatigue when compared to other exercises.
The second reason almost everyone can express their capacity on the Assault Bike, is because every joint involved moves through a ‘neutral’ range of motion, meaning it never approaches an extreme or end range. This actually makes the Assault Bike a great tool for identifying mobility restrictions. If a person has incredible power on the bike but isn’t strong with other implements like a barbell, it probably means they lack the mobility and skill to be able to express their true potential.
Conversely, if an athlete does well with high-skill movements like muscle-ups and snatches, but can’t get up to speed on an Assault Bike sprint, it could mean that their mobility, skill, elasticity and overall efficiency is high (optimization), while their raw metabolic capacity is low (adaptation). Make sure to account for the athlete’s overall body size (weight and height) into account before making these assumptions.
Another reason why the Assault Bike is an effective tool is there is virtually no eccentric contractions involved. An eccentric contraction is when the muscle is lengthening as it contracts. Think about the lowering phase of a squat, a pull-up or a press: that’s an eccentric contraction. Unaccustomed eccentric contractions (catching/lowering movements you aren’t used to) are what cause muscle damage and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). However, the Assault Bike virtually eliminates eccentric contractions, so you don’t get sore from it. In fact, you are much more likely to have a de-trained person puke from an Assault Bike workout than get sore.
The lack of eccentric contractions is another reason why the mobility requirements are low and why tissues really don’t need prepped to be able to start moving on the bike at moderate paces. This is why the Assault Bike makes a great tool for warm-ups, cooldowns and quick, effective sessions for those with little time to train and/or warm-up.
Furthermore, it is typically more important to prep the aerobic system (including the heart & lungs) for assault bike work than joints or local tissues.
The Assault Bike has several key focal points for skill (to make the movement more effective and efficient), but it’s important to realize that none of them are really critical for the movement to be safe. For example, it’s not ideal that elbows are sticking out or that your head is tossed side-to-side as you are you ride, but you are extremely unlikely to injury yourself doing so. Compare that to flopping around doing kipping pull-ups or deadlifting with a rounded back, and it’s clear that the bike poses little safety concern.
This is one reason why going up against your capacity (maximal effort) is so ‘easy’ and often encouraged with the bike: it’s hard to injury yourself. It makes a lot more sense (and is more effective) for the majority of the exercising population to redline in a workout with the Assault Bike than it does for a workout with touch-n-go power cleans, muscle-ups and box jumps.
The last area to consider is strength requirements. No, there isn’t a minimum strength requirement. However, it is extremely important to realize how an athlete’s strength levels will affect their stimulus on the Assault Bike. In short, the stronger you are, the stronger the stimulus will be with less time. Intuitively, if you took a weak athlete and a strong athlete and had them both do a hard effort on the bike, you would expect it to be easier for the strong athlete because they can spin the bike easier. In reality, it’s the opposite. The more strong, powerful and large the athlete is, the stronger the stimulus is for them on the Assault Bike. Basically, a big, strong athlete can do more damage to themselves in less time. It’s why males typically don’t handle quite a much volume in the strength lifts. A smaller, weaker or less fit athlete can’t create a strong stimulus quickly, so they need more time. This is why Orange Theory type workouts (simple movements with a longer duration) would destroy high-level athletes if they do them maximally. It’s the same reason why the sixty year old woman in your CrossFit class feels the need to go for a run after a series of bike sprints that had the ‘big boys’ in class rolling on the floor in pain…she isn’t strong enough to create damage quickly.
The practical application of this comes into play when thinking about programming. In general, the more powerful the athlete the shorter duration and less intervals they need to get an effective dose.
Let’s say the workout is…
Every 2 Minutes, x 6 Sets, 12 Minutes
-20s Assault Bike Sprint
This is something common you would see in a CrossFit class. It’s a really bad idea. Just like the barbell workout wouldn’t have the same weights for all the athletes, an Assault Bike workout shouldn’t have the same work-to-rest ratio for all athletes. The work-to-rest ratio in workout above (1:5) would result in a steep drop off each set for a powerful athlete (not recovered), while the weak, middle-aged distance runner (not a dig, just reality) is pacing the floor, ready for the next set (too much recovery).
A better prescription for that class would be something like this…
Every 2 Minutes, x 6 Sets, 12 Minutes
-12s (If peak watts are >1500)
-15s (If peak watts are 1000-1500)
-20s (If peak watts are 600-1000)
-25s (If peak watts are <600)
Listen to Training on the Assault Bike on The Fitness Movement Podcast.
Setting Up the Assault Bike
There are only three points of adjustment on the bike: the pegs the bike stand on, the seat height and the seat slide setting. While it would be super handy to be able to adjust other metrics (such as handle height), the unfortunate reality is that you can only move the seat up and down, forward & back. This makes for some setup issues, especially for more extreme body sizes: whether big or small. Because of fixed structures, it is hard to know if you should optimize your seat orientation for lower body, upper body or a combination of both where neither are quite ideal. This is the debate.
My answer is optimize for the lower body. The lower body contributes most of the power into the bike because 1) the legs are stronger than the upper body, and 2) the mechanics of the handles are less efficient for energy transfer, making the pedal more important. Also, you can easily vary the amount of torso lean you have to easily manipulate the handles.
Steps to Setup the Bike
Step 1: Make sure the bike isn’t wobbling (stable ground contact)
Step 2: Seat Height (heel on pedal) (total leg length)
Step 3: Seat Slide (knee position) use plum line (femur length)
Step 4: Implications of Seat Slide
-Importance of torso lean
-Terminal Pushing Positions
No Gears? What’s the Deal
Assault Bike vs. Road Bike
Another reason why there is a big change is stimulus (with respect to duration) for the strong athlete is because of differences in max RPMs. In actual cycling or even on a piece of equipment like the Concept 2 bike erg, the gears or damper can be adjusted to allow for the athlete to spin at a desired RPM range, which is independent of watts. Two athletes could both be spinning at 87 strokes per minute (spm) but have completely different wattage outputs.
Most cyclists recommend spinning above 90 spm to maintain efficiency. The reasoning is that the respiratory system takes more of the burden than the muscular system, preventing breakdown from muscle fatigue. Spinning at an RPM below 80, called ‘mashing’ in cycling, is inefficient because the muscular demand becomes so great. However, it’s important to note that this is for time trials and long duration races. In road racing sprint finishes and track races where all out efforts are used, RPMs often climb well above 120 spm.
Wattage & RPMs are Linked
Because the Assault Bike has a single gear, wattage will always be correlated to the RPMs. One each Assault Bike you jump on 70 RPMs will always equal 442 watts. As we know, that may not always be an actual 442 watts because the bike blades may have warped over time, but the screen will always show 442 watts at 70 RPMs. Therefore, for the Assault Bike, wattage and RPMs are two measures of the same thing…almost like pounds and kilos. And just like metric vs. standard there are people that only speak one or the other. That is why I made this comparison chart. If you are a person whose coach writes it differently than you prefer you can translate it. Or if you are a coach who thinks in one type of unit but you have athletes who prefer another, you can translate to the units they prefer.
Implications for Smaller Athletes
Since the Assault Bike doesn’t have gears, some athletes – even if highly fit in other areas – can’t spin the bike fast enough to get to an efficient RPM range. This is especially true for many smaller, female athletes. They can’t break past the low, mashing RPMs so they can’t express efficiency or power. As a result little athletes will always struggle on the Assault Bike. The only thing that matters is power, not with respect to your bodyweight like it does for gymnastics movements.
A person who consistently performs better on the Assault Bike than another athlete may finish well behind that same athlete when they both take to an actual bike out on the roads or a trail. But until events like Cyclocross or a Triathlon appear in your next local CrossFit competition, you better continue to work on the Assault Bike.
Movement Mistakes: Broken Lines
• Swaying Side-to-Side: Head (or) Upper Body [Shooting a cannon on a canoe]
• Broken Arm Positions: Leading the push with the shoulder (or) Elbows pointed out
• Pelvic Position: Anterior (or) Posterior Tilt [power vs. aerodynamics]
• Knee Tracking Errors: knees caving (lose access to glutes), big toe not grounded (lose access to quad), inconsistent tracking for all three
• Ankle Angles: Too Much Dorsiflexion (or) Plantarflexion
• Pedal Pushing: heel (or) arch [why cyclists wear stiff shoes]
These mistakes and others are easily illustrated in this video.
Sprint vs. Sustain
The technique at which you power clean 30% of your max for many reps is not – and should not – be the same as your one rep max. This is widely accepted as true, yet people assume the technique stays the same for the Assault Bike, only intensity changes. This simply isn’t true. There is a fundamental difference between sprinting and sustaining on the Assault Bike.
When sprinting the goal is to be as powerful as possible, and therefore efficiency does not matter. Recruit as much muscle mass as possible to get the job done. The opposite is true for sustainable, endurance efforts: efficiency is the only thing that matters. The ability to produce consistent power without accumulating fatigue is the name of the game.
Sprint vs Sustain: Tri- vs. Bi-Directional Power Output
The first implication this has on technique is the arm action. While sprinting, the athlete should take advantage of tri-directional power output. The three actions include: pedal, push and pull. When doing sustainable efforts, this changes to bi-directional power output: pedaling and pushing only.
Again, the three action biking is not efficient because 1) it greatly increases the anti-rotational demands of the core (athletes often hold their breath to generate more power during bike sprints), 2) it encourages side-to-side upper body action at lower RPMs, and 3) and the mechanics of the handles are less efficient than the pedals.
Even if the handles contribute a mere 30% of the total wattage in a peak effort sprint, it doesn’t matter because the goal is power and it doesn’t matter if the effort was draining. However, in sustainable efforts the goal is to reduce effort for the same power. Complex movement is expensive movement.
Furthermore, since the push and pull occur opposite of each other (unlike most bilateral pushing and pulling movements) the core must work harder to create a stable platform for movement. The anti-rotational demands of a bike sprint are so high it often causes the athlete to stop breathing so they can effectively brace during an Assault Bike sprint. It is the same reason why it is a bad recommendation for a coach to recommend an athlete pushes and pulls on the bike handles during sustainable efforts. Transitioning to bi-directional power output (pedal and push) reduces the core demands, which simultaneously reduces muscular input from respiratory muscles. Not only does this make breathing easier, but it reduces total metabolism which means you just became more efficient (use less energy) at the same wattage.
Basically, you want to focus on pedaling the bike during longer efforts and push on the handles minorly, as a means to maintain torso orientation and overall balance rather than intentionally pushing hard to create additional power.
Get Up to Speed & Bleed Watts
One of the principles of any erg-based piece of equipment (e.g. Assault Bike, bike erg, rower, ski erg) is they are based on momentum: a quality of an object’s velocity and mass. The momentum of the flywheel is built as you get up to pace and then must be sustained. Calories and average pace (determines miles/kilometers) are both determined from the moment the clock starts on the machine. This means any moment you wait getting up to speed your average pace becomes more metabolically expensive to drop.
Think of your pacing on the Assault Bike like driving on a freeway. Pulling onto the on-ramp and getting up to speed requires being hard on the gas, but the faster you are going the easier it is to merge with cars going at a set pace (The Initial Burst & Bleed). You hold a constant speed to maximize gas mileage while on the freeway, until you spot your exit. To maximize your gas mileage, you ease off the gas the last stretch before your exit and let the car coast down the off-ramp (The Final Wattage Bleed). You don’t get off the gas too early or you will waste time and you don’t get off the gas too late or you will waste fuel and be forced to break hard.
The Initial Burst
Basically, you are best served getting the flywheel of the erg up above the pace you want to sustain and then back off the power to your sustainable wattage. Over the next several seconds, the momentum of the erg will be maintained and your wattage will read higher than you are actually putting into the machine because of the momentum that you developed. Soon the momentum will wain (bleed wattage) and the display of the machine will actually reflect the wattage you are putting into it.
The Final Wattage Bleed
As you approach the end of your effort, you want to “ease off the gas” and bleed wattage once again. It’s important to note this only applies to mixed modal settings with multiple movements or rounds, not with a time trial. A time trial is more like a drag race than the freeway analogy I used before. In mixed modal settings, treat the final few calories or last stretch of distance as a transition. Transitions are rest. Wind down and prepare for the next movement in the workout.
Ghost Calories[This section applies to the Assault Bike only, the Rogue Echo Bike has very little Ghost Calories because it stops quickly after becoming un-manned.]
Let’s think about the freeway analogy again. Let’s pretend it only mattered that your car got down the off-ramp and it didn’t matter if you were actually in it. What if you could bail out as you passed the exit and simply watch to make sure the car had enough speed (built up momentum) to make it all the way down the ramp? This is the basic premise behind ghost calories. Get the bike up to speed, hold that wattage until you are close to “your exit,” then remove your feet from the pedals (or get off completely if you are allowed to) and allow the calories to tick up to your target. The faster you are going when you stop pedaling the more potential there is for ghost calories. It put things in perspective, peaking the Assault Bike (it doesn’t go above 1999 Watts) and allowing it spin down can result in upwards of 10 Ghost Calories.
Maximizing the Pedal Stroke
Not all pedal positions are ideal for power transfer. The pedal stroke traces circles through space. You do not want to try to create power throughout the entire motion. Rather, you want to generate as much power as possible when your joints are organized and the pedal is in a position to receive power.
Think of the pedal stroke as a clock. You want to dump most of your power between the hours of 1 O’Clock and 5 O’Clock. This is the best transfer of power to the petal and your body is aligned perfectly to create that power. The back half of the stroke (6 O’Clock to 12 O’Clock) you foot is just along for the ride, while your other leg is generated power. The cyclical nature of this contraction builds efficiency and allows for blood to move in and out of the prime movers (quads and glutes) while moving.
Do not try to scoop the pedal back (around 7 O’Clock) using the gastroc. (calf)and hamstrings, as if you were wiping dirt off the bottom of your shoe. This is an inefficient way to transfer power, especially on a bike without clips. Likewise, don’t try kick your foot forward (around 11 O’Clock) using the quads. This an inefficient way to transfer your power, and often causes your quads to blow up quickly.
Identifying Your Limiters
Test #1: Power | Max Wattage
Test #2: Endurance | 10:00 for Max Calories
After completing both tests, you must be able to make sense of the results based on your individual goals, as well as your personal strengths and weaknesses not regarding the bike. This is most easily explained through avatars.
Avatar #1: Enduring Athlete
Needs Desaturation (Sprint) Focus
This athlete performed better on the aerobic test relative to other athletes AND they are aware their maxes on key lifts (e.g. snatch, clean & jerk, squat, deadlift) are also not as strong their competition. This athlete has less of a training history lifting and has focused more on sustainable activities, like hiking, endurance sports, yoga and other low-tension activities. To reap the biggest benefits and take advantage of low-hanging fruit, this athlete needs protocols focusing on anaerobic efforts. Training pieces with short, all-out efforts followed by long(er) rest periods are key. The work to rest ratio should be close to 10:1 to ensure a full recovery for the next effort. The work rest period will vary per absolute values of peak wattage (as explained in the Strength Requirements section).
Sample ‘Sprint’ Workouts (for Avatar #1)
Sample Workout #1: “Calorie Count”
Every 2:00, x 8 Sets, 16:00
-10/7 Calorie Sprint
Sample Workout #2: “Torque Tool”
Every 1:15, x 15 Sets
-4s Wind Up + 6s All Out Sprint
Sample Workout #3: “Wind-up Sprints”
0:00-0:10 | Build to 50% max wattage
0:10-0:20 | Build to 75% max wattage
Sample Workout #4: “Burst Battle”
20:00 for Max Calories
-On the Minute (including 0:00): Must peak wattage at or above 60% of 10-second Test Score
Sample Workout #5: “Post Hoc”
-Flash Above 80% of your Peak Wattage on the Monitor
Avatar #2: Power Athlete
Needs Aerobic (Sustain) Focus
This athlete performed better on the Alactic wattage test relative to their competition, and they also hold their own in other strength lifts and sprint-style workouts. However, they tend to “blow up” on longer workouts and activities where a sprint mentality is not advantageous. They tend to “go out hot” in workouts and try to hold on.
To reap the biggest benefits and take advantage of low-hanging fruit, this athlete needs protocols focusing on aerobic efforts. Training pieces with longer and lower intensity. Rest periods will be shorter, to prevent the sprint mentality from taking over.
Prescribe wattages and RPMs conservatively to ensure efforts are truly aerobic and local tissues are not occluded. Powerful muscular contraction often blocks (occludes) blood flow to the tissues, which is a common issue with very powerful athletes in terms of endurance. However, the same quality allows for quick progress in strength work because it harnesses fast twitch fibers and hypertrophies (grows) soft tissue.
Sample ‘Sustain’ Program (for Avatar #2)
Sample Workout #1: “Tabata Torture”
Tabata is 20s ON, 10s OFF
-Build to 40% of Max Wattage
**allow watts to bleed across the remainder of the 20s**
Sample Workout #2: “Spin Cycle”
4 Sets of (3 x 20/15 Calories)
–Rest 0:45 between Reps
–Rest 3:00 between Sets
Sample Workout #3: “Mouth Wide Shut”
[Must be nasal breathing only. Think of it as your ‘central governor’]
0:00-5:00 | Hold 14-16% of Max Wattage
Starting at 5:00, Add 1 rpm every 15s
-Once you break nasal breathing, spin easy for five minutes
**recover back to nasal breathing as soon as possible**
Sample Workout #4: “Contrast Bath”
20:00 for Max Calories
-On the Minute (including 0:00): Hold 32-35% of Max Wattage for 15s
Sample Workout #5: “Ramp-Up Intervals”
-Start @ 100 watts, climb by 50 watts every 30s until failure.
Avatar #3: Blended Hybrid Athlete
Needs Balanced Program: Has power & endurance qualities
This athlete did not perform dramatically better in either test. If this is the case, the athlete needs a balance between sprint and sustain activities. Often athletes or coaches think this means doing mid-range (anaerobic) intervals but accumulating a lot of volume in this system is a bad idea. Besides competition prep where more painful intervals are a necessary evil, more athletes need spectrum energy systems work (i.e. hard, sprints with long recovery – contrasted with – long, enduring efforts). This keeps the nervous system sharp and while addressing all the qualities needed for performance in mid-range, painful efforts (besides maybe the mental quality of being comfortable being uncomfortable).
Avatar #4: Inconclusive Results
Needs More Testing
Often the results of a given test can be confusing without context and being able to see an athlete move. For example, this athlete might have crushed the bike sprint for max wattage but their squat max isn’t very strong. A different athlete performs well on longer workouts with high-skill movements, but didn’t perform well on the 10-minute bike test. This sort of thing happens fairly often and it is the job of an experienced coach to sift through the sea of information to find the athlete’s limiter. For example, the first athlete could have mobility restrictions below parallel in their squat that prevent sound mechanics. Or, they may have long femurs and a weak core, which pushes them out of position and they fail squats at relatively low loads compared to their potential. In terms of the other example, it is possible that the athlete has great mobility, a smaller athlete and moves very efficiently. Basically, their are avoiding the constant tension which allows them to recover between movements and perform well on high-skill movements in mixed modal settings. However, the bike doesn’t allow them to ‘hide’ behind their efficient movement and the constant tension reveals the difference between a bodyweight ninja and a work horse. These distinctions are rarely obvious and you should work closely with a qualified coach to assess your limiters.
TLDR | Here’s the Summary
Mobility Requirements: no joints are taken to end range, which is makes the bike ideal for people who struggle to produce power in Weightlifting and Gymnastics work.
Strength Requirements: Counter-intuitively, the stronger the athlete the less work they should be doing (in sprint work) on the bike.
Skill Requirements: Despite the AirBike being a low-skill environment, there are many things an athlete can do to optimize their output on the erg.
Setting Up the Bike: Optimize for leg drive, the upper body is secondary.
The Pedal Stroke: Put most of your power from 1 o’clock to 4 o’clock.
Bi vs. Tri-Direction Power: Pedal-Push-Pull (sprint) vs. Pedal-Push (sustain)
Burst & Bleed Watts: Get up to speed quickly, then slowly dial it back.
Ghost Calories: Just ‘cuz you take your foot off ‘the gas’ doesn’t mean calories instantly stop ticking by.
Still got questions on the Assault Bike? Run it by me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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