VeloClinic founder and Retül fitter Callum Hughes on why a holistic approach to triathlon bike fitting is the path to comfort and performance gains.
A good bike fit is a fundamental part of being a triathlete, not just because of the tightly tucked position we adopt on the bike but also due to how that can affect the run afterwards. It’s therefore essential that the fitter you choose understands the sport as well as your athletic background and goals for future triathlons.
Retül-certified Callum Hughes of VeloClinic in Hungerford, Berkshire, is just such a fitter. By combining a true love for cycling, a passion for injury prevention and a keen eye for the intricacies of body movement, he’s ideally placed to improve performance without pushing the body beyond its limits.
Why Get A Bike Fit?
“People are very quick to spend £2,000 or £3,000 on wheels to save maybe nine seconds over an Olympic distance,” says Callum. “The benefit of a bike fit may not always be an instant performance gain, but the knowledge of your body, where you are currently, whether that’s before the season starts or during the season, mitigating any risk of injury – it just makes sure you are optimised and going forwards. It’s a real confidence booster – and that boosts performance too.”
Before even getting on the bike, a fitting session begins with Callum performing a thorough assessment of an athlete’s mobility and range of movement to find any potential issues that could be limiting factors or turn into injury down the line.
“I think my luck is that I’ve been incredibly injured as an athlete!” he says with a grin. “And I’ve overcome injury to ride pain-free after a broken back, fractured shins, a broken elbow… It’d actually be a shorter list of what I haven’t had! I think that stemmed my love of trying to prevent injury and increase performance.”
“You can never finish a puzzle with missing pieces”Callum Hughes
This testing isn’t just an essential part of Callum’s process for injury prevention, but one that informs the fit based on his own experiences as a triathlete, roadie and mountain biker having ridden all disciplines and distances from sprint tri to Land’s End John o’ Groats.
“I can relate to anything on a bike,” says Callum, summing up his vast experience on two wheels. “It comes from an enthusiasm for riding pain-free combined with the experience of riding in that position or that distance. That way, I can look at what you need to sustain the position from experience and relate that back to the rider.
“Without seeing a person move off the bike, we are making an assumption that they can move perfectly. If they have pain, we are assuming that the bike position is causing the pain instead of a compensation because of a possible mobility/asymmetry discrepancy.
“Try to diagnose a problem without being given all of the information and you may not get an optimal fit. You can never finish a puzzle with missing pieces.”
Once Callum’s thoroughly explored any potential problems with mobility, strength and range, the discussion turns to training and racing trajectory – the last piece of key information Callum needs to put that puzzle together. Then it’s time to get on the bike.
Retül – A Powerful Fitting Aid
As a certified Retül fitter, Callum can utilise the system’s advanced 3D motion capture capability to aid the fitting process. By placing LED markers at eight specific points on the body, the Retül camera can measure every nuance of a cyclist’s position while in motion – each degree of movement and millimetre of distance.
While the outcome of each captured video provides a general safe range within which to work, Retül is simply a tool providing a wealth of data for interpretation – not an automatic fitting solution.
“You can have user error with anything. I mean, some people can’t use iPhones properly! It’s the same thing with any fitting system. If you’re not able to understand the data, it’s no use.
“For me, it’s about looking at it and questioning – what do we need to see? What is the data presenting in terms of how you feel as a rider?”
By looking at the athlete as a whole and using the Retül fitting system to gain a wealth of data, alterations to the rider’s position can begin with regular re-capturing to see the effects of changes.
The Fitting Process
“I always start with the pedal, start with your feet and look at how you’re going to load, and how that chain works up to the saddle. You’re only going to get the right amount of power out effectively if your saddle’s in the right place – fore and aft and height.”
Typically, for triathletes, this means putting the saddle into a set-forward position to help engage the glutes and hamstrings and avoid tiring the smaller muscles in the foot needed for running off the bike.
“Then it’s making sure that the saddle’s correct. If we can already see that you’re not liking it, for example, you’re sitting off to one side or there’s an uncomfortable rocking in your hips, but your saddle height is right, then your saddle isn’t right for your pelvis. It’s not supporting it properly.
“If you’re uncomfortable on your saddle, you tend to create two shapes – a curve outwards in the lower back to avoid any pressure on the front of the saddle and then an opposing curve in the cervical spine because you’re trying to look forward. If you make the saddle more comfortable, you’re able to tilt the pelvis forward so the back is going to be straighter up diagonally and your neck doesn’t have to bend as much so there’s much less tension in your spine.”
Once the saddle is in the correct position and comfortable enough to roll the hips forward, creating that neutral back shape, it’s time to consider the front of the bike.
“On a triathlon bike, we’re trying to create a sort of plank position where your elbows are always below your shoulder. That can change with how far out your elbows are based on how high your hands are going to come up. What we don’t want is for your elbows to be far away and your arms flat, creating a ‘Z’ position because you’re just stretching out longer and longer. We always want it to come straight down if we can, feeling even through the shoulders, being able to breathe easily and stay relaxed while riding.”
A Collaborative Fit
Throughout the process, there’s a continual conversation regarding any changes made to the bike position as Callum makes them – looking at the data, talking about what effect alterations might have and then testing to see how it feels.
“It’s almost just an open discussion. I never sit there and say, ‘I know best’. It’s a decision made together. We look at the photos, ask how you feel as a rider and make sure there’s an understanding of why we make a change. If the outcome is, ‘No, this doesn’t feel right,’ or ‘this feels painful’, then we find an intermediate.”
It’s this sympathetic approach – a mix of understanding an athlete’s goals, knowing their body’s range and working collaboratively throughout the process – that gives utter confidence in the final fit.
“It is a gradual process, talking to people, the why’s, the how’s. That reasoning helps each rider feel confident that they’re in the right position. If I can give you the confidence of knowing your fit’s right, you’re just going to have a great season. It’ll boost how well you’re going to approach your training. It makes everyone feel better, rather than weaker and second-guessing themselves.”
Taking away another avenue of self-doubt, Callum also ensures triathletes’ road bike setups closely replicate the same knee-to-ankle angles as their triathlon bikes. Finally, Callum uses the Retül system’s ‘magic wand’ to map the new anatomy of clients’ bikes.
This data forms part of the comprehensive post-fit package sent out, in which Callum also includes specially prescribed exercises for riders to help maintain and improve range for ongoing pain-free riding.
Even once a final position has been reached during the initial session, a fitter’s work is never really done. Callum feels it’s important to follow up with clients and make changes when needed.
“It’s partly about giving people the confidence to go back to their fitter afterwards and have a discussion about the fit you’ve had. I think people are often scared of that – it’s almost judgemental and they feel like they can’t go back. But if you don’t pop back to your fitter and talk to them and say, ‘This doesn’t feel right on the road’, the fitter doesn’t know how to overcome that particular problem if it comes up again.
“No two fits are the same. I learn from every client I have. It’s a shared experience of learning.”
About Callum and VeloClinic
Callum Hughes is a Retül-certified bike fitter, multisports coach and founder of VeloClinic. With years of experience fitting age-group and pro triathletes, his holistic approach balances mobility, performance and comfort for a lifetime of pain-free riding. Visit veloclinic.co.uk and follow @velo_clinic on Instagram for more.