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Shark Strength and Conditioning Coach Steve Millard
Steve Millard discusses why players ride stationary bikes at the end of a game.

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Coming down

After one of the most intense workouts in team sports, what you do when the game is over? The answer was surprising. Most of the players will hop on a stationary bicycle and ride for a half hour. Why do players do this? We asked Steve Millard. He said the players ride the bicycles to help remove lactic acid from their systems. Lactic acid is what causes muscles to burn after strenuous exercise. To really understand why riding a bicycle after playing a hockey game makes sense, let's look closer at lactic acid.

Lactic acid forms as a by-product of energy production by the muscles. Muscle fibers convert glycogen (which is formed from glucose) to adenosine triphosphate or ATP. ATP is the energy source muscle fibers use to make muscles contract. Some of the reactions in converting glycogen to ATP take place without oxygen, and when this happens a compound called pyruvate is produced. Some of this pyruvate can be converted into energy, but the excess becomes lactic acid. The Exploratorium's new book, The Sporting Life, describes lactic acid as, "a dead end as far as energy production is concerned." So how do players (and the rest of us) relieve the soreness and turn around this "dead end" situation? The best way is to continue to excercise, but at a slower pace, without muscle strain. Also, if you can get it, a good massage will help. Increasing blood circulation cleans out built-up lactic acid from the muscles.

 Clothespin Workout (modified from the book The Sporting Life)

Now, we know that compared to a minute of ice time in an NHL game, this clothespin activity may seem like a "wimpy" workout-- but it does demonstrate how your muscles work. Also, you might be surprised to find that you get tired out pretty quickly!

To get started, get a watch with a second hand. Now take an ordinary clothespin (the spring-loaded kind) and hold it between your thumb and index finger.

See how many times you can open and close the clothespin in one minute.

When your minute is up, DON'T STOP. See how many times you can open and close it during a second full minute.

  Clothespin Workout
You may be surprised at the results of this "wimpy" workout.

What's going on?

Odds are you slowed down significantly during your second minute. What are you, some kind of weakling who can't twitch your fingers for two minutes without getting tired? Nope, it's just a question of how your muscles get the energy they need to function.

When you were opening and closing the clothespin, your muscles were exercising anaerobically, drawing on their stores of glycogen to produce the ATP molecules that supply the energy they needed to contract. As the glycogen ran out, your muscles ran low on ATP and their ability to contract decreased.

If you squeeze the clothespin slowly, you're exercising aerobically. In aerobic exercise, your muscles also draw on oxygen and the glucose and fatty acids carried in by the blood to produce ATP. Your ability to keep exercising aerobically depends on the delivery of oxygen and fuel molecules (glucose and fatty acids) to your muscles. And that depends on your circulation and respiration.

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