Laughing all the way to the bike

We’ve all heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine.”

There is a variety of evidence out there – some scientific, some not so much – which suggests that laughter can have a positive impact on stress, blood sugar levels, cardiovascular performance, and our ability to tolerate pain amongst other things.

I’m sure it’s possible to make a pretty good scientific case that, actually, medicine is the best medicine, but that would be pedantic.

As it happens I am in the middle of conducting my own little experiment on the effect of laughter on cycling performance. I’ve written before about my preoccupation with spending long winter evenings clocking up mileage on the indoor rollers, and to counteract the tedious nature of indoor training I usually listen to something on the headphones.

At one point I had grand plans to make the best possible use of my time by combining my winter training regime and its physical health benefits, with some simultaneous mental stimulation.

“I’ll learn French”, I thought, “or take a crash course in medieval history. ”

I’ve done neither.

I’ve listened to some excellent podcasts – some have even taught me some (admittedly trivial) stuff – but I found that the pace and content of your average podcast seemed to have a negative impact on my training. I would become immersed in whatever I was listening to, only to realise from time to time that I was essentially soft-pedalling and barely working up a sweat; rather than dragging a demanding training session out of myself I was getting lulled into a relaxed and adrenalin free state.

For a while I went the other way and took to listening to music, which did a great job of putting some fire in my belly but also encouraged me to turn the volume up so loud that I would finish my training session with not just tired legs, but ringing ears too.

As a former drummer in my twenties (ah, happy days!) my eardrums are delicate at the best of times, and this thrice weekly hammering under headphones was just not sustainable. In addition to this I found myself recklessly buying music online to give me an extra motivation to ride, and so the bank account was taking a hit as hard as the ears.

And then I hit upon laughter.

If it’s as medicinal as it’s claimed to be, I decided that perhaps I could harness these mysterious powers, and so I took to watching all my favourite comedy DVD’s whilst pedalling furiously for an hour – it seems to be working.

Thus far the quick fire cockney wit of Mickey Flanagan, or the hangdog northern gags of Jason Manford seem to promote the kind of carefree laughter that enables me to disconnect legs from brain sufficiently to dull the pain, without lapsing to that point of unmotivated apathy.

Comedy with a social conscience and a political edge (Mark Thomas is always a favourite) also seems to do the trick; filling me with just the required amount of righteous anger to keep the legs pumping at a fair lick.

As for the laid back laughs of Dylan Moran (Quote: “You’re not really an adult at all…just a tall child holding a beer, having a conversation you don’t understand”), as a training aid it doesn’t quite cut the mustard; he’s very funny, but in more of a wry, nodding-of-the-head, knowing smile kind of way – works well on a Friday night with a bottle of wine, but not so well on the bike.

The only worrying moments when using comedy as a training aid come with those spontaneous laugh out loud moments which, when they catch you unawares, can cause a momentary loss of control on the bike.

At such moments many of the key core muscles are engaged in laughter, rather than keeping me upright and the bike on the straight and narrow. Combine this with the fact that my heart rate is up above 160 bpm and sweat is dribbling into my eyes and onto the handlebars, and a few sketchy moments weaving wildly on the rollers are to be expected.

But so far so good.

Providing I can stay upright it seems the right comedy could help me through these long winter nights training. It seems laughter is not only the best medicine but also a pretty effective performance enhancer too.

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