Slow learning progress + tibia pain

Hello there. I am looking for your thoughts with respect to the following things:

  1. I feel that I’m learning very slowly. I practice 5 times a week with each session lasting 72 minutes and after 20 hours of practice, I can go on average only several meters before falling. My current personal best is something like 9.5 meters. I’m not getting frustrated too much over this, as I experience tiny but consistent improvements from session to session.

However, I’d appreciate any ideas regarding what to do to speed the learning process up a little bit. Currently, my training session is composed of repeated attempts that consist of mounting using trash can as a support and then trying to go as far forward as I can go, while trying to keep my weight on the seat, my knees tucked in (not to flare them sideways) and trying to maintain momentum and balance. I also try to look forward instead of down.

  1. This point is more serious. Since during my practice sessions I dismount very often, it has taken its tool on my left leg. The thing is, up until the end of last week, majority of my dismounts were to the left as after takeoff I either immediately tilted to the left (which is logical, since my mounting support is on the left) or after couple of rotations losing my balance, making sharp turn to the right and then falling to the left side. Since last week I also gained enough confidence to increase my speed, the dismounts were progressively rougher, partly due to the fact that I learn on 24".

Towards the end of the last week, I started to experience pain near the outer part of my left tibia. Initially the pain was present only in particularly rough dismounts, but it gradually became very sensitive to the point that in the mornings I tend to limp slightly while walking until it sorts of warms up. Today I also discovered that the outer part of my left calf is slightly bruised. I try to accommodate this problem in training by going slower and trying to land on my right leg, but once in the while I experience a rough dismount on my left leg and the pain is then considerable.

I wonder whether such pain is a normal occurrence during the learning process, whether I can expect it to slowly go away, or whether I should take couple of weeks off training, to let it rest and heal? Or are there any other remedies? Also, if I would take a break, whether there are any exercises that I could do meanwhile, which would be beneficial for developing riding skills but do not include rough dismounts (such as practicing rocking backwards and forwards near the fence, etc.)?

did you watch Uniquest on youtube? I found those helpful.
The pain is normal overuse form a unfamiliar activity, I would say, especially if you are not that active normally. Don’t train through the pain. Maybe it’s a good idea to take a few days off.
Practicing rocking near the fence or go along a wall is a good idea.

Possibly shin splints, although those are usually on the inside part of the tibia. I got those years ago when I was running and just managed to work through the pain until they went away.

Since, you have a good professional job I know you can “buy” a 20" unicycle.
Small wheel = lower to ground = less physical damage to your body.
Also, easier to maneuver and I’m hoping you have a sensible crank length like 125 or 150mm.

Some questions on your riding technique and knee pain:

1.) If you are turning "unintentionally" your pedal foot on that side is applying more power or “holding/dwell” longer in the rotation. Be aware and try to do the opposite, or even “over-compensate”. You will see the effect if this is problem. Cause & effect.

2.) Also, “do the opposite” of your current technique. Since, the overall “net effect” is not working efficiently/effectively. Yes, be a rebel. They say sit up straight. Try leaning forward. They say look straight ahead. Look straight down. Again, if this corrects/compensates/has any effect on improvement you will notice. Sitting straight up/looking forward at stationary object/perfect easy straight pedaling is your goal. To achieve this “a lot of bad habits” that “work” in combination has to be processed. As your overall efficiency start to improve so will the specific individual technique(body position, pedaling,…etc.).

3.) Knee pain?
a.) Is it from a bad fall or a rapid movement to recover? Then you need to fully rest. Then probably injure yourself again. At least, you are getting stronger or more resistant. Continuous damage = continuous damage.

b.) Is it from pedaling knee stress? Raise seat up or lower it. Try both effect is different(but under ideal “perfect riding” conditions higher seat = more leverage = less knee power…until impulse is involved…ouch). I don’t know if you are applying steady force or impulsing/stomping(which is actually useful for grass riding or super slow stability).

c.) Is it your pedaling technique? Then it’s unavoidable. Brian87 advice is good. Just add more rest and decrease riding time.

I applaud your efforts. Keep trying, but try a few different things and add more rest. Keep on…slam

1 Like

I’d try learning on a 20". You might suddenly feel extremely successful :slight_smile: I would also suggest seeing a doctor for your pains. You never know…

I learned on a 24 way back in the day and to this day I have never ridden anything smaller than that. I’m going to get a trials uni in a few months though, so that will change.

I remember that it took me about a month of practice to learn to ride when I was a teenager. I’m guessing I probably practiced for about 20 minutes at a time, but that was nearly 40 years ago so who knows? I used support sticks, fences, my dad’s truck or whatever else was a available…all the stuff they say you shouldn’t use. What I remember being most useful to me was trying to ride distances using poles. I’d go out and ride 1/2 mile, (approximately 1 km), and gradually I just needed the poles less and less.

When my daughter learned to ride, I think what helped her out the most was me walking along with her. At first I practically held her up while she pedaled. Later I held her hand and she leaned on me. Still later she just held one finger and used it to help keep her balance. After that she would let go for a few feet and then she was riding. I would help her mount and walk behind her counting how many seconds she could ride for. All of this took about a month. Pretty much the same as myself. Both my younger daughter and myself however were really determined to learn to ride. My older daughter also tried, for about a week, and she never learned. You’ve got to have the drive to learn to ride one of these crazy things.

Maybe this helps you, and maybe it doesn’t. Based on my own experience though, I would try using sticks and see if you can’t coerce someone to be your assistant, but keep at it. Perseverance is the most important thing.

If there is one thing that it takes to learn to ride, it is persistence. It is normal to improve a little over time and not normal to have a major breakthrough and ride off into the sunset. Maybe shorter practice sessions would help pain issues but like not have any real effect on your overall improvement.

Don’t worry about no having too much weight in the saddle. The more weight you have in the saddle the less control you have. When first learning you need all the control you can get. As you learn and burn the process into your muscle memory you can then work on keeping more weight in the saddle. Even very experienced riders will reduce the weight in the saddle when tne going gets tough or learning something new.

I had a bad day today, but yesterday I crushed it. I rode really well and managed to do things I hadn’t done before. The day before yesterday, I was terrible and the day before that I rocked. Persistence, that’s the thing. It sucks when you can’t seem to do anything well, but eventually you do improve if you keep trying. I’m noticeably better than I was a month ago and so long as I keep at it I’ll be better in another month.

Thank you guys (and gal) for your feedback! :smiley: I also think it might be shin splints. The pain seems to lessen lately (though now I have learned to dismount with my right leg like 90% of the time and my dismounts are much smoother generally), so I’ll keep practicing and see. If anything I’ll rest and/or decrease the amount of exercise, though I wish I could continue the pace of 6 hours / week due to psychological reasons. I’d rather not get a doctor involved as I don’t have a good experience with them in this respect and I’m afraid I will be told to stop unicycling as it’s bad for my health or something :roll_eyes:. I’m 29 years old, so I believe that my body can take a bit of abuse for a while without having to fear some drastic consequences .

As for smaller uni, I have actually started out on a 20", which I bought for an equivalent of 15 USD from some bloke in Prague. It broke after a week or so (the thread in the bolt connecting the hub with the crank arm got smoothened), I think because it was previously heavily used and I was also like 10 kgs above its weight limit, so I bet that didn’t help either. I bought new 24" trainer mainly because I’m sort of tall (188 cm or 6’2") with 36"-37" inseam. So buying 20" would also mean having to buy an extended seat post. I could perhaps get the 20" unicycle repaired by having the crank welded together with the hub, but its a bit too small for me. At the highest seat post setting I can firmly put my heel on the ground when mounted. So I’m not sure whether in my case 20" would make that much difference, or would it?

As for the practice tips, thank you for your ideas. I especially like the idea of using poles. I refrained from them previously because I read that it’s dangerous. I think however that it could help me at this point especially since I have relatively reasonable longitudinal stability and currently struggle with the lateral one.

You’ll find voices here that will vehemently contest this, and say that it is the worst thing to do, but you describe an exact situation where I think riding (not just rocking) along a wall or fence is a great tool. Make sure you are doing it properly, which means:
Only one hand on the wall, or, alternatively find/create yourself a place where you can hold onto something on both sides. If you use a fence, make sure you don’t have to lean down onto it. The point of this is learning to get comfortable with pedaling on a unicycle, and learning forward/backward balance. Keep an eye on your posture. Back straight, slight tilt forward from the hip, no twist in the body. You don’t need to obsess about posture, but being completely hunched over or twisted will hinder your success.
I like riding along support as a tool exactly because it gives you more time on the unicycle, you can make mistakes without falling of. It’s not the only tool, you should absolutely mix it with “launching into space”.
At some point (I’d say when you consistently get to 10-15m or so of riding freely), riding along a wall looses it’s value, and you should just focus on getting as far as possible.

Two other things: check your unicycle is setup “correctly” regarding seatheight. (Maybe you could post a picture of you sitting on it, that is the easiest way to see). The window of seatheights that work is fairly large, your knee should not be fully extended at any part of the pedal stroke, but too low is also not great. Also make sure your seat isn’t twisted, beginners quite often tend to be busy enough with just keeping balance that they don’t notice.

Regarding the shin pain. I’m not good at following my own advice, but at the point where it starts affecting your “normal life” (just walking for example), you should seek opinion from a doctor, or at least take a bit of a break to let the injury heal. I’m pretty sure that in hindsight, I had a 1.5 years of ankle problems that initially came from a sprained foot that I didn’t give the time to rest it needed…

Sounds like you have a great attitude! Lots of good advice from the others, above.

My suggestion: Practice unassisted mounts on grass. Do it either footed. This will soften your landing, and it will teach you a more appropriate position to bail out. Also, mounting promotes actively getting weight in the seat.

Practicing putting weight in the saddle while holding onto a wall, fence, garbage can, car, then riding away from the crutch…may translate into you immediately releasing weight from the saddle. So, as JimT said, worry less about weight in the saddle.

If you want to continue assisted mounts, consider holding the grab handle with one hand while mounting. That will stabilize you and help you keep weight in the saddle. You can remove the hand after a pedal stroke. I find that the stability gained from mounting with one or both hands on the saddle outweighs whatever improvements in balance I may get from holding both hands out. Of course, trying to hold on while mounting may be an initial setback.

Slamdance, I think, promotes spending more time riding against a wall. You could try that. As you slowly make your way along the wall, try to keep consistent pressure on the saddle through the arc of the pedal stroke. Again, I think it’s not realistic to put weight in the saddle from a moored position, then expect to maintain weight in the saddle after launching.

Good luck!

I’ve seen this advice repeated by many others, but I think you should take it with a pinch of salt. Here is a video of me the day I “cracked the code”. I found that hunching my back as much as possible while arching my arms forward gave me the balance I needed. After a few weeks I managed to sit in a more upright, relaxed position, and a few weeks thereafter I could relax my arms, too.

I’m not saying my way is the best, my point is just that no matter what advice you try to implement, try it out for some time, and if it’s not helping you, try doing something completely different.

Maybe try recording yourself. I wish I had, as I can hardly remember the struggle, except in broad strucks.
I think its important not to obsess about technique. Try different things.

Okay so here are couple of photos of me sitting on the unicycle. I think the seat could be a bit higher, but it would be then difficult for me to mount it.

Btw, I bought those walking poles today and I will try to train using them. Now it feels super unstable. I guess today I’ll just practice sitting on the unicycle with poles as a support for an hour or so, maybe trying a bit of rocking back and forth to get a bit more comfortable before going to try to ride like that. I will try riding with poles tomorrow.

Looks like a decent seatheight to me. As you said,could maybe go a bit higher, but if it feels comfortable like that I wouldn’t change it.

VitR, I would recommend to ditch the poles.
They’re teaching you a body mechanic that doesn’t match the mechanics needed to ride.

Though I do believe in finnspin’s advice for the posture, a little bit of “whatever works” can be helpful for a short time too.

From Duff, I like the idea of assistance from a person that can slowly be phased out while still keeping the body mechanics the same. Poles don’t do that.

Have a look at Ulrik’s video.
Towards the end of the video he’s doing what I think will help you.
He’s swinging his arms just like you do when you walk. Your hand will swing forward to match your opposite leg swinging forward. This is to counterbalance yourself and to help remain more steady and straight.
I do this sometimes when I’m climbing (with one arm or two) for a break from regular pedalling and to change up my breathing.
As well, get out of the hallway so when you do turn you don’t rest on the wall but instead learn to catch yourself with the wheel and continue riding.

One more… as soon as you’re ready, I would follow elpuebloUNIdo’s advice to start holding the handle. You’re past the flailing stage so time to start helping yourself gain more control by having a hold on the seat.
A modified quote…“trying to hold on while mounting may be an initial setback” but “I find that the stability gained from mounting with one or both hands on the saddle outweighs whatever improvements in balance I may get from holding both hands out.”

For the pain I would suggest a planned dismount (PD) before a UPD happens.
Sure, you won’t catch every UPD but you will dismount before most and it will teach you a much needed skill… dismounting.
Time to start working on dismounting off the back.
Once you “get it” you’ll be able to softly step off the back every time. (I’ve had to do this for the last year basically because of my unstable right knee.)

There’s my two pennies.

It looks like you ride on the ball of your foot, that area right behind the toes. I find that on a unicycle, having the balls of my feet centered on the pedal gives less control than having the arch of the foot above it. I’m a relatively new rider however, so this may be a misconception on my part.

My first thought. You are doing yourself a disservice.

Almost every hard thing I attempt involves positioning my feet closer to the toes. However, it look a few years of riding before this started happening. As a beginner, my foot position was closer to the arch. I could argue either way…maybe I should have ridden closer to the toes as a beginner…or maybe I wasn’t ready for it. Don’t know.

I don’t know myself, but it just seems that I have more problems keeping my feet on the pedals and controlling the uni when I’m on the balls of my feet. I do find it way easier to adjust the position of my feet forward from there though. Moving my foot position from my heels backward is tough and the pedal wants to flip when I do it.