Ride Strong: Conditioning for Cyclists

Yes it's that time of year again where, wracked with guilt for the excesses of the party season, we make our new year's resolutions to get fit and firm. Some of us will be signing up for sportives and endurance cycling challenges, and here at Ride Velo, we're about to book our third Etape du Tour race in the French Alps this summer. So we were very interested when Bloomsbury Publishing asked us to review their latest training guide: Ride Strong Essential Conditioning for Cyclists - what better way to plan our cycling goals for 2017?

ride strong

When the bright yellow RIDESTRONG book arrived, it looked rather familiar - the colour scheme and logo look startlingly similar to Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG Foundation. Had the Texan drugs-cheat managed to wangle himself a publishing deal with respectable Bloomsbury? The book is written by corrective exercise specialist Jo McRae and, despite thorough searching, no mention is made of cycling's anti-hero - so why borrow his look? 

  Live Strong - the Lance Armstrong Foundation - nothing to do with Ride Strong

Live Strong - the Lance Armstrong Foundation - nothing to do with Ride Strong

What is Ride Strong, I wanted to know? Well, sorry to disappoint you so early on but it's not a book about cycling. Despite assuming it would be a guide to help me back onto my bike after Christmas, and up the Alps by July, this book is all about what you do off the bike, not on it. 

It is outside the scope of this book to look in any detail at the periodization and planning of your sport-specific cycling training. Much has been written about cycling training and if you don’t already have some broad ideas about what aspects of your cycling fitness you should be developing and when, I would urge you to look out some resources that will help you, or seek out a cycling coach.

Ah... well it's a shame that I had to read to page 251 to find out this particular nugget of information, but I'm telling you now so that you don't have to waste your time. Of course I should have checked the blurb first to find out what this book can offer:

This book provides cyclists with a comprehensive reference of essential stretching, strength and core exercises to prevent common cycling-related pain and injury issues, and to maximise cycling performance.

In a nutshell, Ride Strong helps you plan your training year on year, giving you photos and descriptions of stretches and core exercises as well as offering suggestions of compatible cross training activities.

The planning stage looks at last year, your plans for this year and beyond, and then breaks these down into seasons, months weeks and finally days, with recommendations such as doing 10 minute stretches at 7am before your daily cycle commute to work. There are plenty of tables to copy and complete and fancy exercises to try such as the 'seated sternocleidomastoid stretch' (which is basically just sitting and rotating your neck). I couldn't wait to try them out. 

I started with stretching, currently having pain in my upper and lower back, or 'mobilizations for the thoracic spine' and 'lumbar vertebrae' as Jo McRae correctly refers to it. Luckily, being a bit of a gym junkie, I already had the required kit at home (foam rollers, Swiss ball, dumbbells and yoga strap) otherwise you'd have to go out and buy these first. Oh, and a mat helps too... and a turbo trainer. Anyway, as I lay on the foam roller, trying to read the tiny print next to the photos, I found that the book kept falling off my stomach while I was carrying out the stretches and each time I'd lose my place! To be honest, following a DVD is much easier.

  Yoga for sore backs: the reverse triangle pose  photo courtesy of breakingmuscle.com

Yoga for sore backs: the reverse triangle pose photo courtesy of breakingmuscle.com

Actually, there were only really two back stretches and they weren't very effective for me. Looking through the book, most of the suggested exercises are ones that I do regularly in yoga and pilates, but it misses out the routines that I find most helpful - such as the triangle sequence. To be perfectly honest, I would never buy a book such as this with exercise diagrams to follow - going to a class or following a DVD is not only easier to follow but it's motivational as well. 

Of course it's excellent advice to stretch before and after cycling, and to work on your core muscle group and to cross train to avoid 'the plateau'. But we all know this don't we? And I think we're all capable of drawing up our own timetables to plan activities.

My real problem with this book is that there's no joy for the sport, none of the 'wind in your hair' passion and freedom that I personally love about cycling - it threatens to turn our escape mechanism into a daily chore. Maybe if you're serious about winning that podium position you might shave some seconds from your time, but for the majority of us, save your £18.99 and just have fun on your bike instead. That's my personal new year's recommendation!