Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage: Core Strength for Cycling’s Winning Edge

Sore Legs Saga, Part Two

Core AdvantageProfessional cyclist Tom Danielson was in “a horrible bike crash during the Vuelta a Espana” and suffered injuries to his shoulder and back. He consulted trainer Allison Westfahl who used her extensive knowledge of physiology to “diagnose muscular weaknesses and imbalances” that were at the root of Danielson’s injuries and cycling problems that had developed over his many years as aggressive, competitive cyclist.
She led him through a series of exercises that made him pain free in a period of four weeks. As time went on and he continued working with Allison, Tom found this strength and prowess as professional cyclist increasing. Later they collaborated in writing a book in which Allison describes the complex interaction of the muscular systems involved in cycling and Tom offers his “take” on these matters.
The second half of the book consists of 5 dynamic stretching exercises and 45 core exercises divided into 3 levels of difficulty. Each level of difficulty has several workout patterns selected from the exercises in that portion of the book. For each exercise the authors explain the muscles and movements targeted, describe how it is done, and illustrate someone doing it. I’m still struggling with the dynamic stretches and level 1 workouts.
I came across their book in February as I as leaving for my week of cycling on PAC Tour’s Winter Training Camp in Arizona. For the first time, I understood why my legs hurt. More important, their book provided a regimen of muscle building stretches and exercises that I could do in my own living room rather than at the fitness center. I was relieved to read that Tom had had the same experience as I—that working with a traditional trainer with machinery had seemed to increase his distress rather than cause it to go away.
The gradual reduction of pain in my legs and my slow recovery of cycling capabilities began when I started reading Core Advantage. The fact that I’m still not recovered can be explained by two facts: my failure to develop an adequate workout pattern and my need of a coach from time to time who can help me develop better form and increased intensity during my workouts.
Allison explains that the core muscular system includes the four “abdominals plus all the other muscles that attach to the spine and pelvis” muscles that are anchored to the spine or pelvis. Usually this anchoring covers a large area whereas the attaching of the other end of the muscle—at the knees, for example—covers a small area. The purpose of these muscles is “to keep the middle part of the body stable,” generate power to the arms and legs, protect the spine and pelvis from injury, and help maintain good posture (4,5).
Allison tells cyclists to stop doing crunches, which often are recommended as the way to build core strength. They are harmful to cyclists because they stress muscles that are already overworked because of the crunch position that cyclists adopt while on the bike. Furthermore, many of them are done while people are lying on the floor, “thereby training your abdominal muscles to fire when the rest of your body is being stabilized by the floor” (11).
The exercises and workouts in this book focus on three functions that are crucial for cyclists: (1) deceleration, “which puts the brakes on whatever action is being performed”; (2) stabilization or isometric muscular contraction during which a muscle is held at a fixed length instead of actively lengthening or shortening”; and (3) acceleration, when muscles are used to make cyclists go faster (14–18). The exercises are designed to develop core strength in “all planes of motion” rather than concentrating on one set of muscles while all of the rest are largely inactive. They require the body “to provide its own stabilization (no benches or machines)” (20).
Recently, I renewed my resolve to adopt the system that Allison and Tom describe in this practical book. This morning I started with three stretches that I learned during my first year of high school cross country more than 60 years ago. Then I did two of the dynamic stretches and 4 of the 15 level 1 muscle building exercises. I am gradually increasing my weekly mileage and hope soon to do a long-postponed two-day ride to enjoy a section of the historic Columbia River Highway that was reopened east of Multnomah Falls more than a year ago.
Nothing—not even this fine book—can make an old person young again, but with the help of Allison and Tom sore legs can be made to feel good again so that this aging cyclist can return to the open road.
Note: Core Advantage was published by VeloPress Books (Boulder, CO) in 2013.
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