- by James Hutchison
- Published: 23 October 2013
As a rider who took up cycling several years ago to avoid an expanding waistline, nothing that I’ve done to keep my health in check has been too technical. Concepts such as base-fitness, zones, tempo, cadence, VO2, and recovery rides haven’t exactly played a role in my everyday life with the bike.
I’ve attempted to digest other heart rate and cycling fitness books in the past, but the dryness and information overload saw them dropped before I was even halfway through. Then along came Fitness Cycling, a book by Shannon Sovndal, to review for Bicycles Network Australia. Suddenly it became much easier to sit back and think “it’s not hard to take cycling to the next level”.
For the uninitiated, much like me, the book starts off asking “what do you want to achieve?” Setting your goals is important; otherwise you’re just another person riding a bike. While there’s not anything wrong with that, if you do want to compete in your local races, or find out why you’re not losing weight despite riding a hundred kilometers a week, grab a copy and start reading.
Training concepts are explained, along with advice on how to measure your fitness and determine your zones. If this kind of terminology is new, then this is a good book for you. The explanations are clear, without becoming too technical. The cover promotes “56 workouts proven to improve strength, speed and stamina”, and with seven chapters dedicated to workouts, there’s sure to be something that you find appealing.
The author begins with base building and interval workouts, and there are also specific workouts aimed at helping you ride fast, climb well, and time trial. A chapter dedicated to indoor workouts is great for those who can’t get out, but it would have been useful if the book discussed an indoor trainer setup with variable resistance, rather than just rollers. The off-season workouts are mainly aimed at strength and conditioning with weights and static exercises to improve core and muscle strength. These could be integrated into a regular workout, rather than left for the off-season should this not apply. I attempted three or four of the stability exercises as I read the book and was shown up rather comprehensively as lacking in core strength. The exercises demonstrate that there’s more to riding a bike fast than just riding a bike fast. The number of motorsport drivers who use cycling as a fitness and conditioning tool is a credit to this.
The book closes with brief explanations of equipment, bike fit and riding techniques, and some solutions for common injury problems (crashes or just plain over-doing it). For cyclists wanting to delve even deeper into training and racing, the author has written another book which covers this called “Cycling Anatomy”.
So exactly who is the author, and what makes him qualified to write a book like this? As his bio states, Shannon is the “team physician for the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda professional cycling team”, so he probably knows just a little bit about training cyclists. The book features a foreword from pro-cyclist Tyler Farrar and brief comments throughout from Tom Peterson (Argos Shimano), Timmy Duggan (Saxo Tinkoff), Taylor Phinney (BMC) and Alex Howes (Garmin Sharp). You quickly recognise how serious this level of fitness is for the UCI Pro Teams; if you’re not good enough you’re not going to be racing, and racing’s your job. The book appears to be suited to both the professional top level athlete as well as the up-and-comer.
I found that it took time to rember the steps in the workouts so started writing them in shorthand and sticking them to the top tube on my bike. If you are serious about fitness, a cycle computer with heart rate display is a must. Using perceived effort only as your guide will limit the value you can attain from the workouts.
For some cyclists, the 6-day a week programs are just going to be too much, even if many of the interval and sprint workouts are around 40-60 minutes in length (including warm up and warm down). Before work, after work, or even commuting to work are all options in which many of the training programs can be adapted. The base-building, hill and TT workouts are all longer programs, usually targeting 2 hours, so if you work full-time you may find that these are best left for Saturday and Sunday.
In my case, I don’t have protour aspirations and only have limited time during the week to ride, but incorporating the workout into my rides is having a positive impact. Within three months I may only be a little quicker, a little stronger, and a little less bulky. Imagine what a 6-day a week training program will do.
Fitness Cycling is published by Human Kinetics and is available for $24.95