Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: The Bicycling Big Book of Training

Last year was a tough one for me in many respects, but especially with running. I spent the majority of the year dealing with recurring foot pain (metatarsalgia) and occasional flares of tendonitis. It would've been easy to slip back into old habits and succumb to laziness in the name of injury, but instead I chose to fight back. I signed up for CrossFit bootcamp, which I grew to love and helped tremendously with maintaining my fitness. I also bought a hybrid bike. I had only ridden a bike once or twice since childhood, so I was pretty clueless as to what I was getting myself into. All I knew was I needed an outlet for physical activity, at any cost (holy hell, bikes are expensive).

As the months grew warmer, I teamed up with my cycle-savvy friend Rose and took to the local greenways. I attended a class via REI about bike maintenance and how to change a flat tire. I learned that I absolutely loved the feeling of the wind in my hair as I flew rather recklessly down "hills" akin to speed bumps. As I grew more comfortable on the bike (literally... ow), I started riding longer distances and exploring on my own. Tough rides started to feel easier, my speeds grew faster, and my legs became stronger. The time spent off my feet helped my injury subside, and between the strength I built through bootcamp and the endurance I maintained with cycling, I was able to begin running again fairly seamlessly.

I wouldn't classify myself as anything more than a novice recreational rider at this point, but as I see friends transition from running to triathlons, my curiosity about the sport of cycling has been piqued. When I was given the opportunity to review The Bicycling Big Book of Training, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the sport of cycling and how it might be different than training to run a half-marathon.

Disclosure: Rodale, Inc. provided me with a free print copy of the book mentioned above, for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. 

The book cover claims to contain "everything you need to know to take your riding to the next level", and wow is that true. In fact, not only does the book contain information and training plans for various types of road races, but also for cyclocross and mountain biking. Sprinkled throughout are small nuggets of valuable information such as "pro tips", dispelled myths, and quotes from elites and experts in the cycling field. While some of the language used in the book was a little advanced for me (I had to look up terms like "attacker's wheel" and "gapped"), there truly seems to be something for everyone. The Bicycling Big Book of Training is organized into five parts, each important in the training cycle.

Part 1: Plan
A rundown on the fundamentals of fitness, such as the various systems our bodies use to function on a daily basis. If, like me, you enjoy geeking out over science and data, this chapter is an absolute gem. It goes in to detail about slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, and why VO2 max is considered "the best single indicator of fitness". As a runner these are terms I'm familiar with, and I found that much of this information applies across multiple sports. Also included under the umbrella of "planning" is a wealth of information about training components such as periodization, training logs and tools, how to find your optimal training zone, and why recovery is an important part of the training progression.

Part 2: Prep
Fuel and cross-training, two of my favorite subjects! If you've ever wondered what your ideal fueling and hydrating strategy should be pre-/post-workout and on race day, there's some great information here. It is so refreshing to see carbs, fat, and protein touted as necessary "building blocks of your diet". It seems everywhere I turn someone is villainizing one of the three, and this section contains thorough explanations as to the purpose and importance of each in an athlete's diet.

The Prep section also focuses on micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and which pack the biggest nutritional punch. Did you know that 1 tbsp of flaxseed oil has more than twice the omega-3's of 4 ounces of salmon?! Me neither! I was impressed to find a reminder to females to be aware of our iron levels. Iron deficiency is common not only in women, but also in endurance athletes. Um wait, I'm both of those! Years ago I completely eliminated red meat from my diet, and became anemic due to unhealthily low iron levels. My doctor looked me in the eye and told me to go eat a steak! I've been conscious of my iron intake ever since.

The other half of this section is dedicated to strength training and flexibility, and includes exercises that benefit both cyclists and runners. There are graphics accompanying descriptions of each exercise, which I find extremely helpful as a visual learner. Nearly all of the exercises can be done at home with the help of dumbbells and resistance bands.

Oh yes, I have a kickstand! Envy me.
Part 3: Ride
This is where things begin to get more technical, and I know I'll be referring to this section frequently as I ease in to riding again. The focus here is on bike-handling skills such as braking, cornering, sprinting, and climbing. There are tips and specific workouts given to help us improve each of these skills. I'm relieved to learn that I'm not the only person terrified of riding in a group, and that I can attempt to overcome my fear by riding with a couple of friends acting as my "pack" until I feel more comfortable.

Part 4: Compete
I don't intend to participate in any bike races in the near future but for those who do, this section is chock full of detailed training plans for every type of bike race imaginable. Not only does it break down each race type for those of us who aren't familiar with the lingo, it also provides detailed information about race prep, safety, and for the super competitive - winning the race. 

Part 5: Tend
This final section addresses the importance of post-ride recovery such as massage, compression, ice baths, and active rest. There are also chapters on calculating your ideal cycling weight based on your riding style (recreational to elite), and pain management/injury prevention.

Overall I found The Bicycling Big Book of Training to be an excellent resource for the cyclist wanting more out of the sport, regardless of your current training level. I know I'll be referencing specific sections as I ease back on to the saddle, and I look forward to putting some of my new-found knowledge in to practice this spring. Happy riding!

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Bicycling Big Book of Training, it is available via Rodale Books: http://bit.ly/BBBOT15PR.