Friday, 11 May 2012

Core Fitness

Sort your core fitness out to get faster
I've been road cycling for about two and half years now and in that time there's no doubt that I'm better on a bike now than I was in 2009.  I've enjoyed the initial weight loss, getting faster, overcoming hills, riding my first 100 miles and - more importantly - acquiring bikes!

In June, I'll be riding London to Paris in three days and I've been thinking about my weight, my stamina and my core strength, prior to the ride.  I spend a lot of time on my rear. I drive to work, spend all day in meetings or at my desk, sit down in the restaurant for lunch, I'm regularly on trains, planes or sat at my home PC blogging.  When I'm not doing that I'm sat in a saddle on a bike, see what I mean?

Although I've done some reasonable miles, I don't seem to be getting any faster and my ride averages have stayed pretty much the same.  My weight has bottomed out, so despite riding 100 miles or so a week, it isn't impacting on my weight.  I know my cardiac fitness is good from my last BUPA test, however my body fat had increased.

Total Cycling Performance

A little while back I was contacted by Simon Vincent of Total Cycling Performance in South Wales and invited down for a full assessment of my composition and body conditioning. I don't get to South Wales much on business, so taking advantage of a recent trip down, I called in to see Simon at his home studio.

I love people like Simon - a new business, going less than a year - he's one of those people that has given up a successful career to do something he loves, sports science driven body conditioning and assessment.  In many ways, he reminded me of Craig Middleton at Onix Bikes who did the same thing (following his passion).

Simons set up is in his back garden.  A large studio full of gym equipment and gizmos for measuring, assessing and training his clients.  I have to be honest, I was a little nervous as - apart from the bike - I don't do anything else for fitness and I've never been a strongman.  I knew my core strength needed improving, but I had no idea what my base was.

Ground Zero

After a pre-assessment of my diet, exercise and lifestyle it was on to the physical bit.  Leg presses, extensions, arm presses, grip strength, lat pulldowns, flexibility measurements, lung capacity, body fat make up, hydration, wattbike pedalling analysis, maximum heart rate and core muscle tests to name but a few, Simon gave his assessment - basically, my core strength is really poor.  The only saving grace was an above average lung capacity, pedal stroke was OK (but still with room for improvement) and my back strength was higher than average.  In all other elements, it was lower quartile - ouch.

Get off the bike

Simon gave me some initial feedback and followed that up with a 20 page report with all of his findings, but more importantly his recommendations.  A complete change to my diet, my hydration, my time in the saddle and my fitness regime, including joining a gym, fundamentally, riding a lot less.

Explaining the science behind the metabollism, it quickly dawned on me that there were some big changes needed.  By increasing my core strength and losing some weight through effective management of diet and time in the gym, I can make the progress I need to nail London to Paris.

The Metrics

I love data.  It takes the guesswork out of it and makes it factual.  Simon collects data as he conducts his tests and then presents it back to you, comparing against what you should be capable of.  Here's a few of the statistics: -

Leg Press.  You should be able to press x3.5 your bodyweight. I could do x2.1.
The Plank (see picture).  You should be able to hold about 90 seconds.  I held about 20 seconds (now up to 45 with some more practice).
Leg Extension.   You should be able to do 0.45 x your bodyweight.  My target should be around 43kg.  I could do 25kg.

The Plank
You get the story?   Basically all to play for.  So where do we go from here?  Simon wrote me a twelve week fitness plan, broken down by day.  In it, full details are given as to what exercise I need to do, number of repetitions or sessions on the wattbike or out on the road.  Combined with this is also a recommendation as to my diet, calories I need to eat with the correct balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. 

Making the Change

The big changes I have to make are to drink a lot more water, upping intake to 3L a day and eating a lot more natural protein in my diet through nuts, lean meat and fish. Milk has to be switched to full fat, bread only after a training session and in limited amounts, 9-12 portions of fruit and vegetables leading to a re-balancing of my body make-up. More stretching is needed to increase my suppleness, dynamic stretching sessions make a frequent appearance in the 12 week plan.

Simon’s unique approach to nutrition also advocates the use of absolutely no synthetic protein shakes, vitamin supplements, or other man made versions of nutrients that as he put it “can all get provided by Mother Nature given a little planning and organisation”.

My aim is to look to lose around 1kg a week of fat through steady and consistent management of my diet, exercise and to also gain a significant amount of additional cycling strength and power, through a structured and targeted strength training regime of just 2 sessions per week. By doing this, I should radically improve my base strength and power to weight ratio, resulting in better miles on the bike - we'll see.

I'm about four days in and I've never drunk so much water, been to the loo so much or consumed so much white meat. It's had some immediate impacts in that I'm not snacking, reaching for sugary things like biscuits around 4pm, I've given up sugar in coffee too. The scales seem to like it as my body seems to already be adjusting to the new diet and dipping in to my fat reserves.

I'll keep reporting back on progress, it's good to have a plan to follow, something personal to you as an individual, written around your body, your lifestyle and your areas requiring improvement specific to improving your total cycling performance.

A session with Simon in South Wales to assess your all round cycling ability, but perhaps most importantly the full physiological weaknesses within your current training and nutrition practices preventing you becoming a more efficient, faster and stronger cyclist starts from £75.00. I think that’s money very well spent as you can then focus your future training on smarter rather than longer sessions, in order to get a lot closer to realising your true cycling potential.

If you're really brave, you can book in the local hotel and then go and ride some Welsh mountains afterwards.  Erm, anyone seen my car keys?


  1. 3 litres of fluid?! Your body needs 2 litres per day and part of that comes from food. It's usually recommend 1.5l as a base line then what ever you needs are during training. No wonder you are seeing the toilet lots!

    You'll get much better results from core training its even more important for Mtbers as the upper body is stressed even more. Hope you see some good results soon


  2. Excellent blog. I've been concentrating on a lot of core strength as well as mixing other muscle work in.

    Recently been reading good things about kettlebell work as being superb for runners and cyclists because they work the posteria chain (lower back, glutes and hamstrings). I've just picked one up and started using it this week. I'll see how i get on.

    Interesting that he suggests no supplements like extra protein and that he has made you switch to full fat milk. I've gone the opposite way and just about completely stopped using cow milk. Done this after reading a fair bit of info on it.

    Good look with the plan and the London to Paris cycle.

  3. Great article Phil, Very informative as ever with some great stats to back it up. Not sure where Jez gets his information from though on how little water he thinks the body needs each day. Suggest this is best left to the experts, which it sounds as if this guy you went to see clearly knows his stuff and has based his recommendations on your individual results. Just a shame I live so very far away.

    1. Articles like this is where!!

  4. Just wanted to clarify that there is no standard recommendation on how much water is required per day, but as a rule a minimum of 2 litres is suggested for athletes(excluding tea/coffee as these act as diuretics)

    Phil has been recommended 3 litres per day as his metabolic analysis scan using a very expensive piece of equipment, returned his body as being in a state of mild dehydration. Many of my clients have returned this result due to the fact they just don't drink enough water. When they submit their 7 day food and liquid intake prior to their scan, it is then crystal clear why they are low on energy, have dark circles under their eyes and struggle to recover from hard exercise sessions. These are all classic symptoms of dehydration. Once the body is returned to a state of hydration again all these symptoms disappear.

    In respect of the full fat milk, FAT is not the enemy to the human body. Refined sugar (in virtually any processed/packet based food) and synthetic chemical based supplements are such as protein, vitamins and minerals etc. When was the last time you saw Mother Nature do anything that came in powder or tablet format with preservatives and other "E" numbers added?

    Natural has always been, and will always continue to be the best format for the human body. Many of my clients have previously visited other so called sports nutritionists only for them to be recommended about 5 different synthetic products ranging from meal replacement shakes, protein powders and fibre supplements! All earning the nutritionist a nice little cut of money on the side and clogging up my clients livers to boot.

    My approach does not earn me any extra profit but boy do my clients get results based on facts.

    Great article Phil and I look forward to hearing about your continued progress.

    1. BTW: E numbers doesn't necessarily mean bad. E numbers are scheme of encoding additives. Some are natural. E300 is vitamin C for instance, E270 is lactic acid & E331 covers various salt/citric acids as used in sports drink powders.

      Personally, where possible I prefer fruit and vegetables but even my salad is often dressed with lemon (citric acid).

  5. I did the plank for two minutes, then I got bored.

  6. You're the man Dave :-)

    I'm on your tail fella!

  7. The art of ever stronger core is overload once you reach 90 seconds. Start by putting feet up onto a bench, then back up to 90 seconds with that. Then alternate leg lifts for 15 seconds at a time, for 90 seconds as so on. Once you hold the plank for for than 90 seconds it becomes a muscular endurance exercise rather than a strength exercise. Good luck with the progress

  8. Interesting article, thanks for posting.

    Re. getting faster - I've always been told 'If you ride at 17mph, you'll get really good at riding at 17mph! If you want to ride at 25mph then you need to ride at this speed. Obviously, to start with this may only be possible in very short blocks.
    Do you do any high intensity interval training? In my experience, it's one of the best ways to increase speed. Alternatively, join a fast chaingang. You'll suffer at first, but within a few weeks wil be doing your turn through and off (effectively interval training). great stuff, keep it up.
    Cheers, Dave

  9. Thanks for clearing that up Simon as I was curious to where you gained that information. I've not seen any recent research into into the subject of fluid intake (if you know of any I'd love to see it)since i stopped training as a nutritionalist. My information came from research that was done a few years ago by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Centre. This suggested that the body needed about 2 lites of fluids a day. Sadly what was not picked up by many articles, nutrionalists etc was the wording 'fluids'. The words 'drinking' was used instead and so was born the great myth of how much we should drink. We gain roughly 1 litre of fluid from food. This was the most recent article I could find on the subject
    Obviously, we are all different and so therefor are in different states of dehydration and it seems people remain not total sure what is right, especially with so much conflicting evidence. For instance I found articles that diuretics DO count towards fluid intake although I was tought the opposite.


  10. Enjoyed the post thanks. When I first started getting serious about L2P20112 and going out more & longer I found it was my core muscles giving out before my legs.

    Over winter during the week as it was too dark to ride I'd being doing basic strength exercises. These helped a bit but a few Pilates really helped. The teacher redirected my exercises to really push my core and it worked. Sometime I even remember to engage my core on steep climbs.

    You don't need to go to Pilates sessions regularly, rather just practise the basis. I ended up walking around at lunch time just practising breathing with my core engaged. This helps build core strength.

    BTW: To be eligible for the NZ Women's Netball team you have to be able to hold a plank for 8 minutes. I'll stick to cycling.