When professional cyclist Tom Danielson first met trainer Allison Westfahl, in 2008, he was looking for a way to overcome lower back pain.
He injured his back in a crash in 2007 during the Tour of Spain and was riding hurt. When massage, acupuncture and other methods didn’t vanquish the pain, he went to Westfahl asking if she could help fix his back.
Westfahl’s solution surprised Danielson. She said he needed to strengthen his gluteus maximus and other core muscles.
“I believe in dealing with the source of the problem, not the site,” the Denver-based trainer said in a recent phone interview.
To her, Danielson’s problem was obvious. It’s was a problem that plagues many cyclists.
He was a world-class athlete, but he had the core strength of a weekend warrior.
“When I first met him, he couldn’t even hold a plank for five seconds,” Westfahl said.
A plank, a staple of workout classes everywhere, is simple exercise that engages many core muscles.
Westfahl asked Danielson to show her his core training routine. He responded by dropping to the floor and doing crunches for about two minutes.
“Cyclists have a bad habit of ignoring their core,” Westfahl said.
Over the next five years, Westfahl and Danielson would go about strengthening those muscles. The result was the elimination of the pain, improved performance (he finished eighth in the 2011 Tour de France) and a new book.
In “Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage” ($18.95, VeloPress), Danielson and Westfahl discuss the importance of core training and offer plans for cyclists of all levels.
The book was published during Danielson’s ban for doping in 2005-06. He was one of 11 teammates of Lance Armstrong who testified against the legendary cyclist.
His six-month ban was due to be lifted March 1.
Danielson’s book will get your attention on Page 9, where bold type proclaims some great news: “Stop Doing Crunches!”
Westfahl says core training somehow has come to mean abdominal training leading to muscular imbalance.
“Cyclists should rarely, if ever, do crunches,” she said. “It only perpetuates and exacerbates back problems.”
In the book, Danielson writes that crunches “made me more hunched over and contributed to my low-back pain.”
So, instead of doing that dreaded exercise, Westfahl recommends functional core training.
This starts, she says, by understanding that the core is much, much more than just the four abdominal muscles. Your core is more than 30 muscles from your thighs to your upper torso that connect to your spine. They includes hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.
A weak core results in poor posture and an increased chance of overuse injuries. But a cyclist with a strong core find increased power, acceleration, balance and reduce their chance of injury.
The book offers 15 training programs for riders ranging from beginners to pros.
Westfahl said the movements primarily mimic the position you’d be in on a bike.
“Many of the exercises involve a plank position and moving your arms and legs,” she said.
Westfahl’s success with Danielson has led to her helping other pro cyclists, sometimes even holding sessions half a world away via Skype.
Additionally, she regularly sees recreational cyclists complaining of chronic upper and lower back, neck and shoulder pain.
Proper core training almost always resolves the problem.
“This can wake up a lot of muscles that have shut off,” Westfahl said. “And once you realize you have all these muscles you’ve been ignoring it can make a huge difference.”
NEW RIDE TO VISIT TACOMA
A new bike ride that hopes to raise money to fight cancer will pass through Tacoma in August.
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Obliteride offers course of 25, 50, 100 and 180 miles on Aug. 10-11. The rides start at Seattle’s Magnuson Park and the longest route visits Tacoma where participants will spend the night at the University of Puget Sound.
Registration is $100-$150 and participants must raise $1,000-$1,975. For more information, visit obliteride.org.Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments via email@example.com and twitter.com/AdventureGuys. Get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure, thenewstribune.com/fitness and theolympian.com/getfit.