In 2012 Tom Danielson published the book “Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage: Core Strength for Cycling’s Winning Edge.” Amazon has plenty of reviews of this book (~4.5 stars), so I won’t bother rehashing that here. In short, it contains three levels of difficulty, each with six “stages” to progress through. The stages start by focusing on fixing muscular imbalances, then on to core stabilization, and eventually up to pure power.
I purchased this book in September 2014, and have been using it ever since. My goal in writing this is to give at least a partial answer to the most obvious question: does it work? Should you spend your time following this program? What will I get out of it if I do? Obviously it’s impossible to give a complete answer to any of these questions. Whether or not the program “works” depends on what you’re expecting to get out of it. How much it will change your body depends on what your core fitness level is like now, and so forth. However, I can tell you how it has changed me, and conjecture about its effect on my riding.
First, a bit of background about my fitness level. I’ve been riding bikes for three years and racing for half that time. Prior to being a cyclist my primary hobby was weight lifting and “body building”, meaning getting big, with only a partial focus on actually being strong. I was never one of those “do 100 crunches a day” people, but I worked on my core at least once a week. As far as riding goes, I am light (~135 lbs) and a reasonably strong sprinter. I don’t have a power meter to test this, but I believe that my FTP is not very strong compared to my competition. I have a hard time maintaining a high enough power output to initiate a breakaway. I like climbing (or what passes for climbing in Iowa), but tire relatively quickly (~15-30 seconds) out of the saddle. Last season I began to develop some lower back pain. It didn’t keep me from riding, but bothered me most of the time while I was not riding (i.e. sitting on the couch, or lying in bed).
My hope in following this program was two-fold:
1) Relieve my lower back pain
2) Get faster (How? I had no idea, but the book promised it!)
So without further ado, have I accomplished these goals?
I can say with reasonable confidence that this program did help relieve my back pain. I experienced no back pain after two to three months of training. However, at one point I started to get some of the pain again. I realized that the current “stage” in the workout program did not include any lower back exercises. So I added one back in, and within a week or two the pain was gone.
Obviously the second goal is much harder to quantify. After all, so many things play into “being fast” (on-bike training, core training, nutrition, sleep, daily stress, etc.) that it’s hard to single out the effect of just one. Having said that, I do believe that this program helped my out of saddle climbing ability. Perhaps it helped other areas as well, but I’m not positive enough to say so. Thus allow me to explain why I feel more confident saying that I now climb better.
My first race of the year was a very hilly road race. There are three hills which necessitate out of the saddle climbing. They are all long enough that you can’t just use your momentum to carry you up. In the past (both last year’s race, and riding the course for fun at the end of last season) I had trouble staying out of the saddle for the entirety of the climbs. At this season’s race I not only stayed out of the saddle, but I didn’t have that “flop back into the saddle” feeling. You know what I mean, when with every pedal stroke your legs are begging you to sit back down. Since I’m quite light, I was always a little secretly ashamed that I didn’t climb better out of the saddle. I truly believe that this core program has largely alleviated that for me. Of course I did plenty of on-bike training over the winter, but it was almost entirely zone 2 workouts and longer (seated) intervals on the trainer. I can count on one hand the number of rides where I got out of the saddle during my winter training. Thus I feel strongly that it was this workout program that helped me.
So, should you purchase this book? The simple answer is “yes.” The Kindle version is only $10 (the paperback is $15), and the program requires no special equipment, so the initial outlay is very low. One of the things I really like about the program is that everything is body-weight only, and it takes only 15-30 minutes, depending on the stage you are on. At night when my wife and I are watching a TV show, or while she is showering before bed, I’ll do my workout in the living room. Since the “barriers to entry” are very low, it’s much easier to just get started and do it, rather than having to drag out equipment or change into special clothing. In short, I would highly recommend it. Good luck, and strong cores and happy cores!