Essential exercises to keep you on the bike

Adapted from Ride Strong: Essential Conditioning for Cyclists by Jo McRae


Jo McRae, corrective exercise specialist, personal trainer, bike fitter and lifelong cyclist.

One of the best things about riding a bike is that it reminds us what it feels like to be a kid. It gives us back the sense of pleasure and play that can be lost because of the pressures of modern life and being a grown-up. A bicycle can take us to amazing places, both physically and metaphorically. And often a reintroduction to the bike can kick-start a love affair with health and fitness too.

But I have some bad news that I want to get up front straight away. In many ways the human body is not designed to ride a bike.

The good news is that Ride Strong will give you the understanding and know-how to keep you riding your bike happily and healthily long into the future. Here’s a few key exercises to get you started…

Supine knee extension – strap assisted

Of all the muscle groups that a cyclist ought to learn how to stretch properly, for me the hamstrings come top of the list. Running along the back of the thigh from your pelvis (sitting bones) and down behind the knee, they are a muscle group that can become chronically short and tight in response to sitting for longer than is natural.

h1Hook a strap around the instep of your foot. The strap needs to be solid (not elastic) and long enough to work with comfortably. In these pictures Paul is using a martial arts belt.



h2Lie flat on your back and raise one leg directly above your hip, holding the belt at the knee with both hands (shown). Your lower leg should be relaxed. Relax the straight leg down at the back of the knee.

Your goal is to maintain a slight curve in your lower back in order that you target the stretch most effectively to the lower hamstrings behind the knee. Don’t allow your back to flatten completely or your hips to lift as you go into the stretch or the effective position will be lost.

h3From this start position, slowly extend your leg directly upwards, keeping your foot relaxed and maintaining a curve in the small of your back. As you move into the stretch, feel for the point where if you go any higher you will be unable to maintain this curve, at which point pull firmly on the strap to increase the stretch sensation, and hold for 1–2 seconds. Using your knuckles against your knee as a solid anchor point can help you find and hold the effective position repeatedly. Then, release your lower leg back down to the start position, relaxing the hamstrings but maintaining the knee-over-hip position.

If you are performing the stretch well, you will feel the focal point at the back of the knee. It can take some time to learn to maintain a curve in your lower back while at the same time extending your leg, but if you persist your control in this exercise will improve, as will its effectiveness. It’s important that you focus on the ‘feel’ of the stretch rather than trying to get your leg higher than is optimal for you at any time.

Dumbbell dead lift

The dead lift is the most important conditioning exercise for cyclists to strengthen their back and hips. Learning correct movement technique in lifting and bending movements, and strengthening the muscles involved is vital if you want to prevent back problems getting in the way of your cycling. Strengthening your back and glutes by dead lifting will also provide more power to each pedal stroke when you ask for it, particularly when climbing, accelerating, or pushing hard while seated in the saddle.

p3Place the dumbbell between your feet and adopt a shoulder-width stance either side of the weight. If you have a dumbbell with a flat end it might be easiest to rest it on that end, but if you are working with a spinlock dumbbell you will have to lay it on its side.

Tip forwards towards the weight using the ‘short stop’ technique. Keeping the dumbbell close to your body is good practice, and if you are presented with an object that you need to lift, keeping it as close as possible will help you lift and move it more effectively.

p4In order to reach the dumbbell and lift it off the floor, first arch your lower back as much as you can, as you tip forwards from the hips. Then bend your knees in a squatting action to reach the weight. As you bend towards the floor, keep your knees in line with your feet, and look down at the dumbbell.

Using your legs and back together, and engaging your abdominals by drawing your navel in, push with your feet and stand up tall with the dumbbell, keeping your back neutral. If you struggle to keep your back neutral to pick up the dumbbell from the floor, throughout the set work only within the range through which you can maintain an natural curve in the lower back, and then use your legs in a squatting action to place the dumbbell back on the floor at the end. With practice, and together with some stretching, you will find that you are able to increase your range of movement with good form.

Repeat this movement, tipping forwards from the hips towards the floor as far as you can maintain a neutral spine, and then pushing through your legs to stand up tall and straight. Your knees should always bend slightly to support your back throughout the movement, but not so much that the exercise becomes more of a squat than a bend.

The prone cobra

The prone cobra works all the muscles along the back of the body, but notably isolates the upper-back muscles. The way the exercise is performed here, with the thumbs turned backwards, also works the external rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder, which can become weak through hours spent holding the bars.

c1Start by lying flat on your front, head turned to one side, and your arms at the sides of your body, with your little fingers close to your sides and thumbs pointing away from you.


c2Lift your upper back off the floor, turning your thumbs backwards as you move, and squeezing your shoulder blades together. The goal is to turn the arms backwards as much as possible, keeping them close to your sides and stretching the front of your chest. Leave your legs on the floor if you can, and keep your neck long at the back so that your chin is tucked in and you look down towards the floor. Focus in extending the most through your upper back, by arching through the upper back and opening your chest forwards.

These three exercises combined can help cyclists target the poor posture associated with spending a lot of time seated on a bike or at a desk. ‘Pre-stretching’ the hamstrings allows the cyclists (who tends to have shortened hamstrings) to get into a good deadlift position to strengthen the back and the hips. The Prone Cobra exercise targets the postural muscle of the back and shoulders to correct for the ‘slumped’ posture that can be common.

ride-strongWant to hear more from Jo?  Ride Strong: Essential Conditioning for Cyclists is available to buy at discount from

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The Injury-Free Marathoner

Runners rejoice…the New York Marathon is underway this weekend! Thousands of runners are descending upon New York City and are racing for their best. But with 26.2 miles to traverse, marathon runners are prone to injuries. And you definitely want to know what to do when you’re crossing the Queensboro Bridge and find pain shooting through your foot. Whether you’re tackling the marathon this weekend or jogging around the block, Running Free of Injuries by Paul Hobrough is packed with helpful information for how to run your best and stay pain-free.

Here are three of the most common injuries for runners, and Paul’s advice for how to treat them:

metatarsal-stress-fractureMetatarsal Stress Fracture

  • What is it? A stress fracture is an overuse injury, common at the metatarsal bones in the foot, navicular, and the tibia.
  • How do you get it and what are symptoms? The stress fracture is developed following a repeated movement that stresses the bone, causing micro trauma from submaximal loading. The appearance of a stress fracture brings pain on movement, which increases as movement is repeated, but abates with rest. The pain is characterized as being very local.
  • How do you treat it? Treatment is usually rest, but in the worse cases, you could have to wear an aircast boot for up to six weeks

Achilles Tendinopathy

  • What is it? The Achilles is the tendon that attaches the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles to the calcaneus. The Achilles is such a common area for runners to injure that only the knee can knock it off the top of the injury leader board.
  • How do you get it and what are the symptoms? The pain felt at the Achilles is noticed more as stiffness initially, first thing in the morning. Other warning signs include tight calf muscles and loss of dorsiflexion. The injury cause is largely unknown, despite several Internet articles suggesting that it’s down to poorly fitting shoes, bad running technique or, my personal bugbear, due to over-pronation. The fact is, we just don’t know what the main cause is for developing Achilles pain. What we do know is that the tendon itself breaks down.
  • How do you treat it? Achilles tendinopathy can be treated with several modalities from the physiotherapist, but there are also surgical options. The physiotherapist will use soft tissue massage on the calf muscles and into the foot, ankle joint mobilizations and foot mobilizations. You may well be prescribed in-shoe orthotic inserts if the biomechanics of the foot and ankle are perceived to be at fault. Eccentric or appropriate loading as outlined in the next section are the key route to being free from this common running ailment. However, if the appropriate loading process fails, for those resistant tendons that just don’t respond to the normal physiotherapy, there is shockwave therapy (SWT), a series of shocks derived from lithotripsy, which in layman’s terms is breaking up of hard substances.

Shin splints

  • shin-splintsWhat is it? ‘Shin splints’ is the non-medical term for medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) (Czyzewski, 2012). Shin splints are the bugbear of so many runners, especially for those runners in their second month of training for their first marathon or half marathon. It’s my experience that runners tend to get more injured in their first year of training than in the whole of the following five years!
  • How do you get it and what are the symptoms? Symptoms include dull aching pain at the front of the lower leg, loss of ankle plantarflexion, and pain on lifting toes against resistance. The pain usually is at the start and end of a run initially, and as the injury progresses the pain will get worse. Risk factors have been shown to be increased body mass index (BMI), poor alignment of the small bones in the foot, a loss of plantarflexion (ability to point the toes) and a loss of hip rotation externally (Baker et al., 2001). What this means is that there are key factors of a biomechanical nature that cause overload to the muscles of the lower leg. These muscles can be overloaded through poor biomechanics and also over-training, therefore to fully understand the mechanism of injury is the route to complete rehabilitation.
  • How do you treat it? The treatment is threefold: 1) to stop further injury, 2) reduce inflammation and to strengthen, and 3) lengthen the muscle tissue. Therefore there is a period of ‘relative rest’, which means rest from the aggravating activity, but not just sitting on your couch for the next six weeks. There are plenty activities you can still do to keep fit and aid the rehabilitation. For the inflammation and healing promotion, use ice and compression, and for the muscle rehabilitation, the introduction of a stretch and strengthening programme. There is also a need to look at the wider biomechanics to assess if there is an overload of the tibialis muscle group as result of poor form, or to exclude this and instead research the training load prior to injury for signs of overuse.

Adapted from Running Free of Injuries by Paul Hobrough.

Good luck, New York Marathoners! Which common runner’s injury do you tend to suffer from? Pick one of the three below and we’ll answer questions about it in an upcoming post.

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Data in the Dugout: A Q&A with Sports Geek Author Rob Minto

Sports Geek: A Visual Tour of Myths, Debates, and Data is an amazing, quirky data and infographic-filled tour of the biggest sports around the world. We caught up with author Rob Minto to chat about his research as Major League Baseball’s 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians heats up.

Neither the Cleveland Indians nor the Chicago Cubs have seen a World Series in over 60 years: what can data and statistics tell us to expect in their match-up?

It’s tempting to look at historical parallels, but really, they mean very little. It’s just great narrative for the fans and TV, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

On a very simple metric of runs per game, both scored and allowed, over the regular season, the numbers show that Chicago allow 3.43 runs per game, and score 4.99. Cleveland allow on average more runs – 4.20 per game – and score less, at 4.83 per game. And the Cubs won 103 games in the regular season, to the Indians 94.

Therefore it’s tempting to say that if both teams play like they did all season, the Cubs win, hands down.

But of course, that is a big ‘if’. And game 1 certainly didn’t go that way, with the Indians winning 6-0.

What is worth remembering is that baseball is quite a random game, which is why it needs a long season to work out which teams deserve to be on top. In comparison, football requires fewer games to determine the better teams, given the more physical nature of the sport.

In fact, the World Series at (best-of) seven games is still the equivalent of just 4.32 per cent of a MLB season; the Super Bowl, just the single game, represents 6.25 per cent of the regular season. In other words, looking at season trends will only tell you so much. Form and luck will play bigger parts.

You mention the Moneyball effect in your book: does that trend suggest that data is really everything in baseball?

Data isn’t everything, despite the Moneyball revolution. Data is very good at telling you what the eye can’t see. But statistics, in their cruder form, often don’t tell you about risk, or situations. A player who tries something risky because the game situation demands it might end up with a worse average. That doesn’t accurately reflect ability.

In fact, teams are now starting to recruit using ‘soft’ metrics that data can’t tell you, such as looking at temperament, sociability and other factors, in order to build a team.

It’s worth remembering that sports teams look to find comparative advantage. Data is just one way of doing that. Valuing data for the sake of itself leads to missing other things that could be just as valuable. That being said, gotta get into the data.

What impact are the doping scandals of the early 2000s having on the game today?

The doping scandals forced players off steroids, and that de-powered the game. Less power meant fewer home runs.

That put a premium on stealing bases for a while, but that has since been shown to be a bit too risky a strategy.

So what now? Home runs are on the up again – which might be due to stronger players, or weaker pitching, or both, or something else altogether – we can’t be sure.

What do TV rating for the World Series suggest about the trajectory of the sport?

TV ratings are a big deal: it’s the best barometer we have for interest and health in the game other than attendance. And the trajectory is not good. Nationally, attendance and TV viewings are both falling or flatlining.

Of course, ratings are not generated in isolation. There are trends for watching TV in general that should be looked at, plus other distractions such as elections or other news events. Importantly, are other sports seeing the same pattern?

To a degree, yes: this is a problem repeated elsewhere, including the NFL. The question is how sports administrators respond. They can do nothing and hope that the cycle turns in their favor. Ot they can make changes. Change is, of course, difficult. If there are too many games, or not enough meaningful games, the answer is to cut the number of teams, or alter the structure of the league. But try selling either of those ideas to team owners.

How do you expect the shift in baseball ratings to play out in TV contracts in 2020?

In a word? Badly.

TV companies pay out big contracts in the expectation of viewers and advertising. If ad spend in the next few years is weak – which it probably will be, given the current ratings – then the networks will not want to get burnt again.

It depends on the auction structure of the deal, but it would seem odd for a declining market to attract a higher premium next time round. In which case, less money in the league would mean less money for players. Luckily for the clubs, there aren’t many other leagues for players to move to that command similar salaries. The result will, in most likelihood, be a stagnation in player wages.

Just for fun…Cubs vs. Indians: who wins?

Cubs. For Ferris.


Want to find out more about how sports and data collide? Sports Geek by Rob Minto is now available worldwide, and dives into an infographic tour of more than twenty sports. Discover the importance of data on the field here.

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Racing to Equality

An extract from Kicking Off by Sarah Shephard

“I asked renowned cycling journalist and author Richard Moore for his view on Team Sky’s reluctance to get involved in women’s cycling, as someone who has spent much time in the company of Brailsford and co. He tells me he is less surprised than most by the non-appearance of a women’s Team Sky, asking: ‘Why would they sponsor a women’s team when there isn’t, or hasn’t been, a very healthy women’s scene? If I was a sponsor getting into cycling, I wouldn’t sponsor a women’s team.

‘Having said that, if Sky’s mission is not just about winning the Tour de France but also about encouraging people to ride bikes and promoting the sport, then it’s hard to understand why they don’t have a women’s team.’

Where Moore does see signs of positivity is in the creation of the Women’s Tour, which was launched in Britain in 2014 by sports events and marketing company SweetSpot Group. The inaugural race secured sponsorship from Friends Life, was televised on ITV4 and Eurosport and was deemed an overwhelming success, with huge crowds turning out to line the route throughout the five-day Tour.

SweetSpot’s Director, Guy Elliott, believes that elite women’s cycling was a sport that had been ‘neglected both domestically and internationally’, and that having a standalone Women’s Tour in the UK was a big step towards putting that right. He says: ‘When you look at women’s sport, from the minute women enter adolescence they are treated as second best. One of the agendas we want to wrap around our Women’s Tour is that they’re not second best, so they should be treated in their own right as athletes.’

Richard Moore agrees that the Women’s Tour could be ‘a real game changer’ in terms of bringing in sponsors for teams, telling me: ‘If it’s televised every year and there continue to be the huge crowds, then if I was a sponsor with half a million pounds, I would probably think it is worth doing for that. You need those flagship events first before you can get sponsors coming in wanting to be involved.

emma pooley

Image by Peter Trimming from Croydon, England – Emma Pooley, CC BY 2.0,

‘Sponsors get involved in sport because there’s something in it for them. Trying to persuade them to back a team because they should do it or for politically correct reasons are not very good ways of selling a sport. You have to give them a better commercial reason for doing it and I think that’s slowly what is happening.’

Another race that launched in 2014 with the aim of getting women’s cycling back on the map was La Course. A circuit race contested over 13 laps (91 kilometres), La Course takes place on the morning of the final stage of the men’s Tour de France and on the same stretch of Paris tarmac where the men end their own race later that day. It was the result of a determined effort from a group of professional female cyclists calling themselves Le Tour Entier (meaning ‘The Entire Tour’), who decided the time for change had come and launched a petition for the return of a women’s Tour de France. While the UCI remained adamant that a full Tour remained a logistic impossibility, La Course was deemed a sign that their attitude to women’s cycling was starting to change.

In an essay for the Independent newspaper ahead of the inaugural running of La Course, one of Le Tour Entier’s members, Britain’s own Emma Pooley, wrote that, ‘A women’s Tour next year would be an impossible leap: the media coverage, fan base, sponsorship and professionalism of the women’s sport has to develop gradually. But La Course is a radical step change in that development.’

While the race isn’t the most challenging circuit on the women’s calendar (apart from in the pouring rain when the surface becomes dangerously slippery, as happened in 2015), and doesn’t bring the winner anything as tangible as a jersey, a title, or a medal, it is of huge significance to female riders for one single reason: audience. The Tour de France is watched by millions worldwide, and thanks to its scheduling on the same day as the men’s race arrives in Paris, La Course is televised in 157 countries, giving it a greater reach than any women’s road race has ever had (except perhaps for the Olympic road race). For team sponsors, it’s the sort of shop window they might never have expected women’s cycling could offer.

Now two years old, the La Course effect is starting to take shape. In 2015 the second edition again featured one of the season’s strongest line-ups of teams and riders, while the prize money (£4,250 to the winner and £16,000 overall) was one of the highest on offer in women’s cycling. The success of the event is also starting to have a domino effect. In 2015 9781472913838the men’s Tour of Spain (the Vuelta) included its own La Course for the first time after race organisers Unipublic agreed to host La Course by La Vuelta on Madrid’s central boulevard, the Paseo de la Castellana on the final day of the men’s race. So it appears as though more eyes are being opened to the fact that women’s cycling has as much to offer as men’s.”

Kicking Off: How Women in Sport Are Changing the Game by Sarah Shephard is available to buy now at discount.

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The Science of the Tour de France

Science of the Tour banner

Guest blog by James Witts

Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Llandis, Lance Armstrong… The peloton’s worth of professional cyclists who have risen and fallen at the tip of a needle has left cycling’s reputation tarnished. Okay, that’s an understatement. Until Russia and their nefarious goings-on drew the world’s attention, cycling was the go-to sport whenever the words ‘doping’ and ‘professional sport’ were uttered from the lips of sporting commentators.

Many felt cycling deserved its dirty reputation; many deserted the sport, disillusioned that suspicion eclipsed enjoyment when it came to watching the world’s best. Chris Froome, for one, can’t escape the shadows of the past, the French press, in particular, questioning the legality of his every pedal stroke, every stage win, every Tour victory.

But Froome has passed every test (be it blood or urine) and he’s had many of them – the leader of the Tour is tested after every stage and cycling has led the way when it comes to implementing the biological passport, which measures a rider’s levels of new and old blood cells for signs of either EPO abuse or blood boosting. Compared to higher-profile sports like football, which many feel is apathetic and complacent when it comes to anti-doping measures, cycling is positively militant in seeking out the dopers.

Though they seek, they rarely find – there hasn’t been a high-profile positive case in cycling since Lance opened his heart – and medical cabinet – to Oprah Winfrey; instead, Team Sky’s fabled marginal gains have become shorthand for ‘racing fast, racing legal’. Cycling is hamstrung by its past; until Team Sky came along, it was all about racking up the miles, eating pasta and, all too frequently, seeing the team’s doctor for an artificial boost.

Sir Dave Brailsford and his team recognised these manacles and set about unlocking them by doing things differently. Where once teams would have spent a million pounds on a rider and their illegal performance enhancers, Sky would spend £900,000, paying the remaining £100,000 to a sports scientist and coach. Experts in exercise physiology and aerodynamics trawled the world’s sport-science conferences, universities and journals, looking for cutting-edge technology to give them the edge. That’s where my book, The Science of the Tour de France, comes in.

I spent 12 months at the Tour de France teams’ training camps and races – and hours on Skype! – to uncover what goes into creating the Chris Froomes and Alberto Contadors of this world. I interviewed the likes of sprinters Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan, but also the coaches, sports scientists, nutritionists, aerodynamicists and chefs who help to create these champions. I discovered that science plays an increasingly important role in peak performance, and not just at Team Sky but across all teams.

Take the bikes. Manufacturers spend millions designing new frames via CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind-tunnel research. A teardrop-shaped frame, for instance, produces 20 times less drag than a round tube. In training, teams will also load the frames with sensors that gauge how a rider’s bike position changes at different speeds. They can then tweak how the rider positions himself on the bike to cut through the air faster.

Skinsuits are one of the greatest time savings. Watch the Tour and these will be omnipresent in the time-trials where it’s man against the clock. Alberto Contador’s apparel sponsor spent upwards of 400,000 Euros designing his suit, mapping his body and pedalling style to determine optimum seam placement and the perfect drag-reducing material.

When it comes to race nutrition, caffeine remains one of the most proven ergogenics, though many teams will begin the day with a beetroot smoothie. They genuinely taste as bad as they sound but research shows that the nitrates within beetroot makes exercise feel easier.

On the most debilitating mountain stages, riders can burn 8,000 calories. Even the most meticulous nutrition plan leaves a 1,200-calorie shortfall, often worse as the riders’ stomachs and digestive systems are pretty wrecked after 2,000 miles of cycling. So riders consuming gels, rice cakes and bars is a common sight around the Alps.

As Team Dimension Data’s Mancunian sports scientist Dr Jonathan Baker told me over lunch in their European base of Lucca – there are perks to this job! – ‘There are 10,000 sports-science journals published each year. It’s my job to sift out ones that might produce gains and actually work in the “real world”.’

And it was my job to relay that information to recreational riders of all standards so that a) they weren’t blinded by academia and b) they could integrate some of the ideas into their own training. That’s what I aimed for in The Science of the Tour de France. Whether I achieved it is over to you…

9781472921703Click here to buy The Science of the Tour de France: Training Secrets of the World’s Best Cyclists at discount.

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Celebrate International Yoga Day! 5 poses for beginners from Nicola Jane Hobbs

author pic CROPYoga brings people together. Regardless of age, gender, religion, and culture, yoga has the power to unite.

That’s why this week we celebrate International Yoga Day.

We celebrate the way yoga increases our well being – physical, mental, and emotional. From helping you lose weight, gain muscle, and increasing your flexibility, to reducing your stress, boosting your body confidence, and improving your overall fitness, adding yoga into your day is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health and happiness.

If you want to get started right away, then have a go at the five poses below.

Ocean Breath

Ocean_breath_seated CROP

This is a form of breathing you can do before you work out and use throughout your training or yoga session to help you focus. Traditionally called ‘Ujjayi’, the noise you make is similar to the sound you hear when you hold a seashell up to your ear. It expands the lungs by dynamically pulling fresh air into them and expelling stale air.

  1. Sit or stand comfortably with your spine upright and take a couple of long deep breaths.
  2. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. With each exhalation make a ‘hhhaaa’ sound as if you are trying to steam up a mirror.
  3. Now continue to make the same sound as you exhale, but close your mouth so you are constricting the back of your throat to make a soft ocean sound (you may also sound like Darth Vadar!).

Down Dog

down_dog CROP

Down Dog is one of the most popular poses because it strengthens and stretches the body as well as acting as a physical barometer for how your body feels in between other poses and flows. It shows how each part of your body works in harmony with the other parts – the looser your hamstrings are, the less pressure you will feel on your shoulders.

  1. Begin on all fours, hook your toes under and slowly straighten your legs to push your bottom to the sky so you are in an upturned v-shape.
  2. Check your hands are shoulder width and feet are hip distance apart and relax your neck.
  3. Exit the pose by bending your knees to the mat.


Seated Twist

seated_twist CROP

Turning the upper body in one direction and the lower body in the opposite direction is the main action occurring in this pose. This releases tension in the spine and strengthens the muscles of the core for a more defined waist.

  1. Begin in a cross-legged seated position with your hands resting on your knees. Pull back on your knees to lift your chest and lengthen your spine. Reach your left hand behind your back and place your right hand on your left knee to take the basic form of the pose.
  2. To refine the pose, squeeze your bottom and deepen the twist by keeping hold of your left knee and bending your right arm to pull the left knee towards you.
  3. Exit the pose by coming back to centre. Switch the cross of your legs before twisting to the other side.


crow CROP

Arm balances require a combination of strength, balance and focus. Grounding yourself through your hands to provide a stable foundation is essential for giving you the confidence to lift your feet off the floor. The stronger your core is the less weight your knees will place on your upper arms and the longer you will be able to float in Crow.

  1. Begin in a squat position, coming up on to your toes if you can’t keep your heels down. Spread your feet so they are slightly wider than hip-width apart and place your hands on the floor in front of you shoulder-width apart. Lift your bottom by straightening your legs just enough so that when you lean forwards and bring your shoulders in front of your wrists you can snuggle your knees into your armpits. Slowly transfer the weight into your hands, lift your toes off the ground and bring your heels together.
  2. Once you have found your balance, refine the pose by bringing your toes towards your tailbone so you are rounding your spine. Activate your abdominal muscles to lift your torso upwards and reduce the amount of pressure on your arms.
  3. Rock slowly backwards on to your toes to exit the pose.

Legs Up The Wall

legs_up_the_wall CROP

Inversions are very restorative. They bring the blood back to the heart and lungs and relax the nervous system. Legs Up The Wall pose allows you to completely relax at the same time as lengthening your hamstrings and releasing any tension from your lower back. If you have had a long day and don’t fancy a full Yoga Gym workout then use the time to rest and restore in this pose.

  1. Sit sideways against a wall and swing your legs around so you are lying on your back with your legs up the wall. Bring your bottom as close to the wall as you can and straighten your legs, resting your heels on the wall. Spread your arms out wide.
  2. Rest here for as long as you need to.
  3. To exit the pose, move your bottom away from the wall slightly and swivel your legs around to one side before pushing up to seated.



Want to hear more from Nicola? Yoga Gym: The Revolutionary 28-Day Plan for Strength, Flexibility, and Fat Loss  is available to buy at discount from

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Leading a Revolution in Women’s Cycling

Women's Tour banner

Suze Clemitson on the Aviva Women’s Tour

It’s fair to say that, in Britain, we love our Golden Girls. Women like Nicole Cooke, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott have all ridden to Olympic glory. And when Lizzie Armitstead battled Marianne Vos on a rain sodden Mall in 2012 it ignited interest in the sport like never before. For the multitude of spectators who had been underwhelmed by the men’s road race it was a light bulb moment. Lizzie Armitstead, who lost out on Gold that extraordinary day, has emerged as the best rider – male or female – in the world in 2016 and hot favourite for the women’s road race in Rio. And those huge crowds, that massive support has never diminished.

If you want bang for your buck in terms of exciting, attacking bike racing then you need to get out onto the UK roadside in June and follow the Aviva Women’s Tour. Created in 2014, it’s already regarded as one of the best women’s races on the calendar and alongside the women’s Tour de Yorkshire – which boasts the richest purse in the sport, even surpassing the Tour de France’s La Course – it’s spearheading a renaissance in women’s cycling.

The new women’s World Tour calendar – of which the Aviva Women’s Tour is one of the jewels in the crown, earning the highest ranking – is bringing the sport to a bigger audience than ever before through better TV coverage and live streaming. But women’s cycling needs more – more sponsorship, more high quality racing and more exposure. When the promised start to finish coverage of the Tour de Yorkshire failed to materialise there was widespread disappointment. The appetite is there to change the cycle from a vicious to a virtuous one.

When I was interviewing women for Ride the Revolution I rapidly became aware of how much frustration there is at the lack of proper recognition for women’s cycling and how much passion there is for this beautiful sport. Women ride for love and for fun, as Roxanna Knetemann so simply and perfectly puts it. But I was struck by something Bob Stapleton – who ran the hugely successful HighRoad men’s and women’s cycling teams – once said: “Our values started with our women’s team. Women, in general, won’t get rich by racing, so they put a higher value on the work environment and how they feel as part of the team.”

Marianne Vos, the Dutch star who is one of the greatest riders ever to race a bike, strongly believes that men’s and women’s teams need to co-exist – to train together, learn from each other and share resources – to raise the profile of her sport. She wants to finish her career on the toughest cobbles in the world, riding a women’s Paris-Roubaix. Vos, like Britain’s Golden Girls, embodies all that is best in women’s cycling: intelligence, attack, fighting spirit. The sport has worked hard to be attractive to sponsors, on a sound professional footing for the teams involved and entertaining for the fans.

But anyone can ride the revolution – sign up for Strava and compete against everyone from your next door neighbour to the cream of the women’s peloton, or join a Breeze ride catering for women of all abilities and fitness levels. Bike manufacturers like Trek run regular ‘Ladies Nights’ to encourage women to get more active in all aspects of cycling from riding to bike maintenance. And there are more of us out on our bikes than ever before – training, commuting or simply for fun and fitness – given confidence and encouragement by the exploits of our homegrown cycling stars.

Yes there are still issues and problems confronting the sport, as the latest revelations of sexism at British Cycling confirm. That professional women riders continue to overcome being treated as second class athletes to produce world class performances is testament to their mental toughness and commitment to succeed. And the landscape is changing as parity in prize money and quality coverage becomes the norm not the exception. Looking back on Ride the Revolution I can see how much has already changed for the better. Of course there’s still a long way to travel – the fight for wage equality continues – but the news that emerges from the women’s sport is ever more positive. We’ve come a long way since Beryl Burton – arguably the greatest women’s cyclist ever – could complain “I was a double world champion in an international sport and it might as well have been the ladies darts final down at the local.”

There may not be a woman’s Tour de France – yet. But the Aviva Women’s Tour does a brilliant job of showcasing women’s cycling at its very best. And if you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself – it’s a brilliant day out, cheering on some of the toughest, most dedicated and talented athletes in the world.

9781472912916Want to hear more from Suze? Ride the Revolution: The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling is available to buy at discount from

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Insights from the Giro d’Italia

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Matt Rabin, Chiropractor for the Cannondale Pro Cycling team, reports from the Grand Tour

It’s the final rest day of the 2016 Giro D’Italia, and we are camped up in Bressanone in Alto Adige, as far north as you can almost go in Italy before hitting Austria. For a rest day there can be far less beautiful places to sIMG_20160521_121911tay, at least in the ten years since I’ve been with the team there certainly have been. Pre WWII this area in fact ‘was’ Austria and it still very much feels like it. While there are some nods to being Italian, the staff at the hotel all speak German first, the food is more Austrian than Italian, and on asking our Italian riders, they say the locals certainly consider themselves more ‘Austrian’ than Italian. But only 20km down the road to Trentino where tomorrow’s stage starts, and back into ‘Italy’ we go…

I’m one of two chiropractors that will be with the team (Cannondale) throughout this Grand Tour. I came in on the first Italian rest day to Florence to take over from Rob (Palmer), the other chiro serving this race. We had a crossover day on that rest day to catch up on the current situation of all the riders’ ongoing concerns from the first week. This was helpful. Our medical team, which consists during a race of the chiropractor and Doctor, split the races almost 50/50. This is how we’ve done it the past few years – it works well as it keeps everyone fresh and gives a new perspective on the status of the riders. Continuity of care is really important, which is why there have to be excellent lines of communication and you have to know how your colleagues work, otherwise it won’t.

We had a few crashes in the first week, which meant some of the riders were limping into the rest day a little bit banged and bruised. Luckily nothing serious, and importantly for us nothing we want to see any of our riders have to quit this race for. With one week to go we still have all nine ridersIMG_20160517_173001 – which is good news. At the moment we’re all busy. The Doc is separating riders who are getting colds to prevent the spread, and seeing to changing any wound dressings, amongst other things. When I took over there were a couple of guys suffering from low back pain. One rider had some knee pain after hitting his knee on the handlebar during a stage, and a couple of riders felt ‘twisted’ on the bike – one because of a saddle sore (an occupational hazard causing him to sit skewed on the bike) and one from a crash. All small stuff really, but small things can become bigger things quite quickly with the stresses and exertions of a Grand Tour. This Giro is no exception – the parcours, to say the least, has been difficult.

In time-honoured tradition the second and third weeks of a Grand Tour ramp up in difficulty, so as we left the rest day last week and headed into the Dolomites – some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen in my life, it must be said – naturally some of the boys were concerned that their small issues would become bigger ones. My job is to try and ensure they do not. This time, as we head into a week to go – touch wood – we’ve been able to manage their issues and come through the other side, and everyone looks ready to perform from a biomechanical perspective. Great news.

So the question I often get asked is, how? As a chiropractor I am interested in the biomechanics of the human body and how they are fit for purpose for cycling. And with a thorough physical examination you can determine how the body is working. Are certain IMG_20160521_144053joints too stiff, are certain muscles too short and too tight, is there a balance from left to right, are certain muscles inhibited, what are the key drivers to that individuals presenting complaint? etc. etc. Once this is established, we then work through the different layers fundamentally to reduce pain and improve function, that’s the bottom line. Anything from chiropractic manipulation, Active Release Technique (which is a type of myofascial release), mobilisations, neurological integration (which is an approach that helps to determine if certain ‘reflexes’ are appropriately working), kinesiotape, cryotherapy (good old-fashioned ice), whatever it takes to make the biggest difference with the most minimal input. Why with minimal input? Because you don’t want them getting on the bike the next day feeling like they have been pulled from pillar to post. Everything should just feel better than it had done –that’s the goal. Doing too much is as bad as not doing enough, and getting this balance right is the key, something that comes with experience.

This is my seventh or eighth Giro I’ve been at, and my experience tells me that we cannot rest on our laurels just yet and inevitably more issues will crop up as we move into the last week. Between myself, the Doctor and the soigneurs (‘carers’ – who the riders each receive a massage from every day too) we’ve hopefully got their needs covered. The mood is good in the team at this stage, despite Rigo – Rigoberto Uran – dropping out of the top 10 over the weekend. He’s been fighting a cold, and unless you are totally fit it can be hard to compete with the guys that are. Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves, even though we haven’t won a stage yet. There’s a lot of racing to go in this final week and everyone is fit, ready and looking forward to it. All of which bodes well for the final week.

9781472906595Want to hear more from Matt? The Pain-Free Cyclist by Matt Rabin & Robert Hicks is available to buy at discount from

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Why The World is Round, Not Oval

Guest post by Tony Collins

As the Premier League has its most exciting and unexpected finish ever, no-one today could deny that football is the undisputed king of all sports. But it wasn’t always like that.

Imagine a world where rugby is the most popular game. Where Liverpool, Manchester and the North East are among the heartlands of the oval ball code.

Yet that is not an imaginary world. That’s how sport in Britain looked in the 1880s.

In fact, from our 21st Century view, the sports world was completely upside down.

So how did we end up where we are today? That was one of the questions I set out to answer in The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby – and the answer proved to be more interesting than I expected.

In 1863 the Football Association (FA) was founded, followed eight years late by the Rugby Football Union (RFU). But despite being first to organise, the clubs that played association football were a distinct minority.

Rugby dominated the industrial cities of the north of England. The Liverpool and Manchester rugby clubs were formed a generation before the forerunners of those cities’ now world famous football teams. In the North East, the Northern FC rugby team was the leading sports club in the region.

Yorkshire was dominated by rugby, with the sole exception of Sheffield. ‘The lower classes prefer watching a rugby union game’, reported The Field sports weekly in 1884, ‘the Association rules find more favour in the eyes of the middle and upper classes’.

Rugby was the national winter sport.

But in 1871 the FA began what would become its secret weapon: the FA Cup. The new national tournament saw teams of northern industrial workers players pitting their wits against sides full of Old Etonians. What better drama could there be in class-ridden Victorian Britain?

Many in rugby wanted their own national knock-out cup too. In 1878 the RFU was given a ‘cup to be annually competed for by all rugby union clubs’ by the recently disbanded Calcutta rugby club in India.

But the RFU didn’t like the idea that in a knock-out cup clubs couldn’t choose their opponents. A gentlemen’s club from London might be drawn against a team of dockers from Hull – and that was seen as a violation of a gentleman’s right to choose how to spend his leisure time.

Sensing the danger, a letter in The Field in 1884 argued with remarkable foresight that ‘unless a Rugby Union Challenge Cup be speedily established, in a few years the Association clubs throughout the Kingdom will outnumber those of their rivals by at least ten to one’.

The RFU’s refusal to organise a national cup competition was felt most strongly in Lancashire, where local soccer cups and leagues fuelled local rivalries and eroded rugby’s appeal. In soccer almost all matches were in a league or a cup, but most rugby matches were friendlies.

Lancashire rugby’s failure to organise a cup tournament meant that previously rugby cities like Liverpool and Manchester were gradually colonised by soccer. And clubs like Burnley and Preston North End, which began as rugby clubs, switched to the round ball game in the early 1880s.

The pendulum moved even further to soccer in 1885 when the FA legalised professionalism and again in 1888 when the top clubs formed the Football League. But the RFU was firmly opposed to both professionalism and leagues.

Unbelievably, many RFU leaders did not want rugby to be a mass spectator sport. ‘The loss of followers of the grand old game is regrettable,’ wrote a rugby supporter in the 1889 Football Annual, ‘yet looking at the present state of all professional sports we cannot but think that this possible loss is far preferable to legalising professionalism’.

So in 1886 the RFU declared rugby a purely amateur game and banned all forms of payment to players. A civil war broke out between it and the big clubs in the industrial north of England as clubs and players were banned for alleged professionalism.

Eventually rugby split in two when the northern clubs resigned from the RFU in 1895 and began what would become rugby league. As well as paying players, rugby league organised leagues and started the Rugby League Challenge Cup.

9781408831571 (2)But it was too late to turn back the tide of soccer. By the time of the first Challenge Cup final in 1897, the FA Cup final attracted 65,000 spectators, twice as many as had attended even the biggest international rugby matches. In 1901, over 110,000 people attended the final, probably the biggest ever crowd for any sporting event at that time.

Little more than a decade after rugby’s 1895 split the FA had over 7,500 affiliated clubs, roughly fifteen times the number of rugby clubs playing either league or union. Rugby’s civil war had left it exhausted – and soccer was the clear winner.

But it could have been so different. If the RFU had used the Calcutta Cup as rugby’s equivalent of the FA Cup way back in 1878, it’s probable that soccer would have remained the weaker sport.

And that would mean that the sporting world would look very different today.

The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby by Tony Collins is now available in paperback. Save 20%* on all Bloomsbury rugby books here, with discount code OVAL16.

* Discount available to UK residents only. Ends 31 December 2016.

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Nell McAndrew’s Marathon Tips

With this year’s London Marathon only a few days away I know everyone due to take part will be feeling a bundle of nerves and excitement.

I can honestly say that taking part in the London Marathon has changed my life for the better. It has not only challenged me to do something that I had never done before, but it has also given me the chance to raise money and awareness for charity.

010.Ch1I am often asked why I run and in the past I have tried to answer in a way to justify why I do, and especially why would I want to run any kind of long distance. As I get older I have realised that I need to simply reply, ‘why not?!’

Running is my therapy. It’s my way to relax and unwind, to re-energise and refuel my positivity. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Training for a marathon has given my running a greater focus and enabled me to push myself further than I ever thought possible.

Although I won’t be on the start line this year, I intend to take part in the future as I feel my running journey is only just beginning. I still believe I can go faster and I would love to still be running it when I’m 80-years-old and beyond! Who knows, maybe I will be able to become the oldest runner to complete the London Marathon in years to come!

Running a marathon isn’t easy but to anyone preparing to run on Sunday – you have a great day ahead of you! Yes, there will be aching muscles and sore feet and at some point you will ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ but you can’t beat the feeling when you cross the finish line. The amazing crowd support along the way will help pull you through when the going gets tough.

Here are my race day tips to help you enjoy the day and hopefully get a PB!

Sleep well the week before: You will be so nervous the night before the race it is unlikely you will sleep well, so try and get some early nights in during the week preceding the race instead. Aim to have a good night’s sleep on the Thursday and Friday nights and lie in on Saturday morning if you can.

Rest, rest rest! In the week building up the race there is no point trying to cram in any extra training. Stick to some easy jogging and rest as much as possible so your legs will be fresh on the day. Try to keep off your feet as much as possible the day before the race – any DIY, shopping or housework can wait!

Fuel up: Eat extra carbs on the days preceding the race and have a carb-heavy meal the night before. Make sure it is a meal you have had before a long run previously so you’re sure it agrees with you. Although you will feel nervous in the morning, don’t skip breakfast. Eat at least two hours before the start so you have fuel for the run.

Avoid chafing: Blisters and bleeding nipples don’t have to be part of your marathon experience! Apply anti-chafing gel such as Tiger Balm or Vaseline on your feet and anywhere your clothes might rub when you get ready. This is particularly important if you are wearing fancy dress, once I got a very sore neck from the elastic of my superhero costume cape rubbing in the Great North Run! Women, don’t forget to apply gel under the elastic of your sports bra and men should try putting plasters over their nipples to prevent bleeding.

043.Ch2.NMcD'sRunning.Hydrate: Drink a couple of glass of water before the race but don’t go overboard, if you have too much you will get a stitch and need frequent toilet stops! Adjust how much you drink to how hot it is on the day, as you will need to have a little extra if you are sweating more. Once the race is underway, drink little and often rather than waiting till you are thirsty and guzzling a whole bottle.

Plan ahead: There are three start lines at London so familiarise yourself with which one
you are on and how you will get to it on the morning of the race. Allow plenty of time for your journey as you don’t want to waste nervous energy worrying about getting to the start on time. Make sure your kit is ready the night before with your number pinned on your vest, any gadgets you intend to use fully charged, and your chip on your trainer, so all you have to do in the morning is get up and go.

Keep warm: At London you have to put your kit onto the baggage van to be taken to the finish at least 30 minutes before the start so take an old T-shirt or bin bag to wear which you can then discard so you don’t get cold hanging around before the gun goes.

Pack a spare pair of trainers: After running 26.2 miles your feet will feel sore! It will be a relief to take your trainers off so either pack a spare pair in your bag or ask a friend or relative to bring different shoes to the finish for you. That way you can make your feet feel more comfortable as soon as possible instead of travelling home in your race shoes.

Don’t go off too fast! It is always tempting to go off too fast at the start as it feels easy to begin with and the adrenaline is pumping. But you will suffer later in the race if you try to push yourself too hard too soon. Use a GPS watch to check your pace or take your mile splits on a stopwatch to ensure you are going at your target speed.

Mind over matter: You are bound to feel nervous and worry ‘can I do this?’ My advice is to stay calm and focus on the positives. Think of all the training you have done and how it will help you run well. During the race, if it feels too much to think about making it to the end, focus on getting to the next mile or the next water station instead. Have a positive mantra you repeat as you run. Mine in 2012 was ‘I can do this!’ I kept repeating it in my head as I ran and it helped me stay focused and in a running rhythm.

Enjoy it! It’s fair to say you won’t love every second of running the marathon as there are times it may hurt and you will have to dig in. But you will also feel joy, determination and a great sense of achievement. There is such a wonderful atmosphere in London, make sure you take it all in and savour the experience. Highlights include crossing Tower Bridge and running down The Mall to see the finish gantry. It’s an emotional moment when you cross the line and get your medal – I usually burst into happy tears of relief, euphoria, pride and exhaustion! And once I am recovered, I can’t wait to do it all again!

NellIf you would like to read more tips on how to improve or how to get started in running, there’s lots more advice from myself and other runners in my Guide To Running.

Working with my co-writer and fellow runner Lucy Waterlow and Bloomsbury Sport has helped me to pull together a plethora of information including nutritional advice, training plans and most importantly real life stories from other runners, sharing their experiences and words of wisdom.

This week I received a Tweet from @aliciacarter901 who said following the beginners plan in the book helped her finish her first marathon in Manchester and ‘enjoy each mile’. So if you’re inspired by London to do a marathon or start running, this book could be just what you need to help you along the way.

Order Nell McAndrew’s Guide to Running now for just £9.99 from Simply enter discount code NELL16 at the checkout.


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