January 7, 2010 posted by

Flexibility & Performance

There’s a good interview with Ivan Basso in the latest edition of Cycle Sport. For those who don’t know, he was Armstrong’s heir apparent in the Tour before getting busted in the Operation Puerto scandal and serving a two year suspension. In his return to the peloton this year he was a good, but not great, stage racer. While most pundits chalk this up to lack of dope, Basso offers a different perspective. Unlike Tyler’s vanishing twin, his explanation actually makes sense. Not only that, we’ll get to see it play out next season.

Many cyclists’ lives fall apart after a drug bust. Look at Hamilton or Landis, who seem shadows of the men they once were. And compared to many, like Pantani or Jimenez (who both died of drug overdoses after living with suicidal tendencies) they seem lucky. None of this happened to Basso. His family life stayed strong. He seemed to take his punishment as a motivation to train even harder. His schedule became transparent, as well as his blood values, and he trained publicly like a Spartan for two years.

His return was a disappointment. He targeted the Giro d’Italia, a race he’d won by ten minutes on the eve of his bust, and came in 5th. He vowed to do better in the Vuelta a Espana and did, but still missed the podium after getting smoked in the final day’s time trial that dropped him to 4th. This would be a career defining year for most professional cyclists but, for the guy who finished second in two Tour de Frances’, it was a major step back.

The tifosi quickly dismissed him. Instantly there was pressure for Liquigas to let Basso go in favor of supporting its two young stars, Nibali and Kreuziger. Another teammate, Franco Pellizoti, who finished third in the Giro, demanded to be the protected leader next year. Always the gentleman, Basso has offered to ride in support should those riders prove stronger. He also has a plan to ensure it won’t happen. It’s based on flexibility.

Basso was always a great climber. It wasn’t until he came to CSC that his time trialing caught up. Working with Bjarne Riis he quickly became feared against the clock as well, which is the recipe you need to win grand tours. “If you do 400 watts on climbs,” says Basso. “You should be able to produce 400 watts in a time trial too.”

Last year it wasn’t the case. Basso (like another former time trialing champion, Lance Armstrong) was decidedly average. According to the numbers he was 20-30 watts less efficient in his time trial position, a lack of efficiency that will never will a grand tour unless you can drop everyone on the climbs like Ricardo Ricco, which requires a blood haematocrit level that will now put you in prison.

When we visualize hard training we think of pain and suffering. Basso suffered like a dog for two years only to see his performance go backwards. He then took the Armstrong approach and raced and raced. This seems logical when you’re trying to make up for time away from racing but it’s not scientific. It’s not how either rider gained success, which was by scientifically evaluating every aspect of performance and doing whatever was necessary to make it happen. Doping aside there were many other factors that set these riders apart.

Flexibility is something we rarely think about in cycling, or almost any sport for that matter besides the obvious like gymnastics. But the ability to get your body into an aerodynamic position while it’s still powerful is a massive advantage. While Basso was riding his “virtual Giro” and famous ticking off miles he probably wasn’t spending hours sitting in a quiet room stretching without a coach demanding it of him.

It’s human nature. How many cyclists do you know that given a couple of hours would choose to stay inside and stretch rather than go for a spin? How many of anyone in any sport? All training, for that matter, leans this way. The first workouts that get dropped by our Beachbody customers are yoga and stretching. We get more emails complaining about these than all of our other workouts combined. Nobody asks why they should do cardio or lift weights. We are regularly questioned, or even challenged, about the validity of yoga.

Athletic performance is about balance. Your body needs to be able to perform well throughout its range of motion. If it can’t you will suffer for it. These differences can be imperceptible. In these two photos of Basso there’s a 30 watt shift—podium or no podium—that may even avoid a trainer’s eye.

Tony Horton tells us that he doesn’t look that way he does at 50 because he lifts weights, but because he does yoga. Basso has dropped his early season racing in favor of a flexibility program. There are lessons here, which we’ll get to see play out on Italian roads in May.


  • Sitting here wincing in pain every time I move, as a shot of electricity travels down my leg from a strained lower back, I think maybe you're right. I don't stretch enough. Proper stretching was what it took to finally overcome a nagging plantar fascia problem.Josh

  • interesting article……. so many reasons people avoid yoga. Part of it is that they dont like being calm in an uncomfortable stance/position. Working those stabilizers is more important than pumping iron in the gym. (HA! I said it).You should definately write about the relationship between flexibility and hypertrophy.

  • Slam yoga! WTF! Some people have their heads so far up their asses all they see is shit.

  • haha tony lmao. That would be painful and weird.

  • Yea, when I had my knee problem for a couple of years I think it was caused by too much cycling and not enough stretching. It was definitely more and better stretching that helped me recover.~RAnd stop the gratuitous reference to Tyler's disappearing twin. That was merely the most entertaining of many possibilities he gave for testing positive, not his own claim. Obviously he should have also said that possibly he test positive because he was a doper.

  • I'm going to have to use Tony's quote on our current Message Board meathead group that think we just put that stuff in 90x because it's trendy and try our "coach" our users to stop doing it. They seriously don't believe Tony does yoga. Pretty rad.Insane, the muscle cell stretching associated with hypertrophy is different than that of which I speak here, but I will address it later in a post, for sure.Reed, it's hard to such low hanging fruit. To be fair, Basso had his Clintonesque excuse. I think he said he let them put dope in his blood but never injected it, or something like that.

  • good call, many people dont believe yoga is important or think tony does it. Tony without yoga is a bodybuilder without protein. But there will always be people who will deny the fact that yoga is important. Work Those stabilizers people, it will do you good!!

  • As Hassan and Tony know, we tell EVERYONE early and often not to overlook yoga. I talked to a guy last night on Facebook who fought me on yoga endlessly. I told him to give it an honest shot for three weeks and if it still wasn't working for him, we'd discuss it. That was six months ago. He wanted to tell me he's done Patience Hummingbird from One on One 50 out of the last 60 days and that his jacked up back has never felt better. Yoga people. It answers a lot of questions.Great post here. The Race of Truth rules.Dave

  • nice post. thanks.

  • Steve glad to here you tout the benefits yoga as an active 44 year old whose done ironman triathlons 50 mile runs yoga is my favorite workout of the series. I've gained balance and strength improvements and notice when I don't do it. Even when I'm in the high mileage running, cycling or swimming mode I work in yoga at least once a week… Lots of people still believe in garbage miles/training. Not macho to do yoga. Whatever it works and I'm teaching my teenager swimmers to incorporate it as part of their training. As Tony says different is good. Took me a long time to learn.

  • To summarize as much as possible: used to do a little yoga and climb, couldn't afford yoga classes any more, didn't get a tape or anything. Started playing tons of hockey until injury. 3 mo rehab, now trying P90X. At 43, firmly believe if anything is going to pull me out of this tailspin it's going to be the yoga.

  • Ted "fire up the shop" Pederson? Hey, man! How's it going? What injury do you have? Might be able to make some suggestions.

  • Yep fire up the shop! Things are good enough, how are you? BTW just finished week 1. Sore as heck but you guys put together an outstanding program that is fun and tough.I started coaching soccer for my kids. I didn't want to coach something, even for 7 year olds, that I knew nothing about. So I started playing soccer. I developed severe groin pain. It came on slowly. I've been through 3 weeks of peroxicam followed by 8 weeks of PT. Got rid of adductor (ab?) pain mostly. Strengthened a lot of stuff up. But there is always this little point of pain in the very lower abdominal. Given I play hockey, soccer, the slow onset, and the location, I am still a little afraid I have the dreaded sports "hernia", although I've been able to skate and while I still feel pain and it can still be excruciating to sneeze, I might be back on track. Sorry to write a novel. Great diet plan Steve. Love the protein shake, brings back memories of Blenders in the Grass.

  • Funny. A group of us (climbers) in SB started playing soccer and almost everyone got hurt and the groin was the main issue. Not much in life preps you for soccer other than soccer!X will help for sure, especially with leg balance. I've got some other exercises to show you. I'll try and shoot them soon and put them up so you can see.

  • Thanks. Yeah no more soccer for me thanks!

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