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Book Review: Bicycling For Women

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

Bicycling For Women Gale Bernhardt Velo PressWhile shopping for a bicycle seat this spring, I was encouraged by a handsome young clerk to buy an exquisite handmade Italian leather saddle. He assured me it was not only indestructible but classy — the leather was burnished to a high gloss, the stitching pattern integrated fully with the design. Perfect. Except for two problems: the seat had no padding and no centre cutout. Cycling on it was excruciating and would have caused permanent damage to the soft tissue of my nether regions.

This experience brought home to me again how important it is for women cyclists to be better informed about cycling equipment, bicycle fit and training. Why? Because women are different than men.

Gale Bernhardt tells you how different and why you need to know. In her book, Bicycling for Women, Bernhardt, a USA Cycling Level I certified coach and USA Triathlon team coach at the 2004 Olympic Games, shares her expertise, spinning out female-specific information about road biking and training, including chapters on menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and aging, that you won’t find in other cycling books.

“There are anatomical and physiological differences between women and men,” says Bernhardt. “I want women to have a better understanding of these differences so they can train more deliberately to reach their goals.” Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned rider, a young woman or a middle-aged one, Gale’s book will help you understand the sport of cycling and how to train for it in a fresh new way — from a woman’s perspective.

Bicycling for Women starts out with the basics of anatomy and bike fit. “Riding your bicycle shouldn’t hurt,” says Bernhardt. “The only discomfort you should ever feel is the self-induced muscle ache or fatigue that comes from riding fast or riding far.” She then outlines in detail the differences in proportion between men’s and women’s bodies, and describes the anatomy of a bicycle, explaining the ways in which a bike can be modified to fit your body for a “pain-free” ride.

After explaining the practical issues of bike selection, bike fit, and gear, Bernhardt jumps right into training and fitness. “For endurance athletes, one of the most common mistakes is training at the same speed all the time,” she says. Bernhardt explains why this is a problem and how to fix it, covering training concepts like periodization, overload, volume, duration and frequency, as well as showing you how to improve your speed and endurance on the bike.

In a fully illustrated chapter on strength training and stretching exercises, Bernhardt shows how to stay injury-free by building strength and flexibility, which increases your range of motion. Diet is covered as well. If you are confused about carbohydrates, protein and fats — what they do and what ratio you need — the chapter on nutrition helps you put it all together and work out your optimum diet. This section also contains important information on supplements, weight loss, and eating disorders.

Setting goals is an integral part of training. The book includes five goal-identified fitness plans. Whether you want to ride 80 or 160 km distances this summer, do a three-day cycling tour, improve your hill climbing, or try a 40 km time trial, Bicycling for Women gives you detailed 12 to 25 week training plans to help you reach your goals.

The second half of the book is dedicated to women-specific topics. The chapter on menstrual cycles describes how estrogen and progesterone levels change during different phases of menses, the possible physical reactions you might have to these changes and how they could affect your training. For women expecting a child, there is sound advice about how to stay active throughout, with exercise guidelines for during and after pregnancy. For the masters cyclist, Bernhardt includes information about menopause, preventing osteoporosis, hormone therapy and encouraging news about the effect of exercise on the aging athlete.

Bicycling for Women is a must-have resource for women cyclists. Published in March 09 it’s available through VeloPress.

Bicycling for Women by Gale Bernhardt
VeloPress, $18.95

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