Graeme Obree was the Scottish amateur rider who launched himself from the domestic scene to World Champion status on a shoestring budget and broke the world hour record riding a bike made from washing machine parts.
He’s also a manic depressive and recovered alcoholic. In his autobiography, The Flying Scotsman, Obree details the way he justified his existence through achievement – often feeling only relief when he performed, and disappearing into self destructive behaviour when he didn’t.
Obree’s Training Manual is all about helping athletes achieve. He says “I write this book to bring you a training system and ways that give the best results in the least amount of time.” That’s a big promise to make. Can Obree deliver?
Unlike The Flying Scotsman, The Obree Way hasn’t seen the gentle hand of an editor. In fact it’s seen very little proofreading. My favourite example is when an entire half page is repeated from page 8 to page 9. Had I been the author, my heart would have sunk to see that in print. But in this book – I think it just brings it alive. It’s like Obree is sitting in the room offering his advice. Maybe he stumbles on the odd word, maybe he isn’t perfect – but he’s real and genuine, just like the simplicity of the time trial event, and that is why I love this book.
I’ve pulled out my favourite points from the book – there is far too much to tell you about all of it – so if you’re intrigued, I suggest you buy it.
Obree is all about recovery. He begins: “Training is bad for you. Training followed by rest and proper nutrition is good for and will make you better prepared for the event you are training for”. He very clearly explains how most athletes are conscientious people, and thus inclined to work harder at something, even when it isn’t going their way. He points out this cannot be the case with training. Training will only work when your body is recovered enough to respond. He believes in taking up to 4 days to recover after a hard session – and on the days in between, he advocates very easy rides.
The turbo is paramount. The legendary time trialist places huge importance on a good static trainer, in fact, calls it “the most important piece of equipment you’ll ever own.”
But Obree goes further than just to train hard indoors – he believes that turbo set up has to be identical and measurable. Tyre pressure always identical, crank length the same, computer installed so you can measure your effort. Not only this – your turbo should be simple, no frills. Obree explains how you can take apart a simple magnetic trainer, make it “non-commercial” – even removing the fly-wheel. This will make it very hard work – but it makes it very simple, too, and it means gradual degeneration of parts and alterations in resistance will never take place since there are so few parts to degenerate or change.
I won’t lie – I’d be amazed if anyone out there has followed the instructions to a T. But as the owner of the simplest, cheapest magnetic turbo around – I love Obree’s thinking. It’s not about frills, clever turbo gimmicks – just pedal hard and get faster.
Obree believes in just a few very important rides. The first is the turbo time trial. Ride for 20-30minutes as hard as you can. This is a test, and needs to be repeatable and track-able. It’s hard but he believes it is the ultimate test and most important session. I’ll let him explain to you how you cope with this mentally, should you wish to give it a go. The second ride is a one hour road ride, treating it like a time trial – but this is less intense than the turbo TT.
The third ride – The Glycogen Ride – is about teaching your body to use glycogen as fuel. You eat little before hand, nothing during – and you ride 90mins – 140mins at the sort of ‘can’t talk, but not gasping for air’ level of effort. Done ‘The Obree Way’ – you should be on your knees by the end – so that’s a pretty hard 90-140mins of riding I’d say.
During this ride, our coach also suggests some strength work. Obree doesn’t believe in the gym. Lifting weights will not encourage muscles to become strong specifically for cycling in the way that cycling will. Instead, he prescribes finding a hill or gradient, and riding it in a gear which “you can barely turn over without stalling… this should be done in the sitting position.” This ride is meant to be tough, and you’re meant to struggle with the stairs on return – and Obree suggests up to 4 days recovery afterwards.
Breathing and Pedalling are really important to Graeme. They’re important to all of us – but the technique of these two actions is what Obree puts focus on. He believes we haven’t necessarily evolved to breathe in the most efficient way for cycling performance – that the involuntary desire to ‘gasp’ when working hard is an evolved tendency that wont help your riding. You need to learn to breathe again. It’s a 3 phase pattern, and I won’t outline it – you’ll need to read the book.
Obree also explains that most of us don’t pedal as effectively as we could. I expect this is a more common place assertion to make. He explains the correct way to pedal – starting with your heel dropped, cranks vertical, kicking the foot forward and using the calf’s and thighs to aid this, thinking long as you push the foot forward, before turning your attention to the other leg as you kick and pull with the upstroke.
Obree tries to help us learn to think through every movement, and make the most of every second – and the man who made the most of 60 minutes to break the hour record has to know his stuff.
Obree doesn’t believe in excessive stretching. He believes in 4 key stretches. The hamstring stretch. A quad stretch. A squat stretch. A hip flexor stretch. He points out “you wouldn’t accept having a stiff bottom bracket, so don’t accept having a stiff body.” Simple – no magic, no gimmicks – but do it every single day.
I would take some sections in this book with a tiny pinch of salt. Graeme is a legend, and you won’t find many people who can push themselves as he does.
Despite this, there is so much more to this book that what I’ve outlined. And that is why you should read it. I won’t take from you the opportunity to hear the best bits from the mouth of one of the most creative thinkers in cycling by writing it all out myself – I’ll only emphasise that if you do take the time to read this book, you’ll find yourself transported to the living room of a legend, hearing some simple, plain, honest truth, from the man who knows it best. And I don’t think many people encapsulate the hard, honest spirit of the Race of Truth like Graeme Obree does.