Help for climbing hills



tomgaul

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I've made a lot of progress this season, but I'm still not able to climb very well. On the flats I've been able to cruise along with the faster group but once we hit a hill I can only keep up the tempo for a short time. I've tried standing and spinning, it seems I don't have the stamina to keep up either way. What can I do to get better?

By the way I'm 45years old, 5'10" and 190lbs. I'm running a 53/39 up front and 12-23 out back.
 

RapDaddyo

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May 17, 2005
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Three quick observations. One, your weight is working against you more on the climbs than on the flat. Check the weight of some of the guys that are out-climbing you and I'll bet they weigh a lot less. Second, one of the major differences in long climbs is the constancy of the intensity vs. riding in a group on the flat. Third, I wouldn't be able to climb worth a damn if I was running your gears, because I'm a spinner and my climbing really suffers when my cadence gets below ~70.

So, what can you do? One, lose some weight. I'm planning to lose 10 lbs myself, in part because I don't want to drag my 175 lbs up hills. Two, do some long climb intervals to get accustomed to the constancy of intensity. Three, give some thought to your gearing. I don't know what your "cadence of choice" is, but it's possible that you don't do as well at the cadences you are now climbing at. I'm in the process of re-gearing for a 17.5 mile hillclimb TT because with my current gearing (39/52; 13-26) my cadence drops below 70 in the steepest sections and my climbing power suffers at that cadence.
 

frenchyge

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tomgaul said:
I've made a lot of progress this season, but I'm still not able to climb very well. On the flats I've been able to cruise along with the faster group but once we hit a hill I can only keep up the tempo for a short time. I've tried standing and spinning, it seems I don't have the stamina to keep up either way. What can I do to get better?
Are these short hills (<2-3 minutes), or longer? Are they steep enough that the other guys are standing and cranking, or flatter?

I'd have no problem using a 39x23 on all but the biggest (longest & steepest) rollers around here, but I'm 175 and I don't know what kind of terrain you're riding in out there.
 

tomgaul

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I've been working on the weight issue (in JAN 2004 - 217lbs, JAN 2005 - 209lbs). As far as the hills go, most when the grade and length, I run out of steam. If it's length (most grades) is short enough, I'll usually be able to hammer in a big gear and stand or force a fast cadence to keep up. It's when the hill is long that I can't keep it up. Three of the guys I ride with bascially fly up the hill, they're all with in 5 years of my age and one guy is taller and heavier but gets to ride 5-6 days a week. I know he's a stronger rider, I just feel Ishould be closing the gap by now. What types of training in the off season should I plan on. I need to start running again for Army Physical Fitness Test.
 

kmavm

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tomgaul said:
I've been working on the weight issue (in JAN 2004 - 217lbs, JAN 2005 - 209lbs). As far as the hills go, most when the grade and length, I run out of steam. If it's length (most grades) is short enough, I'll usually be able to hammer in a big gear and stand or force a fast cadence to keep up. It's when the hill is long that I can't keep it up. Three of the guys I ride with bascially fly up the hill, they're all with in 5 years of my age and one guy is taller and heavier but gets to ride 5-6 days a week. I know he's a stronger rider, I just feel Ishould be closing the gap by now. What types of training in the off season should I plan on. I need to start running again for Army Physical Fitness Test.
Longer climbs are always harder for big guys. It's typical that you can "momentum" your way up shorter climbs by going a bit into the red and hammering away. Longer climbs subjectively feel more like running than cycling to me; momentum plays a smaller role, and every inch you move forward requires some effort. It quickly becomes aerobic power and weight; do everything you can with your training and diet to maximize the former and minimize the latter. I posted here looking for climbing advice a few months ago. The eternal answers are: lose weight, and practice climbing.

Nobody ever wants to hear that. I know I didn't. I had lost weight, and I was spending at least two hours a week on sustained climbs, and nothing was working. Since then, I've lost ten more pounds, and I've been doing almost all my focused intensity work on climbs, spending as much as 4 hours a week climbing. And... drumroll... I'm better on the climbs. Not fantastically, world-beatingly better. Just kinda better. Frankly, not as much better as I'd hope, given that my wife and family are freaked out by how skinny I am now that I weigh about what I did when I was 15. C'est la vie.
 

Carrera

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I weigh more than the original poster at about 195 and am just under 5'11 tall. I regularly climb hills around 20 per cent or more, even long stretches. Personally I don't like this idea of dieting when I'm in hard training but this is just my own personal take.
I would probably consider dropping weight if I was going to do some of the climbs in the Vuelta or the Stelvio but for general purposes my weight doesn't seem to bother me much. My average speed on the very steep hills around Mow Cop (discussed in another thread) is around 7 mph.

RapDaddyo said:
Three quick observations. One, your weight is working against you more on the climbs than on the flat. Check the weight of some of the guys that are out-climbing you and I'll bet they weigh a lot less. Second, one of the major differences in long climbs is the constancy of the intensity vs. riding in a group on the flat. Third, I wouldn't be able to climb worth a damn if I was running your gears, because I'm a spinner and my climbing really suffers when my cadence gets below ~70.

So, what can you do? One, lose some weight. I'm planning to lose 10 lbs myself, in part because I don't want to drag my 175 lbs up hills. Two, do some long climb intervals to get accustomed to the constancy of intensity. Three, give some thought to your gearing. I don't know what your "cadence of choice" is, but it's possible that you don't do as well at the cadences you are now climbing at. I'm in the process of re-gearing for a 17.5 mile hillclimb TT because with my current gearing (39/52; 13-26) my cadence drops below 70 in the steepest sections and my climbing power suffers at that cadence.
 

frenchyge

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tomgaul said:
I know he's a stronger rider, I just feel Ishould be closing the gap by now. What types of training in the off season should I plan on. I need to start running again for Army Physical Fitness Test.
I'm hearing that you can keep up for a while, but if the hill persists then you run out of steam and fall off the pace. The issue is that you're being forced (by their fast starting pace) to climb at a power which you cannot sustain for the entire length of the hill. There are a couple approaches that could help:

1) As others have mentioned, lower weight means you're working less. That'll help you on every hill and every ride, but you're already working on that so I'll move on.
2) Better pacing may allow you to climb faster (overall). Instead of starting too fast and then losing steam, practice climbing at a pace that you can maintain for the entire climb and you'll probably find that your total elapsed time is lower. You may pull the other guys back by the top of the hill if you get better at this than they are.
3) More sustainable power. You need to develop your ability to ride longer at higher powers. That's what we all want. To do this, you can practice climbing as others have suggested (use this opportunity to work on your pacing as well), or incorporate some long interval sets into your workouts. Ride at a high power for 10-30 minutes, rest 5-10 min, then repeat 2-3 times (total). Power level should be close to the highest you can maintain steady for the entire interval. This will raise the power level that you can maintain for long periods of time (aerobic power).

Good luck.
 

RapDaddyo

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frenchyge said:
I'm hearing that you can keep up for a while, but if the hill persists then you run out of steam and fall off the pace. The issue is that you're being forced (by their fast starting pace) to climb at a power which you cannot sustain for the entire length of the hill. There are a couple approaches that could help:

1) As others have mentioned, lower weight means you're working less. That'll help you on every hill and every ride, but you're already working on that so I'll move on.
2) Better pacing may allow you to climb faster (overall). Instead of starting too fast and then losing steam, practice climbing at a pace that you can maintain for the entire climb and you'll probably find that your total elapsed time is lower. You may pull the other guys back by the top of the hill if you get better at this than they are.
3) More sustainable power. You need to develop your ability to ride longer at higher powers. That's what we all want. To do this, you can practice climbing as others have suggested (use this opportunity to work on your pacing as well), or incorporate some long interval sets into your workouts. Ride at a high power for 10-30 minutes, rest 5-10 min, then repeat 2-3 times (total). Power level should be close to the highest you can maintain steady for the entire interval. This will raise the power level that you can maintain for long periods of time (aerobic power).

Good luck.
I agree with all of frenchy's advice, but would elaborate a bit on the pacing topic. Climbing (other than very shallow grades) is not about drafting, so you can really ride at your own pace relative to the other riders -- the goal is to be with them at the top, not the middle. If the climb has significant grade changes (and virtually all long climbs do have such grade changes), long climbs absolutely offer an opportunity to use variable power pacing. Variable power pacing can be elevated to a very complex approach, but the simplistic version is to use more power in the steepest sections of the climb and use less power in the shallower sections. The rule is, "Go hard where it's hard." I regularly apply this approach in my climbs and my power varies by as much as 300w on a typical climb (e.g., 150w-450w). But, this must be practiced, to get a feel for the recovery phase which must, by definition, follow the push phase. So, yes, we all want more sustainable power. But, we can also improve how we manage our sustainable power, especially on long climbs where maintaining contact with the lead group is not essential and thus we are truly in control of the engine room.
 

mises

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May 27, 2005
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People never want to hear about weight but in most cases that is the biggest problem. You are around 50+ pounds from being a good weight for a climber at your height. Maybe you are just fat or maybe you have the genetic predisposition for a linebacker physique (and people who think they are just big and muscular are generally that AND fat in cycling terms). If it's just fat your climbing prospects could be quite good since the weight could all be lost, if it's the linebacker genetics you should still work to improve your climbing but just understand you are never going to be very good at it and focus more on your strengths.
 

frenchyge

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mises said:
People never want to hear about weight but in most cases that is the biggest problem.
At the competitive level, I would agree with that. At the recreational level everyone tends to be a little heftier than they could be, the hills tend to be a little less aggressive, the fitness levels vary, technique varies, and the riding clubs don't necessarily go all out on the climbs.

I guess the point I want to make is that people tend to lean on weight as the overall driver of whether someone will be a good climber or not. This may be the case at the competitive levels, but at the recreational levels there's enough room to improve overall fitness and technique that someone can easily overcome a weight disadvantage and still be the "best climber in the group," even though they'll never be a "great climber" in competition terms.
 

tomgaul

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3) More sustainable power. You need to develop your ability to ride longer at higher powers. That's what we all want. To do this, you can practice climbing as others have suggested (use this opportunity to work on your pacing as well), or incorporate some long interval sets into your workouts. Ride at a high power for 10-30 minutes, rest 5-10 min, then repeat 2-3 times (total). Power level should be close to the highest you can maintain steady for the entire interval. This will raise the power level that you can maintain for long periods of time (aerobic power).

This seems to be the best advice, I can probably be doing this now that I can only do shorter time length rides because of day light. There are a couple of hills in my area that I'll be seeing a lot of them for awhile :D
 

FrankBattle

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There is no magic. Lose weight. Climb lots. You will get better.

Forget about your buddies flying past you. When the hills show up, shift into a comfortable gear and just spin your way up. Do not think that you can push a big gear, pedal real hard and fly up the hill.

I think everyone has already outlined all the key points. In my case, I'm 205, 6'3". In real world standards, I'm lean (six pack, big legs etc I used to lift weights quite a bit). In cycling standards, I'm big (huge, a clydesdale etc etc). All basically saying that you will succumb to the laws of physics. I don't race, but I rarely get passed on climbs. I put a lot of work into:

1. pedaling at a higher cadence and trying to maintain that up hill (speed be damned, just be consistent),
2. Climbing as many hills as often as I can.
3. Doing more leg work last off season.

When I do get passed, I shrug it off, stick to my own pace to keep from blowing up. Some other short tips, work on climbing sitting most of the time except when the climb is short and you are familiar with it, in which case you can stand and power up it. Funny thing is that until you get familiar with the proper technique of climbing standing, your speed/cadence will drop, your heart rate jumps and you tire/blow up .. and this is what many think helps. It does help to mix it up a bit on longer climbs but do it only to rest your lower back.

I imagine some of the same may work for you (save the vast physical/physiological differences that I'm sure exists as you are not my twin).

For a more wordly example, look at Hincapie. Someone asked him how he improved at climbing; he wasn't bad to begin with. But his response was that he climbed every mountain he could find many times and was really focused on his diet/weight loss. I'd take this as gospel from a fellow clydesdale (sort of). Hincapie is 6'3" and 176 lbs (was about ~185 lbs). Now imagine him strapping a 20 - 30 lb bag on his back and trying to do the same thing. That's the equivalent of someone like you or me trying to climb with someone 20 - 30 lbs lighter. And yes, I know he puts in way more training than you or I.

I don't much care about wattage, but cadence & heart rate are my guides.
 

F1_Fan

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tomgaul said:
By the way I'm 45years old, 5'10" and 190lbs. I'm running a 53/39 up front and 12-23 out back.

Assuming your training is reasonable (which if you're doing group rides and riding hills [the best way to get better at hills] it probably is) then you're left with power-to-weight :) If you headed closer to 170 lbs I think you'd see a big difference.

I'm 5'10" and have been working hard at losing weight... the difference in my climbing from when I was 190 lbs to my current weight of 160 lbs is huge. I don't know your build but on me 160 is ever so slightly overweight. 150-155 is the appropriate weight for me.

I'm not saying you should hit these targets but Velonews published the table below showing weights of National and International pro race winners.

http://www.foosoftware.com/photo/bike/weight_range.jpg
 

frenchyge

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F1_Fan said:
I'm not saying you should hit these targets but Velonews published the table below showing weights of National and International pro race winners.

http://www.foosoftware.com/photo/bike/weight_range.jpg
That's like telling middle aged women that they should try to lose weight until they match the height/weight ratio of super-models. Think about who this guy's peers are.

C'mon guys. The only thing standing between a 190lb guy and the title of "Best Climber in the Bike Club" is a winter of dedicated hill/interval work. It's not like his buddies are gonna be on that chart either.
 

F1_Fan

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frenchyge said:
That's like telling middle aged women that they should try to lose weight until they match the height/weight ratio of super-models. Think about who this guy's peers are.

I didn't say he should reach the weights in that chart... it's just presented for information. At 190 lbs he is on the heavy side for someone who is 5'10" (I know, I've been there) unless he's a big build. Suggesting weight loss is actually the easy way to improve his climbing.

A moderately aggressive weight loss routine can see a loss of 2 lbs/week. In 10 weeks he'd be 170 lbs and climbing much better with less effort than 10 weeks of hill work. However, combine the weight loss with hill work and he'll be flying!!
 

frenchyge

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You're right about all that, it's just that everyone's beating the weight drum pretty hard and I felt the need to dissent. :eek: I laugh when people talk about how a skinny guy on a ride must be a 'climber' or a big guy must be a 'non-climber'. It's funny because at the recreational level, fitness level and good technique make much bigger differences than size/weight. I'm 175 and am always one of the 3 best, if not *the best* climber on all my local rides.

I know we cyclists get weight pounded into our heads until it is ingrained, and it does make a big difference *when fitness levels are nearly equal.* However, dropping 20 lbs will only help on the hills, whereas interval work to raise fitness will help on the flats as well, and improve recovery times to boot. Dropping weight isn't the end-all for climbing - you have to be fit too (and what better way to shed those pounds than some tough interval work?).
 

dhk

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RapDaddyo said:
Sounds good to me at the moment.
Funny you mention 20 lbs. Talking with a buddy here who's a very good climber at 5'8", 125 lbs. He maintains a strict diet discipline, and gets the reward on the hills.

He wondered why the rest of us were talking about weight all the time. So, he actually strapped a 20 lb dumbell to his back rack to see what it feels like. Said he was really surprised how much harder it is and how much it slowed him down. Imagine having to lug 145 lbs up hill.... We gave him no sympathy at all.
 

RapDaddyo

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dhk said:
Funny you mention 20 lbs. Talking with a buddy here who's a very good climber at 5'8", 125 lbs. He maintains a strict diet discipline, and gets the reward on the hills.

He wondered why the rest of us were talking about weight all the time. So, he actually strapped a 20 lb dumbell to his back rack to see what it feels like. Said he was really surprised how much harder it is and how much it slowed him down. Imagine having to lug 145 lbs up hill.... We gave him no sympathy at all.
Well, until I can get my weight down through more conventional means, I'm in the market for a special racing suit -- one that can be filled with helium. You know, I'd look like the Michelin Man going up the hill (LOL).:D
 

aa9t8

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i think.

as i am in the same age group, that you should get a pat on the back for even being out there. the average guy in our age group thinks exersise is getting up for a bag of chips. or a little solo sex is too much effort! congrats for getting out there and trying. i ride a lot am skinny and really suck on the hills. but i am out there.