Help With Climbing 101 and Hart Rates



Clandestine

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Feb 20, 2011
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I am sure that this topic has been discussed to death, but any help with this would be very appreciated. A couple of years ago, I started racing locally and noticed that my climbing and general condition was lacking. Basically, every road race that had a hill in it caused me to be the first rider off the back. So this past winter, I decided that I wanted to change all that and start my own training plan. Basically 3 months base training, and 2 months building. I also, decided that I needed more strength in my legs to climb better and hit the gym doing squats, hamstring curls, leg presses and other such exercises. I used my max heart rate of 170 to basically divide out the percentages for target heart rate zones when training. As the races started here on the west coast, I came to sad realization, my climbing has not improved. It seems that every time the road starts to goes higher than 3%, my heart rate jumps to the 160 zone. With a max at 170, basically I am becoming anaerobic as the hill begins. It's scary to see your heart rate go from 135 - 145 to 165- 168 in 3ths of a mile on a 2 mile climb. It's also sad to see you go from being with the pack to watching the pack ride off in front of you and you having no gas left to catch them without blowing up. The other sad point is that I am 5 11' and 150lbs and there are guys bigger than me passing me on the hills.
Basically I am at a lost, do I push more weight and try to get stronger or do I go back to base miles and get my aerobic engine overhauled. Also, I noticed in my hill training that my heart rate always jumps into the danger zone when climbing hills. People say that it power vs. weight. So that would leave me to believe to climb faster become stronger. However, if your lungs can't keep up with the additional effort needed to climb faster then??
Also, if it helps, it seems that my lungs give out way before my legs do. However, my legs are quick to follow since I am gasping for air in most cases and not getting enough oxygen to my muscles to contract properly.
So the question is, do I lift more to become stronger, do I do hill repeats to train better in an anaerobic state, or do I go back to base miles and see if by training my aerobic engine better my climbing will get better?

Any ideas or suggestions?
 

Felt_Rider

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Oct 24, 2004
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Originally Posted by Clandestine .
......do I go back to base miles and get my aerobic engine overhauled.........

.........or do I go back to base miles and see if by training my aerobic engine better my climbing will get better?

Any ideas or suggestions?
It sounds like you need to do what a lot of us here are focused on doing and discussed on a couple different threads.
Work on that aerobic engine by training just under threshold or the sweet spot for sustained periods.

I am not sure of what you call base miles. Training just under threshold is a little more specific and intentional than what a lot of those who define base mile type training.
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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Listen to Felt_Rider. Work your basic aerobic fitness with a focus on sustainable power. Leg strength as in the ability to increase your one or ten rep maximum force in the gym is NOT a limiter to cycling events over a minute or two in duration and definitely NOT a limiter to climbing hills fast. Sure it feels that way, when your legs run out of gas on a steep climb it feels a lot like running out of steam pushing big weights on the leg press machine. But the causes are completely different. Cycling even at very high levels of racing requires forces that are only a fraction of your body weight and you carry that around and up and down stairs all the time.

What you're lacking isn't the strength to push the pedals harder, it's the sustainable power, fatigue resistance and overall fitness to press on the pedals with 30 to 50 pounds per pedal stroke at 70-110 times per minute for up to hours on end. That's not going to improve by raising your single leg, one rep maximum by 10 or 20% but it will raise by doing solid sustained sub maximal training at Threshold and possibly VO2 max levels. It will also improve by simply riding a lot of sustained Tempo paced rides.

Search these boards and the web for information on SST (Sweet Spot Training), FTP, 2x20s, 5x5s, etc. Tons of good information on how to do steady long sub maximal efforts (like the popular 2x20 Threshold intervals) to improve your sustainable power. Do that, keep an eye on your weight as that's a big part of climbing, do some training on the kind of hills that give you trouble to dial in gear selection, standing vs. sitting, the mental aspects, etc. and your climbing will improve. But it won't improve with more time in the squat rack...

Good luck,
-Dave
 
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bgoetz

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Nov 25, 2010
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The training recommendations are definitely something to focus on. Maybe mess around with what gear you are climbing in as well to get a feel for what works best.
 

dsb137

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Sep 13, 2006
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I don't know if this is applicable or not, but here in N.Ga I see a lot of people up from Fla and in the mountains for the first time. They seem to all want to carry their momentum up the climbs and don't shift until they redline at which time they're cooked because now they have to recover _and_ climb.... By all means work on SST and FTP and all those other TLA's that's sure to help, but you need to climb... By that I mean put it in a gear that you can sustain for the duration of the climb and don't shift up unless it's too easy and you go thru the _bottom_ of the zone you're trying to hold. I have also found that gearing is important, there is a speed at which when I'm climbing I can just maintain if I can keep the rpm up, but if I was in a bigger gear trying to go the same speed I'd pop. It doesn't matter what anyone else is using for gearing, your individual W/kg is what determines what you need... I've gone past people considerable lighter than me who were struggling to push a gear... There is a cadence/power combo that works for you, you just have to find it...
 
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Felt_Rider

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Oct 24, 2004
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Originally Posted by dsb137 .

I don't know if this is applicable or not, but here in N.Ga I see a lot of people up from Fla and in the mountains for the first time. They seem to all want to carry their momentum up the climbs and don't shift until they redline at which time they're cooked because now they have to recover _and_ climb....


Is there no way to have momentum up Hog Pen? /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

I already know the answer, but I need to get back over to your turf for a reminder.
 

Clandestine

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Feb 20, 2011
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Thanks for the advice. Since I don't have a powermeter, some of the threads are a little above me. However, I definitely understand the over concept and believe I can use Heart Rate, Cadence and Speed to determine the perfect pace to increase my aerobic engine and sustainable power. hopefully when my available cash out weighs the cost of a powermeter or computrainer, I will be able to afford one. Especially since my available training time is limited. Basically need to sqeeze every bit of training out of my time on the bike. Thanks again for pointing me int he right direction.
 

swampy1970

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Feb 3, 2008
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How many hours a week do you have available to train and more specifically, how many hours can you set aside for training at the weekend?

Climbing.

A couple of things to look at:

Gradient and "why your legs lie." If you're close to your max and you ain't "race fit" then what you may notice is that as soon as the gradient eases ever so slightly is that the pain doesn't go away - the only thing that goes away are the people infront. Make a mental note to keep a visual on the gradient and don't 100% rely on what your legs are telling you. If you see the gradient ease, click it into a bigger gear and give it an honest go - don't keep it in the same gear and try and pedal faster. Whatever works at increasing speed, works.

Cadence. Find a section of a hill that's about a mile long and reasonably steep, say 6 to 8% - but not too steep that you require your lowest gear. Ride up it at a pace you think you could just about hold for about 10 minutes. Of course the mile probably isn't going to take 10 minutes but you're going to have to ride it more than once. Note your time. Try and keep tabs on what your cadence is during this climb. Ride it again but this time using a higher gear (smaller sprocket). The key here is to try and keep the percieved effort about the same. If you manage to keep the cadence the same then you're on a winner already but this isn't the objective. Again, note your time. Ride it one final time, this time in a lower (bigger rear sprocket) than the first test. Same deal - go off percieved effort.

At the end of the day whatever works best for you in your current state of fitness, works. You may chose to do this set of tests on another day but in a different order just to make sure that results weren't trainted by being blasted out your skull on the last effort ;)

Gearing. One little addition to the above bit about cadence is that I tend to find that is when I'm riding at full gas and need to try one last effort in order to hold onto a wheel I normally have a better sucess rate if I do it in a big gear and alternate in and out of the saddle but it comes with a penalty. Blow and you're done... the Fat Lady has sang her final tune and the curtains are about to close.

Positioning. Try riding in different positions on a climb and notice if there's any percieved advantage. Don't just follow the rule of thumb that you need to be on the tops or brake hoods. Pantani climbed a fair bit in the drops. Lance's vulgar display of power on Ventoux - in the drops. Try everything and see what works best for you. If you're a bit scrunched up on the bike grabbing the top of the brake hoods might even help...

Saddle positioning. This may or may not be a valid point for you but I tend to find that if my hamstrings are massively tight due to me not stretching then I tend to over emphasize the quads, move forward on the saddle and speed goes down hill fast. You want your hamstrings and glutes as they're the big power players and when they're in good shape you can sit back in the saddle and really hammer the pedals down and back using them.
 

swampy1970

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Feb 3, 2008
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Originally Posted by Clandestine .

Thanks for the advice. Since I don't have a powermeter, some of the threads are a little above me. However, I definitely understand the over concept and believe I can use Heart Rate, Cadence and Speed to determine the perfect pace to increase my aerobic engine and sustainable power. hopefully when my available cash out weighs the cost of a powermeter or computrainer, I will be able to afford one. Especially since my available training time is limited. Basically need to sqeeze every bit of training out of my time on the bike. Thanks again for pointing me int he right direction.
An easy way to remember what L3 and L4 are.

L3 - if you could keep a hard constant effort going for ~2 hours then this is about where L3 is. You might get upto 3 hours as fitness increases. The aim isn't to thrash yourself into oblivion during L3 sessions... something more along the lines of steady mental attrition with increasing amounts of concentration required to keep the effort going. Think hard and fast for a long time. A prime time session on a Saturday and/or Sunday, especially early in the season and is probably the most effective way of getting a really high quality base. If you plan on doing two such sessions on consecutive days they you'll need to feed effectively within the 30 minutes after the end of the first ride and prepare to rest lots the remainder of the day.

L4 - the hallowed place that you can just keep going for an hour when you absolutely have too when you're fresh but normally 20 to 30 minutes at a time during regular training is a very hard experience. If you're massively short on training time L4 could be considered the session to nail. Don't expect to do another hard session the day after...
 

dsb137

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Sep 13, 2006
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Originally Posted by Clandestine .

Thanks for the advice. Since I don't have a powermeter, some of the threads are a little above me. However, I definitely understand the over concept and believe I can use Heart Rate, Cadence and Speed to determine the perfect pace to increase my aerobic engine and sustainable power. hopefully when my available cash out weighs the cost of a powermeter or computrainer, I will be able to afford one. Especially since my available training time is limited. Basically need to sqeeze every bit of training out of my time on the bike. Thanks again for pointing me int he right direction.
On a long climb you're likely to see your HR creep up... Or at least mine does... If I notice that my HR is creeping up but my Cadence and Speed (or Power) is the same, I just keep on and let it go... If Cadence and Speed are the same then Power is as well and you're seeing cardiac drift... I've seen drift of 10 BPM on hot days and been able to maintain the effort... If on the other hand you see a drop in Cadence and perceive an increase in effort (your HR won't have time to react), you need to shift down or ease up until your HR stabilizes again... Bottom line is that your FTP is what it is and you can only climb as fast as your power output will allow for the duration of the climb, 300 W is 300 W on level ground or going up hill... Seems really obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people will try to go with the move and ramp up their output only to pop in short order...
 

hrumpole

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Jan 4, 2011
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Also--don't train off of your max heart rate. Check the threads (or google) figuring out your threshold range. Then nail that.

Once you know your LTHR, it's pretty easy to tell when the explosion's coming. Once you hit that rate, settle down. I know, for example, that if I hit 164, I don't have much time left so better ease back a bit. You've actually been workign a lot harder, and explosion is imminent. Try to keep it in that LT range or lower. If you have it in you, attack. If not, just stay in the zone. Over time, you'll get a lot faster. Even in a couple of weeks, you'll see improvement.
 

Clandestine

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Feb 20, 2011
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Thanks Swampy1970. I can train about 9 -11 hours a week. Not to get too much into it, my 5 month old baby keeps my wife and me pretty busy. My wife knows how much I enjoy cycling, so she lets me train 3 nights during the week and allows me to get one long ride in on the weekend. I am very lucky to have an understanding wife. So, I usually do 1.5 hours 3 nights during the week and 1.5 hours on either Saturday or Sunday. The other day I usually do a long ride of 4 - 5 hours.

Right now I am trying to find my sweet spot that I can hold for 1.5 hours on my trainer during the week without blowing up. In addition, I have a hill that is roughly between 6 - 8% and 2 miles long by my house. I will try your suggestion and see what feels right with cadence, gearing and positioning.

I know at 43 that I am not going to be the next Lance or Schleck, I just want to finish with the pack or within the top 50% of the pack. I think those are very realistic goals, especially since I am not overweight. In fact, if I can get my climbing better, I feel that I could achieve my goal. I am definitely committed to achieving my goal, and appreciate everyone's time and effort in responding to my post.

I am not planning on racing again until April, so I have time to work on my conditioning and we will see how it goes.

Thanks again
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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Originally Posted by Clandestine .

... I can train about 9 -11 hours a week. ..
That's plenty of training time as long as you focus on quality.

+1 on Swampy's description of L3 and L4. Power meters are great for their objective feedback and the way they accurately quantify how hard, 'hard' is but what really counts is putting in the effort and you don't 'need' any instrumentation to do that. Go out and do the L3 and L4 riding with things like long hill repeats, 2x20 L4 efforts, longer Tempo rides, etc. Pace them as Swampy suggests, stick with it long enough and the progress will come.

Good luck,
-Dave
 

stowy

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Jan 20, 2011
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My 2 cents - do as many hills as you can, especially on your longer weekend rides. Get used to the feel of riding hills, different cadence / gearing, obviously sometimes you are limited to whatever cadence you can hold in your lowest gear. Try different combinations of seated / standing too.

For seated climbing, i find it helps to sit toward the back of the saddle, hands on the tops of the bars, kind of push your bum right into the back of your seat and power forward and down on the pedals on your down stroke. This gives you extra leverage and power from the bike. Of course you needs to have the legs and the lungs to be able to pull it off, but i think any technique that enables you to get more out of the bike is worthwhile, it feels good for me. Try and be relaxed in the upper body, elbows bent and hands loose on the bars when doing this.

Also when your legs hurt, try standing up, dance on the pedals, rocking the bike from side to side to gain maximum leverage from it. Your HR will go higher but my theory is that when you climb like this you have a higher threshold HR because you are recruiting your upper body muscles, much like running or cross-country skiing, (thos guys have much higher threshold HRs than cyclists). Look at footage of contador or lance climbing a hill standing for a good idea of this technique.

Lastly, make sure you ride over hills. Push right over the top and then recover on the downhill / drafting on the flat. You need to get used to the feeling of pushing through your limits when it comes time to race.

Basically, you have to learn to crave hills! Make them your friend, climb all the time, and you will soon become much better at them. I like nothing more than a good challenging hill climb, the longer and steeper the better! Might be due to my background in MTB'ing too tho.

Stowy