Hill Climbing Advice & Winter Training



daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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Originally Posted by GraceB ....: "Intensity on every ride with no recovery results in sustained and difficult-to-overcome mediocrity and a seemingly endless plateau of middle-of-the-road fitness."
That statement is generally true but with emphasis on 'no recovery' and 'every ride'. If you're indeed riding Tempo and Threshold every time you get on the bike and not taking any rest days or any easier days then some recovery in your workout week is likely in order. But the basic premise that there's a 'no man's land' that should be avoided while training or that most or even many riders do too much Tempo and Threshold while trying to improve base aerobic fitness (i.e. during build as opposed to race phases of their training) is a very old concept that's been debunked many times over the years but the belief dies hard with some including apparently this author.

If those hills that are giving you fits are short 'sprinter's hills' in the thirty second to say two minute range and your riding partners are getting up and absolutely hammering them the idea of needing to have some event day freshness to deal with the big pace changes might make some sense and in many road races that's exactly what will happen on courses like that and racers definitely wouldn't want to show up for races like that with heavy fatigued legs from too much recent training and too little recovery. But if you're talking about longer climbs in the saddle where your riding partners pull away from you steadily then it comes down to sustainable watts per kilogram of body plus bike weight. So increase the sustainable watts (and a lot of Tempo/SST/Threshold riding is a very good way to do that for riders that lack the time to train four or five hours day in and day out) or drop weight.

But yes, mental attitude and things like gearing as you approach and transition onto the hill can make a big difference as well. If you're dropping down into your triple's granny gear or very low gearing at the first sight of the hill you're likely giving away a ton of momentum and letting gaps open up before the climbing even starts. Gearing down enough not to lug down and end up over geared is smart but spinning your brains out as you slide backwards won't help you sustain power up the hill either but it's pretty common for folks worried about climbs to over compensate and try to spin crazy low gearing up modest climbs....they just go slow as a result. So play with gearing, don't wait till you stall out but try riding some hills in training in a bit bigger gears if you typically spin very low gears up climbs. It's o.k. to grind a bit and stand up occasionally to regain momentum on steeper bits. Similarly if you always grind up hills, try downshifting progressively on the climb to avoid stalling out in too big a gear. IOW, experiment with gearing and try to find a gear that offers some solid resistance but that you can still turn over and don't downshift for every slight increase in terrain if a handful of out of the saddle pedal strokes can get you over those bits.

Work on your out of the saddle technique to find a gentle rocking rhythm that allows you to drop your body weight on the pedals as you use your arms to rock the bike from side to side. There are different ways to do this for different situations like attacking, dealing with a steep bit or just standing to rest and change up your muscle loading a bit on longer climbs. Play with it and for if it's rest or muscle changeup you're after try shifting up a cog or two before you stand so you don't lose speed as your cadence naturally drops while standing. Little things like that can make a big difference as can things like sliding aft on your saddle while climbing to bring different muscle groups into play which again works best if you're not spinning crazy easy gears on modest climbs.

Don't try to attack the bottom of longer climbs but do try to at least match the pace of your riding companions and try to settle into a pace that keeps you with them. Once a sizeable gap opens up a lot of folks ease up a bit and can't dig as deep so try not to give it away right at the bottom. You'll likely do a better job of keeping your head in the game if you stay with others till at least the midpoint of longer climbs and again this often means not downshifting into your easiest climbing cogs right at the base of the hill.

Lot's of technique and mental stuff to work on but all of that builds on top of solid sustainable power and total body plus bike plus kit weight. Keep working those Threshold intervals and hill repeats on your harder days, refuel but don't overfuel after workouts and keep working on the mental and technique aspects and your climbing will improve. But yes, don't ride hard rides seven days a week with no rest and not every ride needs to be Tempo or Threshold. But don't start avoiding the Tempo/Threshold sessions altogether as you're not going to get faster up medium to long climbs by riding Endurance pace all the time.

Good luck,
-Dave
 

gudujarlson

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Aug 30, 2012
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I experience the same sort of thing whenever I ride with a group that has several stronger riders in it. I am able to keep up on the flats, but I fall behind on the climbs. My take on this phenomena is this:

- riding up a hill at X watts is no harder than riding on the flat at X watts
- there is no skill that is specific to riding up a hill
- drafting is more effective on the flats than on the hills because of the relative speed difference
- it is human nature to increase power when riding up a hill
- anaerobic recovery has a non-linear relationship with the difference between FTP and the power during recovery below FTP

So what happens is that the group travels at about 75% of the FTP of the stronger riders on the the flat. The weaker riders can keep up on the flats by sucking wheel and riding at 80% of their FTP for hours on end. However, every so often there is a hill where the stronger riders ride at 150% of their FTP. The weaker riders, lacking a drafting advantage, are forced to ride at 175% of their FTP to keep up. This drains the weaker riders. But it doesn't stop there. After the hill, the weaker riders recover their anaerobic capacity at a much slower rate than the stronger riders. Repeat this cycle many times and the weaker riders eventually blow up. The weaker riders quickly learn this pattern and become demoralized by the thought of climbing a hill, but in reality the hills are not the enemy, it is the surges initiated by the stronger riders.

Moral of the story: increase your FTP.
 

GraceB

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Sep 30, 2012
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I am planning to do two interval sessions per week. Considering one threshold and one V02 Max session. I am wondering if there is a reason why 2x20s are normally done below threshold? Can you do them at threshold and achieve the same results? What about doing intervals at 15k/10mile time trial pace? V02 Max would be new to me, but I have done a lot (a lot) of zone 4 work and not sure how much more I can work at that zone and continue to see improvements (I feel plateaud there).
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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2x20 L4 work is often performed at 90% o 95% of FTP just so people can actually complete them. If you can actually complete a full set at 100% of FTP during normal weekly training then there's no particular harm but many if not most folks find that digging deep for that extra 5% is very difficult and makes the workouts both hard to complete and somewhat daunting to perform. There's also little to no proven benefit from that extra 5%. Do good solid work at 90% of more of your FTP and overall it's more beneficial to accumulate a higher weekly volume of sustained work at that submaximal level than hit it extra hard, perhaps not finish the sessions or be so wiped out that you avoid quality work in subsequent training sessions.

If 100% of your current FTP estimate is not very difficult for you and you can reliably complete a 2x20 or even 3x20 set during normal training (i.e. while somewhat fatigued from other training days and without the extra motivation of competition) then it's possible that your FTP has risen and is higher than you might think. But some folks can just dig deeper and complete many or even most of their L4 work up at 100% of their accurately determined FTP in which case go for it but if you struggle it's better to back off the intensity a tad than it is to skimp on intervals, shorten the duration or set records only to skip future planned workouts. This stuff takes time and IME folks stay on track longer, train more consistently week in and week out and stay with the program long enough to see better results when they don't chase their limits as often and do their L4 work a bit below the capabilities of their best days.

I'm sure you've gotten and will continue to get differing opinions but FWIW unless you've done structured L4 intervals two to three times per week for an awful long time as in months or years of them and have taken your FTP a long way I'd hold off on the VO2 Max work. Yes it can be very useful if you're approaching a competitive period or if you've taken your FTP work so far that you're running out of room for improvement relative to your VO2 Max determined 'aerobic ceiling' but I've seen an awful lot of riders rush to VO2 Max work too soon and slow their FTP progress and or burn out completely on training as L5 work is VERY intense. No doubt improved VO2 Max is a good thing but too much, too soon carries a risk and can detract from the more important goal of Threshold work which generally has a much bigger payoff for folks that don't have years of structured training under their belts. Additionally IME, even without direct focus in the form of L5 work most folk's VO2 Max and 5 minute power continues to improve with a steady diet of SST/L4 work. IOW, 'push up' works for both FTP and for power at VO2 Max, sure focused L5 work generally works even better for pure VO2 Max development but unless that's your prime limiter I'd still ride the FTP development train a long ways before substituting L5 work for L4 work.

YMMV,
-Dave
 

GraceB

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Sep 30, 2012
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Thanks Dave, I was thinking about the periodization and taking that into account I agree it might be too early to begin focused V02 max work. Which as I mentioned I have really never worked on V02 Max directly, only on threshold. I do have four years of working on threshold behind me at this point, and given that the majority of any of the hard work that I have done has been on threshold, I feel as though I have done a lot of it. Whatever I do this winter will put me ahead of last year as last winter I ended up letting everything else distract me and I stopped training for a few months.

I do have to say as though I don't feel that I am getting any faster with the zone 4 training. I don't know the power #s. I would not call my training scheduled structured, however, although at least one 15k weekly time trial from May to the beginning of September is a rule. (22 last year and 16 or so this year.) But as you say that was under the stress and pressures of competition. However, maybe the goal for this early off season training this fall should be simply to maintain what I have already built and worry about building during the 'build' period of periodization early 2013. I have taken the past four weeks as a 'transition period' already including two weeks I took completely off the bike and I would like to build a really solid base this fall and winter.
 

smaryka

Member
Aug 18, 2009
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Originally Posted by gudujarlson .

I experience the same sort of thing whenever I ride with a group that has several stronger riders in it. I am able to keep up on the flats, but I fall behind on the climbs. My take on this phenomena is this:

- riding up a hill at X watts is no harder than riding on the flat at X watts
- there is no skill that is specific to riding up a hill
- drafting is more effective on the flats than on the hills because of the relative speed difference
- it is human nature to increase power when riding up a hill
- anaerobic recovery has a non-linear relationship with the difference between FTP and the power during recovery below FTP

So what happens is that the group travels at about 75% of the FTP of the stronger riders on the the flat. The weaker riders can keep up on the flats by sucking wheel and riding at 80% of their FTP for hours on end. However, every so often there is a hill where the stronger riders ride at 150% of their FTP. The weaker riders, lacking a drafting advantage, are forced to ride at 175% of their FTP to keep up. This drains the weaker riders. But it doesn't stop there. After the hill, the weaker riders recover their anaerobic capacity at a much slower rate than the stronger riders. Repeat this cycle many times and the weaker riders eventually blow up. The weaker riders quickly learn this pattern and become demoralized by the thought of climbing a hill, but in reality the hills are not the enemy, it is the surges initiated by the stronger riders.

Moral of the story: increase your FTP.
My FTP is ~240w, I can't do 360w (150%) for more than about 2 minutes and I'm one of the good climbers! 420w (175%) is about my one-minute peak power. So unless you're talking about rollers (20-45 sec rises in the road) rather than "hills", I think you're overestimating a bit there.

What you can do on those smaller rollers is "surf" them a bit, where you start near the front and let people go past you as you climb them so you end up at the back and can use the downhill to recover and get back on the group. But if you start at the back, obviously it's really easy to lose touch with the group and you have to work very hard to get back on.

Where I live, we have lots of 5-8 min climbs which I ride pretty much at Vo2max watts on a good day. That's about 115-120% of FTP. My w/kg is very good though. You are right about the flats, I tend to suffer riding with bigger riders on flatter routes and certainly can't do many turns at 40km/h at the front or certainly not for very long -- what takes me 250w to ride (more than my FTP) might take a bigger rider with an FTP of 300w only 275w to ride. So I gladly let the bigger people do more work on flats! What I've learned to do for my own survival is hold a wheel very well, keep myself aero and tucked out of the wind, and anticipate gaps opening up in front of the riders in front of me so I don't have to spend needless energy closing gaps that I didn't create.

Friendlier rides and more experienced strong riders trying to keep the group together understand that surges over the rollers (and people who hammer each roller almost always freewheel the descents too) work against that goal. If you're riding in a group and you're at the front, you want to ride steady up and over the roller then keep pedalling hard down the other side -- no freewheeling or people will run into the back of you.

Disclaimer: I am a woman, so every aspect of my watts is lower. But I train and ride a lot with men, and when I ride and race with women I'm always one of the strongest there on flats and certainly up hills.
 

danfoz

Well-Known Member
Apr 12, 2011
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Originally Posted by smaryka .

What you can do on those smaller rollers is "surf" them a bit, where you start near the front and let people go past you as you climb them so you end up at the back and can use the downhill to recover and get back on the group. But if you start at the back, obviously it's really easy to lose touch with the group and you have to work very hard to get back on.
+1. My local parks races run about around 10 laps for my Category with one small hill on the 3.5 mile circut. Even without a dedicated break, the speed always picks up on the ascent. My prefered strategy is to start the hill at the front and slowly drift back as riders pass, many in the midst of labored breathing. Right after the crest there is a lull and I use the next section to move up through the pack. As far as my heart is concerned it's as if the hill were a non-event.
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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Going back and reading through this thread I've gotta wonder if the big disconnect is how we each define 'Threshold' as the term is understood quite differently by different folks. But your confusion over why someone would only ride 95% of Threshold combined with racking up 2+ hours of 'Threshold' in a single ride and doing most of your riding at 'Threshold' together with no power data makes me think that we're talking about different things.

If you're using a HR based definition of Threshold based on lab testing or age based formulas and you can sustain 97% of that Threshold for a couple of hours or more on training rides then it's very likely that you're working at something closer to Tempo/SST intensity in power terms. Hard to say as you don't have power data to look at but 97% of power based FTP is very hard to sustain for one hour on a run of the mill training day without the extra freshness and motivation you might have on race day. And HR based AT or LT based on lab testing generally points to an intensity below field tested FTP. Based on lab MLSS testing my LT power is approximately 260 watts when my FTP is just over 300 watts. Holding 260 for an hour isn't a big challenge but holding 285 for two plus hours is almost beyond comprehension.

Smaryka's advice is really good both in terms of what's feasible in terms of going over FTP for short hills and her earlier recommendation to beg, borrow or rent a PM to see what you're doing in power terms and to help calibrate both RPE and HR response to various stresses. You'll likely learn quite a bit. I know when I switched from over 20 years of training with a HRM to a power meter and particularly when I collected both metrics in my files for a couple of years I learned a lot about how I had been training and how I could improve that training. There are a lot of pitfalls related to the body's inherent HR averaging such as lag time and continued HR drift but one thing I see a lot in power files of folks who've trained a lot by HR is what I call 'burst and float training'. That's basically where folks watching HR punch it a bit which drives HR up but then subconsciously back off a bit until they see the numbers beginning to drop and then punch again. Power files from folks like that show an awful lot of time below target intensity but the bursts keep their HR up even when most of the interval is performed below ideal intensities. I saw this in my early power files and see it a lot in others. In my case learning to stay steady and keep the power up in solid SST/L4 training ranges for most or all of my sustained intervals was like night and day in terms of making progress towards higher FTP.

HR drift is another thing to be very aware of. If I ride a steady L4 power interval my HR will take about six or seven minutes to reach the average for the interval but it will slowly climb all the way till I finish the effort. If I tried to hold HR steady I'd first have to allow for those first six or seven minutes or I'd overcook the start but maybe more importantly if I wanted to keep my HR from climbing out of the top end of the training range I'd have to back off power as the interval progressed and that's not ideal from a training stress standpoint. IOW, a sustained and relatively long (e.g. 15 to 60 minutes long) iso-power L4 interval should result in steadily increasing HR all the way to the end (similarly RPE shouldn't feel bad at the beginning but will escalate throughout the effort till the final minutes take some serious focus and effort to avoid backing off the intensity).

Again really hard to say what is or is not working for you and maybe you know all of this and have taken all of this into account in your training in which case perhaps moving to some pull up style VO2 Max work may make sense in your case as your season approaches. But based on what you've posted and the kind of durations you've managed to hold up to 97% of your 'Threshold' it really seems like you can't be talking about the same 'Threshold' (i.e. FTP) and that alone may provide room for improvement in your winter training.

FWIW, used power meters on ebay are relatively inexpensive and exactly how I've bought mine. Yeah there's the usual buying used risk but if you shop around, especially now as the road season is winding down and folks tend to sell stuff on the cheap, it's possible to get a screaming deal. On one hand there's no magic in the power meter, it just tells you what you did in a very objective way for better or worse. OTOH, there's an old adage that 'what get's measured get's improved' and in the end sustainable power is the primary thing we want to improve through fitness training on the bike.

Good luck,
-Dave
 

GraceB

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Sep 30, 2012
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Hi Dave,

I have had my blood lactate tested and use those zones + experience to determine my heart rate levels. I have also had my vo2 max tested on a ramp test to failure and that helped me establish my hr at vo2 max. But you're right, heart rate training is not perfect and doesn't account for lag or dips and surges as well as seeing the numbers on a power meter. I am not talking about LT or OBLA because my average heart rates on these rides were higher. I have also done 40k TTs which helps me to confirm about where my HR "should" be. I can actually provide the mmol at what I "think" is my FTP HR but it was tested at somewhere around 4.4mmol/L IIRC (it's at home) at what I have been assuming is my FTP HR. Dunno if that makes any sense, I'm not a scientist, but I do have the #s from the lab.
 

GraceB

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Sep 30, 2012
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I am basing my 'threshold' on both experience and blood lactate testing. (Conconi Test)

HR 145 La Mmol 4.7
HR 155 La Mmol 7.7
HR 168 La Mmol 12.9

Do these zones change the more fit you become? I was deconditioned when this test was taken.

I estimate my FTP heart rate at about 158. I do the 15k TTs at about 166-168 HR. Which would put my 15k TT right at 105% of my FTP if I am correct. I do the 40k TTs more at 158-162 HR. My groups rides will often be 4 hours with 154 or so avg HR, and with 1/3 to 1/2 at a HR over 158 of the total time (I am motivated to ride with the groups I ride with). I feel my AT is about 148 (Tested at 145 in the Conconi test). My V02 Max was tested at 168 in the Conconi test however I feel this is low ("maximum oxygen uptake" I assume = V02 Max). I did a V02 Max ramp test at a university and my HR at V02 Max was tested at 181. My HR very rarely ever goes over 175 or so. Actually, I just realized looking at the tests again that my V02 Max HR is probably the 181, I was thinking it was more like 175 .. so that would make a difference.

I don't know if it helps, but I guess it was these tests that I was using to back up my idea of where my threshold "should" be. Maybe I was underestimating because I wasn't reading the V02 Max test correctly?
 

danfoz

Well-Known Member
Apr 12, 2011
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Originally Posted by GraceB .

Do these zones change the more fit you become? I was deconditioned when this test was taken.
It may make a difference. From my own experience, YES. After several years off the bike and returning to cycling (in essentially a completely unconditioned state) my deflection point was around 81-82%of my current maxHR, fast forward a couple years of some steady riding and the new threshold redline shifts to my current 88-89% of my maxHR of 186. I haven't migrated to power yet (am holding out for the Garmin Vectors, whenever the heck they'll be ready for market). These are just my personal HR observations.
 

WillemJM

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Sep 28, 2012
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I have been cycling for many, many years had a long layoff, but just got back into it.

Hill climbing was always my challenge as well and if you are not as fit as the other riders, the hills are always the place they will leave you behind.

You have to train specifically to climb. Through the years, I had times where I could climb extremely well, but at the expense of losing all my speed on the flats. It is about focussing on your weaknesses and balancing your abilities.

I use to fix my climbing by doing about 3 miles of 12% to 25% gradient twice a week, riding a 39/18 gear and adding about 10 hill sprints on a short 7% gradient with a 53/17 ratio mid week. Too much of the former though, I would end up with the ability to really grind big gears and climb well, but I lost all my cadence for going fast on the flat sections. So, it is important to balance your program.
 

Bigbananabike

Active Member
Dec 29, 2004
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Originally Posted by GraceB .

I have a basic road bike (Giant Avail 3, the women's equiv to the Defy 3).

I have stock wheels. Stock components. Stock everything.

My friends I am trying to keep up with all have fancy stuff. (They keep telling me I've out grown my bike, but this is all I have, and as peculiar as I am, I only have one bike.)

All that to say I am riding a triple, with a 9 speed on the back (my bike won't hold a 10). Also, don't ask me about the # of teeth, I actually don't know. I just know it should be about equivalent to a compact. I often will get in my lowest gear maybe sometimes before I need it. Sometimes I'm afraid the bike won't shift though if I don't. The bike itself weighs about 25lb.

If I am trying to hang onto a wheel at the bottom I probably am hitting the bottom hard and then fading. If I just go at my own pace I go pretty easy and try to stay within myself all the way up and accelerating just at the top. Soon as we are on flat ground I feel as though I am on even ground again and can start making up time, and I have usually saved enough gas on the climb that I can gun it at the top to try and catch back up (I use descents the same way). I don't know about expending more effort on the climb because I kinda feel that it won't help much and then I won't have enough energy left to get back on with the group after the top. Some of our group rides turn into "mini" races. Sometimes they wait at the top though. I might be on the other side of the spectrum and not challenging myself enough up the climbs. Gearing down too soon? How do you determine when to change gears?

But, my goal is to learn to climb with the group, assuming they hold a steady, civilized pace up the climb.

(I'm tired of hearing "If you could only climb, you'd be a really strong rider.")

About borrowing a power meter. I have access to a power meter at about $80 / hour. I just feel that is kind of steep and more than I can afford to pay right now. It does come with a professional coach. Other than that I don't really have access to one.
Don't hire a power meter. At $80 an hour its a rip. Having one for a week or two would be much better.

A cheaper but effective upgrade for your bike is to get some lighter / faster tyres (tires) and keep to use in events only.
You might be able to find specials on 200gram or under tyres. I bought some 185 gram tyres off a guy who'd hardly used them. Both cost me $100.

Try to get to the start of the climb at the front of the bunch then as you're climbing people will be passing you but at the top you may still be hanging on at the back of the bunch.

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