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Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) Looking to lose that spare tire? Ideal weight 200+? Frustrated being a large cyclist in a sport geared for the ultra-light? Learn about the bikes and parts that can take the abuse of a heavier cyclist, how to keep your body going while losing the weight, and get support from others who've been successful.

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Old 02-05-12, 11:52 PM   #1
floatsinwater
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Climbing tips for big guys?

Hey everyone, I just did my first major climb today, climbing 4200 feet over 18 miles. Long story short, I thought I was going to die

I did a lot of research about climbing techniques and found nothing but contradictory information.

1) Upright position vs chest close to handlebars:
Upright position is better since aerodynamics are negligible during climbing. However, bringing your chest closer to the bars with arms bent allows more leverage by allowing you to pull up on the bars.

2) Shoulders dropped vs shoulders open:
Dropped shoulders allows for a more relaxed position, thus conserving energy. Shoulders open allows for easier breathing.

3) Ankling vs no ankling:
Ankling allows for different muscles to be used, thus allowing big muscles to rest. However, it appears that ankling is actually very inefficient since you're forcing small muscles to take over the bigger ones, thus you'll actually get more tired.

4) Sitting on the saddle:
Sitting more behind on the saddle allows for bigger muscles to be used. Sitting forward produces more power? I'm finding that there's too much pressure on my sit bones when I sit more behind, even with my chamois...

5) Straight back vs relaxed back
Straight back allows more core muscles to aid in climbing. A relaxed back saves more energy.

I got the overall message that I should just stop whining and just climb more... I'm curious what you guys do to succeed in climbing long distances. Which of the above do you do, what cassette do you use, how much water do you bring, etc. Is there a more efficient climbing form for big guys compared to other riders?
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Old 02-05-12, 11:57 PM   #2
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What's the old saying, it never gets easier, you just get faster.
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Old 02-06-12, 12:13 AM   #3
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Loose weight. Seriously though other than that obvious, just keep practising and find out what works for you. I myself mix it up but on long not so steep hills I tend to just sit and spin away and only stand when leg speed drops off. When you stand go one or two gears harder and when you sit take them back off.
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Old 02-06-12, 12:31 AM   #4
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Sub 1:1 low gear, if heart-rate too high , time to walk.. , where it can be a more modest BPM.
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Old 02-06-12, 12:37 AM   #5
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Slow down, relax, and prepare to suffer. The rest doesn't make enough difference that it really matters...

FWIW, I use a compact crank (50/34) and wide-range (11-28) cassette.
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Old 02-06-12, 12:38 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by floatsinwater View Post
I got the overall message that I should just stop whining and just climb more... I'm curious what you guys do to succeed in climbing long distances. Which of the above do you do, what cassette do you use, how much water do you bring, etc. Is there a more efficient climbing form for big guys compared to other riders?
Ultimately you're limited by your power to weight ratio at the time intervals of interest. By the time you get to a big highway overpass those limits are aerobic and different muscle recruitment/pulling up on the handle bars/etc. aren't going to help. By the time you get to half an hour of exertion you'll be limited by your ability to clear lactate from your blood stream.

Setting a sustainable pace and ignoring whatever anyone in front if you is doing will help a lot.

Beyond that fixes are to

1) Loose weight (many of us have more room for improvement here than with better fitness)

2) Gain power (get a training plan and follow it making your tough days hard and rest days/weeks/months easy enough to recover)

3) Get lower gears so that when power to weight ratio limits make you slow you can deliver the power you need at a cadence high enough to be non-fatiguing.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 02-06-12 at 12:46 AM.
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Old 02-06-12, 01:51 AM   #7
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As far as all your comparisons, mix it up during a ride, and find the things that work for you. Sometimes, jsut doing something different for a few minutes can give you a fresh boost. "Rotating" through different muscles can help.

I mostly sit and spin a low gear (I use a compact crank 50/34 with a wide-range 11-32 cassette, so with a 34-32 ratio I can spin up most anything). I occasionally alternate between sliding forward on the saddle and sliding back on the saddle, but mostly just sit where I'm comfortable.

I don't concentrate on ankles at all, I suppose they just do their thing since I don't think about them that much. I just concentrate on spinning circles and let the big muscles take care of it. It takes time to perfect your pedal stroke though. Pedaling is a complicated action that requires a lot of coordination between a lot of muscles, the muscle memory/coordination required comes only with practice.

Stand up occasionally to change things up: give your butt a rest, recruit some different muscles, get a nice burst up short/steep sections, etc. I usually go up 2 gears when I stand, then when I sit back down I drop 1 at first, then drop the other some time later.

Relax your upper body, but keep good posture. Relax your hands, arms, etc, but don't let yourself just slouch. It's easiest to ride with good posture, so you can breath well, but there's no point in wasting energy on things you don't need, like a tight grip. I still occasionally catch myself with a tight grip on the handlebar, which is really just wasted energy.

I move my hands into different positions a lot. I sit up a little and breath easier on the tops after tough parts, cruise on the hoods most of the time, and get into the drops to power up steep sections like occasional switchbacks.

But that's just what works for me, try different things and see what feels good for you.

Last edited by pbd; 02-06-12 at 01:54 AM.
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Old 02-06-12, 11:43 AM   #8
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I have really been playing around with this issue for a while.

What works for me:

1- Understand you have the choice between spinning which uses the cardio in you or mashing which uses the muscells in you. You cna pick. For me, I can mash on shorter hills but on longer hills, I spin.
2- Concentrate on breathing. In and out.
3- Take the hills a little at a time with your EYES. Dont look for the summit.
4- If I need to stop, no police will arrest me.
5- Same thing with walking.
6- When I am planning on riding in the hills, I really watch what I eat and eat a darn good breakfest before. Also make sure you are replinishing the cals. This also goes for post ride nutrition.
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Old 02-06-12, 01:24 PM   #9
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All the tips and tricks above are great. Pick and chose which ones work for you, and climb more hills. You don't get better without pushing yourself.

I ride singlespeed bikes, so I don't get a choice in gears. There's sit and mash, stand and hammer, or get off and walk. I've used a mix of all 3 on some courses.
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Old 02-06-12, 01:37 PM   #10
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You don't really need to free your weight from confinement, release or unattached it. You just need to lose it.
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Old 02-06-12, 07:44 PM   #11
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I think I should clarify something... I'm looking for input specifically on climbing technique and maybe equipment. Losing weight, getting a correct fit, getting more fit, etc is pretty obvious, and doesn't really add anything constructive. I figure since I'm gong to be suffering while climbing hills anyway, I might as well focus on my form rather than my suffering to be as efficient as possible...
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Old 02-06-12, 07:48 PM   #12
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I relax everything, sit up right, start with very easy gearing, Do Not look at the Top of the Hill.
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Old 02-06-12, 08:03 PM   #13
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I relax everything, sit up right, start with very easy gearing, Do Not look at the Top of the Hill.
yep found this works best because no matter how much i ***** at the hill it doesn't get any easier.

don't stress if you can't get up a hill when i started riding few months ago i couldn't get up 3 of the hills on my ride now i can, but i still ***** at them every time =)
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Old 02-06-12, 09:23 PM   #14
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First off, there is no one technique that works on every hill for every rider. Every hill is different and may require a different technique. For example your climb of 4200 ft in 18 miles isn't very steep so you may sit and spin more. That same climb in 7 miles may require a lot more standing. That being said lets address your points.

Quote:
...
1) Upright position vs chest close to handlebars:
Upright position is better since aerodynamics are negligible during climbing. However, bringing your chest closer to the bars with arms bent allows more leverage by allowing you to pull up on the bars.
First, you should always ride with your arms slightly bent. If you have wide enough bars this shouldn't be an issue (this is an often overlooked issue with larger riders). I don't see how getting your chest lower will really help you get better leverage to pull on the bars. Generally, on climbs you are better off getting more oxygen in your lungs than trying to get a little more leverage to pull up.

Quote:
2) Shoulders dropped vs shoulders open:
Dropped shoulders allows for a more relaxed position, thus conserving energy. Shoulders open allows for easier breathing.
I usually ride with my shoulders dropped (as you say). It's a more natural position and holding your shoulders back would result in too much fatigue, especially over a long climb.

Quote:
3) Ankling vs no ankling:
Ankling allows for different muscles to be used, thus allowing big muscles to rest. However, it appears that ankling is actually very inefficient since you're forcing small muscles to take over the bigger ones, thus you'll actually get more tired.
I do this for a stretch or recover on longer rides but it's not something you should be doing all the time.

Quote:
4) Sitting on the saddle:
Sitting more behind on the saddle allows for bigger muscles to be used. Sitting forward produces more power? I'm finding that there's too much pressure on my sit bones when I sit more behind, even with my chamois...
I don't think sitting forward produces more power, I think it's actually the other way, at least for larger guys. Whoever wrote that was probably a 150lb climber. They have different body mechanics than us larger guys.

Quote:
5) Straight back vs relaxed back
Straight back allows more core muscles to aid in climbing. A relaxed back saves more energy.
Same as #2 and #3 above.

Quote:
...I'm curious what you guys do to succeed in climbing long distances. Which of the above do you do, what cassette do you use, how much water do you bring, etc. Is there a more efficient climbing form for big guys compared to other riders?
When I'm doing long (20-40mile 1%-4%) climbs I do a lot of sitting and will often climb in my aerobars because I'm climbing at speed. I'll throw in periods of standing to stretch a bit. My gearing is probably irrelevant to you unless you race ultras but I usually run a 33/44/60 triple with a 11-15 cassette. If I'm doing something with steeper climbs in the 15%-20%+ range I'll run a 11-28 cassette. I also have a wide range of chainrings that I'll use depending on what I'm doing. Use the right tool for the job!!!

The most efficient climbing form is the one that works for you. We all have different mechanics. The best way for you to get up a hill is to experiment and try different things and be flexible. You very well may find that what works for you when you are in shape doesn't work so well when you are out of shape!
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Old 02-06-12, 11:24 PM   #15
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#1 tip: Get a motor!

But, in all seriousness, it gets easier with time. When I was in shape back in highschool and into college, I could crawl up this hill by my grandfather's using the granny gear (22x34) on my mountain bike. Not even my brother who was a cross country and 100M sprint runner could do it. I can't do that anymore though, actually I don't really know, maybe I should try someday! It is 2 hours away....

Practice practice practice. The beginning of each season there are a few hills I have to shift way down for. Short but steep hills. By mid-june I can normally just stay in gear and muscle up them, or drop a gear or two a little before the hill and spin up them (which is easier). If you really want to work on getting up hills, training to get out of the saddle is a good way to help break up hill climbs. Mountain biking is a really good way to do such training!

I sure hope someday I am back in the shape I was in when I could just spin up that LONG, steep hill near my grandfathers. Those sure were the days!

Also, a single speed is another way. Start with some very light hills at first, I find after riding my SS I am a lot stronger-or maybe just smarter- the next time I ride on my geared bike...
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Old 02-07-12, 12:56 AM   #16
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The grade of the climbing portion is roughly 6%; its actually a little higher than if you straight out calculate it since there's two descents between the starting point and the summit. Besides the descents, it is all climb with no flats for resting. I tried spinning at low gear, which was great for a while at 85 RPM, which slowly became 80, 75, 70... etc. Breathing wasn't heavy at all, just muscle fatigue; it was like being on a ship that was slowly sinking... I tried changing positions to relax certain muscle groups (according to theory) but to be honest I was way too tired to figure out what muscles were even activating at that point. Standing to get momentum was pretty much not an option.

I guess my follow up questions are:
Is there a trick to activating alternate muscle groups? Judging from my soreness, the majority went to my quads, less than a third to my glutes, and barely any to my hamstring. I tried every hand position I could think of, sitting fore/aft on the saddle, etc, and yet everything seems to go to my quads...
Is a camelbak a worthwhile investment over a normal water bottle for long climbs, or is it more of a fringe item?
Do you eat anything while riding?

I plan on doing this climb every weekend to get in shape and to become a better cyclist...
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Old 02-07-12, 01:47 AM   #17
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JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
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Old 02-07-12, 02:20 AM   #18
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JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
JUST KEEP SPINNING!
ok i laughed =) i am sad i liked that movie
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Old 02-07-12, 05:52 AM   #19
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The grade of the climbing portion is roughly 6%; its actually a little higher than if you straight out calculate it since there's two descents between the starting point and the summit. Besides the descents, it is all climb with no flats for resting.
I would do 85% of a climb like this seated. Every so often, sometimes when "stuff" starts to go numb, I will stand up to some target point ahead like a mailbox, or a particular tree. Don't stand to the point where your legs start to burn. Just enough to change up the muscle groups. Usually you need to switch to 1 or 2 harder gears when standing than when sitting. Try to make a smooth transition back to sitting by switching back into the easier gear and getting right back into the spinning cadence.

The other case where I will stand is if the road is really windy with lots of switchbacks. Usually the pitch is steeper around the corners, so that's a good opportunity to power up around the corners for a bit.
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Old 02-07-12, 07:39 AM   #20
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I agree that gearing is the right tool for the job. I have a minimum 2.4 gain ratio on my current bikes (40 x 34). I don't need that gearing most days and climb fine with a 40x24 (GR 3.4) on all but the longest steepest climbs. I'll pick-up a bike today with a gain ratio spanning 2.0-9.5. I've climbed a 18% grade with the 2.4 and it was still a challenge and at the end of a 100 mile ride the 2.4 helped me crawl up a 12% grade at mile 95.

You don't rest on the flats when climbing but in the <3% grade areas by shifting to the granny gear (2.4). I treat the other sections of the climb as either a sprint or an attack and rest when the grade eases off. As the apex comes into sight, I race to the summit by maintaining my cadence (usually a slightly slower ~60 than in the flats) and shifting up slowly through the gears until I am at my desired minimum speed.
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Old 02-07-12, 09:59 AM   #21
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The grade of the climbing portion is roughly 6%; its actually a little higher than if you straight out calculate it since there's two descents between the starting point and the summit. Besides the descents, it is all climb with no flats for resting. I tried spinning at low gear, which was great for a while at 85 RPM, which slowly became 80, 75, 70... etc. Breathing wasn't heavy at all, just muscle fatigue; it was like being on a ship that was slowly sinking... I tried changing positions to relax certain muscle groups (according to theory) but to be honest I was way too tired to figure out what muscles were even activating at that point. Standing to get momentum was pretty much not an option.

I guess my follow up questions are:
Is there a trick to activating alternate muscle groups? Judging from my soreness, the majority went to my quads, less than a third to my glutes, and barely any to my hamstring. I tried every hand position I could think of, sitting fore/aft on the saddle, etc, and yet everything seems to go to my quads...
Is a camelbak a worthwhile investment over a normal water bottle for long climbs, or is it more of a fringe item?
Do you eat anything while riding?

I plan on doing this climb every weekend to get in shape and to become a better cyclist...
You need to learn to stand. Not all the time, just when your speed drops so that you can get back to a more comfortable cadence. It's much easier to stand and get back to speed than it is to try and power your way just sitting there. Are you pulling up on each pedal stroke as well as pushing? When you are climbing you want to use all the muscle groups. If you do it right you should be able to actually recover on a climb.
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Old 02-07-12, 10:41 AM   #22
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If I plan on training for a climbing ride, I will raise my saddle a bit. Not too much but enouhg to get good leg extension to keep the quads from fatiguing. Riding the flats I use a slightly lower position. Some experimenting along the way. If you've ever watched the TDF vids, you might have seen a guy or two hop off and adjust his saddle height on the climb. If I'm just rec riding on the bike, which is most of he time, I will keep my saddle at a lower postition but again, serious climbing, I'll go a bit higher.

I rarely stand on long climbs. Even climbing centuries. Only to stretch or adjust the little buddies. As far as switchbacks and steep pitches, one of the little tips of mountain biking suggest you don't take the steep inside pitch. I move ot the left and take the gentler line. It might take another second or two to make the turn but in the long run, you save energyy for the rest of the climb.

Many times I have watched riders take the inside steep pitch. The finish the turn a couple seconds ahead usually at the start of the climb. But after 3 or 4 miles of an 8 mile climb, you'll see them fade because they are burning that extra energy diging themselves out of that steep section too many times.

If it's a one mile climb no problem but after 5, 10, 40, 50 , 60 miles of climbing, conserving is a big must!
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Old 02-07-12, 12:26 PM   #23
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You don't really need to free your weight from confinement, release or unattached it. You just need to lose it.
Thank you.
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Old 02-07-12, 12:36 PM   #24
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I think one highly under rated climbing tip (coming from a die hard non-climber) is to go as SLOW as you can from time to time... I'll alternate "normal" riding up a hill with really just idling up the hill to allow my system to recuperate just a little. I'll stand from time to time, do most of the climb seated and periodically take a rolling breather.
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Old 02-07-12, 02:05 PM   #25
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I mix it up. Sit and spin, in the drops or on the tops (~85+ rpm); Slide back on the saddle, hands on hoods, and mash gears a bit (~66-80 rpm). Stand and hammer bigger gears (~45-55 rpm).

If i'm out of breath, I'll pedal slower; if my muscles ache, I might pedal faster. Or slower and stand, depending on which muscles hurt and why.

They all work slightly different leg muscles. None are particularly 'better'. Actually, standing is probably the worst, since it works your muscles AND your heart harder. But it engages my inner quads that don't otherwise get full extension while riding; on long rides, it's crucial to me to keep those from cramping up.
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