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  1. #1
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Building endurance for long steep hills, Mode A or mode B?

    At age 63 I have been on a serious fitness kick for almost the last two years. Besides going to the gym 3 times/week and once a week with a trainer, I bike every chance I get. Not so much of an open road person but I like to wander around the city. I am addicted to hills. If I am at an intersection I always choose the turn that goes uphill. I can do a 20*+ grade but, as I was made painfully aware today, a prolonged steep grade is another matter. As I was forced to stop and catch my breath up a hill that gains 450' in about 1/2 mile I pondered this question: When my heart is beating like a hammer (173 -- well over the bullcrap "220 minus your age" spec), my legs are burning, and I am forced to pull over, should I:

    A: Rest a few minutes until my heart rate subsides, I catch my breath, and I can make maximum distance before being forced to stop again.

    Or:

    B: Absolute minimum rest and press on almost immediately even if it won't take me as far.

    I asked my trainer which approach would be more effective towards my goal of eventually making such a hill non-stop (regardless of speed) and will post his answer later. (He is not a cyclist.) I am interested in what you-all think.

    For the sake of this discussion I am riding solo and not subject to constraints of courtesy to riding partners or ego. LOL

    Second question:

    After today's scenario, which involved several other challenging hills, 2 1/2 hours later I feel GREAT with no real soreness or stiffness. In fact, I want to go climb some hills tomorrow, though maybe not the one that I found really brutal. This would be after a morning weight session at the gym which is all upper body stuff. Would this ride be useless or even counter productive?

    Don in Austin

  2. #2
    Senior Member Timber_8's Avatar
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    Your question is more medical than opinion. It depends on your health and the condition of you heart. No matter what you die of, you die because your heart fails. Endurance has more to do with pace rather than power. I think over stressing your heart is never a good idea, I would say if this is your interest then monitor your heart rate with a sport monitor and stay within your optimum ranges. Muscle gets stronger over time, stressing it beyond optimum ranges is probably asking for trouble
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  3. #3
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timber_8 View Post
    Your question is more medical than opinion. It depends on your health and the condition of you heart.
    I believe its pretty good. Cholesterol total is under 200 and HDL/LDL ratio is good. Triglcyerides very low. BP varies all over but sometimes as low as 108/68. This is with no BP or cholesterol meds. Not at all diabetic. These numbers were not nearly so good two years ago.

    Quote Originally Posted by Timber_8 View Post
    No matter what you die of, you die because your heart fails. Endurance has more to do with pace rather than power. I think over stressing your heart is never a good idea, I would say if this is your interest then monitor your heart rate with a sport monitor and stay within your optimum ranges. Muscle gets stronger over time, stressing it beyond optimum ranges is probably asking for trouble
    Are you referring to the heart muscle or leg muscles?

    I appreciate the input and take it under advisement.

    Don in Austin

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    Senior Member Timber_8's Avatar
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    The heart is a muscle, over stressing any muscle regardless of what it is can damage it, doesn't matter if it is your legs,arms, shoulders or your heart. It has nothing to do with age either. Tearing muscle down to let it rebuild stronger is the goal regardless if it is your heart or your legs. Over stressing a leg muscle can keep you off you bicycle for months, over stressing you heart can keep you off your bicycle for ever. I am not advising you to do anything, I can only tell you what I know from my years bodybuilding. I am no Dr but I do know the heart is the most important muscle in your body.
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  5. #5
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timber_8 View Post
    The heart is a muscle, over stressing any muscle regardless of what it is can damage it, doesn't matter if it is your legs,arms, shoulders or your heart. It has nothing to do with age either. Tearing muscle down to let it rebuild stronger is the goal regardless if it is your heart or your legs. Over stressing a leg muscle can keep you off you bicycle for months, over stressing you heart can keep you off your bicycle for ever. I am not advising you to do anything, I can only tell you what I know from my years bodybuilding. I am no Dr but I do know the heart is the most important muscle in your body.
    So you vote for option A? And maybe even pulling over a little sooner?

    Don in Austin

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    Neither option sounds very good to me. Ideally, you would be able to climb the entire hill without stopping (and without blowing up your heart!). I'm not sure what gearing you currently have on your bike, but maybe you could change out your cassette and/or crankset for a more hill-friendly option.

    If you stop in the middle of a hill, you are basically doing interval training, it's just a question of the rest period between your intervals. When you are climbing and can't continue, you're producing more lactic acid than your body can handle and eventually your legs shut down. There are benefits to running up against this limit, but once you've exceeded it, you're probably better served with stopping a little longer rather than immediately going again and just having to stop again right away.

    There are a lot of very interesting books that talk about training levels and how you can improve your performance by being in the right 'zones' the right amount of time. Harder is not always better if you want to improve your climbing/cycling.

  7. #7
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Quote Originally Posted by grwoolf View Post
    Neither option sounds very good to me. Ideally, you would be able to climb the entire hill without stopping
    That's what I am working on. After the really tough one, I threw the bike in back of the PU and 15 minutes later climbed another hill that used to force me to stop half-way up. Cruised to the top with no problem. I went on to other hills that used to be daunting. I must be doing something right.

    Quote Originally Posted by grwoolf View Post
    (and without blowing up your heart!). I'm not sure what gearing you currently have on your bike, but maybe you could change out your cassette and/or crankset for a more hill-friendly option.
    Already did that. Small ring front is 28, rear big ring is 34 on a 26" bike. As soon as the hill levels off at all I actually find it a relief to shift out of 1/1. I think I may be overdoing keeping the cadence high. Prolonged 20* grade is tough (at least for me) no matter what the gears.

    Quote Originally Posted by grwoolf View Post
    If you stop in the middle of a hill, you are basically doing interval training, it's just a question of the rest period between your intervals. When you are climbing and can't continue, you're producing more lactic acid than your body can handle and eventually your legs shut down. There are benefits to running up against this limit, but once you've exceeded it, you're probably better served with stopping a little longer rather than immediately going again and just having to stop again right away.
    Well, perhaps interval training is not necessarily a bad thing? Today on the killer hill I took good rest stops. But on a hill that USED to be very difficult to climb non-stop I sometimes found that just doing a u-turn and going back down twenty feet and turning back up again would give me enough of a break to make it to the top. Today after the killer hill and another pretty difficult hill I went to that one that used to be a real challenge and made it to the top with no zig-zagging, no rest at the top just continued on without that much trouble. It seemed that the all-out effort on the killer hill actually left me with better than my average abilities after a short break trucking the bike to the next hill.

    Quote Originally Posted by grwoolf View Post
    There are a lot of very interesting books that talk about training levels and how you can improve your performance by being in the right 'zones' the right amount of time. Harder is not always better if you want to improve your climbing/cycling.
    Maybe sometimes better?

    FWIW I texted my trainer A or B? He was off duty and didn't exactly give an in-depth answer, but what he said was "Both A and B -- on separate occasions."

    Don in Austin

  8. #8
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    The heart is not an ordinary muscle. Every cardiologist I've talked to about this question has assured me that it's impossible to "blow up your heart." You can dislodge material which may clog a cardiac artery. That's a different question. However, in general, hard exercise makes this less likely, not more likely, to occur. Your arteries get larger and more flexible. This is good.

    I vote neither A nor B. Use a heart rate monitor. Find the heart rate that allows you to keep climbing for at least the length of each hill, seated. If you blow up, use a lower HR. Just hold the HR that works, and you'll climb the hill. I know what you're going through. Been there, done that, though I was about 13 years younger than you are now. You're doing fine.

    As you have already discovered, interval training is the hammer. Supplements and all that other legal stuff is a feather. Nothing works better, faster, than interval training. However, you still need endurance and to learn pacing. For that, you have to ride continuously, going some place. Imagine that you are riding to hounds, coursing after game. Go somewhere on your bike.

  9. #9
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    The heart is not an ordinary muscle. Every cardiologist I've talked to about this question has assured me that it's impossible to "blow up your heart." You can dislodge material which may clog a cardiac artery. That's a different question. However, in general, hard exercise makes this less likely, not more likely, to occur. Your arteries get larger and more flexible. This is good.
    That is what I think. There's all kinds of misinformation out there IMHO about the "danger of exceeding your maximum heart rate." That doesn't even make sense because, by definition, your maximum heart rate cannot be exceeded. And as soon as I read something that refers to "220 minus your age" the source has no credibility.

    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    I vote neither A nor B. Use a heart rate monitor. Find the heart rate that allows you to keep climbing for at least the length of each hill, seated. If you blow up, use a lower HR. Just hold the HR that works, and you'll climb the hill. I know what you're going through. Been there, done that, though I was about 13 years younger than you are now. You're doing fine.
    I do stay seated. I pretty much never leave the seat of my bike. This one hill is such that I simply can't gear down enough and take it slow enough to make it the whole way without stopping....YET. But that was true of other hills that I now ride up and meet people walking their dogs who says incredulously "Did you just ride your bike all the way up that?" Heh..heh...

    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    As you have already discovered, interval training is the hammer. Supplements and all that other legal stuff is a feather. Nothing works better, faster, than interval training. However, you still need endurance and to learn pacing. For that, you have to ride continuously, going some place. Imagine that you are riding to hounds, coursing after game. Go somewhere on your bike.

  10. #10
    Pat
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    I go with carbonfiberboy. Find a pace that you can maintain up the hill and stay with it. If you need to, put a bigger cog on your rear cluster. The trick is to go up no higher then your anaerobic threshold and stay there. Once you cross it, you are living on borrowed time. Unless the top of the hill is quite close, you will have to stop. But it is your choice. If you like red lining it until you have to stop that is your business. It is just another form of interval. Just recover however much you want and try again.

    I have outclimbed quite a few people who blew by me and blew up before they reached the top.

    Also, about stressing your heart muscle, hearts have their own muscle type --- cardiac muscle. So they really are not like skeletal muscles. I have seen a number of cyclists go hard enough to pass out. That is a result of the blood being shunted to the muscles leaving an inadequate supply to the brain. I have yet to see a fatality from a heart attack on a bike ride and I have never even heard of one. So you are probably reasonably safe.

  11. #11
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pat View Post
    I go with carbonfiberboy. Find a pace that you can maintain up the hill and stay with it. If you need to, put a bigger cog on your rear cluster. The trick is to go up no higher then your anaerobic threshold and stay there. Once you cross it, you are living on borrowed time. Unless the top of the hill is quite close, you will have to stop. But it is your choice. If you like red lining it until you have to stop that is your business. It is just another form of interval. Just recover however much you want and try again.

    I have outclimbed quite a few people who blew by me and blew up before they reached the top.
    I am mot definitely NOT blowing by anybody at the bottom. I gear down and stay mellow as long as I can. This is 1/2 mile about 20* slope. There's only so much chain ring combos will do. I actually think I made it harder by going too far -- 28 front/34 rear. Nest time I try it I will hold off on 1/1 a little longer.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pat View Post
    Also, about stressing your heart muscle, hearts have their own muscle type --- cardiac muscle. So they really are not like skeletal muscles. I have seen a number of cyclists go hard enough to pass out. That is a result of the blood being shunted to the muscles leaving an inadequate supply to the brain. I have yet to see a fatality from a heart attack on a bike ride and I have never even heard of one. So you are probably reasonably safe.
    Well I didn't pass out or even feel like I was going to, so I guess there was little margin there. Legs burning, though.

    Don in Austin

  12. #12
    But on the road more MTBLover's Avatar
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    I'm with carbon and pat. BTW, it's not uncommon for me to bump up against a HR of 200 on a long hill, or even when I'm doing Tabatas on the trainer (I'm 60). Glad to see you eschew the 200-age thing- the only way to get maxHR accurately is to measure it in the lab, on several separate occasions. Or just rely on perceived exertion- I can tell when I'm maxing out and so can most people when they get there. But I still use a HR monitor (it's on the Garmin 305 which is immensely helpful for training). It's sort of fun freaking out the wife with the graphs of my HR from Tabata sessions!

    My advice- steady (and not necessarily slow) and even pace is the best way to run hills. Like others who've posted here, I've been known to lag behind partners on long hills, only to arrive at the top before them because they blew past their LT and ran out of reserve on the way up. Also, I do hill repeats (like you, I find them enjoyable, if a pain sometimes) but concentrate on good climbing technique, which is largely about pedaling and focusing on the hip flexors (as opposed to the quads). Practice makes perfect!

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    It sounds like your bike is already geared right for climbing the steep stuff. If you are always sitting, you might also try spending a little time out of the saddle (mixing it up a bit). Out of the saddle does not mean you need to be mashing the pedals. Getting out of the saddle with good technique will use some different muscles and eventually give you more endurance on the climb. I know a guy that works a lot out of the saddle, he can ride forever standing up and seems very smooth and efficient. When he gets to the hills, it is just crazy to watch. It helps that he weighs about 150. I'm about 180 and not too light on the pedals, but I've been working on my technique and it has really helped. I find it helpful to work out of the saddle with light effort (on my rollers or riding up a 3-4% grade), working on an efficient pedal stroke without wasted motion.

    All that said, I am not that strong of a climber (and certainly can't climb a 1/2mile 20% grade without stopping). My comments are based on what I've been told to work on by some very good climbers (and it seems to be helping me).

    I'm in Austin also, what is the climb you are trying to conquer?

  14. #14
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Quote Originally Posted by grwoolf View Post
    It sounds like your bike is already geared right for climbing the steep stuff. If you are always sitting, you might also try spending a little time out of the saddle (mixing it up a bit). Out of the saddle does not mean you need to be mashing the pedals. Getting out of the saddle with good technique will use some different muscles and eventually give you more endurance on the climb. I know a guy that works a lot out of the saddle, he can ride forever standing up and seems very smooth and efficient. When he gets to the hills, it is just crazy to watch. It helps that he weighs about 150. I'm about 180 and not too light on the pedals, but I've been working on my technique and it has really helped. I find it helpful to work out of the saddle with light effort (on my rollers or riding up a 3-4% grade), working on an efficient pedal stroke without wasted motion.

    All that said, I am not that strong of a climber (and certainly can't climb a 1/2mile 20% grade without stopping). My comments are based on what I've been told to work on by some very good climbers (and it seems to be helping me).

    I'm in Austin also, what is the climb you are trying to conquer?
    Jester Blvd. off of 2222. Its not all 20%, but according to MapMyRide it gains 450' in a half mile, so would average about 18% and surely over 20% at the most severe. It kicked this old buzzard's ass! But that just makes me more determined. I told my evening riding partner about it and he got all excited and said "Let's go there!" Thing that sucks about it is there's not a good way to ride there. I'm not about to ride on 2222. I put my bike in the PU and parked at the top. This may have hurt me because it takes me damn near 1/2 hour to get warmed up.

    Hills already conquered in order:

    --Lund St. Off of Robert E. Lee turns into Dexter at the top. Silly steep at the bottom but not for long and gets less so as you go up. This one is now no big deal at all, but I remember when I stalled out on it half the time.

    --Wilke Dr. Runs from Barton hills Blvd. to Rabb Rd. Peaks out at about 20% at the top. Can do without stopping but heart beats like a hammer at the end.

    --Mt. Bonnell Rd. from W 35th to the park at the top. (I'm sure you know this one.) Recently got to where I can do this without stopping. Wasn't bad at all yesterday after the Jester fiasco.

    When, where and what do you like to ride? I have an auto repair shop on S 1st and we do casual evening rides from there Tues and Thurs. nights.

    Don in Austin

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    I ride by Jester all the time, it's a serious hill. Notice I say I ride 'by' Jester, not 'up' Jester. I don't think I would get up it on my road bike, but maybe on my mtn bike. It's on my to-to for this year to try it on my road bike.

    2222 isn't too bad to ride on the little stretch from 360 up to jester (nice wide shoulders).

    I ride mostly out west/north parts of town (620, bee caves, jollyville, parmer, etc.). Most of the hills are gental rolling. There are a few side streets we hit sometimes that go over 10%, but most are pretty short.

  16. #16
    Don from Austin Texas
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    Quote Originally Posted by grwoolf View Post
    I ride by Jester all the time, it's a serious hill. Notice I say I ride 'by' Jester, not 'up' Jester. I don't think I would get up it on my road bike, but maybe on my mtn bike. It's on my to-to for this year to try it on my road bike.
    The other day I drove the car over there to scope it out and it was swarming with roadies. For some reason, none yesterday. You are in good shape if you get up it on a road bike. I rechecked the gearing I used yesterday -- it was actually 24 front, 34 rear. (Five different bikes and hard to keep track) I think it was a little too much.

    Quote Originally Posted by grwoolf View Post
    2222 isn't too bad to ride on the little stretch from 360 up to jester (nice wide shoulders).

    I ride mostly out west/north parts of town (620, bee caves, jollyville, parmer, etc.). Most of the hills are gental rolling. There are a few side streets we hit sometimes that go over 10%, but most are pretty short.
    But you have to get to 360 and I don't want to ride on 360 although I know many do. If ever in South Austin let me know. www.donsautomotive.com

    Don in Austin

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    Well I must disagree with everyone else. I am 50 years old, 5'3" and 165#s. I consider myself a strong rider, point me forward and I can go like the energizer bunny. Point me uphill and things change, mostly I believe due to my short, stocky ie heavy) build. I have been known to grind up hill without stopping, muscling my way to the top, alternating between standing and sitting, mostly seated. I have also been known to stop for a brief period, 30 -60 seconds, to get my breathing and heart rate slower, and finish the ride up to the top. Stopping is okay with me, walking is not. I know my heart will not "explode" but I find that by keeping myself from blowing up - mentally or physically - I can finish the ride to the top. My pride may be hurt for the moment when I stop, but it is regained when I crest the top.

    I am well aware that I need to lose a few pounds for health and climbing reasons and I am always working on that. For now, I will climb my way and you should climb your way - whatever way that is that works for you on that particular climb.

  18. #18
    Dan J chinarider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don in Austin View Post
    That is what I think. There's all kinds of misinformation out there IMHO about the "danger of exceeding your maximum heart rate." That doesn't even make sense because, by definition, your maximum heart rate cannot be exceeded. And as soon as I read something that refers to "220 minus your age" the source has no credibility.
    +1. This is a pet peave of mine. Some what off the subject of this thread, but here area few links I've collected regarding the issue:http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/24/he...ea9017&ei=5070 (you have to register with the NYT to read, but its free),http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/Robergs2.pdf, http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Myth-O...-Age&id=678707.

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  19. #19
    But on the road more MTBLover's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AllezWeGo View Post
    For now, I will climb my way and you should climb your way - whatever way that is that works for you on that particular climb.
    And you are absolutely right! BTW, great nic.

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    I might not be your age, but like you I am trying to improve my climbing ability. The single most important thing (after mastering the mental part of it) is PACE. My problem is that I was going up too fast, and then blowing up before I reached the top. Every time I stopped, I had to stop sooner and sooner until I could barely muster the energy to actually get back on the bike, much less go forward. Climbing a hard hill is not a race for me, now. I don't care if I have to go 5mph from bottom to top of a multi-mile grade that never gets under 8%, I am going to get there, and I am going to do it without stopping.
    20% is hard for anyone. I say start in the easy gear to start, and just keep a slow steady pace...if you have to stand, then stand. If you absolutely must stop, then stop. Don't try to kill yourself getting to the top. Next time you do the hill, push a little further before you stop. As long as you keep improving, you will eventually be able to make it to the top without stopping.

  21. #21
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    I did a little calculating and now think I understand your problem. Here's a bike wattage to speed calculator:
    http://bikecalculator.com/veloUS.html

    I put in a weight of 180 for you and specified your problem hill. 200 watts output then gets you a speed of 2.31 mph. You can insert your own figures. I used 200 because that's a pretty typical LT output for an unconditioned rider. Yours might be higher, but here's a way to find out what it is! Anyway, your gearing is 28 X 34, or 22 gear-inches. After a little calculating, I see that gives you a cadence of 35 at that weight, wattage, and gearing. So your problem is that you are not able to ride efficiently at a 35 cadence. We can fix that.

    Here's what you do: Find a much shallower hill but with about the same elevation gain, say 6%-8%. Climb it at a 50 cadence (need a computer with cadence for this) and a heart rate (HR) that's about 5% below LT, so gearing that holds this low cadence and a HR that allows you to climb the whole hill, but just barely, with a fair bit of leg pain. The main thing about this exercise is to hold your upper body absolutely still. This will force you to pedal circles, which is the key. Do 3-4 repeats of this, once or twice a week.

    Another fun thing that does something similar is one-legged pedaling drills. Pedal, preferably on rollers or trainer, for 2 minutes with each leg, and then rest with 2 minutes of legs together. Use a gear that has you in some trouble at about the 1:45 mark. Use a slow cadence, than an 80-85 cadence. Repeat 3-4 times or until your legs quit working, whichever comes last. Keep a tight chain the whole time, very important. You may perceive some discomfort. Only do this once/week.

    These drills will have you climbing much better at low cadences.

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