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Hills

Old 10-27-19, 07:03 PM
  #1  
nrsmd
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Hills

Is lower limb weight lifting recommended for a cyclist? I weight lift evenly upper and lower body, and I know that is good. I feel stronger. But, my legs are always at least somewhat tired so bike climbing hills suffer, at times to the point where I need to stop and rest. Not good. How can I better balance strengthening my legs and not have fatigued legs that drastically hurt me on hill climbs?

This is troubling so opinions are helpful and needed.
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Old 10-27-19, 07:11 PM
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I was told the only way to get stronger for hills is to ride hills.

You might want to search Youtube for some GCN training videos on hills.
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Old 10-27-19, 07:15 PM
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Take what I say with a grain of salt because it's mostly based on what other people have said and less on my own personal experience (though I have struggled with climbs). But the way it's been drilled into my head is....focus on your strengths so that you become epic at them, but also acknowledge your weaknesses and target them from time to time.

So if you know you're bad at climbing (or at least not as good as you want to be) due to muscle fatigue, throw more climbs into your routine. Longer, more often, whatever it is...but if you feel like you need to stop on climbs...then you need to climb more. There's an argument to be had over whether it's lactate that's the cause or whether it's other things that lactate is attempting to fix during the climb...but either way, if your legs are burning and you're getting fatigued to the point you just can't push anymore, then riding more hills is going to help with that.

With regards to actual weight lifting, I'm not even going to talk about that because I've never touched weights in my life. Best of luck to you, and don't get too discouraged!
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Old 10-27-19, 07:39 PM
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I found I was developing knee pain two years ago and went to a physio who said I had weak VMO's compared to my comparatively strong quads. The quads were pulling the Patella (knee cap) off track. Wound up doing targeted weight training for those muscles and haven't had that pain since.

Otherwise, I do trail running, in particular up and down our local mtb trails to work on leg strength.
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Old 10-27-19, 07:41 PM
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Weight lifting is great and I personally do it to maintain my overall strength and muscle but weight lifting won't really improve your hill climbing. Weight lifting can actually hinder your cycling if you're lifting too hard too often and not getting enough recovery. The best way to become a strong climber is to get on your bike and climb hills more often. One thing that has helped me to become a strong climber is riding single speed bikes and climbing hills while standing on the pedals.
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Old 10-27-19, 08:14 PM
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Originally Posted by GlennR View Post
I was told the only way to get stronger for hills is to ride hills.
this.
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Old 10-27-19, 09:49 PM
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If you truly want to get stronger at riding hills, you need to ride plenty of them....seek them out, and punish yourself trying to push faster than your body feels comfortable. When your legs and lungs burn, get out if the saddle and push harder, and once you've crested the top, downshift and keep moving faster until you attack the next incline.
Nothing in the weightroom will improve your climbing faster than simply riding hills. Mostly, it is a mental barrier for those who have real trouble going uphill. The key is having experience in knowing how your body will respond to being pushed beyond it's comfort level, and having the mental toughness to continually push it further. Once you get a good strong baseline, and understand the grind, you will keep on improving as long as you are willing to embrace the burn!
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Old 10-28-19, 04:00 AM
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I think above you heard enough that riding hills makes you better at riding hills. If you want to add some lower leg exercises, that will help as well - not as a substitute but in addition to doing more hilly riding. If you only had 1 hour to spend, spend it riding up hills. If you can add only 5 minutes at a time, try the exercises.

Squats are the first ones to try. If you have access to a health club, they will have machines you can sit on to do quadricep and hamstring exercises, calves, too, if you are having fun. If you search the internet for exercises for cyclists, you'll see those.

There are two that I've added to that. I'm not flexible, so at the recommendation of a bike fitter I've added hip flexor stretches. I also do lower calf (solus) lifts, which are kind of like seated calf raises. They are supposed to help some in cycling, but years ago I was given them as part of physical therapy after some foot nerve issues due to ruptured disc in my back and I've just kept doing them.
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Old 10-28-19, 04:28 AM
  #9  
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Practice, practice, practice.
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Old 10-28-19, 05:10 AM
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so many different styles of hills...we could be talking a city block's length at 20+%, a half mile or so at 9-10%, a five mile climb at 6%, a quarter mile at 12% or a 25 mile climb at 4.5%.
they're all individuals. you may find one of these more to your liking/abilities than the others. you may hate them all. you won't know until you try. i will tell you that the more hills you do,
you will have a sort of hills "reservoir" you can mentally rely on when climbing hard stuff. once you make it up a climb, you know what it takes and can gauge your effort(s) accordingly.
there are some hills i absolutely loathe (that are supposedly on the easier side) and some i love (that are harder). yes, hill climbing is physical but a lot of it is also mental.

Last edited by ooga-booga; 10-28-19 at 05:13 AM.
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Old 10-28-19, 07:41 AM
  #11  
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As a larger rider 6'2" 220 lbs and 55 y/o, I find weight lifting: squats, lunges, dead lifts, leg raises, rollovers and oblique raises essential to give me the power I need to make long climbs and also prevent injury and fatigue. I use light to moderate weight dumbbells 25 to 40 lbs and 10 to 15 reps.

I no longer suffer from muscle spasms in the quads, hamstrings and calves.

I find climbing hills and weight lifting together make me a better climber.
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Old 10-28-19, 07:45 AM
  #12  
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Originally Posted by GlennR View Post
I was told the only way to get stronger for hills is to ride hills.
I was going to say the same thing. That's what worked for me.
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Old 10-28-19, 08:20 AM
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Everyone is weak on hills, because there's always someone smaller with more power, or has off the charts two minute power, who can obliterate our best efforts. And the tougher hills always have another challenge for us. Just to put it in context.


I'll say, and it may be controversial in some quarters, that there is no balance between leg strength and fatigue. Some, particularly body builders, place a premium on some relationship there and often cite the weight of greater muscle mass but that impact is minute. Greater mass, strength, enhances endurance. The only downside is that power to weight ratio might drop, which will reduce our sustained speed over sustained climbs.


There is a tendency to mash because that's similar to the muscle-building reps in the gym, and that leads fatigue when cycling. The more useful objective - and I mean a long ride with hills, not sprinting up the hill for a KOM - is to condition for extended submaximal efforts. We don't really need hill repeats to do that. Don't get me wrong, intervals are great and will help, but that's not the only way to get stronger on hills and I think it's helpful to know if hill repeats and high intensity intervals aren't something you actually enjoy. Longer threshold intervals, even tempo rides and concentrate on powering over shorter hills, also work pretty well.
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Old 10-28-19, 08:35 AM
  #14  
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hills feel hard and more muscular for newer riders/untrained riders because of lack of aerobic fitness, so their power ceiling is lower, so they tap into their anaerobic power capacity. The more you train, you raise the ceiling higher and the power to get up the hills gets more into the aerobic region and your legs aren't always burning (unless you're trying to chase faster people!).

So it's an easy assumption to think weight lifting would help since people are under the impression it's about leg strength, but it really comes down to aerobic fitness.
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Old 10-28-19, 08:47 AM
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It is debatable whether lifting weights makes you a better cyclist. Lots of very knowledgeable people have argued in support of it. Lots of very knowledgeable people have argued against it. To get better at hills, you need to improve your power to weight ratio on the bike, which, for any climb longer than 30 seconds or so, ultimately comes down to being able to pump more oxygen to the working muscles. The way to do this is to ride your bike, preferably up hills, a lot with the appropriate amount of high intensity work.

But, what isn't really debatable any more is that lifting weights is very good for your overall health and fitness. So, if you're not aspiring to make a career out of cycling, you should likely be doing some lifting.
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Old 10-28-19, 08:49 AM
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Casual cyclists have notoriously weak glutei, which causes lower back strain and is a major reason you see all those road bikes with the bars tilted back and 4" of spacers on the stem. If you want to do something macho with the lower extremities in the gym, try some deadlifts.
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Old 10-28-19, 09:03 AM
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Originally Posted by hubcyclist View Post
So it's an easy assumption to think weight lifting would help since people are under the impression it's about leg strength, but it really comes down to aerobic fitness.
This. Cycling, and climbing hills in particular, is an aerobic sport. If your legs have enough strength to climb stairs they have enough for climbing.

For reference the peak pedal force while putting out 300W is about 1/2 your bodyweight. Climbing stairs requires one to push down with at least 1x bodyweight. Increasing your leg strength by 50% will make no difference to the sustained power you can put out on a climb.

I'll also disagree with the many comments that the only way to improve climbing hills is to climb hills. Getting better at hills is straightforward (but difficult and uncomfortable): increase power and decrease weight. The tried and true method of increasing power is to incorporate higher power intervals into your riding. These can be on a hill if convenient or in your garage on a trainer, it makes little difference where you do them as long as you do them. Riding for hours at a low to moderate intensity will train you to ride for hours at a low to moderate intensity.
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Old 10-28-19, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
This. Cycling, and climbing hills in particular, is an aerobic sport. If your legs have enough strength to climb stairs they have enough for climbing.

For reference the peak pedal force while putting out 300W is about 1/2 your bodyweight. Climbing stairs requires one to push down with at least 1x bodyweight. Increasing your leg strength by 50% will make no difference to the sustained power you can put out on a climb.
Few people climb 20+ flights of stairs on a regular basis, which is essentially what climbing long hills on a bike is.
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Old 10-28-19, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by General Geoff View Post
Few people climb 20+ flights of stairs on a regular basis, which is essentially what climbing long hills on a bike is.
Hence, the need for aerobic not strength, training. The point is that when climbing with decent power you're pushing about 1/2 as hard as you do climbing stairs. Strength is seldom the limiter when climbing on a bike.
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Old 10-28-19, 10:25 AM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
Hence, the need for aerobic not strength, training. The point is that when climbing with decent power you're pushing about 1/2 as hard as you do climbing stairs. Strength is seldom the limiter when climbing on a bike.
I agree.

Strength provides power but aerobic fitness provides stamina on long climbs.
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Old 10-28-19, 10:29 AM
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Just some rough numbers to illustrate difference between less fit and more aerobically fit:

Say, for example, someone has an FTP of 150w, and going up a pretty steady incline. Anaerobic capacity begins at 180w for that individual. I'm making a guess, but I would guess that even grinding up a hill at low cadence, someone is going to have to put out that amount of power to get up. So it's going to hurt and it's going to hurt quickly once you're that zone.

For me, my FTP is 285w, that gives me more room to ride up hills. I was able to climb a mountain in 20mins this past summer at 265w and steady, and was never at risk of blowing up.

It takes work, but improving aerobic fitness eventually lets you be able to dictate how easy or hard you want to make a ride, where you have much less control if you don't work on raising that fitness ceiling. So again, one can lift weights all they want, but if they don't train aerobically to raise that ceiling, hills are always going to hurt

I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea of riding hills to get better at them either, not without structure anyway. The whole thing behind riding hills is doing specific vo2max training (which is generally only sustainable for 3-5mins at the high end). So it helps, but it's not necessary. I mostly train indoors and don't even do that much vo2 work a lot of the year, training in the sweet spot and around threshold is plenty to get faster and comfortable up climbs.
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Old 10-28-19, 10:42 AM
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We need to know more. Define "hills" by percent grade and length. And what gear combination are you using? And how much do you weigh?

I'm not a great hill-climber and never will be. I don't seek out hills, either for training or for general riding. Yet I can pace myself to do a 5-mile climb at 8% without stopping. Your problem may be technical more than conditioning.
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Old 10-28-19, 10:50 AM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
I found I was developing knee pain two years ago and went to a physio who said I had weak VMO's compared to my comparatively strong quads. The quads were pulling the Patella (knee cap) off track. Wound up doing targeted weight training for those muscles and haven't had that pain since.

Otherwise, I do trail running, in particular up and down our local mtb trails to work on leg strength.
I do lots of reps of unweighted VMO squats to keep the balance with my quads. I noticed the imbalance in muscle development before it started to cause any knee trouble and started to do the squats because I thought the imbalance made my legs look weird, and only learned that I had probably headed off knee problems later.
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Old 10-28-19, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by wphamilton View Post
Everyone is weak on hills, because there's always someone smaller with more power, or has off the charts two minute power, who can obliterate our best efforts. And the tougher hills always have another challenge for us. Just to put it in context.


I'll say, and it may be controversial in some quarters, that there is no balance between leg strength and fatigue. Some, particularly body builders, place a premium on some relationship there and often cite the weight of greater muscle mass but that impact is minute. Greater mass, strength, enhances endurance. The only downside is that power to weight ratio might drop, which will reduce our sustained speed over sustained climbs.


There is a tendency to mash because that's similar to the muscle-building reps in the gym, and that leads fatigue when cycling. The more useful objective - and I mean a long ride with hills, not sprinting up the hill for a KOM - is to condition for extended submaximal efforts. We don't really need hill repeats to do that. Don't get me wrong, intervals are great and will help, but that's not the only way to get stronger on hills and I think it's helpful to know if hill repeats and high intensity intervals aren't something you actually enjoy. Longer threshold intervals, even tempo rides and concentrate on powering over shorter hills, also work pretty well.
My usual quibble as a masher--I can do lots of mashing before any fatigue sets in because I have very big leg muscles, and I actually have greater endurance that way than I do spinning.
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Old 10-28-19, 11:22 AM
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I think I'm a pretty good climber for someone who doesn't race, having done a solo 2 day ride a few weeks ago that had almost 11,000 feet of climbing over 187 miles of riding. Both days' rides were non-stop, except for some little bit of noodling around at the end of day one and at the beginning of day 2. The hills all came in solid chunks of 80 miles of uninterrupted riding each way.

Obviously, the best training for hill climbing is hill climbing, but there are several months out of the year here where I do next to no riding because of cold and ice. My gym training during those months is ours on the elliptical machine at high resistance--essentially, I'm doing something very like mashing for as much as 3 hours straight. I know that sounds horrible, but it's actually quite comfortable for me, and I can watch movies while I do it. I also think the odds of hurting myself are a lot lower than if I did anything that aggressive with weights.

No, I don't experience any knee problems from this unless I try to go really fast at high resistance, but as I mentioned above, I also do a lot of VMO squats to keep the muscles balanced.

I have no idea if this works for anyone else, but for me, it has developed a huge amount of endurance at high resistance, which allows me to take hills and also to ride for very long distances in high gears when not climbing.

Last edited by livedarklions; 10-28-19 at 11:26 AM.
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