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Training question: Do you need big leg muscles to be a climber?

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Training question: Do you need big leg muscles to be a climber?

Old 06-04-06, 10:44 PM
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Training question: Do you need big leg muscles to be a climber?

Would I have to become as thin as a rail as some of you hardcore roadies to become a powerful climber? How exactly do you train your leg muscles without them becoming big like Swarzenegar's? I want to know how I should direct my training. :|
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Old 06-04-06, 10:48 PM
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Climbers I know are all thin and scrawny. They all go up hills like its completely flat while I struggle to get up it without losing too much time.

I consider myself pretty thin but I've got so much bulk in the legs to ever become a great climber. Lots of leg muscle and fast twitch means I'm good at sprinting but not much else.
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Old 06-04-06, 10:59 PM
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Being a good climber is all about having a good power to weight ratio. I don't have huge legs, but I'm pretty thin up top (I guess you could call me scrawny). I was a runner for years, and I think that helped.
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Old 06-04-06, 11:14 PM
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It's about a high wattage to kg ratio, and how long you can sustain that wattage... All of the best climbers have relatively skinny legs.
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Old 06-04-06, 11:15 PM
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It's about a high wattage to kg ratio, and how long you can sustain that wattage... All of the best climbers have relatively skinny legs.
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Old 06-04-06, 11:28 PM
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Old 06-05-06, 02:33 AM
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You don't need huge leg muscles, it's all about the power to weight! I'm certainly not the best around these parts, not by a long shot but I can hold my own. Last I calculated it, my power to weight ratio (watts/kg) was just over 4.

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Old 06-05-06, 03:26 AM
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The power you need on a climb is in your heart and lungs. Leg power is needed for sprints, leadouts and headwinds but for climbing you can gear down, spin up and pedal against a fairly light resistance.
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Old 06-05-06, 03:58 AM
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michealw is correct. i think lung and heart are very important on climbing. being skinny doesnt mean you climb fast as well. you can consider me thin, 1.81m and 53kg. it's quite abnormal though. maybe my power to weight ratio is very low butim into increasing my power to weight ratio as well as lung and heart power. by the way, how do we calculate power to weight ratio??
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Old 06-05-06, 04:23 AM
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"All of the best climbers have relatively skinny legs."

Not true. Lance didn't have skinny legs.
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Old 06-05-06, 04:28 AM
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Originally Posted by jock
Michael Rassmussen

Someone said look like Micheal Rasmussen.....



Posted a thousands times..... but still hosn't lost it's scariness!
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Old 06-05-06, 07:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Cipollini
1.81m and 53kg.
I had to calculate that out, so for everyone else that thinks in feet & pounds, that's about 5'11" 116.85lbs. That is certainly quite thin. There's a young guy here that was similarly sized until he hooked up with a coach who made him eat more!

Originally Posted by Cipollini
by the way, how do we calculate power to weight ratio??
First you have to know your power in watts. If you know that, you divide it by your weight in kg. For example if you could put out (sustained!) 200 watts, then your ratio would be 3.77. If you don't have a power meeter, do a climb where you know the elevation gain and distance and you can calculate it out here. From this (and from this gym) I know I can sustain about 230 watts, and I'm about 126lb (57.3kg), so 230/57.3 = 4.014.
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Old 06-05-06, 08:19 AM
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My w/kg ratio is about 3.4w/kg steady, 5.3-ish w/kg for shorter 1-2min climbs.

Shedding excess weight is a good way to start. It takes a combination of muscle indurance and lung capacity/efficiency to be a good climber. All three of these can be targetted by simply going out and doing long steady rides, just start racking up the miles. What happens is the longer you're in the saddle the more your body will adapt it's self to the cycling physique, it will burn fat, tone your leg's, train your lungs to work under a constand load, which will also over time increase your O2 efficiency. Basically you need a good base to start off with, this is why pro's start trainning for the next summer season in the middle of the winter. Then finaly you need to have the mental ability to push yourself right to your upper limit and sustain it. I've seen riders just as strong as me crack on hills cause they just haven't learned how to push them selve's. So once you have that good base of miles under you, go out and just do hills, do hill repeats or intervals, what ever you want to call it, just get used to both the slightly different position on the bike, and the demand it places on your lungs, not to mention the burning you'll probably feel in the front of your thigh's.
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Old 06-05-06, 08:30 AM
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I always thought having muscular legs could actually help. Heck, look a Jan, Lance, and Vino. They all have monster legs and can climb with the all the lightweights.

My 2 cents: It's all about conditioning and finding the cadence and muscle groups to climb that work for YOU. Rasmussen is thin and wiry, and spins up mountains, because that's what works for him. The bigger-muscled guys sit, stand, grind, spin, mash alternatively and make it up the same mountains in the same time, because that's what works for them. I know I'll never have chicken legs, but I can leg-press a Buick...I just keep climbing, make my lungs bigger, and compensate for my added muscle weight.
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Old 06-05-06, 08:33 AM
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I used to speed skate and have always had large muscular legs and I feel they hurt me when climbing. Now sprinting and flats I feel they help. I am 5'10" and 190 and would not consider myself extremely overweight. My optimum weight for my muscle mass would be 10-15 lbs lighter, but even when I was 175 I had trouble climbing. The smaller guys say 150 or less always seemed to be able to climb better, so I had to find a pace I was comfortable with or attack at the bottom of a hill. I knew I would get caught at or before the top, but I would jump in the draft when they caught me.

Remember muscle mass adds lots of extra weight. The muscle fibers type, fast twitch and slow twitch make a difference too. Fast twitch is explosive power like sprinting and usually more mass, slow twitch is more endurance.
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Old 06-05-06, 08:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Mo'Phat
I always thought having muscular legs could actually help. Heck, look a Jan, Lance, and Vino. They all have monster legs and can climb with the all the lightweights.

My 2 cents: It's all about conditioning and finding the cadence and muscle groups to climb that work for YOU. Rasmussen is thin and wiry, and spins up mountains, because that's what works for him. The bigger-muscled guys sit, stand, grind, spin, mash alternatively and make it up the same mountains in the same time, because that's what works for them. I know I'll never have chicken legs, but I can leg-press a Buick...I just keep climbing, make my lungs bigger, and compensate for my added muscle weight.
I agree to some extent, but their legs are not what I would call massive. They only look that way because they are thin every where else. These guys do not weigh very much, I consider anything under 150 light if they are 5'8" or taller.
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Old 06-05-06, 08:46 AM
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I don't know anything about watts and have never measured anything at all about myself except weight and hieght. 5'8" 135 lbs.

Here is what I do know. I can keep a pretty good pace on the flats, but sprinting doesn't make me go all that much faster. I feel very comfortable climbing and actually find this to be the best part of any ride. Good thing I live in the Atlanta area and there is plenty of climbing around. Having a strong running background (still run marathons) I think helps bigtime. I am relatively small and have strong legs and lungs. If you ask me that is the key for me.

One thing people have not said that I think is huge is mental capacity and heart. You can spin along on flats all day and feel good. Going up a long/steep hill can suck balls. The people that are good at it find a way to block it out, enjoy it, hate it but keep going, whatever...but they bear down and do it. This is what I equate to distance running and probably why I really like hills.
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Old 06-05-06, 08:48 AM
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Originally Posted by umd
CUT THAT OUT! you're making me hungry AND tired
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Old 06-05-06, 09:20 AM
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Originally Posted by domestique
Someone said look like Micheal Rasmussen.....



Posted a thousands times..... but still hosn't lost it's scariness!
Ok, hell no I don't want to end up looking like that!
Here is the thing....I'm training my leg muscles every night on the treadmill and every other night on the bowflex.
And now that its finally warming up I've started back riding again (I commuted alot during the winter but reached my limit by january). I'm still big but I'm also still steadily losing weight. But as I am losing weight in my body and my legs my leg muscles themselves are also getting bigger. When I eventually stabilize my weight to where I want it or where it needs to be my legs will not be fat but won't be thin either.
I just want to know if having big leg muscles will hamper me in climbs. Perhaps I'm confusing big muscles with just developed ones.

But what you guys are saying I have to concentrate on the heart muscle to have power for climbs. Argh! Its very hard to know exactly what exercises to do and exactly at what time. I think what I need to do is to balance the treadmill use with some actual long distance running.
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Old 06-05-06, 09:28 AM
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Originally Posted by krazyderek
My w/kg ratio is about 3.4w/kg steady, 5.3-ish w/kg for shorter 1-2min climbs.

Shedding excess weight is a good way to start. It takes a combination of muscle indurance and lung capacity/efficiency to be a good climber. All three of these can be targetted by simply going out and doing long steady rides, just start racking up the miles. What happens is the longer you're in the saddle the more your body will adapt it's self to the cycling physique, it will burn fat, tone your leg's, train your lungs to work under a constand load, which will also over time increase your O2 efficiency. Basically you need a good base to start off with, this is why pro's start trainning for the next summer season in the middle of the winter. Then finaly you need to have the mental ability to push yourself right to your upper limit and sustain it. I've seen riders just as strong as me crack on hills cause they just haven't learned how to push them selve's. So once you have that good base of miles under you, go out and just do hills, do hill repeats or intervals, what ever you want to call it, just get used to both the slightly different position on the bike, and the demand it places on your lungs, not to mention the burning you'll probably feel in the front of your thigh's.
Ya, I'm going to put the miles in. The only thing I like about my neighborhood is that I have easy close access to an old airport and its runways. Great for training. If only the FREAKIN WEATHER would cooperate! Its been raining alot in ny lately.
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Old 06-06-06, 12:15 PM
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Originally Posted by umd
I had to calculate that out, so for everyone else that thinks in feet & pounds, that's about 5'11" 116.85lbs. That is certainly quite thin. There's a young guy here that was similarly sized until he hooked up with a coach who made him eat more!



First you have to know your power in watts. If you know that, you divide it by your weight in kg. For example if you could put out (sustained!) 200 watts, then your ratio would be 3.77. If you don't have a power meeter, do a climb where you know the elevation gain and distance and you can calculate it out here. From this (and from this gym) I know I can sustain about 230 watts, and I'm about 126lb (57.3kg), so 230/57.3 = 4.014.
yeah...that's really thin. and i think my bones dominate the most of my weight though. I tried some weight gaining products but still cant gain even a kg!!

btw..im still having some problem calculating my watts based the website you gave me. But i`ll try to understand it though
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Old 06-15-06, 08:18 AM
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how do you figure out what grade a climb is?
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Old 06-15-06, 08:31 AM
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I would venture to say that not only power:weight is important, but you have to have a good cardi system to sustain it. If you can't fuel the muscles fast enough, it's all over. I was always skinny and had strong legs when I was racing, but I still couldn't climb very long. I had issues with maintaining a decent heart rate and getting results from it.
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Old 06-15-06, 08:48 AM
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Originally Posted by feethanddooth
how do you figure out what grade a climb is?
grade = (top elevation - bottom elevation) / (distance traveled)

Not precise, but close enough for any road grade.
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Old 06-15-06, 08:51 AM
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Originally Posted by feethanddooth
how do you figure out what grade a climb is?
Agree with Terry...but with simpler math: If you climb 10 feet for every 100 feet of distance, that's a 10% grade.

10 divided by 100 is .1 or 10%.

A 100% grade is equal elevation gain for distance travelled. 100' climbed in 100'. This is a 45deg angle climb, and are pretty rare.
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