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Spinner Seeking Climbing Advice

Old 06-24-17, 09:59 PM
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Spinner Seeking Climbing Advice

This is my second year riding, with hardly a break at all. Over the past year, I've been picking up Strava segment KOMs, and riding with the fastest riders in my local scene on group rides. I feel very strong on endurance rides over 100 miles. I can spin all day.

When we get to hills... I am done. I get dropped so fast it's nearly miraculous how terrible I am at climbing, and so I want to improve. I recently did a charity ride of 75 miles with 4.9K feet of climbing, and my knees were hurting afterward from the climbs.

Nearby, I have a 340 foot hill with a max grade of 13.2% and it's tough. I can use it to train... but how?

Hill repeats? How many times, and how often? Obviously, "training until muscle failure" is not desirable when one is riding clipless, though doubtless funny to watch.

Is this hill "too much" (it's about a 7.5 minute climb for me) to train on? Should I find a shorter hill to work on first?

Is there any benefit to carrying weight, like a weight vest or an overfilled hydration pack, extra water bottles, etc?

I do a lot of training on Trainer Road on my Neo. While TR does a superb job of preparing me for time trialling, I don't feel that TR ever really addresses the specific challenges of climbing. I also have Zwift (tons of climbing available) and can also ride any GPS route with Perf Pro Studio, or TTS4 indoors.

I have every option available (except actual Alpine hills or mountains outdoors), and no clue how to make the best use of them to improve. Looking for serious suggestions / coaching to maximize my results while avoiding injury and overtraining. My goal for this time next year is to ride the Maryland Gran Fondo Diabolical Double Metric -- 120 miles with 14.5K feet of climbing.

Thanks for your sincere replies. My apologies if this has been asked elsewhere, but my search came up empty.
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Old 06-25-17, 01:32 AM
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I have been where you are, Hating climbs and avoiding them. I now can enjoy them. Here's what worked for me:

1. Climbing. That hill you have sounds about like one near me that I was scared to try for a while. I worked on lesser climbs until I was confident I could at least make it up, however slowly. Everything else I say can be discarded if you go ride a lot of hills of varying difficulty on purpose. (With adequate recovery...I'd say 2 really hard rides a week is sufficient)

2. Sprint intervals...with attention to cadence...no more than twice a week (so I could recover) I would try to do a short session, 2 sets of 5X, 30sec All-out, 30 sec Easy spin. But alternate low cadence/high cadence. So...
30seconds: all-out at 70rpm
Recover 30 sec.
30 seconds all-out at 120+rpm
Recover 30 sec.
Etc...(5 total sprint efforts, 3 low cadence, 2 high cadence). This will increase your leg power. If you don't also gain weight, it means a higher power-to-weight ratio.

3. You didn't mention your weight, but if you are a large rider, your power may be good, but power-to-weight may need adjusting on the other end. I'm not fat, and have a soccer-players build, but when I at 5'9" intentionally went from about 164lbs to 156lbs, I felt it in my climbing.

4. Work on doing intervals out of the saddle (at various intensities and cadences, no need for all of these to be gut-wrenching). Just say, I'm going to drop to one harder gear, stand and pedal for a while on purpose.

5. Some will pop-poo it, saying you just need bike work. but do some weight, or at least body-weight squat work. It will help your overall mobility to do some body-squats, aiming to increase how deep you go.

6. Strategy for group rides: for me, I know I'm still not the strongest, though I am getting closer, so I NEVER set the pace on a climb. I know I would likely miss-judge it and go too hard at the bottom. I let someone else set the climbing place and just try to stay close to the front group. When starting out I would just try to stay close to the back of the group, let someone else set the pace so I can just aim for "good-enough" and "don't get dropped". After a while, I found I could pass up the back of the group and move up.

7. One more thing. I have a hill that seems very similar to yours, and once I started actually riding it, it wasn't "hill repeats" it was "ride the hill once, then pedal slowly home and recover for a few days." But it made me stronger. I still won't do that hill more than once a week, and I'm not near the KOM times, But I can say I did it.
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Old 06-25-17, 04:49 AM
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I realized I forgot to mention gearing. What gears do you have now? You may want to try adjusting to easier gearing so you can keep spinning on hills rather than grinding...
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Old 06-25-17, 09:03 AM
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The fact that are having knee pain worries me. I used to race a long time ago. We trained lots of base miles in the early season partly to strengthen the knees to handle the speed work and climbing that would come later. You can increase muscle strength quickly with speed work etc, but tendons take longer to toughen up. Simply put, you may want to start by riding more miles. Also, watch your gearing. Grinding in too high a gear at a low cadence is a bad way to get up a hill.

It's a good idea to be able to climb out of the saddle occasionally. It moves your muscle groups around and will help reduce fatigue. Learn to use the full stroke of your clipless, including pulling up. This will help you over momentary grade increases.

Generally, you will get better at climbing if you do it more. If you're just starting to work on climbing, IMO a couple long climbs per week at below max effort will help more than a small amount of max effort short hills. As you get more fit, you will go up faster. As your base speed improves, slowly start mixing in some max effort sprints up shorter hills.

Also, losing weight helps of course - if you have any extra to lose. Ultimately climbing is about power to weight ratio. The hills in a sense tell the truth about your fitness.
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Old 06-25-17, 09:08 AM
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BTW 340 feet is not too much. You should be able to do that anaerobically, essentially sprinting over it, though probably not at first. Sure, ride that. But find a longer one too, maybe 1500 ft @ 6-8%. Got anything like that?
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Old 06-25-17, 09:33 AM
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Originally Posted by 12strings
I have been where you are, Hating climbs and avoiding them. I now can enjoy them. Here's what worked for me:
I don't hate them... honestly! I just acknowledge they are the weakest part of my cycling. I want to change that so I become known locally as the Mountain Goat.

1. Climbing. That hill you have sounds about like one near me that I was scared to try for a while. I worked on lesser climbs until I was confident I could at least make it up, however slowly.
This particular hill is sort of the "gateway to adventure", as any path out of the city leads over this ridge. All of the group rides and most of my solo rides go up this hill twice -- once on the way out, and again on the way back. I feel okay (winded, certainly), but not heroic. I'm aiming for heroic.

3. You didn't mention your weight
Good call. I'm 5'9, 153 pounds, down from 178 in January this year. My goal is 145 by August 31, but I'm also trying to maintain my FTP (244) in the process of losing weight. I'd love to get over 4 w/kg.

I realized I forgot to mention gearing. What gears do you have now? You may want to try adjusting to easier gearing so you can keep spinning on hills rather than grinding...
I'm riding a 50/34, 11-28, but it's pretty rare that I'm in "granny" gear, except when I'm already pooped from a long ride. I try to stay in the 3rd or 4th cog on climbs specifically to get better at it. Maybe that's a mistake in my rationale. If I spin at my normal cadence (90+), I'd have to be making almost 400 watts on some of these climbs, and I know I can't maintain that much power for that long.

Thank you very much for all your suggestions and for taking the time to respond so thoroughly. I'm eager to try your recommendations, but obviously won't be able to give you real feedback for at least a couple months as things progress.
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Old 06-25-17, 11:13 AM
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I agree with everything written above as well. Buy if the OP is doing regular 100-mile rides, the endurance base should be there.

As for knee pain, some fit issues may need addressed. Don't push through knee pain on a regular basis. Either rest till it recovers, or address the pain and change something
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Old 06-25-17, 01:48 PM
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I also agree with everything said so far though I'm far from expert. Furthermore, I'm a certified old guy and asthmatic besides. My strategy begins with low enough gears - a 26 T chain ring and a 30 T cog. In addition, it is relatively flat here in coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts. There are hills though and I go out of my way to climb them on just about every ride. The next part is to be as smooth as possible like the cyclist in the video.
The last part is to pay close attention to breathing - that is to employ the diaphram like an opera singer. The result is I'm no longer scared of any hills in my area and actually enjoy the deliberate effort that is necessary for me.
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Old 06-26-17, 05:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Gank
I'm riding a 50/34, 11-28, but it's pretty rare that I'm in "granny" gear, except when I'm already pooped from a long ride. I try to stay in the 3rd or 4th cog on climbs specifically to get better at it. Maybe that's a mistake in my rationale. If I spin at my normal cadence (90+), I'd have to be making almost 400 watts on some of these climbs, and I know I can't maintain that much power for that long.
At the end of the day climbing well is purely a function of power to weight. There's no benefit to struggling up a hill in a higher gear than necessary. Better to shift down and spin at a comfortable cadence, in your case around 90. If that requires 400W you're in too high a gear and need to shift down.

Basic intervals - 2x20, 6x5x1 etc will help improve your FTP. It's difficult to drop weight and increase power at the same time so try and drop weight while you're building a base with lots of long endurance rides but less intensity. Then you can focus on increasing the intensity and power.
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Old 06-26-17, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Gank
Good call. I'm 5'9, 153 pounds, down from 178 in January this year. My goal is 145 by August 31, but I'm also trying to maintain my FTP (244) in the process of losing weight. I'd love to get over 4 w/kg.
If you've lost 25# this year already, IMO don't overtly try to lose more this year. Eat a healthy balanced diet, and keep riding. If some more comes off, great. You are probably approaching your natural optimum weight. If you are restricting calories, you are also restricting your ability to build strength. While lighter is usually faster, it is possible to go too far.

I'm riding a 50/34, 11-28, but it's pretty rare that I'm in "granny" gear, except when I'm already pooped from a long ride. I try to stay in the 3rd or 4th cog on climbs specifically to get better at it. Maybe that's a mistake in my rationale. If I spin at my normal cadence (90+), I'd have to be making almost 400 watts on some of these climbs, and I know I can't maintain that much power for that long.
Gearing sounds fine. FWIW I also use 50/34, 11-28, at least lately, and I also usually climb in the 3 or 4th cog. It's OK if your cadence comes down slightly on climbs, but not too much. 70 is OK. Don't lag though, and maintain an even tempo. It really depends on the person. Some bodies work better pushing bigger gears and getting out of the saddle a lot, some are faster spinning at a high cadence. Experiment. Then again I'm an old or at least middle age geezer, and started riding when 53/42, 13-21 was all you got. If you had to stomp you had to stomp.

PS

Can you get out of town once a week at least to ride on real hills? That would help immensely. I'm not sure how well you can really simulate hills on a trainer.

Last edited by Salamandrine; 06-26-17 at 12:43 PM.
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Old 07-01-17, 06:38 PM
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Your hill sounds perfect. 4 repeats once a week. It'll be an anaerobic hill. That's what you want, but you also want to learn exactly how hard you can go, holding a steady pace all the way up, before you start to blow up near the top. The repeats will provide experimentation, as well as being excellent training.

Everyone is different, but climbing cadence should be somewhere between say 78 and 95. The more watts you can put out on the hill, the higher should be your cadence. I suppose that leg effort is the limiter for everyone. The fast folks use a similar leg effort but spin faster, thus more watts on the road.

The other thing I've found is the more I can spread out the effort in the pedaling circle, the longer my legs last, since each muscle does less total work. Tomorrow I'm going to do a 2600' climb, descend, and then do a 2900' climb. Wish me good legs. I'm a geezer and not powerful, so I'll try to spin ~80.

If you experiment with cadence, remember that what seems the best cadence for you today may not be your best ultimate cadence, since training at a particular cadence will affect your freely chosen cadence. IOW if you want to learn to pedal faster, pedal faster.
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Old 07-10-17, 06:46 AM
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Originally Posted by 12strings
3. You didn't mention your weight, but if you are a large rider, your power may be good, but power-to-weight may need adjusting on the other end. I'm not fat, and have a soccer-players build, but when I at 5'9" intentionally went from about 164lbs to 156lbs, I felt it in my climbing.
Climbing technique is important but this is the number one factor. I once read that there isn't a TdF climber who weighs more than 2.2 lbs per inch of height. For a 5'10 rider that means you're at the top of that scale if you weigh 154lbs. That should tell you something. At age 71 I am now down to about 5'9" and weigh 190 lbs. (Ex-college football player body). I am usually at the end of my clubs B ride when climbing. If I can get down to 183 lbs. I am near the front of the group. Weight to power is what it's about.
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Old 07-10-17, 11:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Gank
I don't hate them... honestly! I just acknowledge they are the weakest part of my cycling. I want to change that so I become known locally as the Mountain Goat.


This particular hill is sort of the "gateway to adventure", as any path out of the city leads over this ridge. All of the group rides and most of my solo rides go up this hill twice -- once on the way out, and again on the way back. I feel okay (winded, certainly), but not heroic. I'm aiming for heroic.


Good call. I'm 5'9, 153 pounds, down from 178 in January this year. My goal is 145 by August 31, but I'm also trying to maintain my FTP (244) in the process of losing weight. I'd love to get over 4 w/kg.


I'm riding a 50/34, 11-28, but it's pretty rare that I'm in "granny" gear, except when I'm already pooped from a long ride. I try to stay in the 3rd or 4th cog on climbs specifically to get better at it. Maybe that's a mistake in my rationale. If I spin at my normal cadence (90+), I'd have to be making almost 400 watts on some of these climbs, and I know I can't maintain that much power for that long.

Thank you very much for all your suggestions and for taking the time to respond so thoroughly. I'm eager to try your recommendations, but obviously won't be able to give you real feedback for at least a couple months as things progress.
I think you are misunderstanding how gearing on how power works on hills. Hill climbing is about power alone, or more specifically power to weight. Within a normal range of cadence, you have to put out the same number of watts to climb a hill at the same rate, so 70rpm@9mph in a 34x21 is the same as 34x28@~95rpm to go the same speed. You can test this with your trainer if you don't have a PM on the road.
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Old 07-10-17, 01:55 PM
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Hills have always been my nemesis too. Were when I was in my 20s. Same again in my late 50s after resuming cycling after 30+ years away. It's worse now due to asthma and other typical post-middle age ailments.

The first couple of years after resuming cycling I just rode like I always did -- as far as I had time for at a moderate pace. From my area it's a long gradual downhill toward downtown and the popular bike routes. If I head west it gets steeper rapidly with lots of short roller coasters. I'd tackle the roller coasters about once a week, but I'd go easy on the climbs and blast downhill -- I like speed, I just don't like working for it.

That process seemed to help with longer rides on flat terrain at a casual pace. But I wasn't getting any better on the few short, steep hill climbs I'd encounter in casual group rides. I'd always drop to the back with the other geezers and asthmatic wheezers.

I try to use Strava and similar tools only to roughly gauge my own progress. I noticed that over a couple of years I was able to get within 66%-75% of the speed of the KOMs and top tenners on flats and downhills. But I couldn't do better than half the speed of the faster riders on any hill climbs -- including folks I can keep up with easily on most of our rides, until we hit the hills.

I'd never heard of interval training or high intensity interval training until a few months ago. I read some articles, watched some videos and began incorporating some interval training into my workouts.

I'm concentrating on 10-20 mile rides blasting uphill until my legs and lungs are on fire, then coasting or loafing downhill and on the flats where I'd prefer to be doing the actual work.

Frankly, it ain't fun. I'd rather take long casual rides.

For a few weeks I've been stuck at maximum effort for 30 seconds at a time, then riding casually for 3-5 minutes before the next maximum effort run. Fortunately this coincides with the natural terrain of a couple of nearby roller coaster routes. So I don't bother with interval timers, which rarely mesh with the available terrain.

It isn't improving my hill climbs significantly. I'm still at 50% of the speed of the top ten on Strava, including friends I ride with comfortably until we hit the hills.

Where I am seeing progress is in group rides on flats. I'm able to keep pace with the ebb and flow of groups more easily. We don't ride tight pace lines -- we're mostly B group riders, averaging 14 mph. I can ride 14 mph all day without tiring. But in a group it's more demanding because I must adapt to their ebb and flow. And that's getting easier with interval training. I haven't had to drop back and stop to take a hit off the inhaler and wheeze myself back to life for several months.

I may try an A group ride later this week. They average 16 mph (although they claim faster, Strava shows closer to 16 mph). That's fast for me, even on solo rides on familiar and relatively flat terrain. Adapting to the ebb and flow of a faster group will be challenging.

And if they hit any hills I'll be dropped like a stolen purse.

I'm planning to regear my road bike a bit. It's an older Centurion Ironman, 52/42 chain rings, 13-24 freewheel. I ordered a 13-25 freewheel, which will help a little. On some climbs I could tell that just a tiny difference in the granny gear would have helped. I could go to 28 but I'd need to switch from indexed to friction shifting. Instead I may try a smaller inner chain ring.

And I'm going to do more strengthening and flexibility work at home. I don't use any foot retention (I used toe clips and cleated Detto Pietros years ago, but got rid of all that stuff in the early 2000s after a car wreck when I figured I'd never be able to ride again). As the OP mentioned, riding to exhaustion while clipped in sounds pretty dangerous. So I'll work on my legs at home where I won't fall on anything harder than the carpet or bed.
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Old 07-10-17, 02:07 PM
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Depends what you call hills. If we're talking hills that take no more than 2-3 minutes to complete, then anaerobic intervals are what you need. Hill intervals are ok for that. If we're talking hills that take 10+ minutes to complete, then work on that threshold and perhaps more importantly, on losing weight. They are totally different beasts.

Carrying extra weight won't help at all.

Imo, there are two options: A proper training plan to make you a better overall rider, or specificity aka if you want to be faster up hills then go ride a lot of hills.
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Old 07-10-17, 02:10 PM
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Also, being able to hang on the flats but getting dropped on the climbs doesn't necesarily means you suck at climbing. It is just the way it works. Sitting in the draft you need to do way less work than whoever is pulling, so you can hang with much stronger people. When going uphill that disappears, so whoever is stronger than you will leave you behind, even if you've managed to follow them around for hours.
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Old 07-10-17, 02:25 PM
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Originally Posted by redlude97
I think you are misunderstanding how gearing on how power works on hills. Hill climbing is about power alone, or more specifically power to weight. Within a normal range of cadence, you have to put out the same number of watts to climb a hill at the same rate, so 70rpm@9mph in a 34x21 is the same as 34x28@~95rpm to go the same speed. You can test this with your trainer if you don't have a PM on the road.
Perhaps! My thinking was more that in 50/34 and 700c tire, I'm going 12.7 mph @90 rpm, just as a matter of wheel rotations. Factor in a gradient of 6 - 13% on this particular hill, and I'm anywhere from 380 to 600+ watts at my current weight.

Dropping into a smaller cog and lowering my speed to 7 mph on the steeper bits makes every pedal stroke feel like a massive leg press, with the end goal being stronger climbing muscles. This could be completely delusional on my part, where I have convinced myself that higher rpm = more cardio recruitment, and lower rpm = more powerful muscular recruitment.
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Old 07-10-17, 02:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Gank
Perhaps! My thinking was more that in 50/34 and 700c tire, I'm going 12.7 mph @90 rpm, just as a matter of wheel rotations. Factor in a gradient of 6 - 13% on this particular hill, and I'm anywhere from 380 to 600+ watts at my current weight.

Dropping into a smaller cog and lowering my speed to 7 mph on the steeper bits makes every pedal stroke feel like a massive leg press, with the end goal being stronger climbing muscles. This could be completely delusional on my part, where I have convinced myself that higher rpm = more cardio recruitment, and lower rpm = more powerful muscular recruitment.
while this is partially true, the portion about using a big gear to build leg muscle for climbing doesn't work as well if you are putting down less overall power compared to what you can hold at a higher cadence for longer. This will vary depending on your relative cardio and muscle strength levels currently, but what you should do is figure out the fastest way up your local hill with varying gears to see where you are most efficient. For me, my normal flat cadence is above 90rpm but on hills 80-85 rpms is the best balance point, with a mix of standing at ~70rpm. grinding up a hill in a gear too big is usually slower
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Old 07-10-17, 02:36 PM
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Originally Posted by PepeM
Also, being able to hang on the flats but getting dropped on the climbs doesn't necesarily means you suck at climbing. It is just the way it works. Sitting in the draft you need to do way less work than whoever is pulling, so you can hang with much stronger people. When going uphill that disappears, so whoever is stronger than you will leave you behind, even if you've managed to follow them around for hours.
another part of that is power to weight vs power to frontal area. Sounds like OP is a bit on the bigger side(I'm even bigger) and I can lay a hurting on climbers on the flats even on the front or sprinting because I can hold a higher absolute power level with only a slightly increased frontal area, whereas on hills I get dropped off the back.
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ronsalicious
"The 33"-Road Bike Racing
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06-05-10 03:49 PM

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