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Leg strength not following cardio gains

Old 07-03-24, 08:12 AM
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Leg strength not following cardio gains

First a little background, I'm 69 and in very good health. I'm currently riding between 300 - 450 miles a month and swim about 2 miles a week. Most of my riding and training is on flat ground.

To the point... I just don't seem to have the strength in my legs to push myself into higher training zones. For the last 6 months about 90% of what I do is in a Zone 2 aerobic state. As far as Garmin is concerned I've made some great progress in my Vo2 scores and I do seem to be able to pull off a 50 mile ride without much effort. I also measure myself on a particular 6% grade (1/4 mile) and keep track of my Max HR. Six months ago the Max HR I experienced up that grade was 157. It has progressively gone down to 134. Same grade, same section, same speed. So I guess the upside is I've really strengthened my heart. But for the life of me I'm now having trouble not only getting into Zone 4 (HR), Zone 5(HR) hasn't been seen in over a month. My problem seems to be leg strength, no matter how many rides, no matter how I push myself on them, it's getting more and more difficult to reach those higher HR Zones before my legs give out.

What type of training should I be doing to get my legs (and power) to follow my Cardio gains?
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Old 07-03-24, 08:29 AM
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Heavy weight training and plyometrics won't hurt. However, plyometrics should be taken on very slowly and carefully -- it's very easy to injure oneself with these exercises.



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Old 07-03-24, 08:36 AM
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You don't need leg strength to get to a higher cardio level. You just need to shift to a lower gear and pedal like a crazy person for as long as you can.

May not be able to do it very long the first time. But if you repeat it multiple times on your ride, and do this on one or two of your weekly rides for a month or two months, then you'll start to see some results. And you'll find that you can stay in that higher zone for a longer time before you have to slow to a resting pace.

Essentially this is interval training. Though you don't have to perform it on a schedule. Just when the route segment you are riding allows you to safely be that madman on a bike. <grin>


Edit...
Oh... never mind. Misunderstood what you were asking.

Leg strength needs to happen in a gym or with gym equipment in your home. IMO. Resistance exercises. Which IMO, are not able to be done on a bike. And least not properly.

But as to this statement
I just don't seem to have the strength in my legs to push myself into higher training zones.
You don't need leg strength to get to the higher HR zones if that is the training zones you ask about. And not really for the higher power zones either as you can generate the same 200 watts spinning in a easy gear as well as pushing in a hard gear.

Last edited by Iride01; 07-03-24 at 12:26 PM.
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Old 07-03-24, 09:00 AM
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Do you have a power meter? Just because you can't get your HR up to a higher level does not mean you aren't generating more power. A good test would be if you can climb your 6% grade hill faster than before, regardless of HR. If you can, then your power has gone up.
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Old 07-03-24, 09:17 AM
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I do have a power meter and I've been slowly increasing my power, but it's going to take time.
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Old 07-03-24, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
First a little background, I'm 69 and in very good health. I'm currently riding between 300 - 450 miles a month and swim about 2 miles a week. Most of my riding and training is on flat ground.

To the point... I just don't seem to have the strength in my legs to push myself into higher training zones. For the last 6 months about 90% of what I do is in a Zone 2 aerobic state. As far as Garmin is concerned I've made some great progress in my Vo2 scores and I do seem to be able to pull off a 50 mile ride without much effort. I also measure myself on a particular 6% grade (1/4 mile) and keep track of my Max HR. Six months ago the Max HR I experienced up that grade was 157. It has progressively gone down to 134. Same grade, same section, same speed. So I guess the upside is I've really strengthened my heart. But for the life of me I'm now having trouble not only getting into Zone 4 (HR), Zone 5(HR) hasn't been seen in over a month. My problem seems to be leg strength, no matter how many rides, no matter how I push myself on them, it's getting more and more difficult to reach those higher HR Zones before my legs give out.

What type of training should I be doing to get my legs (and power) to follow my Cardio gains?
Iím in a similar situation. The gym helps somewhat but I really donít like the gym and I worry about my knees.

Riding with other (faster) riders helps a lot as youíll have to push yourself to keep up.

Also, out of the saddle climbing or sprints will help.
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Old 07-03-24, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
I also measure myself on a particular 6% grade (1/4 mile) and keep track of my Max HR. Six months ago the Max HR I experienced up that grade was 157. It has progressively gone down to 134. Same grade, same section, same speed.
So you're going the same speed up the same road? So your power is the same, but your HR and max HR are lower, and it happened progressively not overnight? And you're not experiencing any other symptoms or anomalies? And your cadence or gearing haven't changed?

If so, I'd either switch from HR-based to power-based zones, or else re-calc your HR zones.
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Old 07-03-24, 05:10 PM
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Originally Posted by RChung
So you're going the same speed up the same road? So your power is the same, but your HR and max HR are lower, and it happened progressively not overnight? And you're not experiencing any other symptoms or anomalies? And your cadence or gearing haven't changed?

If so, I'd either switch from HR-based to power-based zones, or else re-calc your HR zones.
The last 2 weeks I've started paying more attention to my power numbers rather than my HR numbers, I think that might be what I need to stick with.
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Old 07-04-24, 05:40 AM
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Iím struggling to see how leg strength would be limiting your HR when cycling. Are you riding in a very high gear at very low cadence?

Leg strength increases your maximal sprint power and reduces muscle fatigue, but it shouldnít be significantly limiting your power at or below VO2 max.

If your max HR is 157 and you are riding along at 135 then increasing power should be easy unless you are already struggling to turn over the gear. In which case, a lower gear range is the answer.
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Old 07-04-24, 09:53 AM
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I’m only 66 but I find it harder to push my self into the harder HR zones when riding alone. For leg strength, consider https://startingstrength.com/article...d-the-x-factor
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Old 07-04-24, 10:12 AM
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If you're spending almost all your time riding in Z2, and you're having trouble sustaining efforts above Z2, the obvious (and probably correct) answer is that you're doing too much Z2 and not enough Z3-Z5.

It's tempting to fall into the Z2 trap, because those rides are so pleasurable. I started doing more long Z2 rides, and while my endurance is improving, Z4 efforts have become harder to sustain.
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Old 07-04-24, 11:14 PM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
First a little background, I'm 69 and in very good health. I'm currently riding between 300 - 450 miles a month and swim about 2 miles a week. Most of my riding and training is on flat ground.
...
What type of training should I be doing to get my legs (and power) to follow my Cardio gains?
Hills.
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Old 07-05-24, 08:22 AM
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Yes, hills. Ride the flats Z2 and give it everything you have on the hills. I like 50'-70' per mile rides. That gives you enough recovery to hit the hills hard for a few hours. I'd say ignore your power and HR. Go by breathing. Go hard enough on every hill that you are panting as you go over the top. Once you hit panting pace, fool around with your effort so that you are just holding that panting and not blowing up. Work up to 4-5 hour rides. Ideal hill length is 100'-500' vertical. More than that and you won't be able to go hard enough. Do this once a week. The rest of the week, more moderate rides. With this training, you'll gain both speed and endurance.

The other obvious thing is go to the gym twice a week. Squats, leg sled, leg extensions, Roman chair, and whatever upper body work you want, all 12 reps. Work up, over a period of a few weeks, to enough weight that you can barely do the 12th rep. Gym work won't make you gain weight. Eating too much makes you gain weight. All those skinny pros hit the gym. Over a year's gym work, I gradually reduce the reps, 12-10-8-5. Ideally, one starts with 12 in October and is doing 5 in May, northern hemisphere. If you aren't doing weights now, do 12 for a year.
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Old 07-05-24, 03:56 PM
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I'd say I sort of had this same thing happen over the first 6 months after I started riding, 5 years ago. At first, my heart rate was easily pushed into the red and and I'd often have to stop and rest on climbs, literally gasping for breath with eyesight getting a little fuzzy around the edges. But as my cardo improved, quickly, I noticed my legs started to feel like the limiting factor.

I don't think it is as simple as leg strength. Though strength training is a good idea. There's a lot of processes going on in the body to move the energy to the muscles to do the work. Any of these can be the bottleneck. In the end, all of this is felt as power from the legs. All of these need to be stressed to cause adaptation.

I think in some cases, it's just that you start out with your cardo system so weak, you just don't really stress the other parts. But the cardo improves quickly and suddenly it becomes more of an overall system issue.

As some others have said, intervals are your friend. You don't have to go all pro-training on this. Shoot for one interval session a week. Vary the lengths and efforts of the intervals to stress and adapt to these differences. Interval sessions generally are unpleasant and hurt. They really are the definition of no pain no gain. But it can be very satisfying to complete the session as planned. And you will notice things start to feel easier on more normal rides.

There's also an element of adapting to pain. It's quite common to feel leg pain that most people would natural stop doing what they are doing because it hurts. But you start to realize that while it hurts, you're still turning the pedals. Your legs are doing what you demand. And you will understand the meaning of "shut up legs". You can adapt to the discomfort and it can be surprising how much you can keep pushing.

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Old 07-05-24, 05:43 PM
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Maybe a carton of Marlboros could even things up.
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Old 07-06-24, 05:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Mtracer
I'd say I sort of had this same thing happen over the first 6 months after I started riding, 5 years ago. At first, my heart rate was easily pushed into the red and and I'd often have to stop and rest on climbs, literally gasping for breath with eyesight getting a little fuzzy around the edges. But as my cardo improved, quickly, I noticed my legs started to feel like the limiting factor.
So are you saying that you have trouble raising your HR into the upper zones because your legs canít produce enough power?


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Old 07-06-24, 06:18 AM
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As your overall fitness...aerobic, anaerobic, physical strength...improves/increases you become more efficient thus your efforts...in those same 'zones', ie zone 2...require less 'effort' and your stats...heart rate, power, etc...show a lower number. To reverse quote Greg Lemond "it hurts less at the same numbers...speed, etc..." his quote is "It never hurts less, you just go faster".
You said it yourself...same course, etc...lower numbers...more efficient but the line doesn't get crossed to stronger and faster unless and until you push beyond.
Intervals are a 'sure fire' method...pushing at various levels of heart rate and power with short 'recovery' periods between is a fast/ish way to get stronger and faster.
Use the 'climb' you mention and do repeats until a marked decline in performance with varied methods of climbing...such as attacking the climb full gas from the base and continue to failure to maintain the effort then shift to an easier gear and continue the effort over the top. Or, start the climb at a hard but sustainable pace and at the half way point shift to harder gears and power over at full gas. Use seated and standing to use different muscles and technique.
If you want to go faster you have to go harder...there is no easy way around it.
You can use weights for strength improvements but it takes dedication and effort and if you've never lifted before get assistance so you don't over do it and injure yourself.
I'm nearly 69 and ride/train around 200 miles per week. My max heart rate, this year, is 175 bpm. I easily train at heart rate zones of 4 and 5 using what I describe above. I use heart rate zones more than power zones only because I've been using bpm for near 40 years of riding/racing...and I'm still racing with around 10+ races scheduled this season...and am more used to it. I do use a power meter, Assioma one side pedals, and use those numbers more for the plus/minus stats of my training but I do try to use the power numbers more than bpm on longer duration intervals...ie tempo, threshold, etc...because as my aerobic system becomes more efficient and strong at a certain bpm my power may decrease a bit so I use the watts/wkg as the target and my aerobic capacity increases as well.
Work at it depending on what your goals are.
Good luck and keep us involved.
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Old 07-08-24, 08:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Kai Winters
As your overall fitness...aerobic, anaerobic, physical strength...improves/increases you become more efficient thus your efforts...in those same 'zones', ie zone 2...require less 'effort' and your stats...heart rate, power, etc...show a lower number. To reverse quote Greg Lemond "it hurts less at the same numbers...speed, etc..." his quote is "It never hurts less, you just go faster"..
If you are talking about power zones then the zones should just be re-calibrated, in line with Lemondís great quote. If your Z2 becomes much easier, with a much lower HR, then it isnít Z2 anymore!


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Old 07-08-24, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
If you are talking about power zones then the zones should just be re-calibrated, in line with Lemondís great quote. If your Z2 becomes much easier, with a much lower HR, then it isnít Z2 anymore!
I've never heard that quote before...but I like it


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Old 07-08-24, 09:55 AM
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When those old spandex shorts that you pull from the bottom of the drawer now feel baggy....sigh. It may not be tired elastics. Old man muscle mass loss is real. The only way to get some of it back is to ride harder.
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Old 07-08-24, 11:09 AM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime
First a little background, I'm 69 and in very good health. I'm currently riding between 300 - 450 miles a month and swim about 2 miles a week. Most of my riding and training is on flat ground.

To the point... I just don't seem to have the strength in my legs to push myself into higher training zones. For the last 6 months about 90% of what I do is in a Zone 2 aerobic state. As far as Garmin is concerned I've made some great progress in my Vo2 scores and I do seem to be able to pull off a 50 mile ride without much effort. I also measure myself on a particular 6% grade (1/4 mile) and keep track of my Max HR. Six months ago the Max HR I experienced up that grade was 157. It has progressively gone down to 134. Same grade, same section, same speed. So I guess the upside is I've really strengthened my heart. But for the life of me I'm now having trouble not only getting into Zone 4 (HR), Zone 5(HR) hasn't been seen in over a month. My problem seems to be leg strength, no matter how many rides, no matter how I push myself on them, it's getting more and more difficult to reach those higher HR Zones before my legs give out.

What type of training should I be doing to get my legs (and power) to follow my Cardio gains?
Yes, the problem is that you can "pull off a 50 mile ride without much effort." Wrong. You want to do that 50 mile ride at an effort high enough that you'd cramp at the end and have to lay your bike down and step off it. That's how you know you went hard enough. Anything less than that is failure. Just once a week though. That's how you get strong.
Tandem ride with my wife yesterday at 79:
HR zones:
Z1: 2:19
Z2: 31:04
Z3: 1:27:32
Z4: 0:15:20
Z5: 0:00:00
Tandem ride with my wife, same route, at 76, before my heart problems manifested:
Z1: 0:01:49
Z2: 0:30:47
Z3: 0:51:57
Z4: 0:26:40
Z5: 0:10:46

That latter distribution is what you want to see. Work at it until do. Note that the Z1 and Z2 numbers are about the same for the two rides. What's changed is that I've lost my high end and I may not be able to get it back - you're still young. I rode RAMROD at your age.
This is only a 30 mile ride which has 2 long-ish ~4% climbs, ~1200' total gain. The longer the ride, the harder it is to get this sort of intensity distribution. So get off the flats. Palos Verdes isn't that far away.
https://www.komoot.com/guide/1934589...verdes-estates

Climb at a cadence in the low 80s. Higher give too high a HR/power ratio, lower than ~78 gives a too high a leg effort/power ratio. For non-pros, that is.

Gym work is always good, but it's more for endurance than for generating a high HR.
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Old 07-08-24, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski
So are you saying that you have trouble raising your HR into the upper zones because your legs canít produce enough power?
I don't think I would say "because my legs can't produce enough power". Rather just that in the early days, hitting max HR and becoming gassed was super easy on any effort.

Now, it's more likely that my legs become too tired to continue the effort rather than maxing out HR.



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Old 07-09-24, 04:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Mtracer
I don't think I would say "because my legs can't produce enough power". Rather just that in the early days, hitting max HR and becoming gassed was super easy on any effort.

Now, it's more likely that my legs become too tired to continue the effort rather than maxing out HR.
It sounds like you are talking more about leg muscle fatigue than leg muscle strength.

If I ride at steady-state tempo power and HR, then muscle fatigue is my limiting factor. But if I ramp up the power well above FTP then my HR soon becomes the limiting factor. Leg strength doesnít really come into it unless Iím sprinting flat out or grinding a massively high gear at very low cadence.

I think this will be the case for you too if you think about it. Leg strength is rarely a limiting factor in cycling, but muscle fatigue and HR certainly are. I could ride at 400W for much longer if only my HR didnít max out after a few minutes!
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Old 07-09-24, 07:36 AM
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If you feel like your legs muscles are giving out first, then to me, that is a sign you are pushing too high a gear ratio when you are making your attempts to keep your HR or power up. Shift to a lower gear ratio.

Don't worry about whether or not you are going as fast as you think you should be going for the effort made. That will come later down the road as you get accustomed to those higher levels of exertion and as your muscles develop or become accustomed to rapid repetition at that level, then you'll be able to handle the higher and harder ratios that will give you speed. Of course at that time they'll no longer be those harder ratios and you'll have new goals to set.

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Old 07-09-24, 07:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Iride01
If you feel like your legs muscles are giving out first, then to me, that is a sign you are pushing too high a gear ratio when you are making your attempts to keep your HR or power up. Shift to a lower gear ratio.

.
Yeah, thatís the sort of thing I was thinking. I can raise my HR pretty high just by spinning a really low gear at 120 rpm for a few mins at relatively low power.
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