The “How-To” Of Climbing
You are 180 pounds; lean as you can get, and convinced that there is no way you can keep up with that 135 pound rolling toothpick on the next big climb. Well, you're right. He will ride away from you, but not because he's light.
The next time you encounter a climb, relax! Climbing fast will put you at or near your lactate threshold. Staying seated and calm with your upper body relaxed helps keep your HR a few beats lower, allowing you to pedal a little harder before reaching threshold.
Spin a lower gear. Do not try to muscle your way over long climbs. Reduce your gearing and increase your cadence. You won't accumulate lactic acid as quickly, and are more likely to make it over the climb without blowing up. You will lose much more ground by blowing up and crawling to the top than you will by riding your own steady pace, even if your pace doesn't quite match that of the local featherweights.
Use physics to your advantage. When you have to climb out of the saddle, align your body over your pedals on the downstroke. If you have to carry that body weight up a hill, make it work for you. I don't mean, "Throw your bike around underneath you." That will only enrage the riders around you and hasten your departure from the back of the field. Instead of pulling your bars in toward the center as you stand and climb, push them out to the sides. You are already using your triceps and shoulders to support your body weight, why use your pulling muscles as well? Using more muscles means using more oxygen. You can only transport so much oxygen; use it wisely.
You can practice seated climbing on an indoor trainer with the front wheel elevated 4-6 inches above horizontal. You can hone your out-of-the-saddle climbing technique on even the smallest of climbs. If you need proof that big guys can indeed climb, George Hincapie has made it through the toughest climbs of the Tour de France, at 180 pounds.
The Science Behind Training For Ascension
Successful climbing, and success in many areas of cycling, comes down to the ability to produce high amounts of power for long periods of time. You need to be able to sustain as high an intensity as possible for 45 minutes to an hour. To start off with, you need a very well developed aerobic engine so that there is a strong foundation to build this power upon. Then, we begin to train you lactate threshold level. Long intervals at heart rate intensities at or just below (but not above) an athlete’s lactate threshold develop the ability to sustain power in time trials and on extended climbs.
By staying at or slightly below your lactate threshold heart rate, you are training the energy systems that are required for producing power for time trials and climbs, and you can maintain that training intensity long enough to have an effect. Short, over-threshold intervals lead to fatigue so quickly that you end up spending too little time at an intensity sufficient to produce a training effect. When your power at lactate threshold increases, the amount of work you can do before reaching threshold also increases. By relying less on your anaerobic energy systems and thereby accumulating less lactic acid, you can stay with the front group all the way up long climbs.
Improving your Power/Weight ratio also helps. To determine your P/W ratio, divide your maximum sustainable power (power at lactate threshold) by your bodyweight in kilograms. Reducing your bodyweight while maintaining your maximum sustainable power leads to increased climbing speed. You will see enormous gains by increasing your power output and dropping a few extra kilograms. Be careful not to take this to extremes. Drastic reductions in bodyweight often lead to decreased strength and increased susceptibility to illness. It is better to keep those last few kilos and be healthy, than to be so lean that you get sick and miss a large portion of the season.
Chris Carmicheal is the founder and head coach of CTS, as well as the personal coach to Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, and many other top cyclists. His triathlon program is headed by Lance Watson who is the personal coach of triathlon stars Simon Whitfield, Lisa Bentley, and Greg Bennett, to name a few. Watson can be reached at email@example.com; or