This time of year many of us are inspired by the Tour De France competitors to head into the canyons and tackle the local climbs. Climbing steep hills on a bicycle is a brutal experience for all but the most well trained cyclists. If you are elite or novice, hill climbing is the most daunting skill that must be mastered to become a well-rounded cyclist. The Phase IV approach combines cutting edge science and conventional wisdom to help athletes create the skill and fitness needed to conquer the hills. We have provided long and short term strategies to improve your climbing capabilities.
Long Term Strategies:
To reach your highest genetic fitness potential i.e. “climb like a billy goat” requires a process which takes months, not weeks.
Proper Training Program Design:
All effective training programs must first identify the specific physiological adaptations required to perform well in a given sport and then create a systematic approach to develop these adaptations that we equate to increased fitness. Research has proven that training programs are most effective when the physiological goals are achieved in a scientific rational sequence. Much like a recipe, scientific training programs require each component of the program to be added in a specific order.
The science of this approach is call Periodization Training which dictates that the program be “chunked” into training cycles where each physiological adaptation is created through careful manipulation of the stress placed on the body. For cycling, and specifically for effective climbing, each athlete must be analyzed to identify their personal physiological needs and the training cycles must be carefully constructed to address specific needs.
Metabolic Efficiency training: (8-12 weeks)
Metabolic efficiency is the foundation of all fitness. This is when your training must reprogram your muscles to burn fat as a primary fuel. The result creates three important advantages over less well training opponents. First, fat burning produces less lactic acid and waste products than carbohydrate metabolism and therefore delays fatigue.
Secondly, becoming a “better butter burner” allows you to spare the limited carbohydrates stored in your muscles and liver and delays the dreaded “bonk” where your muscle performance suffers from lack energy supplies. Lastly, better fat burning ability allows you to rely on the energy stored as body fat (and even the thinnest persons have enough energy stored as fat to fuel many hours of climbing) and less on external sources of calories which can create GI problems and distress.
Strength Building Phase (4-8 weeks)
The first Build Phase after Metabolic Base Training is designed to increase the strength of muscles in the core, pelvis and legs and is achieved through specific cycling workouts, drills and weight training.
Peak Fitness or Competitive Phase (6-8 weeks)
Armed with a solid base of metabolic efficiency and strength you are now ready to peak for climbing with specific heart rate based intervals and various climbing workouts.
Short Term Strategies:
1. Boost your lactate threshold
The fastest way to improve your performance on the hills is to increase the amount of aerobic power your muscles can generate. While the highest fitness levels will be achieved with a Periodized training program you can improve performance short term with specific workouts. As exercise intensity increases, your muscles produce lactic acid which is released into your bloodstream and your heart beats faster to remove this waste. When lactic acid (a byproduct of burning carbohydrates and not fats) builds up faster than your body can process it, your lactate threshold is reached, and fatigue is close behind.
Cycling workouts in the specific heart rate zones will delay the onset of lactic acid production. This will not only help improve your endurance but speed as well. Your most productive heart rate training zones can only be determined accurately with a VO2 or a Blood Lactate test. These tests will provide accurate heart rate training zones in which to exercise, allowing you to transform your physiology to burn more fat and decrease the amount of lactate acid produced.
2. Cadence and Gears
Low-cadence, high-gear climbing can be great for conquering short hills or for a sprint to the finish. But hard pedaling is taxing and, if done too early, can leave you tired and drifting toward the back of the pack. For long hills, drop a few gears at the start of the ascent and establish a rhythm and attempt to maintain a high cadence of roughly 90 to 100 revolutions per minute (rpm). If you start to tire and your cadence drops, shift to an easier gear. If you’re spinning too quickly and not generating adequate power, up shift.
3. Practice optimal climbing form
This entails lightly grasping the handlebars, bending at the elbows and pulling the shoulders back to open your chest to make breathing easier. Hold some tension in your core muscles and keep your upper body relaxed with a flat back. A proper bike fit will make all the difference when it comes to proper form. It will not only improve performance and comfort but it will prevent injuries as well.
4. Master proper pedaling technique
Try to stay in the saddle as long as possible while climbing with only short periods of standing to stretch and let blood flow to your pelvic area. Standing and pedaling raises your heart rate and lowers your cadence. However, climbing out of the saddle engages upper body muscles and can generate the burst of power necessary for a quick surge ahead. Sometimes you have no choice but to stand when the hills get very steep and you need even more power than sitting allows. Although climbing out of the saddle has its positive points, the initial deceleration that occurs can cause a trailing rider to run into you, so always verbally announce your intention to stand. When you are out of the saddle the side to side sway of your body will be more pronounced to obtain a full revolution of the pedal. Unfortunately, this means that your body movement is an energy-wasting motion.
Don’t move your body, move your bike. As you begin the downward stroke, lean the bike away from the foot delivering the stroke. Keep your body in a straight line over the weighted foot. Lean forward on the handlebars to deliver even more power, but keep your elbows loose. As the weighted foot finishes its stroke, transfer your weight to the other foot. Use the bike as a lever to help pull your weight over to the other foot. The bike should now be leaning toward the unweighted foot and your body should be in a straight line above the weighted foot. A Spin Scan Analysis can help your master your pedaling technique by analyzing your pedal stroke and power, which allows you to train your neurological and muscular systems.
5. Improve Power to Body Weight Ratio
This can be accomplished in two ways, increase power through weight training and drills and/or decrease body fat. The later is tricky to accomplish without reducing muscle mass as well, which would be counter productive. Elite cyclists have very low body-fat levels: 6 to 9 percent in males and 11 to 14 percent in females. Most world-class climbers carry just 2 pounds (1 kilogram) of body weight for every inch of height, meaning a 5-foot-10-inch (1.78-meter) cyclist would weigh approximately 140 pounds (64 kilograms). A healthy way to increase your power to weight ratio is losing fat through proper nutrition and working to accomplish metabolic efficiency and by increasing muscle mass simultaneously by engaging in a full body strength training program.
6. Proper Nutrition
You might have great hill climbing form and technique but if you don’t have enough fuel in your body you will bonk when it comes to climbing long and challenging hills. It is important to know how many calories your body needs on a daily basis so you are not depleting your system. This can easily be determined through doing a Resting Metabolic Rate test. This test precisely measures your metabolic rate and tells you how many calories you burn throughout the day including the percentage of fats and carbohydrates. It is also important to know how many calories you are burning during those long climbs so you can fuel yourself efficiently avoiding any stomach issues that may arise from eating too much or not enough. The VO2 test that was previous mentioned will tell you the exact amount of calories you are burring in any given heart rate zone.
At PHASE IV we use Science to address the needs of each individual client.
Now every cyclist can now learn what is required for their personal physiology in order to conquer the hills. Phase IV VO2 Metabolic Testing can help figure out what heart rate zones you should be training in to increase your fat burning potential and dial into your nutritional needs for those long rides. From these results a customized cycling prescription can be developed to help you attain your goals. With our Full Season Strength Program, Orthopedic Bike Fit and Spin Scan phase IV can help you increase your power to weight ratio so you can conquer the hills with ease.
Give us a call at 310.582.8212 or email us to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about our affordable services or to book a Free Consultation with one of our expert Exercise Physiologists.