Climbing Strength

In a past newsletter, Coach Fred Matheny said that a winter spent on the leg-press machine won't automatically produce greater climbing strength. Here's another take on this issue.

I read Fred's comments with interest. As a long-time cycling coach and personal trainer here in Berkeley, the issue allcomes down to specificity: We get precisely what we train for and nothing more.

If you want to be a good climber, you must climb steep hills. Absolute leg strength has little or no bearing on climbing ability. I do not know if great climbers of the past like Fuente, Van Impe, Alban, Winnen and so on ever even saw the inside of a weight room, yet they could outclimb any bodybuilder who could leg press 1,000 pounds with ease.

On a climb, you must be able to move your own bodyweight -- and the bike's weight -- against inertia. This is an entirely different enterprise from moving dead weight up and down a fixed path.

The two best ways I know to become a better climber are:

  1. Lose weight, as this is the single biggest inhibitor to successful climbing.
  2. Train like mad on steep hills one or two days per week.

By steep, I mean a gradient greater than 8% for three miles or more. Needless to say, this is not terribly fun or easy, but it's a superb way to get used to working the deep muscles of the thighs, hips and low back. No other exercise can approximate this type of work. -- Tom S.

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