Obviously, that’s impossible for muscular, large-framed people. I bet this guy’s bones weigh that much! Once you’ve adopted an endurance sports lifestyle and eliminated excess body fat, it’s almost impossible to further reduce muscle size. The size and shape of your arms, shoulders, chest and legs is genetically determined.
I sympathize with big riders’ struggles on hills even though I’m not big. I played college football at 205 pounds, then worked hard on the bike to get my weight down to my present 155-160 pounds. But I’m still 20 pounds too heavy for my height to climb really well. I dieted like crazy one year, got down to 150 and won my category at the Mount Evans Hillclimb here in Colorado. Then I was so tired and weak from not eating enough that the rest of the season was a write-off. I looked like a skinned rabbit.
Still, there are some techniques Clydesdales can use to limit their losses while climbing with the lightweights:
Reduce excess fat and improve your power output
Get your body fat measured at a sports medicine clinic or a university’s human performance lab. Top male cyclists generally average under 10% body fat, while equally good women riders run 5 percentage points higher. If your fat level is appreciably higher, you may want to combine moderate caloric restriction, increased mileage and resistance training. However, if you’re a big person with low body fat, trying to lose weight will only decrease your power output.
Losing fat and increasing power are linked. You can’t increase power without considering what lowered caloric intake will do to the energy available to train. It’s simple mathematics: As your weight goes down (from caloric restriction and riding) and your power goes up (from proper training) you get better on hills.
But this process doesn’t go on forever. Eventually, you reach a weight and body fat percentage that is optimum for you. Try to go lower and you’ll lose power, thus negating the advantages of lower weight. You’ll feel miserable, too. The trick is finding your ideal cycling weight, and that happens by experimenting.
Don’t try to follow the climbers
Many big riders (and many riders, in general) make a terrible climbing mistake: They try to go uphill as fast as real climbers. Their power allows them to stick with the wispy riders for several hundred meters, but then the inexorable laws of physics take over and they’re dropped like a lead weight, off the back and out of breath.
Instead, judge the length of the hill, factor in your climbing strength, and apportion your energy accordingly. It’s better to lose a little time gradually ona climb than try to stay with faster ascenders and blow up spectacularly, losing a huge amount of time in the final third of the way up.
Make up time on the descents
Size is a disadvantage going up, but nature provides rewards for making you big — you can descend very rapidly!
So take advantage of your gravity assist. Learn to descend and corner well so you can fly down fast but safely. Often, lighter riders can’t descend as fast so you’ll make up the time they gained.
This is how great pro sprinters survive long, hilly courses so they’re still in contention for the final sprint. They’ve learned how to descend, making up their climbing deficiencies where gravity and body mass are their friends.
For a good resource of climbing skills, check out my book Climbing for Roadies in the RBR eBookstore. If you’re looking for seasonal workouts, check out the 12 spring and summer season eBooks, eArticles and DVDs in our Seasonal Training section.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.