Question: I’m 5-foot-4, 128 pounds and 55 years old. When climbing in the hills around Palo Alto, California, I keep up with younger, stronger riders until the grade gets above about 8%. Then I go backwards. This seems to be a strength issue and I’ve been doing low-cadence, big-gear intervals. Should I add weight training? — Harry P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: At your size, your power-to-weight ratio should be optimum for steep climbs. It’s unusual that you keep up on moderate grades but slip off the back when it gets steep. Most light riders have the opposite problem.
However, if you’re talking really steep — like Page Mill Road in your area — then more strength work in your base training might help.
Try a weight-training program for your legs next winter from November to February, then convert that weight-room strength into cycling-specific power with big-gear efforts on hills — the sort of thing you’re doing with your current intervals. This should increase your power for the steep climbs.
First, weight training isn’t cycling. There’s a considerable difference between doing 10-25 reps of the leg press and 800 pedal revolutions during a 10-minute climb. So after you build strength, it takes climbing and intervals to turn it into cycling ability.
Second, don’t spend so much time in the weight room that it detracts from riding. You can expect lower performance on the bike when you’re lifting heavily, but in the winter this shouldn’t matter. It will matter as the season starts, which is the time to switch away from weights to big-gear climbing efforts.