My client Ted is going to the Alps later this month with a buddy to climb some of the classic climbs of the Tour de France including Alpe d’Huez, the Col de la Madeleine, and the Glandon. Their rides will take from 3:00 – 4:30 hours and the daily rides range from 149 feet / mile to 189 feet / mile. Ted is training for the long course of the Maratona dles Dolomites, 85.7 miles with 13,900 feet of climbing, 162 feet per mile. Ted’s goal is to finish the Maratona in under 7:15. Here’s what you can learn from Ted’s training.
1. Get to Climbing Weight.
Ted is 61 years old, 6’ 1” tall and weighs 167 lbs. While not skinny his weight won’t hold him back.
2. Build Your Endurance Base
Starting in October Ted did twice a week endurance rides. His initial rides were 2:30 – 3:30 (40 to 55 miles with 30 to 50 feet per mile of climbing.) In February he went south for a week of riding including climbing Mt. Lemmon (9,157 ft.) near Tucson, AZ. That day he climbed a total of 7,500 ft. in 25 miles (150 ft. / mi.). After that peak week we cut his mileage and climbing for a week so he recovered fully. Since then he’s continued to build his endurance to a 6:00 hour 90-mile ride with 87 ft. / mi. of climbing earlier this month.
3. Increase Your Power
Starting in January Ted did strength workouts to increase his general leg strength. Starting in March after two months of strength training he switched to power workouts to convert that leg strength to specific climbing power.
He’s been doing sweet spot intervals. The sweet spot is the optimal balance of the intensity of an interval and the duration of the interval to produce the maximum overload of his muscles. The sweet spot is the rate of perceived exertion at which you can still talk in short phrases, 93 – 97% of anaerobic (lactate) threshold, 88 – 94% of Functional Threshold Power. He started with six reps of [3 minutes in the sweet spot and 3 minutes of recovery].
He’s built up to six reps of [8 minutes in the sweet spot and 4 minutes of recovery] earlier this month. In addition to structured intervals Ted’s done climbing repeats on a local climb and played catch and release with a friend. The friend gets a head start riding at an endurance pace and then Ted rides in the sweet spot until he catches his friend.
4. Increase Your Efficiency
Efficiency is how much power he can produce at a given metabolic cost. As he becomes more efficient he can produce more power without increasing the how hard he is riding. Your muscles are composed of bundles of muscle fibers with each fiber controlled by a different nerve. The bundles of muscle fibers don’t naturally fire at the same time so they are relatively inefficient. Sprinting demands maximum power and trains the bundles to fire at the same time, which increases the power without increasing how hard you are working.
5. Strengthen Your Core
Your legs are levers and your pelvis is the fulcrum. If your core isn’t strong enough to stabilize your pelvis then it move up and down with each pedal stroke, wasting energy that could provide forward motion. Strengthening your core doesn’t mean doing crunches, which only strengthen the surface muscles, not the deeper muscles that stabilize your pelvis. Strengthening your core is another way of increasing your efficiency. My website includes programs for strengthening your core muscles.
6. Quiet Your Upper Body
You may see a roadie whose upper body is rocking side to side as the rider pedals, which also wastes energy that could move the rider down the road.
7. Increase Your VO2 Max
VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can deliver to your working muscles. By increasing your VO2 max you also increase the amount of oxygen you can supply to your muscles at sub-maximal effort. Here’s a simple workout to increase your VO2 max:
- Warm up for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Repeat 4 to 6 times [20 seconds flat out, 40 seconds barely pedaling, 4 minutes at a steady conversational pace].
- Cool down for 5 – 10 minutes.
As you improve increase the max effort from 20 to 30 seconds and decrease the very easy from 40 to 30 seconds and so on.
8. Find Your Personal Optimal Cadence
Because physiologies differ the same cadence isn’t best for everyone. Here’s how to experiment to find your optimal cadence. On a sustained climb of 10 minutes or more ride at a constant speed or power output and vary your cadence. At what cadences are you breathing harder? Your personal best cadence is when your breath rate is the lowest.
9. Find Your Personal Sustainable Pace
Similarly the right climbing pace for you isn’t necessarily the same as your buddies. Experiment on your local climbs to find the fastest pace at which you can climb without blowing up.
10. Experiment with Sitting and Standing
Most riders are more efficient climbing in the saddle. When you are standing your cadence is slower than when you’re seated so as you stand shift up a gear or two. At the same speed you’re probably breathing faster than when you are seated, i.e., you aren’t as efficient out of the saddle. However, standing periodically is useful because it uses your muscles differently and relieves cumulative pain. The key is not to stand so long that you have to slow down when you sit back down.
11. How to Ride a Climb
If your buddies are faster what can you do? Try to be at the front of the group as you approach a climb. As the climbing starts downshift progressively instead of dropping to a lower gear. As you climb slowly drift to the end of the group so you don’t necessarily lose contact. At the top of a climb, riders often ease off to recover. Don’t. Continue to ride over the top until you are back up to normal speed.
12. Imagine You Are Climbing Well
Another client Jack who is trying to improve his climbing wrote me, “I did the big ride. It was an opportunity for me to practice power imaging. I was bone tired by the end of the ride but was very pleased with my effort. I really think the imagery played a big part of it.” I’d asked Jack to find an image of a person or animal climbing well and on a climb imagine himself climbing, for example, like a specific pro racer or deer bounding up a hill or a dog running up a hill.
13. Use the Wind
If you don’t live in a hilly area but will be doing an event with climbing you can use the above tips to improve your climbing. I coached a client who lived in the Netherlands and by training into the wind he competed in the Race Across AMerica, which has about 170,000 feet of climbing.
To learn how best to use intensity training get my eArticle on Intensity Training: Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or a Power Meter to Maximize Training Effectiveness. Intensity Training explains in detail the human body produces power and how to gauge your intensity. Based on your personal objectives it describes a dozen different types of workouts with examples of each. The 41-page Intensity Training is $4.99.
To learn how to use imagery and other techniques to improve your riding get my eArticle Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling. Gaining a Mental Edge is a workbook covering how to increase your motivation, how to use affirmations, power thoughts and images, how to improve your confidence, how to relax and focus for better workouts and events, and how to deal with mental issues during rides. The 17-page Gaining a Mental Edge is $4.99.
To learn how to ride better as an older roadie get my eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways to Slow the Aging Process. Anti-Aging explains how best to use endurance riding, intensity workouts and strength training to improve. It describes how to integrate these into your personal year-round plan. The 107-page eBook Anti-Aging is $15.00 ($12.74) for our Premium Members.
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.