Question: A friend tells me that I can improve my climbing power by riding a steep half-mile-long hill in the big ring at a slow cadence. Wouldn’t that ruin my knees? – Jerry S.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: You’re right to be wary, Jerry. Pushing a big gear for any reason can cause knee problems.
That said, big-gear/low-cadence workouts can be very effective – if done correctly. That’s one type of training that I detail in my eBook Climbing for Roadies, which is dedicated to helping every roadie climb better. Still, I’m more at ease offering a caution about this training technique instead of an endorsement.
To keep knee gremlins away, follow these 6 rules for big-gear training on hills:
1. Do not even think about it if you have a history of knee problems!
2. Warm up completely.
3. Do the first repeat in a gear that’s low enough to spin at about 90 rpm. Increase the gear and decrease the cadence in the next 2 intervals until you’re down to about 50 rpm with a correspondingly high gear.
4. Concentrate on smooth, round pedal strokes. You must keep good form.
5. Don’t do this workout more than once a week until you’re sure your knees can handle it. Then, if you’re motivated, you can do it twice, separated by at least 2 days of easy recovery riding.
6. If you experience any knee pain, stop the workout and spin home. Don’t try it again until your knees feel right.