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Becoming a better climber

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Becoming a better climber

Old 09-10-19, 01:54 AM
  #26  
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Okay, 90% of max HR, 60 minutes over the course of the week, broken into 5 minute sections.

#1 - So, how does anyone truly know their max HR? The highest I've ever achieved on a bike is 172, which leaves me highly winded and unable to talk. Is that my max or 90% of my max?
#2 - What exactly does this technique accomplish: the ability to climb a hill faster, or the ability to maintain long-distance endurance after climbing faster (my priority).
#3 - For a normal, healthy cyclist, is pushing to 90% safe?
There are several articles with guidelines for estimating and using heart rates. This one is pretty comprehensive.

Your maximum HR will depend on your age, physical condition, medications, certain supplements, intake of alcohol or stimulants such as caffeine, tobacco, whether you're well rested or fatigued or otherwise stressed during the test, etc. When in doubt, repeat the test two or three times. It'll probably change a bit over time anyway.

While the 220 minus age estimate is sometimes dismissed as inaccurate, it works for me. I'm 61. My peak HR setting up my Wahoo Tickr a few months ago was 173. That isn't sustainable for me under any circumstances, just the maximum I could wring out pushing myself to the point of nearly passing out. And I did the test indoors for safety, and the temp was in the high 70s with the a/c off. That's down a bit from my 177 peak a couple of years ago.

Guesstimating for real world conditions including summer heat/humidity, I figured my maximum HR that would be sustainable for maybe 30 seconds would be around 160. I figured my sustainable average HR over the course of a 20-60 mile ride would be 150+ for up to around 30 minutes, and 140-145 over the entire ride on a good day. And it's turned out that way consistently per Wahoo Fitness and Strava. I've done several tests on a handy nearby 5-mile training loop with a short, steep punchy climb on one side and a 1-mile continuous 2% climb on the other, using the bike computer monitor on the handlebar to check HR, cadence, speed, etc (I don't normally ride with that stuff, just a Tickr and phone in my pocket).

But there are some complications I have to account for. My thyroid and whole endocrine system are screwed up by an auto-immune disorder, and I take a thyroid supplement -- the endocrinologist is still tweaking the dosage, so every few weeks I have to adapt. The main effect I've noticed is my heat adaptation has suffered this year, so I'm not doing as well in summer heat as I had before the illness. But I'm fine when the temp is closer to 80 or cooler, so I do most of my harder workout rides at night or cooler than usual mornings/evenings.

I take antihistamines pretty much every day and generic Zyrtec doesn't seem to cause any problems. But occasionally I need Sudafed for congestion. That spikes my HR and BP, so I need to be more careful on those days.

And for years I've had severe headaches that respond pretty well to as-needed doses of blood pressure and heart regulatory meds, especially metoprolol and lisinopril. They make me sluggish and depress my heart rate. So I need to remind myself to deduct at least 10 points, preferably 15-20, from my usual HR. So if on a normal day my temp pace HR is 140, I need to keep it closer to 120-125 for a couple of days after taking BP meds.

Occasionally I'll forget and push myself too hard, including Sunday. I was listening to my app for 5-minute updates on my HR, and when I heard 140 I figured I was okay. On a short, steep climb that I usually sprint up my HR will be around 160-165; but Sunday it peaked at 150 with the same effort. My average for the 40 mile ride was 130, where it would normally be 140-145 on the same route at the same effort. I neglected to account for the effect of the meds. So I was pretty wiped out the rest of the day. Ideally I should do a heart rate test in conjunction with the BP meds to set a separate baseline.

So take into account all those possible variables when estimating your own heart rate.

BTW, this doesn't have anything to do with speed. I'm a little faster now, a little stronger on climbs, than I was a couple of years ago. My conditioning is a little better despite some health setbacks. But I'm not anticipating any significant further improvements. After a certain age we hit some fairly hard limits.
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Old 09-10-19, 10:12 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
While the 220 minus age estimate is sometimes dismissed as inaccurate, it works for me. I'm 61. My peak HR setting up my Wahoo Tickr a few months ago was 173.
I would say the old rule of thumb doesn't work for you, since 220 – 61 = 159, which is significantly lower than 173.
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Old 09-10-19, 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by tomato coupe View Post
I would say the old rule of thumb doesn't work for you, since 220 – 61 = 159, which is significantly lower than 173.
I'm 62, and my theoretical max of 158 bpm is well within a sustainable range where I can converse with fellow cyclists and ride for an extended period. I was recently tested at 171 bpm in a hospital lab, and though I was significantly winded, I can only guess that my max was possibly 5-10 bpm more. But what is max anyway? A fuzzy line of exhaustion?

Last edited by Robert A; 09-10-19 at 10:26 AM.
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Old 09-10-19, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
I'm 62, and 158 bpm is well within a sustainable range where I can converse with fellow cyclists and ride for an extended period. I was recently tested at 171 bpm in a hospital lab, and though I was significantly winded, I can only guess that my max was possibly 5-10 bpm more. But what is max anyway? A fuzzy line of exhaustion?
Max is maximum. Same meaning as max speed, max temp, max power, etc. Nothing fuzzy.
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Old 09-10-19, 10:30 AM
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Originally Posted by tomato coupe View Post
Max is maximum. Same meaning as max speed, max temp, max power, etc. Nothing fuzzy.
Then define it.
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Old 09-10-19, 10:33 AM
  #31  
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Then define it.
a : the greatest quantity or value attainable or attained
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Old 09-10-19, 10:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Okay, 90% of max HR...What exactly does this technique accomplish
Andy Coggan's table of training zones is a good guide.

90% of max HR is probably his Zone 5/VO2Max. The adaptation effects you can expect from Zone 5:

Increased plasma volume: 4 of 4
Hypertrophy of slow twitch muscle fibers: 3 of 3
Increased muscle capilliarization: 3 of 3
Conversion of muscle fibers (type IIb -> type IIa): 2 of 3
Increased stroke volume/maximal cardiac output: 4 of 4
Increased VO2 Max: 4 of 4

So except for conversion of muscle fibers, Zone 5 work is the most effective at all the aerobic adaptations.
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Old 09-10-19, 10:53 AM
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Maybe spending more time practicing on this oldie but goodie might help?

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Old 09-10-19, 11:54 AM
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mitochondrial density. increase it.
heal your gut, eat food that contain manganese. probiotics need manganese, otherwise they go extinct.
bad bacteria can survive acidity by being able to use iron instead of manganese as the component around the superoxide dismutase.
try a diet over a couple of week so that you lactoferment oats (oat bran is better). lactofermenting is not really about milk, it's about the lactobacillus species that you can find in probiotics that need to incubate. swallowed pills are of little efficiency. grow the culture by using prebiotics - that is food in which probiotics thrive.

a spoon of coconut oil (it makes yeasts/fungus more vulnerable to lactic acid etc.), 400g oat bran, up to 100g ground flaxseed, sesame, buckwheat (the least). use green tea brewed at ~70C initially and let it sit for up to 30 minutes so that it cools. mix it all up with the starting culture at no more than 37C and let it sit for a minimum of 12h in some glassware with no light. avoid regular plastics. serve with honey in the morning. it's the best thing i could recommend as being not very hard to prepare, affordable and being rich in the essential nutrients. in the evening... pressure cooker boiled sweet potatoes with some olive oil, curry/turmeric and garlic/onions.

try this for several weeks and see how much better you feel throughout the day. it also makes you smarter...

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3211030/

...and use clipless pedals and narrow q factor cranks with not so low cadence and a narrow, long and rather flat seat that is pointing downwards.
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Old 09-10-19, 01:13 PM
  #35  
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
I'm 62, and my theoretical max of 158 bpm is well within a sustainable range where I can converse with fellow cyclists and ride for an extended period. I was recently tested at 171 bpm in a hospital lab, and though I was significantly winded, I can only guess that my max was possibly 5-10 bpm more. But what is max anyway? A fuzzy line of exhaustion?
Basically yes. It's the heart rate you reach when you cannot push yourself any further. It's a moving target because it decreases with age and can vary based on fatigue, humidity, indoor/outdoor, level of perceived effort (you thought you were maxing yourself out, but were you?), etc. There are plenty of tests you can do that put you in the ballpark, here's one I found-

This test requires a Heart Rate Monitor and a turbo trainer. It may be helpful to have someone assist during the test, to encourage you when things get tough and to take the readings from your Heart Rate Monitor.


  • Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes and then ride as hard as possible intensive time trial effort for the next ten minutes. Ride the last minute flat out (maximum effort), and sprint the last 20 to 30 seconds. It should now be possible to read the MHR on the Heart Rate Monitor.
  • Do not stop immediately but keep pedalling and warm down gradually for the next ten minutes.
  • Repeat the test two or three more times, with a couple of days between each test, to establish your true maximum

The point of knowing it is to set your heart rate "zones" based around your lactate threshold HR and max HR (there are different tests for your threshold HR, it's basically the average HR of a 20-30 minute all-out time trial effort, something you can sustain for that length of time at a steady but hard effort) so you can do targeted training.

It sounds like you want to be able to do super hard efforts on climbs and then still be able to hold a high pace on the subsequent flats. You're just trying to increase your threshold power while also improving your recovery (how quickly you can get back to "normal" after a beyond-threshold effort). Plenty of training plains out there for that sort of goal, just do some googling.

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Old 09-10-19, 01:56 PM
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Originally Posted by tomato coupe View Post
I would say the old rule of thumb doesn't work for you, since 220 – 61 = 159, which is significantly lower than 173.
Fair point. I should have summarized my usual excessively overwritten post. I just regarded the 220 minus age formula as a good enough ballpark. It's close enough considering I came from a background of excellent physical fitness in my youth, but now with some health issues and medications my HR and BP can fluctuate quite a bit. There's no formula that would apply to me in all conditions, so a ballpark is good enough. From there I can fine tune my expectations based on other factors I described.
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Old 09-10-19, 01:58 PM
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Whack-a-Mole is a better cardio workout.

Originally Posted by datlas View Post
Maybe spending more time practicing on this oldie but goodie might help?

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Old 09-10-19, 02:31 PM
  #38  
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This reminds me of a question posted hear years ago - "What happens if I go over my max HR"?

Stop trying to define "Max HR" in some absolute terms. It is simply the highest HR you have achieved when you're completely burying yourself. This usually comes at the climax of huge effort, e.g. at the end of a sprint.

When I was in my 40s, I saw 183 several times. I may have seen 184 once... maybe. I counted 183 as my max. Those were painful efforts. I once saw sparkles at the edges of my vision. I remember tasting copper. I'm 51 now. Last month, I saw 180 for the first time in a while. So, that's my max now.

I know from lots of racing (mtn bikes) and years of road riding, that I can average 92% of my max for up to 2 hours. So, when it was 183, I'd shoot for a 168 bpm for races. Now, I want to see 165 or so. (mountain bike races are essentially time trials - once you're free of the crowd, you just go as hard as you can 'til you see a big inflatable finish line)

I also know that, even if the climb is "only" 30 min., I can't hold much over that 92% - I'll blow up. I can go up to 175 for a very short period - like a steep section - but, I've got to "repay" that with some recovery under 160... that 92% avg is magical... at least for me.

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Old 09-10-19, 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Zaskar View Post
This reminds me of a question posted hear years ago - "What happens if I go over my max HR"?

Stop trying to define "Max HR" in some absolute terms. It is simply the highest HR you have achieved when you're completely burying yourself. This usually comes at the climax of huge effort, e.g. at the end of a sprint.

When I was in my 40s, I saw 183 several times. I may have seen 184 once... maybe. I counted 183 as my max. Those were painful efforts. I once saw sparkles at the edges of my vision. I remember tasting copper. I'm 51 now. Last month, I saw 180 for the first time in a while. So, that's my max now.

I know from lots of racing (mtn bikes) and years of road riding, that I can average 92% of my max for up to 2 hours. So, when it was 183, I'd shoot for a 168 bpm for races. Now, I want to see 165 or so. (mountain bike races are essentially time trials - once you're free of the crowd, you just go as hard as you can 'til you see a big inflatable finish line)

I also know that, even if the climb is "only" 30 min., I can't hold much over that 92% - I'll blow up. I can go up to 175 for a very short period - like a steep section - but, I've got to "repay" that with some recovery under 160... that 92% avg is magical... at least for me.
It's about the same for me in percentage terms. My max is around 185, and I know I can hold 172 bpm (93%) for extended periods during hard rides or races, but if I creep above 175 I'm done and need to recover very soon or else I'll blow up and pay for it.
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Old 09-10-19, 04:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Zaskar View Post
This reminds me of a question posted hear years ago - "What happens if I go over my max HR"?
Spontaneous combustion?
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Old 09-10-19, 04:20 PM
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Originally Posted by tomato coupe View Post
Spontaneous combustion?
The comments were pretty damn funny. Going back in time, Death, Seeing dead relatives... Even the real answer - "you'll have a new max hr" seemed like a jab.
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Old 09-10-19, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Zaskar View Post
The comments were pretty damn funny. Going back in time, Death, Seeing dead relatives... Even the real answer - "you'll have a new max hr" seemed like a jab.
That's why I use a power meter instead of a heart rate monitor -- exceeding your maximum power doesn't have any of those drastic consequences.
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Old 09-12-19, 11:31 AM
  #43  
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interesting read. trying to get back road cycling. we have a lot of foothills where i live, and climbing up is my least favorite. prefer to ride flat. but looking forward to using some of the advice here to get better at climbing casually
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Old 09-12-19, 01:12 PM
  #44  
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Last spring, I started riding with local groups. On flats, I can keep pace just fine, but on hills I run out of gas and lose the group. My heart rate spikes too high and I have to slow down.

I ride regularly -- 2-3 times/week. I'm constantly pushing myself by doing local hill climbs.

A typical weekday ride often includes 1,000-2,000 feet of climbing (6% to 8% grades) over 2-5 mile distances. In Santa Monica/Brentwood, I'll ride Mandeville, Kenter Canyon, or Tigertail Road, sometimes twice at a time.

On weekends, I can easily put down 50-70 miles on flats and rolling hils. And on hilly rides, I've climbed Latigo Canyon and Topanga Canyon. I'm also completed two Centuries this year including Solvang.

When climbing, I'm steady and consistent when solo, but I can't keep pace with groups. How can I improve my climbing speed and endurance?
The only thing I can add is get out of your local climb "comfort zone" and since you are in SoCal get out to Angeles Crest, GMR, Mt Baldy/Ski Lifts, Crystal Lake/Dawson Saddle/Wrightwood and delve into some long ascents. I was into local shorter climbs that did not challenge or make me a better climber. Longer ascents helped immensely to climb with confidence even at 220#.
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Old 09-12-19, 08:59 PM
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The night before a race, I adjusted my rear derailleur. The race had a 2 mile hill that is 6% incline. Before the hill, I realized that my front derailleur wouldn't shift to the small chainring. I wasn't sure what to do, so I decided if I was going to climb that hill, I had to get a high cadence. I got to the hill, and I was the eighth wheel. I started pedaling as fast as I could in a 53/28.

Before I knew it, I was flying past everyone. I was screaming up the hill faster than any of the riders. I thought, wow, I've got ride this way on every hill. And then it happened, my heart was beating through the roof. I tried to hang on, but 3/4 up the hill I blew like the wind. I saw stars and thought I was going to faint. The group all passed me and several said, are you all right?

This is why pacing is so important. Also, don't try and adjust your gears before a big ride. Lesson learned.
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Old 09-13-19, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Sojodave View Post
...Before I knew it, I was flying past everyone. I was screaming up the hill faster than any of the riders. I thought, wow, I've got ride this way on every hill. And then it happened, my heart was beating through the roof. I tried to hang on, but 3/4 up the hill I blew like the wind. I saw stars and thought I was going to faint. The group all passed me and several said, are you all right?

This is why pacing is so important...
I know that feeling. The only difference is now I can recover quicker after blowing up. Used to take 5-10 minutes, sometimes needing to stop. Now I can recover just by easing up a bit for 30 seconds or so. I suppose that's some improvement.

For me it's also a mental game. I'm fine on the same climbs solo. In groups I'll tense up, not breathe properly, and fade quicker despite starting out well. So I'm consciously working on more relaxed breathing in fast paced group rides.

I'm also trying starting the climb in a bigger gear and slower cadence, holding that for as long as I can, then shifting to an easier gear and spinning. I used to do the opposite and it didn't work out well.

But any climb where I don't bail out and walk or huff my asthma inhaler is a win.
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Old 09-13-19, 09:50 AM
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So yesterday, I started doing intervals. Three minutes at 90% max HR, then rest and repeat. I didn't realize how hard this would be, and what opportunity there was to improve. Going at 90% (roughly 158-162) is nothing new, but holding it for three minutes continuously was the challenge.
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Old 09-13-19, 10:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
So yesterday, I started doing intervals.
That's great, you ought to see results soon.

Are you doing the intervals on a hill? Uphill intervals may be the best way to improve your climbing ability.
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Old 09-13-19, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
That's great, you ought to see results soon.

Are you doing the intervals on a hill? Uphill intervals may be the best way to improve your climbing ability.
Initially, I did it on 1-2% slopes and found it very ungratifying. Later, I did it twice on a 5-6% slope and enjoyed it much more.

I'm hoping to extend the intervals to longer periods with practice.
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Old 09-15-19, 08:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Initially, I did it on 1-2% slopes and found it very ungratifying. Later, I did it twice on a 5-6% slope and enjoyed it much more.

I'm hoping to extend the intervals to longer periods with practice.
It is easier to maintain a high effort on a hill. Hills are the best place to work Vo2 efforts.
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