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Climbing difficulties

Old 11-15-20, 12:30 PM
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oik01
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Climbing difficulties

So I have been cycling for about a year now. I started off very weak and out of shape. I am a bit improved but continue to struggle on climbs. In real life I beat my friends ( who are not serious about cycling) on climbs but any sustained climb and I just break early. I moved to boston and admittedly haven't been able to test myself on any climbs here over the past 5 months during which I have had significant improvement on the trainer.


On Zwift, my FTP has increased gradually to 203 W. I weight between 160-165 pounds with significant variation. 6 Feet tall.


I have had to switch to group C because Zwift Power will not let me race in Group D anymore. I can keep up on the flat but always get dropped on the first climb. I tried to dig into the data a little more and noticed a few patterns:


- My power average during a climb is the same as during the flats which was surprising for me. I am totally drained at the end for some reason and feel as thought I exerted myself more. If I keep hanging on to the back of the group I tend to drop off in the subsequent decent and I noticed my power drops significantly after the climb ( maybe mental, maybe Im just exhausted).

- My cadence surprisingly goes up not down. My average cadence on a recent rid was 87 RPM leading up to a climb but got up to 97 during the climb. I definitely did not feel that way during the ride and I know for a fact I don't ride that way in real life when measured with a cadence meter. The cadence on zwift is being measured by my Saris cyclops trainer which in the past was accurate.


Any tips on how to fix this? Should I be pushing through to my limit during those climbs? If so how do you not get dropped right after? Should I be shifting up to higher gears/ dropping cadence to see if that helps keep power up? I want to stick to group C if I can because I can tell I will improve but it sucks to always just finish on flats at the back or finish half the race/ group ride if there's a climb. The moment you are dropped, its hopeless
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Old 11-15-20, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by oik01 View Post

Any tips on how to fix this? Should I be pushing through to my limit during those climbs? If so how do you not get dropped right after? Should I be shifting up to higher gears/ dropping cadence to see if that helps keep power up? I want to stick to group C if I can because I can tell I will improve but it sucks to always just finish on flats at the back or finish half the race/ group ride if there's a climb. The moment you are dropped, its hopeless

1. Lose weight. 2.0 pounds per inch is good for climbing, and you're 15-20 pounds too heavy to do well on hills. You're too fat to be fast if you can't see your abs.
2. Ride 7-10 minute intervals as hard as possible once a week until you can no longer average more than your FTP. This is the most effective way to lift VO2max and FTP according to Dr. Stephen Seiler.
3. Spend hours riding below your aerobic threshold where you're not feeling your legs and breathing isn't rhythmic. Do not go harder because recruiting your fast twitch fibers is sticky, and they take the load off your slow twitch fibers so you don't train them. Mark Allen set his 2:40 Iron Man marathon split record which stood for 25 years when Phil Maffetone trained him like that, although initially it dropped his training pace to 8:30 miles.
4. Follow a periodized training plan 6-10 hours a week with one day off.

That got my FTP up to 220W and weight down to 136 pounds which is 3.6W/kg.

Most of us made the rookie mistake of hard days that are too easy and easy days that are too hard. That will make you less slow than a couch potato but not fast.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 11-15-20 at 01:21 PM.
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Old 11-15-20, 06:27 PM
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Pace your climbs. Don't push too hard early. If you're training to become a better climber, getting dropped in the climbs is the least of your concerns.

Look for roads with at least 5% average uphill gradient for at least 2 kilometers and practice on that 4x a day. Maintain a constant speed as possible. If you're slowing down signficantly during the climb, that means you're pushing too hard and back off a little bit.

Really the best way to get "comfortable" with climbing is climb more hills and longer ones. Even better up a mountain if you can find one near your place enough. It will teach or rather FORCE you to pace your climbs if you intend to reach the top in one piece and alive!
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Old 11-15-20, 06:48 PM
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Breath out! Breath out! Don’t start too soon! I hate that! You only have to last 3 seconds longer than your closest guy! Easier for you to stay ahead than for them to catch up! Learn to spin out! Then kick it up one gear at a time as you figure it out!
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Old 11-15-20, 08:21 PM
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Climbing is:
power to weight = 6', 160# is a good weight, work on power
steep hills, sprints, squats
aerobic capacity & endurance = we all work the engine.
steady hills, intervals, belly breathing
perseverance and pain = finding your 'happy place' while legs and lungs suffer
??? Walking barefoot on hot coals?
Gearing
Good brakes for the return trip.
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Old 11-22-20, 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by oik01 View Post
So I have been cycling for about a year now. I started off very weak and out of shape. I am a bit improved but continue to struggle on climbs. In real life I beat my friends ( who are not serious about cycling) on climbs but any sustained climb and I just break early. I moved to boston and admittedly haven't been able to test myself on any climbs here over the past 5 months during which I have had significant improvement on the trainer.


On Zwift, my FTP has increased gradually to 203 W. I weight between 160-165 pounds with significant variation. 6 Feet tall.


I have had to switch to group C because Zwift Power will not let me race in Group D anymore. I can keep up on the flat but always get dropped on the first climb. I tried to dig into the data a little more and noticed a few patterns:


- My power average during a climb is the same as during the flats which was surprising for me. I am totally drained at the end for some reason and feel as thought I exerted myself more. If I keep hanging on to the back of the group I tend to drop off in the subsequent decent and I noticed my power drops significantly after the climb ( maybe mental, maybe Im just exhausted).

- My cadence surprisingly goes up not down. My average cadence on a recent rid was 87 RPM leading up to a climb but got up to 97 during the climb. I definitely did not feel that way during the ride and I know for a fact I don't ride that way in real life when measured with a cadence meter. The cadence on zwift is being measured by my Saris cyclops trainer which in the past was accurate.


Any tips on how to fix this? Should I be pushing through to my limit during those climbs? If so how do you not get dropped right after? Should I be shifting up to higher gears/ dropping cadence to see if that helps keep power up? I want to stick to group C if I can because I can tell I will improve but it sucks to always just finish on flats at the back or finish half the race/ group ride if there's a climb. The moment you are dropped, its hopeless
It just takes time, before you know it what was once hard will become easy
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Old 11-22-20, 04:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
1. Lose weight. 2.0 pounds per inch is good for climbing, and you're 15-20 pounds too heavy to do well on hills. You're too fat to be fast if you can't see your abs.
2. Ride 7-10 minute intervals as hard as possible once a week until you can no longer average more than your FTP. This is the most effective way to lift VO2max and FTP according to Dr. Stephen Seiler.
3. Spend hours riding below your aerobic threshold where you're not feeling your legs and breathing isn't rhythmic. Do not go harder because recruiting your fast twitch fibers is sticky, and they take the load off your slow twitch fibers so you don't train them. Mark Allen set his 2:40 Iron Man marathon split record which stood for 25 years when Phil Maffetone trained him like that, although initially it dropped his training pace to 8:30 miles.
4. Follow a periodized training plan 6-10 hours a week with one day off.

That got my FTP up to 220W and weight down to 136 pounds which is 3.6W/kg.

Most of us made the rookie mistake of hard days that are too easy and easy days that are too hard. That will make you less slow than a couch potato but not fast.
So, at 6'3" you should only be 150 lbs? Seems too skinny to me.
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Old 11-22-20, 04:13 PM
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Originally Posted by one4smoke View Post
So, at 6'3" you should only be 150 lbs? Seems too skinny to me.
Yeah, 2 lbs. per inch isn't realistic for riders of above average height.
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Old 11-22-20, 04:31 PM
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You have to increase your available power. It’s the only way. You’re already fairly skinny for a tall guy, your BMI is about 20-21. For comparison, if you live in America only 3-5% of men have a lower BMI.

sooo..... Intervals and keep entering races to get some max threshold work. But as a big guy, you’ll never climb like a mountain goat. Try to keep in contact with the group, not let them get too far up the road, and make the most use of the downhill to catch back up.
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Old 11-22-20, 04:50 PM
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**********

Climbing is difficult. Period.

Focus on efficiency. Gravity is a constant. Any pause or relaxation, anywhere in the pedal circle, gravity finds that instantaneously. Sounds like your rpm is fine and there are no long pauses. Short pauses are enough to send you backward.

Again, it is just difficult. Always.
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Old 11-22-20, 04:59 PM
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🥵

Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post
**********

Climbing is difficult. Period.

Focus on efficiency. Gravity is a constant. Any pause or relaxation, anywhere in the pedal circle, gravity finds that instantaneously. Sounds like your rpm is fine and there are no long pauses. Short pauses are enough to send you backward.

Again, it is just difficult. Always.

I saw this somewhere, I donít know who to attribute this to, paraphrasing here...Ē Training never gets easier...you just go faster.Ē
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Old 11-22-20, 05:46 PM
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It's attributed to Greg Lemond, but I'm not 100% sure if he actually said it.
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Old 11-22-20, 05:48 PM
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I’m good with that...
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Old 11-22-20, 11:19 PM
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Originally Posted by oik01 View Post
On Zwift, my FTP has increased gradually to 203 W. I weight between 160-165 pounds with significant variation. 6 Feet tall.
This puts you around 2.7W/kg. C group is a wide range from 2.5W/kg to 3.2W/kg, so you are at the lower end of that spectrum. You will be able to keep up with some, not so much with others.

You say you can "keep up" on the flat but you haven't mentioned how much power you are putting out to "keep up". If you are already at, or very close to threshold just following people on the flats, you will be dropped on the climbs at the same average power since you get less benefit of drafting on climbs. The key is to properly pace yourself and stick to a group that you can follow. Don't try to follow the groups at the front or near the front of the race at this point - these are people at the upper end of the C group and since Zwift racing is more about sustained power than anything else, you aren't going to be able to keep up.

As others have advised, keep training to improve your FTP, reduce your weight, or both.
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Old 11-26-20, 01:35 AM
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On Zwift and also IRL group rides, the intensity always goes up on the climbs. That is when you can make the competitors hurt because they need to match your power without profiting as much of your drag.

Especially for the short climbs that means people will go far into their red zone for 2-5 minutes and then recover on the way down.

One reason you might be getting dropped is because you are not used to these types of efforts where you spend a couple of minutes above threshold and then need to recover slightly below threshold. These efforts hurt, but it can be trained and is as much a mental as a physiological thing.
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Old 11-27-20, 02:56 PM
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If you're spinning 97 rpm up hill, you're in the wrong gear. Try a smaller sprocket that requires a cadence of 75-85. On minor slopes, I get out of the saddle and keep a cadence of 60-75.
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Old 11-27-20, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
1. Lose weight. 2.0 pounds per inch is good for climbing, and you're 15-20 pounds too heavy to do well on hills. You're too fat to be fast if you can't see your abs.
2. Ride 7-10 minute intervals as hard as possible once a week until you can no longer average more than your FTP. This is the most effective way to lift VO2max and FTP according to Dr. Stephen Seiler.
3. Spend hours riding below your aerobic threshold where you're not feeling your legs and breathing isn't rhythmic. Do not go harder because recruiting your fast twitch fibers is sticky, and they take the load off your slow twitch fibers so you don't train them. Mark Allen set his 2:40 Iron Man marathon split record which stood for 25 years when Phil Maffetone trained him like that, although initially it dropped his training pace to 8:30 miles.
4. Follow a periodized training plan 6-10 hours a week with one day off.

That got my FTP up to 220W and weight down to 136 pounds which is 3.6W/kg.

Most of us made the rookie mistake of hard days that are too easy and easy days that are too hard. That will make you less slow than a couch potato but not fast.
Originally Posted by one4smoke View Post
So, at 6'3" you should only be 150 lbs? Seems too skinny to me.
I'm 6'2" tall. I'll get off and push my bike up hills before I get down to 148 lbs.
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Old 11-27-20, 03:50 PM
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Originally Posted by DaveSSS View Post
If you're spinning 97 rpm up hill, you're in the wrong gear. Try a smaller sprocket that requires a cadence of 75-85. On minor slopes, I get out of the saddle and keep a cadence of 60-75.
Depends on the individual. Watch the pros, and some spin a tiny gear, some mash a huge gear, and most are in the middle .... but they are all different.
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Old 11-27-20, 10:22 PM
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I am not someone you want to take training advice from but perhaps something here will be of use.

One thing that Zwift has done for me is introduce me to a power meter and the constant use of an HRM. Pay attention to the numbers and learn where you can perform short and long. Train at 90%, the so called sweet spot, for you OP it is 180 watts. Ok exactly 1 year ago I was 159 pounds, 5'6" with an ftp of 135. To say I sucked on the hills is an understatement. But alas I live in the hills so for the sake of convenience I decided to get at least a small amount of hill climbing skills.

So exactly 1 year ago almost to the day I started using Zwift. My first (free) ride was NYC the elevated streets that are made of glass. Made it 11 miles about 900 feet ascent, ran out of gas. In my mind I needed both cardo and climbing help so I picked an easy route, the volcano loop and did laps, I mean i really pushed myself. If you pay attention on the volcano loop there is on the left side a grounded shipwreck, you can see the mast about 30 seconds before you get there. Right after you pass the ship there is a hairpin to the right then a left turn to the cave. All if this is an uphill.

Do 5 laps on this circuit and every time you get to the shipwreck spool up and push push push until you get to the cave. Back off in the cave but repeat on lap 2-5. This is really crude interval training but really work yourself on this part of the circuit, try to set records in w/kg.

There are interval workouts in Zwift. You might consider something like the ftp booster, 6 week plan. You really have nothing to lose.

The main thing is to really push yourself on the hills. There are short but steep climbs, example Innsbruckring has the legsnapper, get on it go balls out. Do this often. I did a race there tonight, finished about mid pack but all of my gains were in the hills. I went from sucking on the hills to using them to make hay. The only place I can make any progress is in the climbs. That is not saying much actually but the flats have become my weak point by comparison .

One of the things I did early last winter was ride the mountain route at least twice a week then after a month started climbing the Alpe. In the year for me I have climbed to the radio tower 24 times and up the Alpe 41 times. I think that I have made a mistake in that doing those climbs has been the bulk of my training. True I have some big hills in my area and I did many climbs this summer IRL. Zwift helped me so much in my hill climbing outside but again I think it was a mistake for me not to use a Zwift training plan as I tend to use big gears and mash. I think I should be doing more spinning but I cannot argue that hills that were fantasy to me in 2019 were totally within my abilities in 2020.

I'm currently for what it's worth doing the build me up workout series. Too soon to tell if it will work but my cadence is for sure getting faster. Again 1 year ago I was 159 pounds today I'm 136, my ftp was 135 now is 195, I can do hilly 20 mile rides in Zwift average 3.2 3.0w/kg which would have seemed impossible a year ago. Pain cave city! I can do IRL 28 mile loops with 3000 feet of climbing no problem now. My goal and I believe in setting goals is to to have an ftp of 225 by spring. If successful, this would actually put me really into B class. I'm not a racer I really don't care about it at all but I do like races just to see if I can improve my performance.

One thing that is very true about climbing, most that are not good at it hate it, those that are good at it love it. I have been on both sides of the fence and for me it all started with the desire and a positive attitude. Convince yourself that you like it and can be good at it. A negative attitude is not helpful at all. If you live in an area where riding outside isn't fun in winter now is a good time to use your trainer to improve your climbing skills. I went into last winter totally sucking on climbs, exited the winter not too bad. Trainer trainer trainer.

Again not advice just food for thought.

Last edited by Thomas15; 11-28-20 at 10:48 AM.
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Old 11-28-20, 09:59 AM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
Depends on the individual. Watch the pros, and some spin a tiny gear, some mash a huge gear, and most are in the middle .... but they are all different.
True, but if you're drained at the end of a climb, it seems to indicate something is wrong with your technique. I ride climbs with slopes up to 12% regularly and I'm old with two replaced knees, so I now have to use lower gearing than I needed 10-15 years ago. I can still find a gear ratio that allows a moderate cadence that doesn't leave me drained at the end of the climb. The OP doesn't mention how long these climbs are. I ride one that's 4 miles of nonstop climbing in the 6-10% range that's tough and takes maybe 30 minutes. I also ride up to 22 miles that's all climbing, but only has a 3% average slope, that's really not difficult, even for a 67 year old. FWIW, I use a 46/30 or 48/32 crank with a SRAM 10-36 12 speed cassette. The 48/10 gear is the same as a 53/11.

When I was a only 53, I rode the 28 miles from Idaho Springs to the top of 14,00 foot Mt. Evans, in 2:35. That time would usually get a person in the top 10 on race day. Average speed about 11 mph. The average slope up Mt. Evans is only about 4%, but the altitude makes it tough. My weight was and still is right at 2 pounds per inch. I still lift weights regularly and carry more upper body muscle weight than most pro riders who specialize in climbing.
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Old 11-28-20, 12:44 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by DaveSSS View Post
If you're spinning 97 rpm up hill, you're in the wrong gear. Try a smaller sprocket that requires a cadence of 75-85. On minor slopes, I get out of the saddle and keep a cadence of 60-75.
Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
Depends on the individual. Watch the pros, and some spin a tiny gear, some mash a huge gear, and most are in the middle .... but they are all different.
Yep, climbing cadence depends on the individual and it also depends on the situation. The OP is Zwift racing, which requires high power and high cadence all the way, not leisurely cruising up a solo climb.
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Old 11-29-20, 03:40 PM
  #22  
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Where I live Iím either climbing grades in the 10-16% range or descending at 35-40 mph. Only about 25-30% of a typical ride is on the flats. If you donít like climbing, you have to go elsewhere.

Zwift is a nice training tool, but itís not the real world. Get outside and ride. The areas outside of Boston have great hills.

To become a better climber you should consider cross-training. Make time a few days a week to get to a gym and lift weights. Also, in my opinion a high VO2 max is more important than pure power. Find a complementary activity, such as running, to increase your VO2 max. Iím 58 with a VO2 max in the high 40ís. I attribute this to 30+ years of cross-training and always seeking a new goal.
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Old 11-30-20, 10:35 AM
  #23  
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I'm going to post something here that may or may not be germane to only the OP: quit trusting data from Zwift. Zwift is a game - and the insidious part of it is that it incorporates cycling data, but then does 'other stuff' to it to give users an emotional experience that leads to further use and renewal. In other words, it's a blend of science and Barnum-esque showmanship that plays with your perceptions.

You have improvement on the trainer but haven't gone outside to climb again yet? Perhaps time to do so?

Or, if you're wanting to be a 'trainer only' rider, then at least get a better source of data than Zwift, for crying out loud.

Clmbing is a skill, one you can work on. Please don't take any physiological advice with potential medical ramifications from self-appointed 'experts' on an online forum. They can tell you their experiences, and that's about it.

It seems that you are ready for a training plan. If so, please take an approach that is more serious than getting data from Zwift and physiological advice from internet strangers.
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Old 11-30-20, 11:17 AM
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i am not a expert by any means and certainly not self appointed...and i agree with you about zwift if you are referring to badges, ride-ons, and bits of confetti but...are you also suggesting that the heart rate, cadence, and power data are manipulated in some way as to render it suspect? other than perhaps some data averaging across a short period of time? maybe an experiment for me would be to track all that data on my next ride in both zwift and the wahoo app and compare.

i agree that riding outside would be better but for those of us with no power data aside from what a trainer offers using zwift is good. i find it motivational.
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Old 11-30-20, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by billnuke1 View Post
Breath out! Breath out! Don’t start too soon! I hate that! You only have to last 3 seconds longer than your closest guy! Easier for you to stay ahead than for them to catch up! Learn to spin out! Then kick it up one gear at a time as you figure it out!
+1 The huge gift from my swim instructor when I returned to college in my early 30s and decided to take basic swim to learn real freestyle. She emphasized that exhale was key and inhale barely mattered. In fact to much inhale usually hurt performance. She pointed out our lungs' best oxygen receptors are at the bottom of our lungs. If we do not inhale completly, we leave those receptors blanked with CO2 so our next breath does not bring them fresh air. If we instead get a full exhale, our lungs are primed to fully utilize whatever we can inhale. So even just a 1/4 breath after full exhale (remember - freestyle - we might have just gotten a wave in our face) is much better than a 3/4 exhale and inhale.

Your (the OP's) RPM going up but not your power - if that is what is actually going on, you might want to look at that. We each your our best RPMs for power and that varies quite a bit. I have never been a spinner uphill. In my racing days I made it a point to be higher geared than my competitors. That approach worked very well for me. (And that hasn't changed a lot over the years except I have been getting progressively slower. Damn this aging stuff!. But my logo photo was taken 6 years ago on the 14% stretch of a 2 mile hill riding a 42 X 17 with an RPM of what 25? Nobody passed me. Yes, I should have flipped the wheel! (I had a 23 on the other side) but moving to a cog like 36 or 42 as the fans of high RPMs would suggest would have been, again, for me, slower.

Edit: Weight - I'm a long, skinny 6'-1/2" (Well I used to be. Still long and skinny but am an inch shorter now.). I raced at 145 pounds with nothing to spare. I could make a lot of riders pay up long hills who could make my life miserable on the flat. I as an extreme hill climber and have been all my life. Drafting was the only reason I could even be there at the start of hills. In cycling, we all have to find our niche, the place that works for our build (and mindset). I found that lower RPM climbing worked really well. That doesn't work for all. OP, try different approaches and observe what works best for you.

Last edited by 79pmooney; 11-30-20 at 12:08 PM.
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