Climbs. Love them or hate them, most cyclists want to be able to get up the hills faster. There are many approaches to training and workouts you can do to become a better climber, but what’s the fastest way to attack a hill? Steady power like a flat time trial or vary your effort? Stay seated or stand or mix it up?
As is often the response to many cycling related training and performance questions, the answers to these questions fall into the category of “it depends.” For years, we just didn't know. And while we could see some techniques were faster for some riders, it was hard to definitely offer specific guidance. However, new technology has allowed coaches and sport scientists to look more in depth into this often discussed topic and come up with conclusions based in science.
It’s important to understand that what’s best for performance may not necessarily be best for generating a training stimulus for adaption. The research was conducted from the perspective of truly “what’s the fastest way to ride up this climb?”
The article and podcast are really great if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into the subject, but the big take away is that the fastest approach is to focus on speed, not intensity. So while you need to be careful not to put yourself into the red and burn too many matches, on a climb with varying grade, keeping up the speed will almost always be the fastest approach.
From a physics standpoint, this would certainly seem to make sense as you would want to conserve your momentum in the form of forward velocity. So as the grade transitions to a steeper section, you’ll come in with a little more intensity in an effort to maintain as much speed as possible. For some cyclists, this may be best accomplished by standing up and driving the pedals a little harder. Again, it’s important to be mindful of your effort, but the notion of pinning it at your threshold for that 20 minute climb might not be the fastest approach.
In no way am I suggesting you go for your PR every ride, but Strava can be a great tool to experiment with different approaches to a climb. Get out and do some repeats on your favorite hill using various approaches and see how your time is impacted. Create a new segment for yourself if there’s not a suitable one and have at it. Science is great to give us some starting points, but find what works for YOU.
So check out these great resources here, and give a try for yourself:
Fasttalk: Inside the New Science of Climbing
Pez Cycling: The Biomechanics Of Climbing: Stand And Deliver
Have fun, and remember in the immortal words of Eddy Merckx, “Don’t by upgrades, ride up grades.” Find those hills and ride them!
Staying fueled up during exercise is important. Some riders find that fueling during cold rides is challenging due to their gear (gloves) and others report that they just don't feel like eating. Some take the approach with lower intensity rides common during the colder months that they don't need to fuel.
That last thought is debatable for sure, but science has shown that cold weather can make you feel hungrier, and your caloric needs may actually increase. Our bodies have to work hard to keep us warm which takes energy, and energy comes from calories.
"When a person is shivering, the body needs to work harder to maintain thermoregulation (body temperature). According to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., shivering can burn about 400 calories per hour and it depletes glycogen stores and leaves you feeling fatigued" (Clark, Nancy (2004). Winter and Nutrition: Fueling for Cold Weather Exercise downloaded from www.active.com on 10/26/2010)
Over eating should be avoided, of course, but it is important to take in calories during any ride of about 75 minutes or more. I'll be writing about general fueling ideas in a future post, but for now, as the weather turns colder, keep yourself topped off!
If you want to perform well, keep your immune system strong, and recover effectively to be ready for the next bout of training, proper fueling is important.
Here are two good articles if you're interested in learning more:
Outside Online: Why Am I Hungrier When It's Cold
And if you really want to nerd out:
Don't let the cold keep you from riding your bike, and while you're out there, give your body the energy it needs.
Now let's ride bikes.
TRUTH: Cyclocross, or 'cross, is awesome! It's challenging, it's addictive, it's darn hard, and most of all it's FUN! If you've never raced 'cross or are new to the sport, it may seem rather intimidating. Despite the fact that cyclocross' roots go back to 1902 (that' right, 1902...not a typo!), it's relatively "new" in America. It's popularity in the U.S. really boomed in the early to mid 2000's, hence the new feeling.
Since then it has evolved into a sport of it's own instead of something that road racers and mountain bike racers did in the fall and winter. There's cowbells, mud, tall socks, mustaches, dollar bills, beer, costumes, heckling, music, and more. Along with the excitement can a lot of hype and plenty of misconceptions.
I'm not blaming all the misconceptions on the Internet, but this was also the same time period where the interwebs became THE source for information. 'Cross created a real buzz on the web, in particular on social media, and an abundance of race reports, pictures, tips, advice, and bunk was readily available. To a person on the outside of the CX world looking in, it could certainly seem intimidating.
I can assure you from over 20 years of racing 'cross that, while there are certainly some unique elements to this discipline, it's not much more than riding your bike on varied terrain with some places where you'll need to get off an run with your bike.
I've taught dozens of cyclists how to "cyclocross", and after the clinics they would often say, "that's it? I can do that!" Yes you can! Let's not let these misconceptions keep you from trying something that's really fun.
Let's get into it:
1. There's a lot of running in cyclocross
Yes, in almost every course that you'll find there will be at least one place where you'll need to get off your bike and run with your bike. Most common are the man made barriers. However, these are between 4-6 meters apart so it's only a handful of seconds of running per lap. Sometimes you'll have a very messy course with lots of running, or super deep sand, a muddy, steep run-up. or snow and slush But over the course of a 5-10 minute lap, it will be a very small percentage of running. So you need to be able to get on and off your bike and run with it, but you don't need to be a "runner" to go have some fun with 'cross. If you choose to become more competitive, being able to run faster will certainly come in handy, but let's get you out there first.
2. You need wheels or a bike in the pit
Having a spare set of wheels or better, a bike, in the pit can definitely save your race if you have a mechanical. As one climbs through the categories, this maybe become more important. But it is NOT a requirement at all. With today's technology such as tubeless tires and disc brakes, I've seen far fewer bike/wheel changes than a couple of decades ago.
3. You need to have multi-thousand dollar carbon bike with electronic shifting and deep dish carbon wheels
One of the aspects of 'cross that I love is it can be a real "run what you brung" sport. I started in this sport with a used aluminum bike with an aluminum fork (HARSH!) with v-brakes, 700x32 tubed tires, and 48/38 gearing. That bike was also my winter training bike, but it served me well on the race course, earning me a good handful of podiums including several state championship podiums in the elite category. My buddy started racing CX on an old road bike with skinny 'cross tires jammed in there. Not ideal, but on a dry course it was great. And it got him his start and has since become a very successful 'cross racer.
Go check out a race. You'll see mountain bikes, flat bar bikes, gravel bikes, and more. Just go race!
4. I need to be fast over the barriers or everyone will make fun of me.
True, there's heckling in cyclocross and as the number of beers increases, the shouts become louder. But when there's hecklers, they make fun of EVERYBODY! Unfortunately, at our local races, the number of spectators is minimal, and I've seen the heckling really decline. So just do your best to stay smooth and work on your dismounting/mounting, but don't stress over it. Get some thick skin and focus on the task at hand and the FUN of cyclocross. In the immortal words of Elanor Roosevelt, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do"
5. You can't take a drink during a cyclocross race
I wrote about this last week and how this is not true. You CAN keep your bottle cages on your bike and you CAN have a bottle in those cages. As I wrote, if you don't need to or can't shoulder your bike and it's hot or even warm, why not? Sure, someone may goof on you and tell you you should take off your cages, but just let that unsolicited advice wash off of you. If taking in some water or sports drink during your race will make your experience better, go for it! Keep in mind what is prohibited, unless noted by the officials, is receiving a "hand up" from a helper on the side of the course. A hand up of beer, however, is often overlooked, but not always recommend. : )
So there it is. Things I've heard over the years and things that folks have told me that kept them from signing up for a race.
A great way to increase your comfort level and understanding of cyclocross, is to jump in a clinic or hire a coach to show you the ropes. I'm avaialbe for both group and individual training sessions so if you're interested, give me a shout!
What misconceptions have you heard about 'cross? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Until next time, Hup-Hup!
"If your arms are cold, cover your legs."
One of my goals as a coach and lover of all things bike, is to help make sure people can ride bikes for as long as they live. It's a great sport for longevity, but there are some precautionary measures that need to be considered to keep us all rolling.
A joint in our bodies that potentially takes a toll from riding a bike is our knees. There are steps we can take to help keep our knees healthy and functioning well starting with a proper bike fit and avoiding large increases in volume and/or intensity.
But protection from the environment is important as well.
As the temps drop, we also need to consider protecting our knees. Not only our knees, but all of the hard working muscles in our legs.
I've long been a proponent of keeping knees and legs covered, but this podcast from Fasttalk really gets into the "why" and how damaging that pushing our muscles and joints in the cold can be.
Cold, Bare Legs Make You Dumb, Not Tough
The title is perhaps a bit harsh, but really drives the point home.
Although it looks "cool" to wear a long sleeved jersey and shorts, it's just not a good idea. And I fully agree that just knee or leg warmers with a short sleeved jersey is not particularly stylish. In that case, just cover your arms and legs.
If it will be warming up during the course of your ride, you can always stop and take the warmers off and stash them in your pocket.
My own personal rule is 65 degrees or below, my knees and legs are covered.
Do what makes you feel good, but keep in mind the words of Coach Connor that if you're overdressed you're maybe uncomfortable, but if you're underdressed, you're doing damage. Who wants to do damage?
So get yourself a set of leg warmers and maybe some knee warmers and keep your legs happy.
What's your take on covering your legs? Post a comment or question below.
Ride on and enjoy these great early Fall days!
Training with specificity is important, especially as an athlete gets closer to their event. Once the aerobic engine has been built from months or more of generalized training, it’s time to adapt the training to meet the specific needs of the event. Training with specificity is not limited to just the type of intervals that an athlete would perform, but also the terrain that they will encounter and necessary skills. For example, if an athlete planning on a gravel event with very rough terrain and plenty of short, punchy climbs, these would be two specific areas to target during training.
While training with specificity is very important, it’s also important to not spend unnecessary time training for discipline specific demands that will not be encountered during the event(s).
Simply said, don’t spend time training something that exists in the sport but that you won’t encounter.
Cyclocross is a very good subject of this statement.
‘Cross is a very unique sport in that there is terrain in some ‘cross races that you might not ever see in any of your other events. Examples of such terrain include sand, snow, or wood chips. Likewise, there is often at least one point on the course where racers will be forced to dismount, run with their bike, and then remount. While this may happen in a mountain bike race or even some gnarly gravel events, it’s not a “mandatory” part of mountain bike course construction and layout.
A specific example:
For many years I held a weekly Tuesday cyclocross training practice where we did all sorts of drills and had some short races at the end. As the years progressed, we started spending more time practicing shouldering and then running with our bikes. While this is a good skill to have in ‘cross, as I reflected on my races, not once did I need to shoulder my bike. It was a dry year and the nature of our courses did not involve any stairs or long and steep runups where shouldering would have been advantageous. The only dismount during the races was for the barriers, and most riders were “suitcasing” their bikes with a top tube grab and carry. This was actually the same for several years in a row. Was this a huge loss of time? No, but probably a skill that we didn’t need to continue to sharpen week after week.
Another example from ‘cross would be riding through sand. Again, a great skill to have and can really develop some amazing bike handling. There are also some similarities between riding in loose sand with mud and snow. BUT, if none of your races will include a sandpit, then perhaps spending time and energy seeking out sand to practice in is not the best use of these precious resources.
More obvious examples can also come from the duration of the events. If an athlete is targeting “shorter” races such as criteriums, time trials, cyclocross, UCI XC mountain biking, and even sprint triathlons, riding for 5+ hours during the height of the season can be downright counterproductive. This can be a hard pill to swallow for those out there who, like me, love to ride their bikes. And I’m not suggesting that there is not value in long, low intensity rides during the base period. However, as you get closer to your events, this type of riding will likely not benefit your performance.
If you're into podcasts, this is a super listen:
And here are some great articles to help us all think about the specific demands of our events:
I encourage you to train with specificity, and if you have questions or need help with this, I’m ready to lend a hand!
Coach B.L. is the head coach at BJL Coaching and an avid racer and cycling enthusiast himself.