Get Better At Going Up Grades #3: Force & Leg Strength
TL:DR Push those pedals (and embrace the pain)
Power = force x cadence
The previous blog focused on cadence. This blog is all about FORCE. In simple terms, force is how hard you push the pedals. This is a matter for your muscles.
Generally speaking, we have two types of muscle fibres:
(1) ‘slow twitch’ muscle fibres which can go all day but aren't always so good at pushing a big load of force;
(2) ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres which allow us to do powerful efforts up hills, but get fatigued more quickly.
Have you ever powered up a steep hill and then died a death after initially flying up it? This is where it's not just about strength, but about strength that endures.
As the road rises, ultimately you need stronger legs. Full stop. For any given weight (you, plus bike, plus snacks!) you need stronger muscles, both fast and slow twitch.
What training can I do to develop leg strength for climbing?
(1) Off The Bike Strength Training
I HIGHLY RECCOMMEND off the bike strength training. Why?
(1) You can push greater loads
(2) You can develop your strength in greater ranges of motion (ROM)
(3) You can be more targeted in your training
There are two conditioning principles to focus on when you hit the gym:
(1) Your legs need to tolerate higher absolute loads (i.e. increase strength)
(2) Your legs need to tolerate higher load for longer periods of time (i.e. develop endurance)
In simple terms, if you want to continually push the pedals for a long time and actually get somewhere, then your legs need to be used to performing that task.
(2) On The Bike Strength Training
A fantastic way to develop leg strength is to perform over-geared efforts ideally on a hill.
Over-geared hill repeats require a significantly lower cadence than usual, such as 50 RPM, to ensure that you are maximally stressing the muscular system. As a default, this work should be done seated, so that you are relying on your leg strength (rather than the weight of your body) to push the pedals.
(1) To develop pure strength, try shorter intervals with longer recovery periods between efforts.
(2) To develop strength endurance, try longer intervals with shorter recovery periods between efforts.
Remember to keep sight of the task at hand. If you want to push the pedals up hills at a certain speed, you need to go and practice it at that speed. Your legs need to be used to performing that task.
But hey! Coach! Why all this seated stuff? What about those pros who climb out of the saddle?
I hear you. Climbing seated isn't always the quickest way to get up the hill. But when it comes to training, staying seated is a very good way to build overall physical strength, not just your legs.
Ever seen someone climbing and they look like a wiggly worm? Hint: it's not a good idea.
Tune in to the next blog post in this series to find out more about position, posture, and how to make the most of your power.
Please get in touch if you have any questions, comments or want to find out more!