Probably the single most frequent perceived weakness that riders ask us to help them improve with is climbing. Climbing is a paradox in that it makes for the most scenic and exhilarating rides whilst at the same time creates the most pain and suffering if the body is not conditioned properly.
Over the next weekly series of Climbing 101 articles we are going to tackle every important element that makes up ‘climbing ability’ and break it down into easy to digest, step by step slices of information and advice.
In this first article we are going to address the ‘elephant in the room’ – weight.
Over the next 3 weeks we will look at the specific fitness abilities and skills needed for the 3 main varieties of climb you will face:
- Short punchy climbs such as those tackled at the Belgium Classics.
- Medium distance mixed gradient climbs like in the UK.
- Long gradual climbs like those in the European Alps.
Weight is such an important element when it comes to improving your climbing. Why? Because on a medium gradient climb you need to output roughly 4 watts of power for each kilogram of bodyweight. 10 kilograms overweight and you are having to ‘find’ 40 watts to overcome the extra gravitational pull from the excess weight.
Encouragingly, any reduction in body weight will make a difference to your climbing speed AND the physiological strain you place on your body.
we can test different scenarios.
Let’s take a rider producing 200w on a 10km hill with an average gradient of 8%, a pretty standard alpine style climb.
At 70kg a rider will take 60 minutes to climb this hill.
At 64kg a rider will take 55 minutes to climb this hill.
A 6kg, or in old money, 1 stone, loss of weight results in a time saving on one climb of 5 minutes!
Add this up over say 7 hours that you might be climbing at an Alpine Gran Fondo, and your time saving would be well over 35 minutes!
Added into this is the lower physiological stress that results from a more optimal weight. Less stress on bones, joints, ligaments and tendons improved mobility and less cardiovascular demand all add up to improve your climbing time and frankly climbing enjoyment.
What is the right weight for you?
This is a very complex topic and the answers are specific to you as an individual. Generic weight loss advice is poor for people who take a lot of exercise as there is a very fine balance between consuming enough calories to fuel training, and also to lose weight. A 200-300 calorie deficit per day is often cited as being a sensible approach. Think about that for a minute…….that is actually just 1 standard energy bar you don’t eat per day. The balance is very fine.
Even specific sports nutritional advice has to be tailored for an individual’s metabolism, age, exercise and eating regime and history. There is no ‘one size fits all’.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. Many of us are nowhere near to optimal body composition, so what we really need are simple practical steps to help us become a more optimal weight over time.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you significantly heavier than you were as a young adult?
- Do you have poor muscle definition?
- Do you have excess fat over your upper body and around the belly area?
If you answer yes to any of these then it is very likely that you can safely lose some weight by improving your body composition to become faster and more efficient climbing hills on your bike.
Simple and practical tips for achieving this include:
- Slightly reduce portion sizes.
- Don’t always go back for second helpings.
- Eat more protein and carbohydrate and less fat. (Fat is twice as calorific)
- Drink more water.
- Cut out the junk food and fizzy drinks.
Do these things for a couple of months and you are bound to lose body fat and you won’t have done anything drastic. Aggressive dieting can actually cause people to gain body fat as their metabolism is forced to slow in response to severe and chronic calorie deficits.
Changes in body composition happen over the long term so be disciplined and patient. As with your training it is consistency over time that reaps the rewards not fad dieting or sporadic hard training.
If you start to feel any of the symptoms below it is likely that you are cutting calories too severely and need to consume slightly more.
- Interrupted sleep, waking feeling very hungry.
- Poor mood and irritability.
- General fall in energy levels.
- Specific fall in power on the bike and/or failure to complete training sessions as normal.
- Fall in sex drive.
- Increase in stress levels.
- Dizziness when standing up quickly.
And remember for short hard and/or long moderate training sessions you still need to fuel appropriately and recover like a pro!
Next week we move onto the specific physical demands of short punchy hill climbing and the fitness abilities you need to work on to improve your ‘punch’.
For now have a review of your current eating habits and ask yourself where you could make small incremental changes to help improve your body composition.
Rob Wakefield /
Founder & Coach