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How to improve climbing while seated?(22 posts)

How to improve climbing while seated?Gerbila
Oct 19, 2003 7:07 PM
I have a problem w/ climbing long hills seated. I get a burning sensation in my left thigh, not really localized to any part, just some muscle running from the hip to the knee. As a result I tend to remain standing during climbs and sort of mash my way up hills instead of sitting and spinning. On short hills or rollers this works great since I can carry speed into the hill and make quick work of it. But when the hill is long I lose momentum and end up going slower than people spinning up it. Right now my lowest gearing is 39x23. Is this a problem w/ leg strength? Like I said, I feel my left leg gives out before my right complains. How can I get better at spinning up hills?
I alternate sitting and standing..DINOSAUR
Oct 19, 2003 7:25 PM
Short climbs I remain seated, long climbs I alternate back and forth. The secret is to pick when you stand as you can push a larger gear while standing, but if you pick the wrong time to stand you lose time when you sit down as you run out of gas and usually have to shift to a lower gear. I ride the same roads just about all of the time so I know when to do what. What helped me was doing standing intervals- 1 min on/30 seconds off-sets of 4 or 5. Or I just try to see how long I can stand until my quads start burning and I can't hack it anymore. You might have a setup problem with your bike. I found what worked best for me was to push my saddle back and tilt it aft a couple of degrees. Then when I'm climbing while sitting I can push back in my saddle and use the hams. Your quads will burn while standing, no way around it. Or just pick a gear and try to stand the whole climb and see what happens.
Oct 20, 2003 8:16 AM
try to get out of saddle for a few revolutions then drop back; key is to upshift just before you get out and drop gear when seat to avoid loosing momentum. It helps to shift load from one muscle group to other and gives temporary relieve.

Also sometimes you get that burning feeling from saddle cutting blood flow, check saddle position good luck
re: How to improve climbing while seated?insmanblue
Oct 19, 2003 7:45 PM
I am no expert but it seems to me if you want to spin up the hill you need gearing to accomplish this unless you have massive leg muscle strength. You need at least a 25 cassette if not more perhaps a 27. This will provide you the ability to spin up those hills better than what you have now IMHO.
Oct 19, 2003 9:05 PM
Spinning a high RPM will vastly improve your climbing while seated. Gear your bike so that you can maintain a high cadence up the hill and you will be more efficient.
I've been amazed at how much faster I've been able to climb by lowering my gearing and and thus more easily keeping my RPM's up.
Start mountain bikingK_Zero
Oct 19, 2003 10:19 PM
I'm first & foremost a mountain biker, so I always stay seated while climbing (on my road bike) unless I encounter a super-steep hill. When you ride dirt, you learn to stay seated and pedal at high gearing during technical climb to get maximum traction. If you get used to torquing over rocks & roots, you'll find spinning on a road bike a lot easier.

My $0.02,
Oct 20, 2003 9:48 AM
I am also an avid MTB'er and have to agree with the previous post. Mountain biking poses additional problems to body position and efficiency - the terrain adds complexity. Standing while climbing on a mountain bike is an aboslute no-no as you will lose at least 20% of your power on tire bounce. So you naturally learn to struggle up the hills while in the saddle. Any good XC mountain biker will develop a very strong set of legs and lungs to make it up long hills. In the MTB world, the hills are what counts -- you are either a hero or a goat, depending if you are walking or biking up the hill. Given the tendency for most people to avoid embarrassment, they force themselves to learn how to ride up the steep hills, even if it kills them!

Then when you jump on the road bike, the hills somehow become easier...

re: How to improve climbing while seated?hudsonite
Oct 20, 2003 4:20 AM
Hills are what I do. I love to climb and have been doing it for a long time. So these are my opinions based up 30+ years of riding.

Your burning in your legs is probably caused my a lack of muscle combined with a low cadence. There are a few things you need to look at.

1) Improve muscle strength. This will happen by training on big hills. Your muscles will get sore and get stronger over time. Go to the gym and leg press big weights for 60 reps in 4 sets. Depending upon your weight and fitness, you should be able to press 1.5 to 2x your body mass.

2) Before and after you train, strech your legs and back. Tight muscles that have not been stretched can and will stress out your joints, particularly your knee. Pain in the legs can be caused by tight muscles. This is not good pain and can cause long term damage.

3) Hill climbs come in all different sizes. The key to being fast up the hills is to have strong muscles, strong heart/cardio and being able to work the body at the maximum without 'bonking'. That means finding the right cadence for you.

Hills that are a one or more miles in length require a good spinning technique. Try to keep your cadence within the range of 80 to 95 rpms. If the hill is less than 6% you could do it in the 39x23. If the hill is above 9%, it is unlikly that you will be able to hold the cadence. Get a bigger cog set in the back.

To give you some idea of the cogs I use.

Hill 9% 1.0km - 39X23
9% 1.5km -> 39X26
11% 1.0km - 39X26
11% 1.0->4km - 39X29
21% .4km - 39x26
21% .4->.7km 39X29
21% .7km+ granny gear - 30X26

3) Try to avoid standing unless absolutely necessary. Standing is a great for short and steep sections that you need to get over. You can push higher gears standing than sitting. But if you go from sitting to standing and back on a long hill climb, you will lose speed when switching gears back and forth. It will also tire you out. You are stronger standing, but you will use more energy.

So in summary, strengthen your legs by working them hard. You are going to have pain after the ride, but it will be worth it. Lose weight from the body if you have extra pounds to shed. It is cheaper and more effective than trying to save weight from the bike. Get a wider range cogset in the back - Shimano 27, Campy 29. Avoid standing, unless it is a short section. Keep your cadence up to minimize muscle strain and prevent going over your lactate threshold. Practice riding on hills. Try going up with a low cadence and high cadence. Watch your average speed and find where your sweet spot with respect to cadence is. Everyone is different. Some pros ride the hills with cadence of 60 - 70 rpms. Others riders are at 90+. They both work, but higher is easier on the joints.

This weekend I finally made it up a 30% hill. The approach is 15-20% for 2 km with about .5km of 30%. It took all summer to get enough strenght to climb it. Great feeling to make it to the top. Now I need to work on getting up it fast.
Good job with the climbing tips & glad to hear that you made itbent_spoke
Oct 20, 2003 5:57 AM
over the top of the must seem like you could fall over backwards it's so steep! The decent must be incredible!!
The hard part is keeping the front wheel on the groundhudsonite
Oct 20, 2003 6:38 AM
I had a very hard time keeping the front wheel on the ground. This problem foiled me on many attempts. Normally when I climb I slide back in the saddle and push. But this caused the front to pop up making it impossible to get up the hill. I felt like I was going to fall backwards.

This time I raised my saddle and moved forward for the very steep section. Almost sitting on the tip of the saddle. I made it up, but now have a blister where the sun does not shine!

I would not go down this hill, way too dangerous in my opinion. I have problems on 20% hills going down that are twisty. The braking action causes my back wheel to rise off the ground. I go down the other side which is only 10% to 14%. Still steep, but I can control the bike.
Where do you find 30%? And about that front wheel...Fez
Oct 20, 2003 7:17 AM
Where is this 30% climb?

And a quick question about what you said:

"I had a very hard time keeping the front wheel on the ground. This problem foiled me on many attempts. Normally when I climb I slide back in the saddle and push."

Shouldn't you stay centered or move a teeny bit fwd on the saddle when you climb while seated? Two reasons come to mind: 1) Possibly easier to spin up a steep climb, 2) Weight rearward on a steep climb impedes climbing and unweights front wheel.

So why would you slide back when climbing?
Saddle positionAsiago
Oct 20, 2003 7:50 AM
Moving back on the saddle for seated climbs is more of a power position. My coach really wants me to develop my seated climbing in this back position. It is a position I kind of "discovered" on my own this summer, so now, with my new coach wanting me to focus on it, reinforced my own impressions of the position.

Fine line?Fez
Oct 20, 2003 7:59 AM
Maybe we are talking a real fine line here. Some other factors may be the length and grade of the hill you are approaching.

Moving back a smidge may utilize the glutes and improve power. Too much and it can slow down cadence and possibly tax the muscles.

For steeper climbs, I heard having weight distributed rearward may impede climbing. Also, the front wheel may become unweighted since the bars (via hands) get some countering forces during normal seated climbing.
You are correcthudsonite
Oct 20, 2003 8:08 AM
Moving back in the saddle is good for certain types of climbs, but does not work when the road gets too steep.

And you are also correct about the cadence. Moving back is more of a power position and less of a spinning position. When pushing very hard from the rear, my cadence is not over 65-70RPM and sometimes much lower. But normally, you are not doing this for long periods of time.

It is better to spin up a steep hill. But when you are out of gears and you have no choice...time to push real hard.
Oct 20, 2003 8:22 AM
I'm not talking about real steep pitches here. I'm talking more about 5-10% grades. The workouts I've been prescribed deal with picking a gear at the bottom of the hill and maintaining that gear to the top. And not on a long climb either. This is specifically a power, "weight-lifting-on-the-bike" workout. The goal being that in race situations, on our prevalent "power-climbs" in this area, I can stay seated for as much as possible, spinning up the hills.

This is where long chainstays are nice.ramboorider
Oct 20, 2003 5:02 PM
Helps keep weight on the front wheel even with a more rearward position on the saddle.

Where do you find 30%? And about that front wheel...hudsonite
Oct 20, 2003 7:54 AM
The hill is about 30 minutes outside of Montreal. It is a rural road that is not used by cars very often. It is too steep to be an official country highway either. I will put together a small gif map and post it later in the week.

And yes, I should stay centered on the seat, but I don't. I have long legs for me height, but short arms. So I keep my seat normally 4 cm lower than I should to keep the bar to seat drop comfortable. But when I climb and need lots of power, I slide back and get better leverage on the pedals. But as you say, this is not good for keeping the front wheel loaded and on the ground.

My technique works great for me most of the time. I have very strong legs from many years of ski-race training. It allows me to use the strongest part of my legs, but it does cause balance problems when the road gets too steep. What I should do is stay centered, but old habits die hard.

That is why on this attempt I mentioned that I raised my seat and moved forward. The short distance with a bigger bar/seat drop was not a problem and I was able to get the weight balance I needed to make it up. At the top of the hill I lowered my seat.

Over the winter I am putting together a new bike and hopefully I will be able to have a more normal fit that will give me greater balance on steep hills.
Oct 20, 2003 8:11 AM
If I understand you correctly, you said you had proportionately longer legs/shorter arms and so you keep the saddle 4cm lower in order to keep the saddle to bar drop comfortable.

I don't know how you calculated your benchmark, but if it really is 4cm lower than what it "should" be, that sounds pretty drastic.

Instead of lowering the saddle from your benchmark, why not get the saddle position correct to what it "should" be. Then raise the bars and/or change the stem to get the reach comfortable and your overall position correct?

Maybe your situation is more complicated than a few sentences could explain it...
Yes it is wronghudsonite
Oct 20, 2003 8:24 AM
Yes I am aware it is not correct. I am 5'10' with an 86.5cm inseam. My saddle should be up around 75/76cm, but I normally keep it at 71/72cm. I cannot raise my bars any higher on this bike, hence I am building a new one.

Normally I ride long distance and it is important for me not to have too big a drop. Not correct, but sometimes you have to make do with what you have.

On the new bike I will get the bars higher so I can raise my seat. The tricky part is finding a bike that has the correct geometry. But until then, I still do ok in the hills and long distance.
Where is that hill?ss jimbo
Oct 20, 2003 7:14 AM
That has to be one of the steepest paved climbs anywhere. I'd be scared to drive it.

actually no.cyclopathic
Oct 20, 2003 8:04 AM
Guiness book lists Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand
It hits 38% as I recall.
Try this, it works for meContinental
Oct 20, 2003 1:01 PM
Every 4th pedal stroke relax your leg on the down stroke and pull up hard with the opposite leg on the upstroke. It gives your thighs a chance to recover. Develop a rhythm 1,2,3,4, up-- 1,2,3,4,up. I can't remember where I read this, but it was from some famous great climber.

You also probably need a much lower gear. I don't mean 39X25, I mean 30X23. Swallow your pride and get a granny gear.