Why my climbing sucks?

Hi Dear Fellow Cyclists:

Found it’s pretty confusing about my climbing.

As a light rider (5’8’’/140lb or 175cm/63kg) my power profile looks like a
inverted “V” with high 20min power and low sprint power:
My FTP is about 220W now and was something like 250W during this race season.
I kind of know that my sprint sucks, though I never trained my sprint or short time
power intentionally (just watched the TR sprint podcast and started to learn but by no
means got the idea). My 5sec power was only above 1000W once this year as I can
remember. Now it’s about 700-800W usually. Based on these observations (no short term
power, light body weight, the power profile, and relative high 20min power) I kind of
guess I’m by no means a sprinter but rather a climber. But the thing is my climbing just sucks.

Here is my feeling. Whenever I have to climb, either during a race or a training ride,
no matter how long the climbing (say 1min to 5min to 10 min, but by no means longer than
15mins), I just can’t climb fast enough. I have to settle myself on the saddle and
push hard to just barely below or around my FTP. I just can’t go any harder. Increase the
power means either higher leg force which I don’t have or higher cadence which feels
so hard and my heart and body just can’t tolerate. I can do both when riding flat or descending
but not uphill. It just feels so different. During a race (cat5) everybody will pass me on
the uphill no matter they are big or small riders so in order to survive I have to attack before
the hill and slowly draft to the back of the pack during the climb. This sounds like what a
big rider will do… Everything just seems so counter-intuitive.

I’ve heard somewhere that lighter riders can’t generate high power compared to big
riders because they just don’t need it during a climb, so they are less trained to push hard.
And also when climbing the rider position is different so you may not to have the same
performance as riding on flat.

How do I make sense of all of this ? Am I just less trained for the high torque during climbing?
Should I just push myself harder intentionally during climb to get used to it?
Now it’s winter and I’m considering to invest into a kick climb and don’t know if it helps.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions:)

Are you doing any structured training at all? Have you done any TR plans?

I have no idea who told you this or where you read it, but that’s a generalization, and very dependent on a personal level. As a whole it’s s 100% false.

How long have you been training? Perhaps this is a muscle-endurance issue and/or your body needs to learn how to ride at high force/low-cadence. Very trainable.

I don’t think a Kickr climber is going to make a bit of difference. Climbing will naturally change your cadence (usually lower), but beyond that your body really know the difference between uphill and flat. Meaning, if you can’t ride beyond threshold up a climb you probably can’t do it on flats.

Perhaps your FTP is set too high and when you think you’re at threshold you’re really far above it.

I’ve done some HIIT at the begining of this year (The Time Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael)
and it really helped me from being dropped to finish in top 10 in local cat5 races. The summer
just group ride and races. Just started my TR SSBHV plan last month thinking to build a solid base.

Thanks anthonylane.

I can’t remember where I heard it maybe some youtube video so
it could be highly in doubt. I’ve been training from last Oct and
logged around 9000km now. I did some HIIT before the summer
and this winter is my first serious base training. So I definitely
never trained my muscle-endurance and high force/low-cad riding.
Will put it into the schedule. The FTP number comes from 20min
test minus 5% so it could be a lot AC power included, but shouldn’t
be so far. In general, I just can’t put the same power on climb as on
flats, or it just feels much more difficult with the same power. Will put
some focus on that because among most of the races I got dropped, I
was dropped during the climb.

That seems like an issue. Your outright power is already not super high, so if you’re putting down even less power on the climbs that could be hurting you. Usually, it should be easier to put high power numbers on the climbs.

I’m a similar build as you, and I find for climbs that are sub 1 minute that I struggle, but as soon as things tick up to 3-5 minutes I start to feel pretty good and then as soon as things cross the 5 minute threshold I’ll easily drop the guys who were giving me issues at the 1 minute mark.

220/65 = 3.38 W/kg (now)
250/65=3.85 W/kg (race season)

Short version is that you need to raise your FTP!

Whether you climb or sit is a personal thing. I am a seated climber, standing occasionally to stretch the legs or when some extra power is needed for an acceleration or sudden gradient change. I have buddies who will stand more than they sit during a 20min climb. Again, sit vs stand is totally personal. See what works for you.

Cadence is also individual. The slower your cadence, the more you are grinding and the sooner you will reach muscular failure. On the other end of the spectrum, a high cadence is going to elevate your HR. Next time on the turbo, try 65rpm vs 100rpm for the same wattage. The closer you get to threshold and go beyond, the difference will become very obvious.

Get on a plan. Do the work. Many workouts have cadence drills, one-leg drills, and even standing drills.

SSBHV in my experience should solve a lot of the issues. For the long sweet spot intervals I would focus on using different cadences each interval or shifting focus each workout.

Also if using a smart trainer be in a low gear to reduce the inertia of the flywheel which will closely simulate going uphill as it requires you to apply force over more of the pedal stroke.

I spent the last year doing sweet spot work and saw significant returns in the area it seems like you are struggling

@Xingchen_Xu I’ve posted this article in three threads. It’s worth a read for you I think. Cheers!


Would be interesting to look at some specific climbs and associated power data. Could be as simple as your technique and how you go out.

You said ‘I have to settle myself on the saddle and
push hard to just barely below or around my FTP’, which tells me that you’re either going out too hard at the beginning of the climb and are forced to ‘settle in’ around ftp, meanwhile other rides could be pacing their effort better.

Also, how efficient are you at riding in the bunch before the climb? As a smaller rider, you’ll need to be putting out a higher relative power to maintain a higher pace and burning more energy. Could be as simple as you’re coming to the base of the climbs more heavily fatigued than your competitors.

Structured training will really be beneficial, pushing your threshold up, vo2 max, and over/unders will be a boon to you. Also don’t skimp on the tactics, 3.85 w/kg doesn’t seem that low to me, especially if you’re able to finish top 10 in some races.

Final thought, going from relatively no structured to high volume seems to aggressive of a start to me. I’d recommend going with low volume and adding workouts, or mid volume. High volume is really only recommended for pros and people who have been following structured training for years.

Of course its difficult in winter, but if you can, go out once a week and do a few climbs, but go on your own. Work out the gears and technique you need to ride up the hills, without the pressure of trying to stay with a group.

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@Xingchen_Xu This.

Also, some power meters measure different power depending on speed, so maybe something going on there also (see below).

Main thing is to practice riding on hills (or little ring, easy gear on the trainer in erg mode), and weave in some low cadence drills. Maybe also do some strength training e.g. weighted single leg squats.

Low cadence drills might help

Welcome to my world! I’ll write down what I’ve found and I hope it helps you. So I’m exactly the same boat and pretty much the same w/kg as you (281w FTp, 79kg).

My coach and I have found 2 things - my climbing power is low and my VO2max ability is low also BUT I have a strange muscle fibre physiology that despite the lack of power I can turn big gears easier than others on the flat. We’ve been training an increase in base Z2 watts for the flats, and an increase in VO2max watts for the climbs. In order not to burn matches I observe my max limits on long climbs etc and work to my strength by bundling along at paces on the flats.

Now, I’m a 4-12hr MTB specialist so factor that in, but for me going no higher than upper threshold on a climb then leaves me energy to easily turn that big gear off the top of a climb. So like you, I fall back repeatedly on climbs, but make up time successfully each time I hit the flat until at some point I’ve overtaken the rider in front and am too far away to be attacked on the next climb. It is an effort in patience and discipline for sure.

So by all means train your weakness, but work out where your strength is and put that strategically into your races.

Interesting. Sounds like you’ve adapted to boost FTP through optimized muscle fiber recruitment rather than aerobic efficiency.

How’s your anaerobic power?

Not the best, although again bizarrely I have a good sprint - 1299w peak and 970w 15s, but then only 466w 1 min, 381w 2 mins power and 320w 5 mins. If I remember correctly I think my power profile is “Time Trialist”.

But yes, we focused a lot on muscular endurance this so my climbing was steady yet consistent and I had a decent pace throughout a 4hr distance. I did lots of 4h Z2 and 3hr Z3 intervals as reverse prioritised to train this.

I’m a week away from starting winter training for 2020 and this time training is broken down into three general sections - traditional base carb reduced for weight loss, Z3/4, then sharpening the short intervals with Z3 nearer the races. Maintenance will be Z3 weekends with short intervals in the week before taper… I’m looking to used my improved muscular endurance about 3kg lighter - I am a little heavy now.

I should have also said, don’t think too hard about my watts - its how I use them with the weird physiology thing. For example, on a typical UK Marathon 5k fire road or road finish, I’m only pushing about 240w after 3 hours in the hills, yet I’m doing that on 34/13 and chugging along in excess of 40kmph - on an MTB.

My plan is a little unorthodox to accommodate that.

Sorry OP we’ve hijacked your thread a little, but my point for you I guess as I said before is focus not only on tradition but what is it you do well? It may not be obvious.

Do longer SS intervals. Your WAC shouldn’t be falling off like that. Get to where you can do 2x40 at ~90%.

3 words. Sustain power build.

I’ve done it 3 years in a row. I have 1 KOM. A few top 5s and 10s. Our area has some serious hills and climbers. At my peak 363 FTP at the same height and a few more lbs. granted, I was working my ass off.

That said,

IMOP: lots of 2 x 10s. 2 x 20s And 3 x 30s.

Someone probably asked already but what is your gearing?. 11x28 isn’t fun for climbing but 11x32 with 52/36 is splendid. However, you have to take off the due ace cassette.

Take it from someone that couldn’t ride a hill period my first two years of riding.

Good luck and sustain power build your booty off.

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I mean this kindly: Do you know how to climb?

Yeah, we can all go up hill but it’s harder to do it efficiently and not let the mechanics break down.

When I first moved from Flatlandia to LA, I had a ridiculously hard time going up. It wasn’t until someone on a group ride pointed out how bad my position was and how much energy I was wasting that I really started to improve. In other words, it wasn’t just about a w/kg increase.

If you have access to long climbs (10+ min) I’d start by paying attention to the position you’re in when you start, then every 2-5 minutes after that. What are your hands doing (death grip)? Shoulders. Head. Torso waving. Did your butt scoot forward or backward on the saddle? Are you now pedaling differently? What’s your self selected cadence at the beginning vs at the end?

Additionally, think about how you’re breathing and where you’re breathing from. I can think of a few people who unconsciously limit their breathing when things get really hard. Unfortunately, riding a bike is not like doing a squat.