Feel the pain of overweight cyclists

by Suffolk Cycling   July 25, 2014  

I did a video on my blog illustrating the frustration of going up hills (such as they are in Suffolk!) when you're a little on the portly side. Aside from shifting the remaining excess weight, what advice do you guys have for better climbing?

http://www.suffolkcycling.com/cycling/cycling-hills-weighty-issue/

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Good advice here. Echo comments about weight not changing instantly and yet shape, and size can change. I am in the heavyweight group myself, and i know i have changed in last few weeks as my clothes fit differently and i am wearing clothes that were too small for me,yet my weight change is very slight .
I struggle with inclines, let alone hills, problem is if i drop gears as much as feel the need to, then the spin is easier but i run out of puff...only one answer, do the hills,keep doing the hills,and lose the weight....
Keep going!

Theres always been a starkadder......

posted by robert posts child [16 posts]
25th July 2014 - 16:16

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redmeat wrote:
That hill out of Bealings is not particularly difficult - are you sure you're not tiring your legs prematurely in an effort to go so quick on the flat?

Probably, yes! But remember I only started a few months ago, overweight (obv) and with the fitness levels of a geriatric sloth. So that Bealings hill is tough for the likes of me. There's only a few like that in the area that still have me blowing hard: the one up Playford, Sandy Lane climb up towards Woodbridge, Sutton climb out of Melton being the main culprits.

Thinking about it, just about every climb is hard, so thank God I don;t live anywhere too hilly!

http://www.suffolkcycling.com
Blog and GoPro videos

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posted by Suffolk Cycling [67 posts]
25th July 2014 - 16:20

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I'd thought I'd chime in, since I'm in the same seat, so to speak. Lots of good advice here! Here are some additions:
- Spinning in a low gear is all well and good. But you get faster by going faster. Try keeping it in the big ring as much as possible for a ride now and then and get up from the saddle in the hills. This builds morale, also strengthens your legs and hearth. (Don't bust your heart, though. Or your knees. You'd might want to be further along your weight loss scheme for this.)
- Bikebot already mentioned intervals. Intervals are good. (This reminds me, I should do intervals)
- As far as I know, when the liver is processing ethanol, it can't burn fat. This takes a while. Also, the energy content of alcohol is relatively high. Something to consider. (Keeping it occasional, myself.)

Zombies don't ride bikes.

posted by Markus [41 posts]
25th July 2014 - 16:22

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Suffolk Cycling wrote:
redmeat wrote:
That hill out of Bealings is not particularly difficult - are you sure you're not tiring your legs prematurely in an effort to go so quick on the flat?

Probably, yes! But remember I only started a few months ago, overweight (obv) and with the fitness levels of a geriatric sloth. So that Bealings hill is tough for the likes of me. There's only a few like that in the area that still have me blowing hard: the one up Playford, Sandy Lane climb up towards Woodbridge, Sutton climb out of Melton being the main culprits.

Thinking about it, just about every climb is hard, so thank God I don;t live anywhere too hilly!

The America Hill/Rose Hill combo back into town from Witnesham should get you going.

posted by redmeat [90 posts]
25th July 2014 - 16:35

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Oh yes, I'd forgotten about them.

First month of all this I was having to stop on some of these hills. Much better now and never need to stop, but as the video shows, there's still a lot to do!

http://www.suffolkcycling.com
Blog and GoPro videos

Suffolk Cycling's picture

posted by Suffolk Cycling [67 posts]
25th July 2014 - 16:49

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You can do it! Just keep thrashing yourself, and as others have said I bet there's little naughty things in your diet you can cut out/cut right down on. Crisps, perhaps? That last pint of the evening? Mid morning snack?

posted by bashthebox [647 posts]
25th July 2014 - 17:36

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I'm at the other end of the spectrum at 55kg but the same thing holds true, try to keep your cadence at least around 60 rpm instead of trying to grind your way up to the top. You'll build up your cardio as well as your quads and glutes but you won't hit that painful lactic acid threshold as quickly. Over time you'll lose weight (fat) and gain muscle so the hills will still be hard but you'll be doing them faster! Hills take a toll of everyone even us lightweights. As they say, it never gets easier, it just gets faster Wink If you find you're in your lowest gear but still grinding away at a low cadence, try to find a used (or new if you can afford it) cassette with 30 to 32 or at least 28 teeth on the cog (11-32 or 12-32 depending on what speed your chain set is). Having that additional low gear really helps physically and mentally (just knowing it's there to drop down to if you're having a bit of a slog that day).

In terms of actually climbing, I've found that I do best when I start out slowly at the base, whatever speed I need to maintain my cadence while not feeling that I'm really burning through my legs and then as I gain a rhythm, breathing smooths out and I'm spinning smoothly, I'll increase my speed around 1/3 to 1/2 way up the climb. Starting out too fast at the beginning of a climb almost always results in me having an overall slower time (you end up slowing down as you climb instead of being able to maintain or increase your pace) and feeling crappy when I get to the top as I've burned through my legs (O2 and energy) too quickly and have filled them with lactic acid.

Welcome to the joys of climbing and don't forget to have fun (cuz why else would we dress up in Lycra in our free time Big Grin )

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

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posted by movingtarget [135 posts]
25th July 2014 - 19:01

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Markus wrote:
- Spinning in a low gear is all well and good. But you get faster by going faster. Try keeping it in the big ring as much as possible for a ride now and then and get up from the saddle in the hills. This builds morale, also strengthens your legs and hearth. (Don't bust your heart, though. Or your knees. You'd might want to be further along your weight loss scheme for this.)

I disagree completely. When 110kg+ pedal mashing would have made my already tree trunk legs even bigger. Spin to lose weight, as a big guy your legs are already accustomed to carrying your weight up steps etc. and you'll have plenty enough muscle for great performance when you lose weight. Big guys can sprint a bit too or squat a lot of weight so they have a lot of fast twitch, you can depend that they aren't distance runners so what they need to develop is slow twitch and stamina. If you spin a fast cadence on your intervals and just put power down when seated rides you can get your heart rate up easily. Standing and mashing pedals when heavy just increases injury risk (Markus - I know that you did mention this) and develops a poor pedaling stroke. Standing is more efficient/necessary for light riders they need all their weight to put power through the pedals, big guys have enough mass to put power down without all their weight going through their feet

Spin yourself thinner by 10-15kg and the power you always had as a big guy will be plenty. Train away your weaknesses and they are almost certainly fat and lack of stamina not lack of leg muscle. The weight loss can be massively rewarding on the bike, it's like your already training with weights and as you get lighter it gets easier.

posted by Wrongfoot [35 posts]
25th July 2014 - 19:14

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I'm more than a little jealous. I live in W Yorks on 2nd stage of the Grande Departe this year as it happens and there's little flat cycling round here for an equally overweight chap! I used to cycle a lot as a teenager but 40 years on and born again cyclist, I'm feeling the pain of those hills.
I've no doubt the advice above is sound but I'm just working on keeping my expectations low, cycling as often as I can and already I can see (small) improvements in terms of time, distance and weight loss. Yesterday I did a category 3 climb in several chunks. Wasn't pretty, but I got there. It was part of the Tour de France route and some wit has painted 'Fat lad at the back' across the road; my guess is he drove there to do that! If I lost a stone in 6 months I'd be dead chuffed.

MikeF

posted by msfergus [19 posts]
26th July 2014 - 9:39

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I haven't read everything written so far, so I'm sorry if I reiterate what someone's said, but GCN did a video on losing weight by cycling not too long ago and I think it was fairly sensible.

A couple if subtler points from it (or somewhere else, I thi they're good anyway) were to make sure eat on the bike, rather than solely off it; eat decent, mainly unprocessed food outside of big events; and throw in a bit of interval type stuff at the end of a longer ride.

On the first point, I find fuelling as I'm burning seems a much more natural way to regulate calories than trying to rely on theoritical numbers either side. Obviously, have a good carby (read: porridge or similar) meal before a big ride, and something proteinous (and some more carbs) at the end to facilitate recovery - but in terms of the calories you burn riding, try as have these as you're riding rather than having your stomach telling you to 'make up for it' at the end.

Food-wise, most unprocessed foods have a harder time of cramming fat and sugar into tight space than their processed alternatives. They also are generally more nutritionally balanced as they haven't had any one part of them (i.e. the sugary part) stripped away and eaten in isolation. Even from a pure cycling perspective, eating healthily has its performance benefits, and the less sick days you have, the more time you can spend riding, and the fitter - and leaner - you can get. I actually find this approach less restrictive, as I can eat what I want - so long as it isn't junk - which means I don't really feel I'm denying myself. Vegetables are also really interesting when you stop viewing them as the sad and wilted bits at the bottom of a ready meal.

The last point is a bit more tenuous than the first two, but I find throwing in a few bits of high intensity work at the end of a longer ride cause my body to kick into metabolic overdrive and believe it needs at the resources it can get, i.e. dipping into the fat reserved it holds so dearly. Of the three, it's the most likely to have elements of being a trumped up old wives tale, but I do think that incorporating variety into one's riding is a good thing regardless. You don't just get better at climbing hills by just climbing hills, and by taking a broader view you may see improvements happen naturally over time as the result of different factors. If nothing else, you're less likely to get demoralised if you're aware that you have a range of options, and they'll all help. Just go and ride your bike. Wink

Sorry if that was a bit long, I hope you find something in it!

posted by Quince [153 posts]
26th July 2014 - 19:16

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Ride to work at pace, ride home from work hard and fast to work up a a sweat. Lost 4.5kg so far over 2 years and it stays off. Even though I'm only doing 8km a day round trip the changes are really noticeable. The OH is well impressed by the new physique... Hills are SO much easier and it was a lot less expensive than taking 4.5kg off the bike.

Ideally I want to lose 4kg more to reach a BMI of 22.5 which is in the middle of the healthy range for my height.

As regards technique, if I'm doing a quick 100km I will stay in the big ring and stand up on hills to keep the speed up. If much longer, I tend to save energy by a quick drop into the 39 and spin up. Standing uses much more energy.

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posted by drmatthewhardy [352 posts]
26th July 2014 - 21:38

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Hi. I lost about 2 stone a few years ago then took up cycling to help me loose more. The result was that I did not loose a single ounce over the next 2 years as I was just continually hungry. I recently adopted a Low Carb High Fat diet and have shed 10 kg in 2.5 months. I do fell hungry all the time and after a difficult first few weeks have now no need to eat carbs to fuel my cycling. In fact I now go out on the club runs without having anything to eat beforehand and just have a fry up or something when we stop. I would really recommend anyone to do the research and try it for themselves.

posted by carytb [21 posts]
27th July 2014 - 8:52

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I've lost nearly 3 stone over 2 years, I feel great and look quite trim with a flat stomach. I could probably afford to lose another stone to help me climb hills better. However I prefer to carry the extra bulk /shape which I acquired from weight training in my youth. Presently weigh 15st to 15st 5 lb.

Hills are more of a challenge but can pace up most. I specced my chain set with a 32T rear cass as my emergency gear. Take it easy at the start of the hill and get a steady rhythm. Even I can surprise younger and lighter riders by keeping a smooth pace up hills well sometimes Smile

posted by CXR94Di2 [180 posts]
27th July 2014 - 10:01

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As a fellow cyclist who is also gravitationally challenged, the best way is to improve your power to weight ratio by getting fitter & losing weight.

On anything other than really short climbs, you are far far better to stick in a lower gear and spin up - Watch the climbers in the TDF, they spin when sitting. Will save muscle power & knees than out of the saddle climbing or mashing a big gear slowly. Climb lots as well

If you don't already use Strava (can keep rides private) and you will see yourself improve over time, especially if you do the same segments frequently.

As the great Greg Lemond said, hills don't get easier,you just get faster - it is true, and while you may suffer like you did 6 months ago, I bet you'll be quicker.

Oh, and learn how to descend well, and laugh at the skinny kids on the way down!

posted by gazza_d [235 posts]
27th July 2014 - 12:41

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I've dropped from 15st 5lb to 13st 5lb. The fat loss is greater than that as I've obviously put muscle weight on.

To do it I've combined doing two hard shorter rides (Tues & Thurs) with a long tempo ride on a Sunday and eating sensibly without denying myself too much of the stuff I love.

One of the shorter rides (50km or so) I do in the hills. They are still hard but certainly quicker and I certainly feel the benefit on the longer rides.

Shorter climbs I'm happy to be out of the saddle but the longer & more challenging climbs I simply sit and spin. The rhythm of spinning suits me and leaves me plenty in the tank.

Pain is just the French word for bread.

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posted by S13SFC [97 posts]
27th July 2014 - 13:43

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What's worked for me is regularly doing a pre-breakfast ride that takes in a local 100m climb. I try for Mon/Wed/Thu to leave me a little fresher for the big Saturday ride.

I've gone from 87kg to 79kg without changing much else, in 8 months, just eating breakfast after the commute instead of before. As a result, hills are much easier.

However, I wouldn't say that I've improved my speed. My flat circuits take much the same time as before, but then I'm not actually training, not actively trying to go faster, not varying my routine. I'm just losing weight at this time. I'm aiming for the Le Mans 24h next year, so I will soon be changing a lot of things to make that possible and get the maximum distance possible.

So, for me, hill times means less weight and keeping a decent cadence.

And finally, the absolute 100% won't-be-taken-seriously-otherwise rule is: remove the valve caps. Wink

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posted by neildmoss [199 posts]
27th July 2014 - 14:42

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As a suffolk boy myself and being a bit tubby.. And now returning to cycling after a break of 15 odd years I can totally relate.. Hills I used to bomb up as a ten stone teen I now sweat my way to the top puffing like an old steam train.
But even after a few weeks on my old pro comp (soon to be updated/upgraded) I can already notice a difference in my speed on hills and my general fitness. All the advice I can give is push hard.. Focus on the top.. Stand up.. Sit down.. Stand again but never let the deadly Suffolk hills beat you!
Cheers Jim

posted by elefantman [4 posts]
27th July 2014 - 18:12

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Oh and don't forget.. If you do get stuck near the summit of one of these mighty assents... You can always call out Suffolk mountain rescue! Wink

posted by elefantman [4 posts]
27th July 2014 - 18:14

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Can anyone recommend a decent, cheap wheelset for the larger rider please?
I'm trying to get my sister into cycling, but she's really big and I'm worried that she'll just trash the wheels on a road bike. Would a pair of Mavic CXP 22s take some abuse?
(My first plan was to get her riding my hybrid for a month or so, until she dropped a couple of stone and learnt how to use gears and roadcraft, but there's an offer of a used road bike come up and I know she'll be too excited to wait.)

posted by dottigirl [14 posts]
28th July 2014 - 10:05

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elefantman wrote:
Oh and don't forget.. If you do get stuck near the summit of one of these mighty assents... You can always call out Suffolk mountain rescue! Wink

That made me laugh Applause

There's been some excellent feedback in this thread

I did a ride with two vastly more experienced and much quicker friends over the weekend. There's a GoPro film I did of it on YouTube if you fancy watching some pain on my part - basically tried to keep up on the outward, and paid for it big time on the retun!

http://youtu.be/dj0qGC0KWRQ

One of them gave me some very good advice on my pedaling action for getting up hills, using what he called the 'Wipe-the-dog-mess-of-your-shoe technique'.

I'm going to try it out on some hill segments this week to see what difference it makes to my times (I tried it towards the end of this weekend's ride but was too knackered by then to gauge any timing improvement!).

http://www.suffolkcycling.com
Blog and GoPro videos

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posted by Suffolk Cycling [67 posts]
28th July 2014 - 10:44

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Wiping the dog mess off your shoe is good advice. I've start using a wattbike (look them up) and it basically says my pedalling technique is pants. So it's all about the mess-wiping thing, at which point the display shows a big improvement. What I would say is that when I'm focusing exclusively on the mess-wiping thing, to the (perceived) expense of power in any other part of the pedal stroke, the computer say that I have good technique with power right through the pedal revolution. However much you *think* you're dragging your feet back in the bottom third, do it more.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3329 posts]
28th July 2014 - 11:09

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A cheaper option to Wattbikes for working on pedalling technique - get a set of rollers Smile

posted by andyp [966 posts]
28th July 2014 - 11:29

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I have dodgy joints and the 'dog-mess' technique just makes them hurt. A lot.

posted by dottigirl [14 posts]
28th July 2014 - 11:54

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andyp wrote:
A cheaper option to Wattbikes for working on pedalling technique - get a set of rollers Smile

Not really, I'm already a member of the gym where they are provided, so my only cost has been some SPD cleats to fit to an old pair of shoes that I got for free!

Besides, riding on rollers is one thing, but staying upright on a static but feel-free-to-fall-over bike when your frame of reference - a sufferfest vid - is a completely different environment (a road, no less, with bends an everything!) sounds like impending doom to my tiny mind...

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3329 posts]
28th July 2014 - 12:07

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Climbing is a combination of a lot of things and I'm sure I've missed alot but put very simply;

Diet - Eat healthier balanced meals, at first this can be miserable but after a while if you're making improvements on the bike you won't want to eat rubbish anymore. If you can give up alcohol and drink more water. Nutrition on the bike is also really important.

Technique - Ignore what the pros do or what other people on forums tell you to do! Read all you can on climbing techniques, try everything and adopt what works for you. Try varying your rides in terms of distance and difficulty and mix up where the climbs are on your ride.

Training - Again, read all you can on training techniques and pick one. If it doesn't work change or adapt it. You'll need to be able to monitor your heart rate to train meaningfully and I can tell you when I was starting out SST helped me. In my opinion Strava isn't an effective training tool, although it can be good for motivation if you need it!

The bike - As long as your wheels roll well and the gears shift nicely you should be able to improve on anything that fits you properly. Gearing can help but this is subject to your own particular power to weight, so you'll have to find out for yourself!

posted by realdeal [21 posts]
28th July 2014 - 12:44

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I won't repeat any of the other good things that have been said but will just mention one thing that is often overlooked but is fundamental to all aerobic sport.

Breathing.

Elite athletes are elite because they have bigger lungs amongst other things, so working on breathing is a kind of 'free' extra. There are machines, Power breathing etc., but I found it made me choke a bit or you can just practise holding your breath or swimming underwater if you want to vary your training.

posted by Alan Tullett [1457 posts]
28th July 2014 - 13:43

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For sure pedal stroke technique is very important with a high cadence (my natural cadence is 90-100) as the higher it is, the more the imperfections in your pedal stroke will come out usually resulting in a lot of bouncing around in the saddle. There are quite a few good videos out on how to work on pedal stroke

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjdSJ-YrCcM

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=P1j1j0ttVPU

but a couple tricks that I've found helpful are:

1) Spin quickly >120 in a really low gear downhill and as you start to bounce around on the saddle you'll notice where the dead spots in your pedal stroke are--mine tend to be not so much on the pull back (5-7 on the pedal clock) but the kick forward at the top just before you start the downstroke.
2) Unclip one foot and pedal only with the other foot. Another good way to find dead spots as the downstroke with the opposite leg isn't masking the dead spots in the clipped in leg.

Some experts recommend:
3) Shift up 1-2 gears too high on an uphill and the high resistance can show you your dead spots. This I think is less helpful simply because if you're a grinder, you're used to trying to muscle uphill with a low cadence so it may be harder to feel how your resistance around the circle is shifting.
4) I'm waaay to spastic to try rollers. I'd probably fall off and break my frame Silly

@dottigirl: I had Mavic Aksiums for 5 years riding through rough, potholed streets and never had to true them (I realize I'm light but I've nailed quiet a few potholes dead center at 20+ mph). My husband is just under 90kg and he got some Aksiums for last winter and they're still spinning pretty smoothly. Also, in terms of your dodgy knees, I'm no spring chicken either but I feel that a higher cadence/lower resistance riding style is really gentler on my knees. Also having a pedal with a decent amount of free float really helps. I have Speedplay Frogs and Crank Brothers Candy pedals which both have ~6 degrees of float.

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

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posted by movingtarget [135 posts]
28th July 2014 - 16:54

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Personally I'm all for training at both low and high cadences.

Nothing builds climbing strength quicker than grinding up a hill at 40-50rpm... but you only want to do this in training, and make sure you balance it with lots of cadence work.

Don't worry about building muscle, as nothing you can do on a bike is going to generate anything to excessive. Look at most pro cyclists, they are tiny.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [305 posts]
28th July 2014 - 17:11

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movingtarget wrote:
@dottigirl: I had Mavic Aksiums for 5 years riding through rough, potholed streets and never had to true them (I realize I'm light but I've nailed quiet a few potholes dead center at 20+ mph). My husband is just under 90kg and he got some Aksiums for last winter and they're still spinning pretty smoothly. Also, in terms of your dodgy knees, I'm no spring chicken either but I feel that a higher cadence/lower resistance riding style is really gentler on my knees. Also having a pedal with a decent amount of free float really helps. I have Speedplay Frogs and Crank Brothers Candy pedals which both have ~6 degrees of float.

Thanks, she should be OK for the wheels for now then. Smile

My biggest joint problems are my unstable hips and ankles 'subluxing' (semi-dislocating) which unfortunately the backward 'wipe' action seems to replicate.
In better news, as long as I spin and press down/forwards on the pedals, cycling's better than a handful of pills for killing the pain!

posted by dottigirl [14 posts]
28th July 2014 - 22:38

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When I got back on my bike, a few years ago, I was heavy (100-ish KG). I started riding to work everyday, and though my body shape started to change relatively quickly, it took a long time to lose that weight. I'm still 78KG - I think that's my natural weight without stepping up the training to an intense level - but I have very few problems getting up hills now or keeping up with the fastest of club riders. I did a bunch of cat 3 and 4 climbs on Sunday, and made it up them all without any trouble (don't get me wrong, it still wasn't pretty, but it never will be -- I think it's like Lemond said, it doesn't get any easier, you just go faster).

Anyway, what I found was that when you start cycling regularly, you get a big appetite. You need to reign that in as quickly as you can, while making sure you do actually consume enough energy to do what you need to do without feeling tired/burnt out. Eat porridge, cereal, fruit, pasta, healthy meals etc. Don't use your cycling as an excuse to eat cakes/doughnuts/lardy breakfasts, though the occasional slip here and there won't hurt -- just keep it as a rare treat. Don't eat giant portions either, that's another easy trap to fall in to, and probably the main reason it took me so long to start losing weight. I'd also recommend avoiding alcohol as much as you can.

As for technique, I spin at high cadence up the hills -- I try and keep it at 100rpm as long as possible, but I'll slip to 90rpm at about 7%, and by 12-15% I'm down to 70 or less. However, I've got a good set of lungs (I do a fair bit of running too), and spinning draws on your lung capacity more than grinding would. It means your chest burns more than your muscles. If you can't do that, just grind out the low rpms. I stay seated and steady as much as possible -- standing gives you a nice boost, but uses way more energy and will burn your thighs. If you stand up to grab a bit of momentum/acceleration, sit down and get back in to your rhythm as quickly as possible. That rhythm is what gets you up a big hill in one piece

Also, I ride a 10KG alloy bike with heavy wheels -- that's useful, because if I'm slow up a hill, I can blame the bike Smile

posted by adrianoconnor [52 posts]
29th July 2014 - 10:34

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