Understanding the Demands of Climbing

Q: “How do you become a strong climber?”

If I had had $100 for every time someone has asked me this question I would be a millionaire! 

Ok, maybe not! 

In all seriousness, this is one question that almost every cyclist, for one reason or another, is trying to figure out what it will take to become a stronger climber. So, I will do my best to explain in the most simplistic manner possible how to become a stronger climber. Before we get into more depth and detail about said topic, we must first understand the impact of cadence as it relates to climbing.

Q: Coach, what is the ideal cadence for climbing?

A: It is the cadence range selected to maintain forward momentum for the given situation with maximum power output, control and minimal stress on the body.

That said, let me break this down into bite size pieces. 

My motto is, Cadence is Power! By applying proper gearing to achieve power generation for climbing is directly impacted by small changes in cadence. Some cyclists assume if we engage bigger cogs (more teeth) that correspond to easier pedaling, triple chain front rings or compact crank, we will be able to climb better or faster by increasing cadence. In most cases, that statement is true. However, there is more behind the scene than the eye can see. 

Q: Coach, how do we increase climbing cadence?

In order to maintain a higher spin rate, e.g., cadence, we have to develop some critical elements in training to make this happen. First, we need to develop a supreme level of Cardiovascular Fitness, Cadence Efficiency, Force/Torque Application and Muscular Endurance. 

The key ingredient to cycling strength is Muscular Endurance, and is the secret sauce to reducing climbing fatigue. Developing a high level of muscular endurance strength and cadence development activates the central nervous system to communicate with the working muscle more rapidly for longer periods of time. As with all things, this process takes time to develop.

Going back to the notion of Cadence is Power, if we can learn how to increase or decrease cadence in any gear for the given situation, 5 to 10 rpm’s without shifting gears prematurely, you are golden. This all stems from, you guessed it, a higher level of muscular endurance strength. 

The Science behind Cycling

In order to climb faster, we must train the CPS - Cardiopulmonary System to deliver more oxygen to the working muscles, as well as, the CNS - Central Nervous System.  Every pedal stroke derives from the nervous system, and research indicates that prolonged and specific movement influences how the central nervous system controls muscular recruitment and patterning. The efficiency ratio must be increased in order to meet the demands of climbing, and once again folks, this takes time to build. 

Formula for Climbing Success

Muscular Endurance + Neuromuscular Control (cadence efficiency) + Faster Recovery Rates = More Power Production and Elevated Fitness Gains

 3 Keys to Climbing Efficiency 

  • Increase aerobic capacity, cadence efficiency, force/torque application and muscular endurance strength with proper focused level training and development.
  • Optimize cadence in the same gear without shifting prematurely until cadence meets the elevation requirement and then shift appropriately. 
  • Maintain cadence, heart rate control and forward momentum as the hill continues.

Coach David

The People’s Coach