Become a Climber (Even If You Live in a Flat Place)

We tackle the always-popular topic of climbing with Sepp Kuss, Dr. Inigo San Millan, Joe Dombrowski, and Ned Overend.

Cyclist climbing a mountain road
Photo: Pexels/Chait Goli

In this episode of Fast Talk, we tackle the always-popular topic of climbing. A listener in Iowa asked if he could become a better climber. We’re joined by a collection of talented riders and coaches: Sepp Kuss, newly signed with the LottoNL-Jumbo WorldTour squad; Dr. Iñigo San Millan, director of the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center; as well as fantastic climbers Joe Dombrowski and Ned Overend.

Episode Transcript



Welcome to developer news podcast.


Chris Case  00:11

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Fast Talk. I am Chris case managing editor of velonews. joined today by my lovely co host, as always Coach Trevor Connor. Today we’re at the University of Colorado sports medicine and Performance Center, surrounded by World Class physiologists, physical therapists, bio mechanist, all doing their thing, making a bunch of cyclists very fast. Today’s topic is a fun one. It was sparked by a listener from Iowa who asked, Can I really be a climber living here in the flatlands? We’re excited? Because our answer to this question might actually surprise you. Climbing isn’t as simple as dropping a few pounds and spending your days on mountain passes. It’s true. In fact, what really differentiates climbing may be things as mundane as how hard you’re able to push yourself, and the cadence at which you ride. So today, we’ll tackle our listeners question from a few angles. First, does dropping weight make you a better climber? In fact, is for the last few decades, Tour de France winners who can climb with the best aren’t the lightest people. Why this is licensed something Trevor’s excited to explain, called allometric scaling. Get ready for references to 1950s horror movies, growth rays, and giants. Second, we’ll talk about whether you need to climb hills to be a climber. This all goes back to that simple question, does it all come down to power to weight? Finally, we’ll do a deeper dive into some of the particulars of climbing including the effects of grade cadence standing versus staying seated and the critical nature of core strength. Joining us for the roundtable discussion today we’re excited to have Sepp coos here with us. Sep is a Colorado native, you may have seen his name in the results riding for rally cycling in the past. Well, for 2018 Sep is stepping up his game quite a bit he’ll be joining the World Tour team a lotto nL yumbo and we’re really excited to see what CEP can do. He is a fantastic climber as you will learn in a future podcasts about climbing as well. Also joining us Dr. And ego son Milan, the director of the University of Colorado sports medicine and Performance Center, a world class physiologist well known for his work with with World Tour teams in the past, and basically a genius. Finally, you’ll hear on this podcast a bit from Joe Dombrowski and Ned overend. Two fantastic climbers as well. All of us around this table get excited when the road starts going up. Let’s climb into this one, literally. Let’s make you fast.


Trevor Connor  03:17

So Chris, have you heard about health


Chris Case  03:18

IQ I have. But I want to hear more.


Trevor Connor  03:23

This is actually a pretty cool product. It is a life insurance company that specializes in healthy active people like cyclists and runners. So basically us they are able to give us better rates for life insurance. And they have a special URL just for listeners of Fast Talk which is www dot health slash Fast Talk all one word. While you’re there, you can submit race results screengrabs of your Strava or mapmyride account or basically any other way you can prove that you are out running, cycling and living an active lifestyle and you will get a better quote What more could we ask for?


Trevor Connor  04:11

So our topic today is climbing. And what has brought this about is we received a question from a listener that I will read to you quickly said I recently listened to your most recent Fast Talk. I’m actually a cyclist from Iowa and hearing you talk about the Midwest. I have a question. There is no doubt there’s a shortage of mountains in the great state of Iowa. The best I have at my disposal are a few climbs in the river valley about 200 feet and 100 feet 100 foot climb at 10 to 15% gradient. I was wondering if you’d be able to address the issue are Midwesterners destined to be sprinters or at least hindered from being competitive and the high level races across the country with grand climbs. I am a second year racer this season and wanted to know if what the general opinion of you all and maybe some progress continental riders are on the subject and recommendations for going forward would be in general, with the body of a sprinter in my geographical situation, would you recommend fine tuning my sprinting abilities? Or find some way to be an all rounder? So that is the question. Can you become a climber living on the in the flatlines? And do you need to be super light?


Chris Case  05:22

I think it’s interesting to note how little research has been done about climbing Generally, we do know some things. Trevor’s going to go into some of the geekier allometric scaling the science and physics of climbing. But maybe this is a question for you. And you go, why is there so little research done on climbing? Is it just the fact that the equipment you know, you can’t test climbing in a lab? There’s no gravity when you’re on a trainer? Is that what it comes down to? Do you think?



Yeah, that’s



a very good question that i i agree, there’s not much research on claiming it and still remains, in a way a mystery right way people from flat areas, they can be good climbers as well, when their rationale tells us that that should not be the case. Right. But, uh, but absolutely, it is the case. And is this more to it than just leaving in the area with claims, but yeah, there’s not much research and, and I agree, you know, it’s difficult to replicate, you know, those, those physiological and metabolic demands in the laboratory. And that’s where, like, there’s not much research done on on, you know, the response to climate versus time trial and versus in the flat with the same person, you know, so we need more research on this area,


Chris Case  06:33

we do need more research. And it’s Trevor and I are actually embarking on a little bit of research of our own. it’ll appear in the magazine soon, all about climbing. It’s interesting, when I asked a few professional writers to be a part of that study, more than one of them said, Now I don’t really want to know the science of climbing, it takes away from the mystique of it, it takes away from the romanticism of it, which is maybe another part of it, this we do have this, these visions of people suffering in the mountains in the sense of accomplishment. And maybe if we just break it down to data points and an equation, it takes some of that romanticism away.


Trevor Connor  07:16

So CEP just so our listeners know, we’re actually this week going to be doing some time trials for this article. And so we had other climbers say, No, don’t want anything to do with it, as Chris was saying, but we have you here and you’re gonna be kicking Chris in my butt. A couple days up a few climbs,



you never know. So how do you feel? Why


Trevor Connor  07:37

did you not say, I don’t want to lose the romanticism? Yeah, I



think, you know, for me, I’m very 5050 on it. Part of me is Yeah, I enjoy just simply going out and climbing because it feels it feels awesome. And you know, there definitely is that mystique about it. But at the same time, I really appreciate the the physiological data that that goes into writing in general, and especially climbing because that’s what I enjoy to do. Yeah, I think it’s really important research to maybe see what what you do versus other people do on certain climbs, physiologically or bike position wise. So I think very useful information to have for myself.


Trevor Connor  08:20

Think the rally is he just wants to kick about



all Yeah.


Chris Case  08:26

He’s also very young, he’s he’s striving to be a better writer. That’s what it should come down to. Right.



Yeah, yeah. Always, always hungry for for new information and to improve. So


Chris Case  08:38

that is a good way to lead into Trevor’s allometric scaling, which will take all the romantics out of climbing,


Trevor Connor  08:46

would you like to scale is one of the most exciting and romantic things? Actually, Chris thinks I’m joking. But this is one of my favorite things to explain in physiology, because it just cool.


Chris Case  08:57

I know you have a great story about a giant from the 1950s horror movie that you’d like to tell us about. And a dinosaur and a dinosaur. Yes.


Trevor Connor  09:06

This is why I love it. So yeah, the way I like to explain allometric scaling, go back and watch Jurassic Park sometime. Because if you look closely, there was a nice little detail in the movie that a lot of other movies get wrong. That was physiologically accurate. There. There’s a scene where they’re being chased by a T Rex, and they’re showing the T rex going about 35 miles an hour. But if you they’re in a car running, driving away from it, if you look closely, the T rex is not running, it is walking really really fast. Because a T rex could not run it is too big. And that is all because of allometric scaling. The basic concept is that as you increase in mass, so if we got some 50 sci fi movie Ray and increased you in size, your your mass is going to scale at a certain rate. But that doesn’t mean everything else scales at the same rate. As a matter of fact, almost every variable in our body will scale differently, which is important. So one of the key ones and get into your 50 foot human mass is three dimensional. So as it scales up, it scales up at a factor of three, what determines the strength of our bones is the cross sectional area of a bone, which is two dimensional. So it scales only at a factor of two. So as you increase in size, your mass is scaling up exponentially faster than the cross section of your bones, which means pretty quickly, your bones aren’t gonna able to support your weight. So if you’re ever in a 50 sci fi movie, and you’re getting attacked by 100 foot person, really easy way to beat them, make them walk, they will break every bone in their body and women want to fight. But it’s not just limited to the cross section of your bones and maps, everything is in allometric. scaling is measured relative to mass, but scales differently. So the reason I’m bringing all this up is because there is this belief that to be a climber lighter is always better. But Same thing happens as you get smaller, not everything scales the same way. And so it isn’t always to your advantage to necessarily be smaller. Things that scale differently. One of the big ones is aerodynamics, because what determines your dynamics is your frontal area, which is two dimensional. And again, massive, three dimensional. So a much smaller rider is much less aerodynamic than a bigger rider, I should say power generally scales pretty much the width weight. So a lighter rider in a larger rider to the degree and we’ll get to this in a minute, can have very similar power to weight, but that smaller rider is going to be far less aerodynamic. Which means if you’re a smaller rider, you might be able to climb pretty well. But as soon as you get on the flats, you’re going to be struggling. There are other things that don’t scale equally. And somebody actually did a test on efficiency, climbing, and discovered it doesn’t scale equally as well. And smaller riders actually are less efficient climbing and larger riders.


Chris Case  12:20

Now to clarify here, you’re not suggesting that people put on weight to become better climbers, there’s a happy balance somewhere. And perhaps an ego could speak to that. How does how does a rider find that point? How do you maximize power to weight? Alright, so



yeah, that’s that’s a good questions for sure is that the power to rate to weight ratio is absolutely critical, because when you’re climbing, you’re defeating gravity. So therefore, that’s when the weight is a key. But just doing some numbers, is not clear always that you need to be lighter. So let’s see an example of an 80 kilo cyclists, which is about 175 pounds, whose power output and the flat or maximum power up and sustainable for let’s say, FTP could be 425 watts, right. So that person at 425 watts, and the flat is going to be a beast is going to be very, very fast. However, when that person has to drag his weight climbing is going to be very difficult his power to weight ratio, then it’s only five watts per kilogram, which might not be enough, you know, at the highest level. For example, we see at the pro tour level, the average temple climbing the to the France is about five watts per kilogram. So while others is a temple for him his maximum, but he’s a beast and the flat. On the other opposite pole, we have the typical classical climber, very small petite guy, 60 kilos, that’s about 132 pounds, whose maximum power output is 330 watts only, that’s almost 100 watts less than the big guy in the flat. So the climber is going to have a very hard time, you know, on the fly to keep up at our power output. However, when we start claiming, the power to weight ratio of that climber is 5.5 watts per kilogram. So without a doubt that climber is going to be faster than the the big guy. Those are the two poles, so but at the same time, that guy is going to have a very hard time in the flats or 10 trials. So that’s where we’ve seen that that there’s the new kind of new is this could be seen forever. But this is kind of the predominant prototype, right? Have an all around cyclist, and that’s be maybe your guy, which is about 70 kilos, that’s about 155 pounds, which is pretty much the weight that in the last years the majority of the winners or top players in the in cycling have that weight. So let’s say that that that cyclists maximum power output, it’s a 385 watts for example, right? So yeah, three of 385 watts is not far away from 425 watts from the big guy, so he’s not going to be that far off from the big guy has also been in a time trial. But his power to weight ratio is 5.5 watts per kilogram, which significantly higher than the big guy. And it is at the same time, the same power to weight ratio as a climber. So they’re going to be similar climbing. But you know, with the climber has, in this case, about 55 watts less than the 70 kilo guy. So, I think that that’s kind of a way that we have to find a balance, you know, between power to weight ratio and absolute power as well.


Trevor Connor  15:31

So really back up with Dr. Sol Milan is saying here, there was actually a study done in 1999. And this was in this is in a journal called medicine and science in sports and exercise where they took very high level cyclists and categorized them into sprinters, all rounders, time trailers and climbers, and compared them looked at the allometric scaling looked at their power to weight looked at a whole variety of factors. And what they found in this study was that actually, just as Dr. Someone was saying, when you compare the time travelers and the climbers they had the time dogs actually had a slightly better power to weight. So the time travelers could either match or even beat the climbers up a long climb, they’re going to be steadier, the climbers have these great bursts of speed, and you’ll see them attack where the time travelers tend to be a little more boring going up the climb, but they time travelers can actually win to the top of the climb. But then when you actually get them on the flats, especially in time travelers, obviously a time traveler is going to kill the climber. So the conclusion of the study, as you were saying was, the time travelers are the ones that are most likely to win a Grand Tour or a big stage race. And you look at the past winners of the Tour de France, it’s very rarely the pure climber, it’s as you were saying somebody right around 70 kilos, who tends to be more of a time trial style writer,


Chris Case  16:50

and you specifically see it in recent years with Chris Froome, who doesn’t go with every attack that throws a climber appear, climber throws down, he’ll get dropped, or it looks like he’s getting dropped. He’s just staying steady, the other guys are attacking him, gradually, he brings him back. Oftentimes, he goes beyond them, and they get dropped. And he goes on to take time out of them. So I don’t know if that’s because he has taught himself that that strategy works. Or if he’s physiologically built to go that way, obviously, we know he’s a good time trial. So it’s in him to pace pacing, well is something he’s good at.



And this is something that we work quite a bit in this specific area. So try to teach the cyclist you know how much they can afford, what’s the power output they can afford to climb before blowing up. So when we do physiological tests, lactate test, we know very well, what is the power output that a cyclist can sustain. So we’re taking this into competition, let’s say that you are climbing at 5.5 watts per kilogram, you might go to six watts per kilogram for only like maybe two minutes or so if you do more than that you’re gonna blow up. So you want to stay as long as you want in the 5.5 watts per kilogram, for example. So that means that maybe a lighter climber is gonna go in and be able to sustain that burst longer than you that eventually might even pay for that, which is typical thing that we see people attack and they pay for it. And we know how to manage that in the laboratory as well as field test. So we can train the athlete to really sustain the power output they can specifically sustained during the entire climb, and not an end. It’s a way to be strategical about it. When people until now that we see this more scientific approach, climbing was gonna go for it, you know, everything goes, you know, whoever has, the bigger the bigger balls, you know, I would go out there, right. And, and the highest heaven capacity was, well on the flat, it’s been very well strategized. You know, like I you try to, you know, be behind the bigger guy you know, and be intelligent and not waste time and follow the peloton and be invested right spot, you know, being in the center, not in the back. And so those strategies when it came to climbing, you didn’t have many, many tools, but this is one that now we can see. That is it’s quite applicable with high success.


Chris Case  19:10

I’m curious to ask CEP. We were talking about the romantic nature, the mystique of climbing and it’s attacking off the front, going through a crowd of bask fans all clad in orange and the smoke is rising. And you don’t get that if you’re Chris Froome because you’re behind all those guys when they’re attacking and you’re not getting the cheers, but he gets the cheers in the end when he wins the race. Now you’re a young guy who’s still honing his craft, and you want to experience probably the highs of being able to attack on climbs, because that’s what you love to do. But you’ve got to start thinking probably to yourself, this is the new way. This is the way it’s done now. Would you agree?



Yeah, absolutely. I think like Dr. San Juan There’s You know, every time you go above your, your threshold or you’re doing those those bursts and when more lactate is entering your body, you’re you’re paying for it. So for me myself a lot of my training is kind of designed around buffering the lactate to be able to follow or make those accelerations but and that’s also kind of the style I prefer to race in tour of Utah for example on a stage with with a lot of attacks I was you know, up there and top three and then on a you know, a longer maybe 20 minute time trial where it’s just a very let’s say six watts per kilo whatever sustained effort I wasn’t nearly as good so I think that speaks to maybe my my own writing style and what you see nowadays with the the crisp rooms and the Duma lens versus the concert doors and stuff so yeah, I think it’s it’s very interesting to see that


Trevor Connor  20:54

I was waiting for you to go Wait a minute. You know, have you considered yourself a climber or time trial style rider but



yeah, no time trial is but working on my my drag. I was just in the the velodrome the other week, and apparently I have a pretty, pretty high drag. So I’m working on my flexibility to hopefully bring that down. Get the aerodynamics a little bit. Yeah,


Trevor Connor  21:16

yeah, it’s important. When I was when I went into work in the velodrome, the only thing my coach said is, no, you’re not track, right. And



one thing that I like to do bring up real quick is that the way also second has changed in the big grand tours. So back in the days until the 80s. The first week is always in the through Francis usually flat, there’s a lot of flat in springs, right? So back in those days that people would not raise hard until the helicopter showed up. And that’s the last 3040 Ks and everybody would go for it. So that meant that for many climbers, it was an easy stage as well. Everybody was easy. And then they would show up to the mountain stages with full of energy. And and they were just I remember they would call in the, the, the Colombians when they can lose power in the in the 80s. They would just kill everybody and then burn it Norrell said the way to destroy the Colombians is to have an entire week, you know, with 100% from the beginning. And that’s exactly one of the things that has happened in cycling. Now we see that the first week of the Tour de France is very high intensity from the gun, and it’s flat. So if you are a very light rider, you are going to suffer yes or yes.


Chris Case  22:33

If you’re nairo Quintana,


Trevor Connor  22:34

if your was it two years ago, they just the the climbing stages. And if you just add up those times Quintana won the Tour, right? It was really on the flat stages on the time trials, the trim beetle,



which is remarkable, right but but many of that the classical climbers, they’re there, they don’t show up with much energy for the climb they climb in days, right? Where’s the JIRA is the opposite the JIRA, you see that the first second day or third day already? You have a mountain stage? And that’s where like those climbers, they’re really active. In the beginning. I’ve seen multiple cyclists cannot recommend them. Hey, the tour is not your race to shine is the JIRA because you’re applying pure climber. From day two, you’re going to have a climb. Anyway, I just want to bring that up because he’s found some other ways I can has evolved.


Chris Case  23:27

Hey, Trevor.


Trevor Connor  23:28

Hey, Chris.


Chris Case  23:29

When’s the last time you took a run?


Trevor Connor  23:32

Oh, wow. Actually, two weeks ago.


Chris Case  23:34

Oh, not bad. Are you still sore?


Trevor Connor  23:36

I yeah, I am actually was I think I think my fastest mile was like 11 minutes per mile. My


Chris Case  23:42

god that’s not running actually.


Trevor Connor  23:44

Yeah. I think some walkers were giving me a good


Chris Case  23:48

look about swimmers in upon next to the path you were running on? Were they passing you?


Trevor Connor  23:52

Yeah, no, I avoided that.


Chris Case  23:56

It brings up the interesting topic of East centric contractions of the muscles. And so let’s not get into that. That’s another episode of FASTA. Well, we’re here today to talk about his health IQ, a very unique life insurance company that specializes in healthy, active people like cyclists, runners and triathletes. They’re able to give us favorable quotes on life insurance, and they have a special website just for fast dock listeners. www dot health slash Fast Talk, head over there. Submit race results screen grabs of your Strava account, your map my run account any other way you can prove that you are an active healthy individual, and they’ll give you a better quote on life insurance. All at health IQ.


Chris Case  24:56

Let’s bring it back around to that listeners question Do a little bit more roundtable discussion of you live in the flats? Do you need to ride on actual hills to be a good climber? Well, certainly


Trevor Connor  25:11

you go back to what we were just talking about with with the different style of riders. Really what that study was saying, it really does come mostly down to power to wade. And it’s time travelers who aren’t necessarily the people you really think of as climbers who could potentially do the best, and they can still potentially beat the climbers. So there is some argument there that no, you just improve your power to weight? And you’re gonna be able to climb? Well. I’m not sure I fully buy it. But there is a fairly strong argument for that.


Chris Case  25:42

What about in a physiological sensor?


Trevor Connor  25:44

Or more? So


Chris Case  25:46

just down to the muscles? What muscle groups are involved on flat riding versus climbing? Is there a difference? And can you mimic the effects of climbing by riding on flats with a big gear, big gear work or something else?



Well, that’s a good question. And that’s another thing that I think that’s what we need more research on that, you know, we first in the first place, we don’t know what is the right biomechanics of pedaling for cycling. And within that, for the different weights and sizes in gears, right, everybody’s different. So I don’t think we have that dialed in to know. But I I agree with with, with Trevor in that, it’s about power to weight ratio, if you have a train that you know, and get it up there, it’s going to benefit in the climate for sure. So I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to live in the clouds by no means. And we see that, in example, so many professional cyclists who have been very successful. That said, something that helps is leaving in a month environment, it helps you to have the feeling of climbing, which is something that is difficult to explain, right, but facing the climb. The way your your your position is that way you read the climb, the way you play with the gears, you know, and how you stand up, come back and sit down. It there’s some training to that, uh, if you’re not exposed to that you’re you’re you know, you’re going to show up to the climbing raising angle? Well, it’s a little foreign concept, right, as opposed to a view, you’re exposed here and there. So I think that to develop your potential to be a climber is not necessary. That to finalize it, I think you need to be exposed within the races or training counts or something like that.


Trevor Connor  27:25

Going back to the the EMG question, there


Chris Case  27:27

actually was a couple studies on it. What’s EMG for the listeners?


Trevor Connor  27:32

Oh, you’re gonna make me pronounce that? Oh, it’s electromyogram mivue. I atrophy. It’s one of those words I cannot pronounce. So they did do some studies comparing climbing to flats and looking at EMG data. One of them I love is like, it’s dramatically different look at all these different recruitment patterns. And then you dig into the methodology and they were having the people climbing were standing. And the people on the flats were seated. So of course, there’s going to be different EMG data. But two other studies. And as usual, we will put all these references up on the website, I found two studies that compared seated climbing to seated riding on the flats, and virtually no difference in muscle recruitment patterns. Very, very slight at. So how long you you continue to put pressure it’s through the pedal stroke that actually on the flats, they were saying you would pull through a little longer which surprised me, I thought it’d be the other way around.


Chris Case  28:31

From a practical standpoint, Sep, you I think it’s fair to say have been slightly spoiled in that you’ve always lived in mountainous areas growing up in Durango going to school in Boulder training here a lot. Do you ever find that when you maybe are at races where there’s a lot of flat, you’re not doing a lot of climbing? And then you come back to this area and you get back into climbing? Do you ever sense that you’re using different muscle groups get sore in strange places, anything like that? Um,



I think on a muscular level, I don’t really notice it. I think a lot of it is the Yeah, like you said reading reading the climb and the different techniques I guess that you’re using to climb. For me it’s if I did a certain power on a climb, it’d be hard for me to replicate that on a on a flat road just because you’re not working against gravity and the force and torque is totally different. So I don’t think for me personally, there’s not too much disconnect. I just know that. I can’t do a certain power on a steep hill versus a slight fosse flat or something like that. So but yeah, I’ve been been lucky enough to live in hilly areas, so


Trevor Connor  29:44

cus wasn’t the only one to feel that he can put out more power on a climb. We caught up with cycling legend and past national champion Ned overend, who talked about how he gets a better workout on climbs but offers a few unique suggestions for riders who are stuck in the flats.



Well, one of the beauties of climbing for me is that, all you have to do is just go do it and get a workout. If I go somewhere, I mean, I’m looking for the climbs, because you know, all I have to do is go up this climb, and you’ve got to work out where you can ride in the flats. And if you don’t really push yourself, you can waste a lot of time just riding around. So mentally, it’s much easier to find a climb, you want to make sure you get to work out. Certainly, yeah, I think pushing hard in the flats. For me, it’s even harder than in the climbs, it’s more painful, when I’m in group rides, and I would encourage people to get in group rides with other people that are going fast that that can really push them and can make sure that they, they can get a proper workout in the flats, because oftentimes, it’s hard to do yourself.


Trevor Connor  30:53

So it’s not necessarily that you get a huge specificity from from climbing that’s going to help you with climbing, it’s that you get you get a higher quality workout. So you need to look for that quality of workout in the flatlines.



Yeah, yeah. And it’s like say, it’s more painful for me, because you know, to work on, you know, threshold work in the class than it is on the climbs, you know, you just you’re heading up a climate, it seems like you can get there much more easily, with less effort. That’s why writing lists with big guys that are powerful and fast and the flat, you know, almost like motor pacing to try and hang on. As I think I think he gets a lot of the similar fitness benefits of, of climbing. I could be on how to climb to do it in a flat. Also, when I’m when I’m in a big city, I will run the staircase, and the stairwells of the big hotels, really


Chris Case  31:51

not a bad idea.



That’s pretty similar, you know, you can push yourself going up to do kind of intervals, and especially if it’s tall building, sometimes I will actually emerge on the top floor and take the elevator down. And do it again. Because I haven’t been doing that much running, running up and down the steps will make me really sore. Right, right, right.


Trevor Connor  32:14

Oh, that’s also going downstairs or running down hills. You can injure knees nasty.



Yeah. And if you’re not used to it, it’s it’s, it’s debilitating.


Trevor Connor  32:23

Alright, let’s get back to a round table.


Chris Case  32:25

That brings up a good point about gradient itself. Is there a difference with climbing on steep grades versus flatter grades?


Trevor Connor  32:35

Yeah, that one actually has been dressed in at least one study that I read. And they did find a difference in both efficiency. When when the grade got harder, and I came over that one had EMG data or not. But there were certainly a difference in efficiency. What they also noticed was a big difference in cadence, obviously. And as you got steeper and steeper grades cadence dropped. Yeah, so there was a difference in EMG data because you saw greater muscle recruitment. And I think there was especially a greater recruitment of the glutes. So initially, they said grade really affected it. But then when they accounted for cadence, it really disappeared. So the conclusion of this study was that really the difference is more Caden’s than anything else. As you get on those steeper and steeper grades, your cadence is going to drop. And when you’re pushing a bigger gear, that’s certainly going to affect your your writing style. And that’s important. So I would say to our Iowa listeners who don’t have these climbs to work on, one of the things you can do to simulate a bit of that climbing effect, is do some big gear riding, put your bike in, just obnoxious Li big gear bike into the wind at 5060 rpm and just spend some time doing that and you’re good that, according to this study, is really going to be pretty close to that effect of climbing a steep gradient.


Chris Case  34:03

And what is the effect that that’s going to have on a person’s physiology?


Trevor Connor  34:08

Well, you just you’re bringing in a strength component, you’re bringing in a muscle recruitment component, as you have greater strength demands as the torque increase, you’re gonna have a larger muscle fiber recruitment, and your body’s going to start saying, Let’s bring in those bigger muscles like your glutes, to help to produce this motion, where when you’re at a higher cadence, you don’t need as much muscle fiber recruitment, and you’re going to rely a little more on on your aerobic ability. So if you’re always doing that, on the flats, it’s going to be a bit of a shock to your system when you suddenly hit this super steep hill and have to get up at which you guys set up. I mean, the question I have for you as a climber, are you always doing the same cadence? Or I know a lot of climbers spend a lot of time climbing at different cadences to work different systems. What’s your approach?



Yeah, for me, I’d say I’m pretty pretty good. 5050 I’m you know out of the saddle quite a bit compared to a lot of guys but a lot of it is to gain speed over maybe the top of pitch that’s going into a lower lower grade in and then sitting down to settle into a certain grade nit gradient or, or speed. So I think most of it is is planned it’s in a lot of it to is just based on feel, you know, recruiting recruiting different muscles but personally I do throughout the season I do a lot of big gear work, like a higher power output, so you’re getting that the cardio and the muscular effect.


Trevor Connor  35:37

You doing that just on climbs?





Chris Case  35:40

he has that luxury.



just pulled the front brake and


Trevor Connor  35:45

cars isn’t the only one to train his cadence on climbs. Few years back, I had a chance to interview Joe Dombroski, a pro tour rider with Cannondale drapac. And arguably the top us climber sorry. So Dombroski has a few suggestions on how to approach Caden’s



in racing, I just kind of ride it, whatever is comfortable Katie’s for me, our team, I would say probably 80% of the time on mountain stages, we actually run compact cranks. So most mountain days, I’ll have a 53 I think 5336, it is 5334 within 20 1128 cassette, which just allows you to spend a bit more, which for me, I think is is, you know, just keeps me a bit fresher for the end. But in training, it’s it’s a bit of everything. Like I do a fair bit of like torque type efforts on climbs, where I’ll do medium zone, three type, tempo, whatever you want to call it type efforts, but you know, 45, or 50 cadence for extended periods of time. And then sometimes I’ll do bits where I’ll do like three minutes at 40 cadence, then three minutes at 110 cadence going up a climb, but sustaining like a solid power output, kind of going back and forth. So I think, basically, in in training, yeah, then my cadence is mixed. Depending on what I’m trying to get out of the workout, then it’ll change. But in racing, I’m pretty much always looking for whatever is going to be easiest for me. And I think for most people, that’s going to be just their natural self selected cadence, which for some is going to be higher, and some is going to be lower. But I think if you in the race are riding it, whatever is comfortable for you, then that’s probably what’s gonna be most efficient for you.


Trevor Connor  37:54

Part of the good cadence climbing is having the right gears on your bike, not just on Milan had some thoughts about that. So let’s get back to our conversation with him.



And that’s the other thing that has changed a lot in cycling. Now the gears, right? I mean, all of us were old enough. Remember how cycling used to be I remember when I was cycling, 100 years ago, you had 4223. And that was it. And so therefore, you had to stand a lot, you know, and that power muscle component was very prevalent, and has been for many years. I remember, remember the 25 Kids oh my gosh, who the women are the biggest wimp ever, maybe 42. And you saw that in the in the in the sort of the the physique of the riders as well. They were more powerful riders that were still able to win grand tours, and they were mashing those big gears. And one of the first ones were starting to change a little bit, the cadence was in the Rhine, if you if you see those years is a typical image of you can see Boolean Johnny boonoo, big power guy. And pedaling within the rain. It was like maybe 95, which is very high back in those days. But it’s pretty standard towards the low end now. So that has changed also the style of climbing and we don’t know yet it has improved by energetics of climbing but definitely can make the difference. I remember very well in one stage of the tour of Austria, or Germany, I forgot. I think it was to Germany. He was in solden, which is a glacier, you know, in the border of Austria is like a 15% for 14 miles or something like that is brutal. So, the day of the race, you know, most teams showed up with the standard 25 you know, 3925 which is was a higher ready. And Africa which team showed up with that 28 so everybody was laughing at that making jokes at 28 you know what a wimp you know, they killed it. Right? Where’s like, Why


Trevor Connor  39:50

in the world everybody was climbing before were 25 it was okay and then you show up with a whole different gear. You know, so definitely the gear has improved a lot The game play me my opinion. And that continues. I mean, this year a tour Tobago, which has these insanely steep climbs. First Year, everyone I showed up with the 25. Everybody says crazy, I finally broke down and got myself a 28. This year, everybody’s showing up with a 32. And there was this guy that I was kind of racing, I would pass him on the climbs get over, he was descending better than me. So he’d passed me on the descents. And then I’d pass him again on the climbs, until we got to the really steep climbs. And then all of a sudden, I am sitting there at 4550 RPM, even with a 28. And he’s just going to spin it up this climb, and I never saw him again. And we talked about it after it’s like getting that 32 has made such a huge difference in this race. So even though there’s there’s the old school guys like us, they’re like, we’re fine with our 23. There, there is an argument for this.


Chris Case  40:53

If everybody’s on a 23 maybe that’s the mentality to take when there’s a 32 available, you should probably take it.


Trevor Connor  41:01

So what do you read?



28? Usually, I don’t Yeah, I think I’ve used the 32 ones, but I’ve never done races with with anything. Crazy. Crazy, Stupid. So long cranks.


Trevor Connor  41:13

What are you writing?



  1. But I think I should probably try shorter.



But that was incredible. Just like he just said right out at 28. And I don’t do any crazy, high speed client, you know, with a 28 back in those days, you know, they will kick you out of the race. There was a No way. This is not my bike. outta here, you know,


Trevor Connor  41:35

it took me a couple years to finally break down and go, I’m not a man anymore. I own a 28



he was a big guy, it was a change away from the 42 to the 39. I remember that. I remember that was a big boy. 39 it was a wimp. You know,



I was fun.


Trevor Connor  41:50

But there is, yeah, that gearing is gonna help you a lot. And maybe that’s a good argument to our IO driver, again, of if you’re going and doing these climbs you particularly because you’re not used to grinding up climbs should be looking at that, that bigger gear and just ignore old people like me, why are you writing that? 32 but certainly doing some of that big year work.


Chris Case  42:12

I picked up on something you said there step about getting out of the saddle half the time and I know people have different philosophies maybe about what feels good and what maybe instinctually they want to do. But is there any data that says standing is at times more efficient, depending on the gradient versus staying seated over the longer more gradual climbs?



I don’t know. I I haven’t seen anything. I’m sure there might be a study one or two studies out there. Yeah, that’s something that I’ve always wondered why some cyclists they do much better standing versus sitting. I always tell this story about contoller. So the first time he turned pro, he was amateur, you know, Premier Pro. And so we did the physiological test right at the beginning in the offseason. It’s a great test for higher and higher the the power output. So obviously, where’s the audio? Where’s your eventually? That’s it, you’re done. Right? So the typical thing when when a cyclist is about to be done is that they start standing on the bike, right? desperate, instinctually instinctual, exactly. So that’s when you know that you know that that writer maybe has only half our workload left of that step, or maybe the entire state at best, right? So when I remember contact or whatever, it was a stage, he started standing up entire stage, and he will and then modify the protocols. And my protocol is 10 minutes long, right? It’s not a one minute or three is 30 minutes long. So he’s terrorists standing up and I saw boy, this kid, you know, he’s done, you know, like, very poor level already. like nobody’s done. Nobody’s standing at least intensity. That’s it, where he finished that step. Okay, bring him up. He goes to the next step. He does the entire step standing. Like, wow, I have never seen this already. But he’s gotta be dead. Next one, standing in the next one. And they ended up Yeah, he had world class parameters. And he did like a good 30 minutes on the bike standing 35 minutes or so which is now why I have no idea. But I if he had been to the saddle, maybe he wouldn’t have done that. So that’s where like, we need more research to know about that. And I encourage anybody out there who wants to research it, because we need to find out.


Trevor Connor  44:29

So I actually spent some time analyzing contours, climbing style and trying to imitate it, because he has is very unique. You can see his hips and shoulders, moving in sync with one another in a very unique way. And when I actually figured it out and started doing it, I did feel my climbing was more powerful. I was climbing much better standing than I ever had in my life. But what I also noticed is to do what he does, he must have an unbelievable core I do think core is, especially when you are standing on the bike really, really critical because that’s really what’s the only thing that’s now stabilizing you on the bike. And I can tell you, one of the quickest ways to identify a rider that has a bad core is to watch them climb because they get out of the saddle. And I call it the wet noodle effect, you just see their upper body flopping back and forth, because they don’t have a core to stabilize them, you watch Contador that upper body doesn’t move it is just it’s just locked.


Chris Case  45:29

Yeah. So


Trevor Connor  45:32

you know, again, if you’re trying to improve your climbing and you don’t have access to the climbs, make sure you’re getting a lot of good core work.


Chris Case  45:39

And if you do have access to climbs still do core, exactly and also climb out of the saddle and do repeats. I know that Contador was known for doing that for going out and climbing, intentionally standing for long periods of time.



Another thing that I think it’s important, speaking about the core is like some sort of strength in your arms. And that’s why it’s advice or advice to do some weightlifting in the upper body in the winter. Because if there’s a very demanding, claiming that you have to stand, you know, on the saddle, and you have to use your arms, they’re going to get fatigued. And that when the muscles get fatigued, you know, they can’t clear lactate. So the lactate from your muscles in your legs can be cleared up by the lactate in your arms as well. So if your muscles are very fatiguing your arms, they’re not going to just only not be able to clear are likely going to produce lactate. So that’s another area that, you know, many cyclists complained that my arms are not strong enough. And that’s one of the things that we have learned from mountain bikers quite a bit. If you look at many mountain bikers are pretty solid in the upper body, because it’s an adaptation to get there because they need to use the arms a lot, you know. So I think that a little bit of that can be useful. So you transfer to road cycling.


Trevor Connor  47:01

Great advice. Let’s quickly check back with Dombroski who has some interesting takes on what makes climbing different, why he feels Corps is critical, and how much he feels we should stand up,



I think if if the races you’re doing have a lot of climbing that it, you’re better off, you know, being able to do at least some of your training on sustained cons, because I think even just in terms of muscles that that you use in different different muscle groups that there is sort of an adaptation period to that and you can become over time a bit more efficient, you know, off the bike work becomes particularly important. Because, you know, a lot of times a long time you’re making power for a sustained amount of time. And sometimes if our core stabilizing muscles and and just things that are typical like that cyclists typically have problems with, like weak glutes and that kind of thing over you know, 20 or 30 minutes, after on a long climb. I think that, you know, that’s when those things start to fail, and you get a bit sloppy, like, you know, maybe you get out of the saddle more because you’re not, you’re not comfortable staying seated in the south making power and that kind of stuff.


Trevor Connor  48:21

Is it you’re you’re using completely different muscles there. Do you feel that? When you’re on the flats, you can get away a little more with a weak core and a weak glutes where if you’re going up a climb, because it’s sustained because you never get the breaks, then you basically can’t get away with it anymore.



Yeah, I think I think yeah, basically, the fact that on a long climb, there’s no point where you can, you can just ease off. And a lot of times, you’re not the one dictating the pace, you’re just kind of along for the ride trying to ride sort of within your head a bit. For example, a lot of people, if they, if they haven’t done a lot of climbing, if say they live in a flatter area, and they go out to do long climbs, like a lot of times, they’ll get low back pain, for example. And in response to that, maybe 1015 minutes into the climb, their low back starts to hurt. So they feel like they have to get out of the saddle to relieve that. And the thing is, it’s just kind of a I guess like a bit of a domino effect like things that you’re not comfortable, send you compensate for that by it, I’d say getting out of the saddle, but that’s you know, then you’re you’re sort of wasting energy in trying to compensate for, for a lack of like sort of strength to to continue making power in that position. And ultimately you compromise your your power output. If you’re on a climb and you’re constantly getting getting out of saddle to be comfortable, then, especially if you have weak core and you’re you know you’ve got a lot of money. As your heart rate goes up, but your power doesn’t necessarily. Yeah, you’re basically just wasting energy. Whereas if, like Bradley Wiggins, for example, is a guy that comes to mind for me, like when I think of somebody that’s super stable and solid on the bike, to the point where he almost looks like awkward when he gets out of the saddle on a climb, because you, you rarely see it. But it’s also just a case of like, superb sort of stability, strength, so that way, he doesn’t have to waste the energy getting out of the saddle when he because he’s uncomfortable. But you know, there’s also like, in a race, you know, there’s, you have a race to respond to and to write to, and sometimes, you know, when somebody is attacking or whatever, and you have to follow that the the only way to really, for most people to make the power necessary is to get out of the saddle. But in general, I think that if you can minimize that that time, then that’s better.


Trevor Connor  51:03

So if you’re going up along, sustained climb, as always, guys aren’t attack and you’re staying in the saddle.



I tried to be I tend to climb out of the saddle more than more than most, I’ve noticed that, like, especially over this winter, I’ve done quite a bit of gym work. And I’ve noticed personally that, you know, in really making sure that I commit to doing that. And you know, every day making sure I spend the time on that it’s made a big difference. And I’m a lot more comfortable staying in the saddle. And making sustained power.


Trevor Connor  51:36

Around table definitely had some thoughts about standing versus seated as well. So let’s get back to that conversation. said we’re gonna find it really fascinating. You say you like to be standing at the end? Do you find it easier?



Yeah, definitely. I mean, for me, I think all my best powers done, like 80 80% standing. But I think I think a lot of it too, going back to the different different writer types, different body weights, smaller guys like Richie porte, or like Mike woods, guys that also stand a lot. They’re, you know, smaller guys, and you can see them put their body weight into each pedal stroke and bounce out of it kind of like Contador does, and then for them, it’s less costly, because they’re smaller guys, bouncing the pedals. And then if you see a guy, that’s that’s 80 kilos doing that maybe maybe less efficient for him. So for me, it feels very natural just to run run on the pedals, if you will. And you know, use my bodyweight. So for me, I’m the opposite. If I’m, if I’m really hurting, I’m sitting and if I feel good, I’m standing. So it’s


Chris Case  52:38

Yeah. And I’m the same way. It’s one of those things where you know, that staying seated might be more efficient. But sometimes staying seated, gets you dropped if you stick to it too much. So sometimes you have to sacrifice efficiency for the power that you need to stay up there. And maybe in the long term, you do get dropped. But sometimes you’ve got a K left of a climb, and you just have to grind it out, and you stand up and you power over and you stay with the group or something like that. So that’s just a a necessity at that point,


Trevor Connor  53:11

I think. So I’m looking at this study from 2009. And it’s led by an author duck, is it last name is actually D, u c, and they did an analysis of standing versus seated. And some of the things they found is standing is definitely less efficient, you have a higher heart rate. But it is more powerful, as you were saying. So if you really need to put out the power your you need to be out of the saddle, they also found that it actually became more beneficial as you hit higher and higher gradients, a couple other things that they saw, there was a big difference in muscle recruitment. So as soon as you stand using more of your glute Maximus, your biceps femoris, and your rectus femoris. And so what I believe they said in the study was that there is that benefit to sometimes getting out of the saddle, sit back down, get out of the saddle, because you’re essentially changing the recruitment patterns, you’re giving yourself a little micro break. And muscles that you were relying on might be able to put out a little less power, and you can start relying on muscles that you were using a little less before. And they did show that people could last longer by alternating the getting out of the saddle and sitting down. So that’s why it was interesting. That was part of what you experiences.



Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think I think there’s a lot to be said about changing the rhythm, especially in climbing. And that’s for me personally, I know a lot of people prefer to just be very, very steady. And for me, it almost feels more costly to ride, one cadence 115 position so I think it comes down to personal preference a lot of the time.


Trevor Connor  54:45

So interestingly, I have this workout that I give all my athletes when they have access to a climb, will have new repeats up the climb and the goal is each repeat to try to do the exact same time so I don’t want them killing it the first time and again, solar and solar slower. It’s a great threshold workout. But the other thing I have to do is let’s say to do six repeats, I have to have them do four or five, all seated and one or two all standing. And I would say, of probably 100 athletes I’ve given this workout to I’ve only ever had two that could match the time seated. When they were standing, almost everybody was slower standing is one of those. I never gave it to you.


Chris Case  55:27

I didn’t. I thought I had, did I give it to maybe? I


Trevor Connor  55:30

don’t know. No, you were not one of them. Okay, I know who the two are. So now I know you’re gonna go and prove me wrong. Before we ask our roundtable to give their take homes, let’s see what suggestions Dombroski had,



I think, you know, there’s, there’s a few things to focus on. One is in training, you need to be getting some sustained effort, because on climbs are going to be making sustained power. But that doesn’t necessarily mean just steady efforts, you can go out and do 15 or 20 minute efforts of a climb, and do it at steady power output, which is fine. But the thing is, unless you’re doing real time trials, your power output, on climbs in races is not steady at all, you know, it’s dictated by the other people in the race with you. And so you know, there’s going to be big surges, and then you’re going to have to settle into a solid power after a big surge. So I think, you know, working on that is, is pretty beneficial, like, you know, going out and doing like sort of spiked efforts on cons where you know, you’ve got a sprint or a short burst, and then you have to, you know, continue, like a high, high power output sort of adapting to, to those changes in power on the client. So, I guess yeah, the first thing would be, you know, working on sustained efforts to get used to that sustained power output and making sure that they’re not all just steady. Second thing I would say would be again, like the off the bike exercises, I think, are super important. Because when you have sustained power like that, if your your core isn’t strong, then you start to fail, and you get sloppy and and you’re going to compensate somehow. And ultimately, it’s going to it’s going to cost you power that could be going into the pedals, but you’re you know, you’re going to get more inefficient, as you know, sort of those stabilizing muscle groups start to fatigue. And then lastly, I mean, it, it does come down to power to weight. So don’t go, go a little bit easy on the cake.


Trevor Connor  57:48

Now let’s see what a round table suggests.


Chris Case  57:51

Alright, so to summarize and give this listener in Iowa The best advice, we can give him an ego, what does he need to do to become a better climber,



I think it’s very important, in my opinion, to train that threshold intensities, which is kind of what you’re going to face climbing and increase that glycolytic activity, it’s very important to train your base, because that’s when you’re going to clear out the lactate. It’s very important, as Trevor said, that, you know, maybe use lower gears to try to simulate what’s out there. And that alone is going should help you to improve climbing print at work power to weight ratio, this ultimately is going to pull your power to weight ratio. And that should that should help you and and then sure if you can find racists or training counts where you can go and do climate and experiment and be exposed to that feeling of reading and knowing the procedure and how the mental aspect is important to you know, have a climbing I think that yeah, that that our Iowa writer or anybody writing you know, in those areas with flat terrain or rolling terrain, yeah, that could be as successful as someone living in the Rocky Mountains are climbing. Fantastic.


Chris Case  58:58

So my advice given that he does have some short sounds like steep climbs in that area, just going out there and doing repeats on those short steep climbs is going to give him a sense of what he would experience on some of climbs out in Colorado, Wyoming Utah wherever you might end up and he can experiment on those climbs You know, he could do low cadence efforts up that he can do high cadence efforts up that he can stand he can stay seated and all those things mixing it up will giving give him at least a sense of what he would face on bigger climbs elsewhere.



Yeah, I think a lot of it is improved by by big gear work and then changes in rhythm whether that’s that’s transitioning from sitting to standing you know, regardless of the train, I think you can do a lot of sitting standing work on the flats as well just to recruit those those different muscles and then a lot of it as well i think is your your bike position. So you know Climb view experiment on those shorter, steeper climbs, you’ll notice yourself maybe, maybe shifting forward, maybe shifting backwards on the saddle. So whatever you can do to kind of replicate those changes in bike position, and you might see on a, on a longer climb, you can just simulate those those different, different conditions.


Trevor Connor  1:00:20

I guess I’ll round this out. So I have the experience with just having that one two minute climb in Toronto, and the one thing I will caution you about is you can be really anaerobic on that climb. And that’s not going to prepare you for a 20 minute climb or even a 10 minute climb. I know a lot of riders in Toronto who are amazing on that one minute climb, but there’s a race in June, where we have a 10 minute climb, and they hate it, because it’s so different. So if you’re going to use that climb, I would actually recommend do some of the the threshold work that Dr. Sol Milan was talking about. But finish, like if you’re doing a five minute interval, finish that five minutes with the climb, so that you’re not hitting it fresh and all anaerobic, you’ve actually you’ve got yourself going out of threshold intensity, you’re getting a little tired. And then you finish with that climb and at least get a little more of a feel of what a long climb actually feels like. I think everything else that I was going to touch on has been covered, I would say you need to do a lot of big gear work. So get out and do those 510 20 minute efforts at 50 RPM at close to threshold. That’s also going to help you I think one of the things that is different about climbing that you can’t simulate on flats is you never get a break on the climb when you’re on a flat. So if you’re hurting you can ease up a little bit. He’s up in a climb and you’re going to come to a stop or fall over so that’s what I always struggle with on climbs is and when is this going to stop? When am I going to get my break? And I think when you’re doing some big gear work it might help you get a bit of that feeling of just won’t and what’s going on. And yeah, I completely agree with step might have people look at you weird, but do some practice standing as well. Don’t put your bike on a trainer and lift up your front wheel and think that you’re simulating climbing. It isn’t it’s not the same thing. You don’t have gravity fighting you so sorry. That’s not gonna help.


Chris Case  1:02:17

That was another episode of Fast Talk. As always, we love your feedback. Email us at Webb letters at competitor Subscribe to Fast Talk on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play. Be sure to leave us a rating and a comment. While you’re there. Check out our sister podcast, the velonews podcast, which covers news about the weekend cycling. Become a fan of Fast Talk on slash velonews and on slash velonews. Fast talk is a joint production between velonews and Connor coaching the thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual for Trevor Connor Sep coos doctor in ego salon. I’m Chris case. Thanks for listening