Home » Body Tech, Road Bike » Cycling distance or cycling quantity (or how to get better at hill cycling by using VO2 max principles)

Cycling distance or cycling quantity (or how to get better at hill cycling by using VO2 max principles)

Moving up to Clitheroe I know that there is one big thing I have to face.  Actually there are a few big things.

Hills.

Show someone from Milton Keynes those hills and they’d probably think them mountains, but really they are just hills.  Honest.  So I wanted to shift my training rides for the next 3 weeks around a bit to increase my power over these annoying lumps.

So considering that I will be cycling over hills, and because I am trying to decide what kind of ratio’s on a new road bike I am going to need, what would be a good way about improving my hill conquering ability, perhaps so that I can by-pass a compact and go for a much heavier, and faster, gearing?

Normally most people would suggest that to improve your cycling ability, you’d want to be putting more miles in the legs.  Spin at a moderate pace for an hour or more.  However although this is a great way to lose weight cycling, it doesn’t actually answer my specific desire.

What I am about to suggest actually is very similar to periodized training.  The point of periodized training is to create a body-shock.  What happens when you train your body is it very quickly becomes more efficient at the exercise that you are forcing upon it. So, for example, a body builder will have to change the routine they are doing every few weeks so that they continue to grow their muscles, otherwise they stagnate.  They also have to have periods where they don’t train or train only with light weights.  By doing these things the body is shocked into having to re-adapt.

For a cyclist, you can do things like cross train – running is a good example, or swim – or change how you are doing your cycling.  Now that’s not too easy.  After all, what else can you do on a bike apart from make your legs go up and down?

Enter VO2 max.  VO2 max means simply the maximum amount of output that you can do over a 3 minute period before you explode, or throw up.

Throw up?  Yes.  Being close to throwing up means you have found your limit.  It’s not a good idea to do this frequently, but unless you push yourself as hard as possible and then a bit more, you can’t be sure what you are capable of.  VO2 max pushes you to that limit, and it mixes up your regular training so your body is surprised by the exercise and will have to do something about it.  Used once a week, this can awaken your body to new limits.

More than that.  Because it has to adapt on a number of levels speed and endurance are improved.  So your muscles get stronger.  Your lung capacity increases.  Your recover rate improves.  Your lactic intolerance diminishes so that you can put the pressure back on after, say, a hard climb or sprint much sooner.

You mustn’t do this too often mind, because this is a serious body shock and you need at least a couple of days to recover, otherwise you will over-train.  Once a week is about right.

So how do you do it (VO2 max, that is)?

Peddle as hard as possible for a minute, then try to go faster for the second minute, and even harder for the third.  Your lungs feel like they will burst, and your legs scream.  But you always know that it’s only a few seconds before the agony is over.  I personally like to still try to keep a 90 cadence, but I am breathing really hard.

Where do you do it?  Well not on a down hill.  A flat piece of ground is good.  But considering what I want to do is to improve my hill-climbing, that seems about right.  So I chose a really nice route that I have never tried before which has some 3 minute long hills which are reasonably challenging for me.  When I did them when I first got back to cycling a couple of years ago I couldn’t do these hills, so it’s about right.

The gear you choose is important too.  If you just spin up there breathing deeply, that’s not enough.  You have to really be trying to get up there in the heaviest gear you can manage, but still spinning at the right cadence.  Breathing goes out of the window.

Once you hit 3 minutes, drop out of the pain-zone, even if it means a bit of grinding in a very low gear to finish off the hill.  You then want to go easy for the next 6 minutes of more.

How long should you do it for?  Well if you do it about 5 or 6 times, that’s about enough.  Either on the way home, or choose a short route.  Mine tonight was no more than 15 miles but I got in 5 sets of 3 minute VO2 max’s during that time.

Ok, so the question is, does it work?  Well only time really will tell.  What I do know is that recently I’ve felt a bit sluggish coming up the hill to home.  But tonight I flew up it because I was pumped up from the ride, and because the training had somehow anaesthetised my legs to what that hill normally feels like.  In other words, I got used to it!

One last question, how should you feel when you get home?  This is where the quality not quantity argument comes in.  I wasn’t completely wiped out, but I do know that I had worked hard, and as I type this my legs ache and throb (nice!).  But from my years of weight training I know that you don’t have to train for hours, or feel wiped, to actually stimulate your body to respond by adaption.

So how do you exercise?  Have you tried the VO2 method…any tips you’d care to share?  Please leave a comment.

A word of warning, don’t do this if you have any underlying health issues.  In fact, don’t even take my suggestion. I’m just saying what I did!

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