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Training benefit of flat/rolling rides vs. very hilly

neebneeb Posts: 4,362
I move about a bit for my work and at the moment I'm in Berkeley, CA, where it's very difficult to find a ride that isn't hilly right from the outset. Now, I like hills and am a pretty good climber, but riding for 2 or 3 hours up and down longish hills (mostly up of course) certainly feels very different from riding for the same amount of time on flat / rolling terrain with only short hills. It feels knackering enough, but last time I spent some time here I returned expecting to feel mega-fit and found that I wasn't quite as fit as I expected.

One issue is that I find it almost impossible not to bury myself when climbing, so my riding here is nearly a constant sufferfest. Theoretically I could get some smaller gears and spin more gently up the hills, but somehow that doesn't seem right... When I see a hill something in my head switches me into threshold HR mode.

What are the physiological adaptations associated with this sort of riding and how do they compare with riding on flatter / rolling terrain? I think one thing I miss here is /short/ hills following on from flat sections, which I always treat as effectively short interval sessions.

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  • SBezzaSBezza Posts: 2,173
    Depending on the types of hills you had before, you might have got a few interval type efforts in your rides, whereas on the flat this will be harder, though not impossible.

    If you don't have a power meter it is difficult, but I ride mainly on the flat, and I can do as hard a ride in average power terms on a hilly route as I can on the flat. Hilly rides can have a sizeable amount of freewheeling down the hills, and obviously higher power going up the hills. Depending on your goals a hillier route might be more preferable.

    As for adaptions, if you do similar power efforts on the flat as you would have done up the hills (not as easy granted, but still perfectly feasable), then adaptions would be similar, obviously if you just pedal easily along the flat, then you won't get the threshold type efforts that hills give you.
  • sheffsimonsheffsimon Posts: 1,282
    SBezza wrote:
    Depending on the types of hills you had before, you might have got a few interval type efforts in your rides, whereas on the flat this will be harder, though not impossible.

    If you don't have a power meter it is difficult, but I ride mainly on the flat, and I can do as hard a ride in average power terms on a hilly route as I can on the flat. Hilly rides can have a sizeable amount of freewheeling down the hills, and obviously higher power going up the hills. Depending on your goals a hillier route might be more preferable.

    As for adaptions, if you do similar power efforts on the flat as you would have done up the hills (not as easy granted, but still perfectly feasable), then adaptions would be similar, obviously if you just pedal easily along the flat, then you won't get the threshold type efforts that hills give you.

    You've touched on something I have thought about myself. living on the edge of the Peak district, its my usual (only) training ground. Every training ride I do involves hard efforts up hills, whether long or short/steep, efforts that I personally think I would struggle to make if I lived in the flatlands, whereas I can ride hard on climbs and feel I get good training benefits from it.

    Just my thoughts....
  • SlackSlack Posts: 326
    My area is also hilly. I can't go in any direction without avoiding some decent sized hills/gradients.

    Similar experience to SBezza also; I once drove 80 miles to a a flat region, just to try and see what it was like going for a ride in flatlands. My average speed ended up being virtually the same as the hilly region!! I appreciate speed and power monitoring are not the same, but there must be some correlation...?

    Anyhow, I started this year to travel to a flattish area regularly, to do my 2-4 hour CV tempo training, because I can spin along at a constant rate, without interruption from steep incline or steep descent - i.e. so I can stay at a given intensity. Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of a power meter, so ride on perceived effort.

    I like the hills, and can go up them reasonably well, however, the hilly rides turn into a kind of interval session. On the rides where I want to train at circa tempo level, I don't want to go anaerobic and there is a high risk of me doing this in my local area.

    I don't know whether my view/strategy is right or wrong; my fitness progress this year will determine if it works or not.
    Plymouthsteve for councillor!!
  • cyco2cyco2 Posts: 593
    Nothing but hills or flats must be a bit boring. So, doing some turbo work would work well. The turbo is excellent for replication of flats and with hills then try this.

    hills.....viewtopic.php?p=15873281

    Get yourself a biggish fan and you'll get some good worthwhile sessions in.
    ...................................................................................................

    If you want to be a strong rider you have to do strong things.
    However if you train like a cart horse you'll race like one.
  • neebneeb Posts: 4,362
    edited March 2012
    Just to establish some reference points - I've realised that what some people call "hilly" is what others might call "rolling", and in my mind there is a world of difference between riding in sharply rolling terrain and "proper" hilly terrain. I guess when I am talking about hilly I am meaning rides that incorporate a large proportion of climbing where you are going for several miles (at least 2 or 3) up an average gradient of more than 5%. This is very different from steeply rolling terrain where you might have a series of short steep pitches of a few hundred meters or so. With the latter you can go anaerobic, stay there most of the way up, and then recover on the other side, but with long climbs this is impossible, as you are near threshold aerobic effort most of the time.

    I think a good measure of "proper" hilly is average speed - on sharply rolling terrain if you are light and fairly fit you can often maintain a similar average speed as on the flat, while on really hilly terrain the average will always be considerably lower, as you are spending a large proportion of the time climbing at 10 - 13mph.

    As SBezza hints I think what I am missing in very hilly terrain is the anaerobic interval efforts you get from short steep pitches.
  • HerbsmanHerbsman Posts: 2,029
    cyco2 wrote:
    Nothing but hills or flats must be a bit boring. So, doing some turbo work would work well.
    Is this supposed to be irony?
    CAPTAIN BUCKFAST'S CYCLING TIPS - GUARANTEED TO WORK! 1 OUT OF 10 RACING CYCLISTS AGREE!
  • bigpiklebigpikle Posts: 1,690
    The challenge with any hilly terrain - rolling or proper hilly as described above - is that even if you go for 2 miles uphill then you inevitably have a period of coasting downhill which acts largely as rest. Flatter areas mean you can really work on extended periods of constant effort that really benefit most people IMHO, and personally have made a huge difference for me being able to push myself over longer distances.

    I'm lucky here that I can head to rolling areas or out onto essentially flat areas, or further afield into good hilly areas. I often do 2 hour tempo sessions on flat routes where barely stop pedaling in my target power zone for more than a few seconds, or even out on 4 hour steady rides where I can achieve the same thing. Having a power meter is invaluable for analysing how much rest time you get on a ride and with any kind of rolling or hilly terrain the likelihood is you're spending 35-40% of the ride essentially doing nothing, even though most people would swear blind they work far more than that. The analysis of my rides when I first started riding with power was simply shocking!

    Of course, those long hill climbs of 2-3 miles are also a brilliant training ride if you're doing them at threshold or close to it, and getting enough time on them relative to your downhills, but as with all things, if you want to be able to hold constant harder efforts for long periods of time you need to have spent time training that way as well.
    Your Past is Not Your Potential...
  • cyco2cyco2 Posts: 593
    Herbsman wrote:
    cyco2 wrote:
    Nothing but hills or flats must be a bit boring. So, doing some turbo work would work well.
    Is this supposed to be irony?

    One humans meat is another humans poison sort of situation. Or thou shall covet another riders training area.
    I live in an area on the edge of the Berkshire downs and it's fantastic for small hills, nothing long to settle in to. I loved it when climbing abroad. Great flat roads around here as well. However, a lot of my riding is off-road in the Thames Valley or up on the Ridgeway. So, I don't have a 'fixed' terrain to ride in. I would say that I would get bored with all hills or all flats. I have also spent many, many hours on a turbo which is very nearly in the same area, but worse. Does this answer your question?
    ...................................................................................................

    If you want to be a strong rider you have to do strong things.
    However if you train like a cart horse you'll race like one.
  • BordersroadieBordersroadie Posts: 1,052
    bigpikle wrote:
    with any kind of rolling or hilly terrain the likelihood is you're spending 35-40% of the ride essentially doing nothing

    It's an interesting comparison, but 40%? That would make my average 50 mile route finish several hundred feet below sea level.

    Theoretically, if the uphills of a given route are ridden at 10mph and the downhills at 30, the freewheeling time would be 25%, but in reality you pedal down many of the hills, so the "non-work" proportion is even less.

    The other bonus about training in hilly terrain is that you get downhill practice. The Scottish Borders is a gem, miles and miles of traffic-free roads, flat, rolling, hilly, you name it. For my "LSD" rides I can ride along river valleys for miles, and for threshold type training there are penty of steep hills.

    Having said all that I'm still fairly rubbish but I'm getting less rubbish day by day :D
  • HiMozHiMoz Posts: 62
    I was wondering the very same thing yesterday. One of my favourite rides around the peaks of about 85 miles takes in 5 climbs varying from 10-30 minutes in lengh. Im racing my first season and am doing shorter intervals as well but most people I speak to say rides of this lengh arent much use in the racing season. Would I be better spending the effort abusing myself on my turbo?
    willhub wrote:
    I'm on about a bicycle here, not a coal powered motorbike why would my bike have coal on it?
  • amaferangaamaferanga Posts: 6,789
    I agree that the 40% is quite a bit out, for the UK at least.

    For example, here's a 'sweet spot' ride where I rode pretty much as hard as I could for 2 hours over a route that for the UK I think most people would consider hilly - http://connect.garmin.com/activity/160721205

    Even with the 3 fairly lengthy descents and crossing the city (so several stops at traffic lights, junctions, etc.) I only spent 11 minutes at 0 Watts. So less than 10%. In fact for most of my rides in the Peaks I seem to spend around 10% of the time at 0 Watts. Of course if I was just taking it easy and pootling that's be much higher, but I don't do that too often.
    More problems but still living....
  • BordersroadieBordersroadie Posts: 1,052
    amaferanga, that's an impressive average speed for an 88 ft per mile route. That's a "hilly" route round here, which is quite hilly, but I know the peak district has more steep climbs than we have here - it must be quite hard for you to find steady flattish routes that aren't main "A" roads. Do you even bother with such routes in your training?
  • pollys_bottpollys_bott Posts: 981
    neeb wrote:
    Just to establish some reference points - I've realised that what some people call "hilly" is what others might call "rolling", and in my mind there is a world of difference between riding in sharply rolling terrain and "proper" hilly terrain. I guess when I am talking about hilly I am meaning rides that incorporate a large proportion of climbing where you are going for several miles (at least 2 or 3) up an average gradient of more than 5%. This is very different from steeply rolling terrain where you might have a series of short steep pitches of a few hundred meters or so. With the latter you can go anaerobic, stay there most of the way up, and then recover on the other side, but with long climbs this is impossible, as you are near threshold aerobic effort most of the time.

    I think a good measure of "proper" hilly is average speed - on sharply rolling terrain if you are light and fairly fit you can often maintain a similar average speed as on the flat, while on really hilly terrain the average will always be considerably lower, as you are spending a large proportion of the time climbing at 10 - 13mph.

    As SBezza hints I think what I am missing in very hilly terrain is the anaerobic interval efforts you get from short steep pitches.

    Sorry to be Sybil Fawlty and state the bleedin' obvious, but surely you are only at threshold on the long climbs because of your effort? If you want some anaerobic intervals up said long climbs can you not just ride them slower in a lower gear and then cane it in a higher gear for 1/2/5 mins to get your interval? I realise that after the interval your hr won't come down as much compared to free-wheeling down a descent after a short steep pitch but better than nowt... maybe?
  • neebneeb Posts: 4,362
    Sorry to be Sybil Fawlty and state the bleedin' obvious, but surely you are only at threshold on the long climbs because of your effort? If you want some anaerobic intervals up said long climbs can you not just ride them slower in a lower gear and then cane it in a higher gear for 1/2/5 mins to get your interval? I realise that after the interval your hr won't come down as much compared to free-wheeling down a descent after a short steep pitch but better than nowt... maybe?
    Yup, you're right, but it's remarkably difficult to do. Maybe it's just an attitude problem I have with climbs. I do have a spare sprocket I never use here, but whenever I feel tempted to change into it on steep sections stubbornness just makes me push harder instead. Probably I just need to mellow out a bit more like the locals... :wink:
  • bigpiklebigpikle Posts: 1,690
    bigpikle wrote:
    with any kind of rolling or hilly terrain the likelihood is you're spending 35-40% of the ride essentially doing nothing

    It's an interesting comparison, but 40%? That would make my average 50 mile route finish several hundred feet below sea level.

    Theoretically, if the uphills of a given route are ridden at 10mph and the downhills at 30, the freewheeling time would be 25%, but in reality you pedal down many of the hills, so the "non-work" proportion is even less.

    The other bonus about training in hilly terrain is that you get downhill practice. The Scottish Borders is a gem, miles and miles of traffic-free roads, flat, rolling, hilly, you name it. For my "LSD" rides I can ride along river valleys for miles, and for threshold type training there are penty of steep hills.

    Having said all that I'm still fairly rubbish but I'm getting less rubbish day by day :D

    Its easy to spend 40% of your time doing nothing, or very close to it... Its not all about coasting down hills.

    Today I rode a super easy 101km in the sun with the goal of having a very easy ride. 765m total climbing and descending.

    4' 06 total time
    3' 52 riding time - 2 quick stops for a snack in the sun :D
    39% in Z1 recovery zone (thats 0-150w for me)

    so, as I said before, without a power meter to accurately track how you ride for every second of your ride, you'd be amazed at how much time you spend at zero or low output. Thats coasting, stopped at junctions, soft pedaling etc etc. When I think back to how I used to ride when starting out, it could easily be this % on a regular basis.

    On a good training session on the flat I can get that <10% but its impossible to stop your output dropping occasionally. 2 weekends ago I did a 165km hilly club ride, with the club fast group on our annual hilly reliability ride. With a stop for a puncture and a cake stop, it hit 51% in zone 1...
    Your Past is Not Your Potential...
  • HerbsmanHerbsman Posts: 2,029
    cyco2 wrote:
    Herbsman wrote:
    cyco2 wrote:
    Nothing but hills or flats must be a bit boring. So, doing some turbo work would work well.
    Is this supposed to be irony?

    One humans meat is another humans poison sort of situation. Or thou shall covet another riders training area.
    I live in an area on the edge of the Berkshire downs and it's fantastic for small hills, nothing long to settle in to. I loved it when climbing abroad. Great flat roads around here as well. However, a lot of my riding is off-road in the Thames Valley or up on the Ridgeway. So, I don't have a 'fixed' terrain to ride in. I would say that I would get bored with all hills or all flats. I have also spent many, many hours on a turbo which is very nearly in the same area, but worse. Does this answer your question?
    A simple yes/no would suffice
    CAPTAIN BUCKFAST'S CYCLING TIPS - GUARANTEED TO WORK! 1 OUT OF 10 RACING CYCLISTS AGREE!
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