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How to interpret VAM?

tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
Hi All,

Those who are regulars will note Im currently trying to improve my fitness, aren't we all!!, and have posted a number of questions to help me understand training/fitness etc.
I think it was Ugo S who mentioned that in one of my posts that VO2 Max was not the best indicator of improving fitness and I should use VAM as its easier to measure via Garmin etc.
I've just got back from a ride with a couple of mates and having read a little and taken on board folks advice on here Ive ridden a decent hill to get a figure from my Garmin that produced a VAM figure for that segment/hill.
Can someone give me any points on the reading, where I am at overall and what I should consider in the future with my current training plan? If thats possible as I know plans are very much individual to that persons state/goals etc..
I do appreciate the advice from you guys in my other posts recently so please don't jump down my throat quoting previous advice given please.

The figures are.
Distance = 0.7 Miles or 1.1265408 Kilometres
Accent = 333 Feet or 101.4984 Meters
Gradient = 9% Average/Cat 4
VAM = 1115.

Any advice or pointers appreciated. :D

Tony.

Posts

  • You are average... :-)

    I recorded my best VAM going up Edge hill (1 km at 10%) at 1400 mt/h.
    Normally I am around the 1,000 mark for steep inclines and 800-900 for longer or less steep climbs.

    You can't really use VAM recorded on different segments but you can compare VAM recorded on the same segment as an indicator of "cycling fitness". If you have access to long climbs (at least 400-500 vertical metres) then you can compare them to some extent, if the gradient is similar.

    I suggest to use only climbs (segments) which are at least 5-6% average... any lower and wind direction might have a big effect and of course don't compare solo efforts with group efforts
  • Tony,

    The term VAM was coined by Michele Ferrari, who is a rather (in)famous cycling Doctor/coach (look him up if you don't already know of him, lots of interesting stuff to read!). From memory, he used it mainly as an indicator of Grand Tour winning potential for pro cyclists (he was Lance Armstrong's doctor I believe). It calculates how many vertical metres a rider can ascend in 1 hour, so for example if you have a VAM of 950, then in theory you can climb 950 metres in 1 hour.

    To be honest I am not sure how much practical application it has for amateur riders as it is generally used to assess a pro's climbing ability. Ferrari reckoned that a VAM of around 1800-1900 was required to win a Grand Tour, I would guess anything in excess of 900-1000 for an amateur is pretty decent and perhaps anything above 1200-1300 is excellent for an amateur, although unless you are planning on taking part in Hill Climbs or hilly sportives like the Fred Whitton or Marmotte etc. I am not sure it has many practical purposes other than just giving a general overview of your climbing ability. As Ugo mentioned, it is only really applicable at grades above 6-8%.

    The work you are doing overall to improve your fitness should improve your ability to go faster uphill and therefore increase VAM. The other major thing that will have an impact is weight, as in general a better watts per kilo figure should increase VAM as well.
  • tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
    You are average... :-)

    I recorded my best VAM going up Edge hill (1 km at 10%) at 1400 mt/h.
    Normally I am around the 1,000 mark for steep inclines and 800-900 for longer or less steep climbs.

    You can't really use VAM recorded on different segments but you can compare VAM recorded on the same segment as an indicator of "cycling fitness". If you have access to long climbs (at least 400-500 vertical metres) then you can compare them to some extent, if the gradient is similar.

    I suggest to use only climbs (segments) which are at least 5-6% average... any lower and wind direction might have a big effect and of course don't compare solo efforts with group efforts
    Thank you Ugo and Yes I know I'm average lol.
    So I use that climb regularly and go at the same effort like today using it as a Benchmark to gauge any improvement while training?
    Mate I'm too old and a late start to consider anything like comparative riding. Will the hill length and gradient be a good example for me to assess VAM in future?
    I'm in the Peak district so plenty of hills to choose if I need to find another...
    T.
  • tonysj wrote:
    You are average... :-)

    I recorded my best VAM going up Edge hill (1 km at 10%) at 1400 mt/h.
    Normally I am around the 1,000 mark for steep inclines and 800-900 for longer or less steep climbs.

    You can't really use VAM recorded on different segments but you can compare VAM recorded on the same segment as an indicator of "cycling fitness". If you have access to long climbs (at least 400-500 vertical metres) then you can compare them to some extent, if the gradient is similar.

    I suggest to use only climbs (segments) which are at least 5-6% average... any lower and wind direction might have a big effect and of course don't compare solo efforts with group efforts
    Thank you Ugo and Yes I know I'm average lol.
    So I use that climb regularly and go at the same effort like today using it as a Benchmark to gauge any improvement while training?
    Mate I'm too old and a late start to consider anything like comparative riding. Will the hill length and gradient be a good example for me to assess VAM in future?
    I'm in the Peak district so plenty of hills to choose if I need to find another...
    T.

    It is a good hill, but it is a short hill, so the VAM number is not something you would be able to keep for longer climbs. But if you keep using it, your VAM will give you an indication of power/kg output for that particular length of time, hence if you like cycling fitness
  • tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
    Tony,

    The term VAM was coined by Michele Ferrari, who is a rather (in)famous cycling Doctor/coach (look him up if you don't already know of him, lots of interesting stuff to read!). From memory, he used it mainly as an indicator of Grand Tour winning potential for pro cyclists (he was Lance Armstrong's doctor I believe). It calculates how many vertical metres a rider can ascend in 1 hour, so for example if you have a VAM of 950, then in theory you can climb 950 metres in 1 hour.

    To be honest I am not sure how much practical application it has for amateur riders as it is generally used to assess a pro's climbing ability. Ferrari reckoned that a VAM of around 1800-1900 was required to win a Grand Tour, I would guess anything in excess of 900-1000 for an amateur is pretty decent and perhaps anything above 1200-1300 is excellent for an amateur, although unless you are planning on taking part in Hill Climbs or hilly sportives like the Fred Whitton or Marmotte etc. I am not sure it has many practical purposes other than just giving a general overview of your climbing ability. As Ugo mentioned, it is only really applicable at grades above 6-8%.

    The work you are doing overall to improve your fitness should improve your ability to go faster uphill and therefore increase VAM. The other major thing that will have an impact is weight, as in general a better watts per kilo figure should increase VAM as well.
    MG Thanks for the info.
    I suppose I'm trying to gauge my riding buddies both social and club ones and see where I'm at as they are a mixed bunch.
    Some are older-younger, lighter-heavier and none of them have a power meter other than me so trying to see where I fit within a larger number is difficult.
    Most of us are recreational riders but there is always an element of who's the Best lol.
    I live near the Peak district so there's plenty of hills if the one I've mentioned above is not quite right.
    I'm probably too old and started riding just over 2 years ago and past it for comparative riding lol.
    T.
  • To be fair, I think the numbers you have posted are more than decent, particularly for a new-ish rider. I certainly think you would hold your own against a lot of recreational riders. Just keep riding and asking for advice when you need it and you will continue to improve further
  • tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
    tonysj wrote:
    You are average... :-)

    I recorded my best VAM going up Edge hill (1 km at 10%) at 1400 mt/h.
    Normally I am around the 1,000 mark for steep inclines and 800-900 for longer or less steep climbs.

    You can't really use VAM recorded on different segments but you can compare VAM recorded on the same segment as an indicator of "cycling fitness". If you have access to long climbs (at least 400-500 vertical metres) then you can compare them to some extent, if the gradient is similar.

    I suggest to use only climbs (segments) which are at least 5-6% average... any lower and wind direction might have a big effect and of course don't compare solo efforts with group efforts
    Thank you Ugo and Yes I know I'm average lol.
    So I use that climb regularly and go at the same effort like today using it as a Benchmark to gauge any improvement while training?
    Mate I'm too old and a late start to consider anything like comparative riding. Will the hill length and gradient be a good example for me to assess VAM in future?
    I'm in the Peak district so plenty of hills to choose if I need to find another...
    T.

    It is a good hill, but it is a short hill, so the VAM number is not something you would be able to keep for longer climbs. But if you keep using it, your VAM will give you an indication of power/kg output for that particular length of time, hence if you like cycling fitness
    Sounds good Ugo, I think I will use that hill as its very local only 4 mile away and is one of the access roads to the Peaks and find another slightly long similar gradient hill so I have a couple to compare VAM/fitness against.
    Thanks again
    T
  • Is VAM really that useful? Surely it changes depending on the gradient. i.e. quite a shallow 4% will generally yield a lower VAM than a 10% climb.

    For me, i've had climbs ranging from 800 to 1300 VAM riding in the past from riding at my old threshold of 4.1W/kg (270w @ 66kg). However that's such a wide range, it's not all that useful, with the lower end tending to be 3-4% avg climbs, and the higher end 12%+.
    However, on short climbs, i've had 1600VAM for all-out efforts, riding at 6.0W/kg+ for short durations, so it's hard to even compare my own efforts.

    The only thing this seems useful for is comparing riders against each other on the same, or very similar styles of climb. But at that point, you could just use thier speed, as at the end of the day, the overall time is what matters.

    Generally, actual power and W/kg are better for fitness comparison between riders, because it will vary significantly depending on the length of the climb if you are comparing max efforts. There is also quite a big difference between someone's maximum effort up a climb, and someone's "ordinary" effort.

    In that example climb above (1.4k, 7%, 100m), my PB was 3:46 @ 400w (1600VAM), absolute eye-balls out effort for me. However, a standard, repeatable effort that was still decently tough, but average for a group ride would be around 4:30 @ 300w (1300VAM). However, there were plenty of people who were fitter than me in the group, just those who hadn't actually gone for a maximal effort yet, so it's unreasonable to compare my best effort to their average efforts for example.
  • If you have a power meter why are you bothering with VAM? Your power readings give you a much better gauge of your fitness. As mentioned above climbing is all about your power to weight ratio. Improve your power figures while staying the same weight you will climb faster. Drop weight while maintaining your power output you will climb faster.
  • tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
    MishMash95 wrote:
    Is VAM really that useful? Surely it changes depending on the gradient. i.e. quite a shallow 4% will generally yield a lower VAM than a 10% climb.

    For me, i've had climbs ranging from 800 to 1300 VAM riding in the past from riding at my old threshold of 4.1W/kg (270w @ 66kg). However that's such a wide range, it's not all that useful, with the lower end tending to be 3-4% avg climbs, and the higher end 12%+.
    However, on short climbs, i've had 1600VAM for all-out efforts, riding at 6.0W/kg+ for short durations, so it's hard to even compare my own efforts.

    The only thing this seems useful for is comparing riders against each other on the same, or very similar styles of climb. But at that point, you could just use thier speed, as at the end of the day, the overall time is what matters.

    Generally, actual power and W/kg are better for fitness comparison between riders, because it will vary significantly depending on the length of the climb if you are comparing max efforts. There is also quite a big difference between someone's maximum effort up a climb, and someone's "ordinary" effort.

    In that example climb above (1.4k, 7%, 100m), my PB was 3:46 @ 400w (1600VAM), absolute eye-balls out effort for me. However, a standard, repeatable effort that was still decently tough, but average for a group ride would be around 4:30 @ 300w (1300VAM). However, there were plenty of people who were fitter than me in the group, just those who hadn't actually gone for a maximal effort yet, so it's unreasonable to compare my best effort to their average efforts for example.
    MM95, Highlighted above in red,The main issue here is none of my riding buddies has a Power meter or has done a FTP test so their true figures are an unknown. The only indicators are from Strava rides and I'm not sure if they input their personal details , weight etc so even if I look at their rides and see their Estimated Power averages is it going to be accurate. Times on segments are the only way of comparing efforts but like you say How much effort did they give on that segment.
    An example.
    I'm 56 yrs, 76 kg and an FTP of 274 watts.
    A friend is 48yrs, 68kg FTP U/K but neither he or I have any idea of what his FTP is as hes never done one, No power meter, not turbo trainer, but his weight means he climbs hills faster than me. We don't ride all that often but we are probably in the upper 5 rides for fitness levels within the group.
    I think Im after a benchmark of my current fitness level be that FTP, W/Kg or VAM so I can monitor my efforts.
    Regards.
    T
  • norvernrobnorvernrob Posts: 1,448
    As above. If you can average 3w/kg or more on a long climb you will be faster than most people. Even on Zwift where imaginative weights are commonplace, I glide past many more people than go past me on any kind of climb.

    I think my VAM for Galibier and Forclaz was around 800-900 and I was top 25% on Strava. Forclaz was around 3.2w/kg and Galibier a little under 3w/kg. (I have a PM)

    There’s a guy near me who has nearly all the KOM’s on the short climbs around here, but on anything more than a few minutes he’s slower than me. I’m 68kg and he’s 80-odd so obviously has the shorter, explosive climbing power but he can’t maintain the W/kg on a longer climb. Different type of rider to me altogether.
  • It's a case of measuring power Vs measuring speed. If you are interested in more speed, then I think it's better to measure VAM, if you are interested in having more power, then measure power.

    The two should go hand in hand, but that's not always the case. You might bulk up 20 Watt, but maybe in doing so you end up riding in a less aerodynamic position and maybe you've even put up a couple of kg of muscle... the net result might show that your VAM has gone down.

    I can see why coaches like power, because those numbers are objective and not subject to wind direction, drafting and whatnot, but ultimately power is there to buy you speed, so why not just measure what you actually want to improve?
  • tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
    Thanks Guys for the advice, I think I will use both Power meter readings and VAM on certain hills local to my rides.
    The hill mentioned in my first post was at 299 Watts average but thats from Strava so it may be a little out.

    This may sound daft but I'm struggling to find a long hill with 6 to 8% gradient in Derbyshire :shock: Can anyone point one out for me as I'm sure there must be some in the Peak district.
    I have ridden these last year so at least have some to measure VAM.
    Cromford Hill + Bole Hill ( Matlock to Wirksworth ) = 1.45 mile, 566 feet at 7%
    Loads Road, Hollymoorside, Chesterfield = 1.75 mile, 631 feet at 7%

    Thanks gain chaps as any info for a new cyclist is a great help.

    Tony.
  • tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
    tonysj wrote:
    Thanks Guys for the advice, I think I will use both Power meter readings and VAM on certain hills local to my rides.
    The hill mentioned in my first post was at 299 Watts average but thats from Strava so it may be a little out.

    This may sound daft but I'm struggling to find a long hill with 6 to 8% gradient in Derbyshire :shock: Can anyone point one out for me as I'm sure there must be some in the Peak district.
    I have ridden these last year so at least have some to measure VAM.
    Cromford Hill + Bole Hill ( Matlock to Wirksworth ) = 1.45 mile, 566 feet at 7%
    Loads Road, Hollymoorside, Chesterfield = 1.75 mile, 631 feet at 7%

    Thanks again chaps as any info for a new cyclist is a great help.

    Tony.
  • I think wind will impact your VAM measurements. One day your VAM might be 1200 for a 6% gradient but you have a 20mph tailwind helping you. The next week it’s 900 but you have a headwind. How do you know you are on an improving trend? At least with watts you know how much work your doing to get up the hill. As you get stronger you should see an improving trend in your power average up a gradient. If you then record your weight you know your power to weight. That’s something concrete to chart improvements with. I wouldn’t worry to much about your cycling buddies. Just look for improvements in your own performance and you will start to climb the cycling pecking order.
  • I think wind will impact your VAM measurements. One day your VAM might be 1200 for a 6% gradient but you have a 20mph tailwind helping you. The next week it’s 900 but you have a headwind.

    Unlikely... firstly because a 20 mph tailwind is so unheard of that if I ever got one, I would stay well clear of hills and make the most of it on the flat.
    Secondly because at 9% average, the impact of air resistance is almost negligible (with a VAM of 1000 it means he is cycling at less than 7 mph) and small variations in it due to wind directions can be almost discounted.
  • norvernrobnorvernrob Posts: 1,448
    tonysj wrote:
    Thanks Guys for the advice, I think I will use both Power meter readings and VAM on certain hills local to my rides.
    The hill mentioned in my first post was at 299 Watts average but thats from Strava so it may be a little out.

    This may sound daft but I'm struggling to find a long hill with 6 to 8% gradient in Derbyshire :shock: Can anyone point one out for me as I'm sure there must be some in the Peak district.
    I have ridden these last year so at least have some to measure VAM.
    Cromford Hill + Bole Hill ( Matlock to Wirksworth ) = 1.45 mile, 566 feet at 7%
    Loads Road, Hollymoorside, Chesterfield = 1.75 mile, 631 feet at 7%

    Thanks gain chaps as any info for a new cyclist is a great help.

    Tony.

    Grindleford Hill? Froggatt? Baslow Hill? Not sure on the average gradients (7% ish I’d say) but they’re all more than a few minutes long.
  • There’s a local hill climb we do every year. It’s only a mile with around 9 or 10% gradient. The difference in timing between a tailwind year and a headwind year is up to 40 seconds. 3:35 with a taily 4:15 into a headwind. If you want to measure improvements in fitness then VAM is not the way to go IMHO.
  • How long do you want
    Long steep hills in Derbyshire:
    Kirk Dale near Ashford in the water, long and a brute
    Rowsley Bank, equally long and brutish
    Mam Tor from Edale
    Winnats pass
    B5053 Whatstandwell to Wirksworth
    Beeley climb from Beeley village to Beeley Moor

    Theres a few to be going on with
  • tonysjtonysj Posts: 326
    OnTheRopes wrote:
    How long do you want
    Long steep hills in Derbyshire:
    Kirk Dale near Ashford in the water, long and a brute
    Rowsley Bank, equally long and brutish
    Mam Tor from Edale
    Winnats pass
    B5053 Whatstandwell to Wirksworth
    Beeley climb from Beeley village to Beeley Moor

    Theres a few to be going on with

    OTR, Ive done some of those hills last year.
    Rowsley Bank,Once but found the road surface censored and traffic up your ar*e a uncomfortably experience...
    Beeley aka Hells Bank, a regular..
    Kirk Dale, Sheldon climb.Yes Brutal

    Not done
    Mam Tor from Edale only down the hill
    Winnays Pass is a definite I will do when the weather warms.
    B5053 Whatstandwell to Wirksworth, Ive done the Whatstandwell to Alderwasley which is just after the turnoff of the A6 but a left rather than follow the main B road.

    Thanks for that I will plan a route and pull some of those in on the route.

    T
  • I think wind will impact your VAM measurements. One day your VAM might be 1200 for a 6% gradient but you have a 20mph tailwind helping you. The next week it’s 900 but you have a headwind.

    Unlikely... firstly because a 20 mph tailwind is so unheard of that if I ever got one, I would stay well clear of hills and make the most of it on the flat.
    Secondly because at 9% average, the impact of air resistance is almost negligible (with a VAM of 1000 it means he is cycling at less than 7 mph) and small variations in it due to wind directions can be almost discounted.

    While the proportion of total energy demand used to overcome air resistance is small when climbing steep ascents, wind does have a sizeable impact on speed and VAM.

    On a 9% gradient a rider capable of sustaining a VAM of 1000m/h with zero wind, will, with a modest headwind of 2m/s see their VAM drop to 960m/h, while with a modest 2m/s tailwind their VAM would be 1023m/h.

    A stronger head/tail wind of 4m/s would see the VAM range from 908m/h to 1025m/h.

    As you can see, it's an asymmetric relationship in that headwinds punish ascent speed much more tailwinds aid it.
  • Benchmarking is irrelevant to load optimization
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 25,068
    I think wind will impact your VAM measurements. One day your VAM might be 1200 for a 6% gradient but you have a 20mph tailwind helping you. The next week it’s 900 but you have a headwind.

    Unlikely... firstly because a 20 mph tailwind is so unheard of that if I ever got one, I would stay well clear of hills and make the most of it on the flat.
    Secondly because at 9% average, the impact of air resistance is almost negligible (with a VAM of 1000 it means he is cycling at less than 7 mph) and small variations in it due to wind directions can be almost discounted.

    While the proportion of total energy demand used to overcome air resistance is small when climbing steep ascents, wind does have a sizeable impact on speed and VAM.

    On a 9% gradient a rider capable of sustaining a VAM of 1000m/h with zero wind, will, with a modest headwind of 2m/s see their VAM drop to 960m/h, while with a modest 2m/s tailwind their VAM would be 1023m/h.

    A stronger head/tail wind of 4m/s would see the VAM range from 908m/h to 1025m/h.

    As you can see, it's an asymmetric relationship in that headwinds punish ascent speed much more tailwinds aid it.

    To be honest if I was to call my VAM at 1000, I would consider 1020 within the "experimental error"... it's 2% and for most UK climb that means a handful of seconds... we all know how inaccurate GPS data are when it comes to seconds... I own a KOM as a result of inaccurate data :lol:
  • term1teterm1te Posts: 1,462
    I'm not sure if this has already been said, but didn't Ferrari use VAM to estimate w/kg? There is an online calculator https://www.cyclingpowerlab.com/VAM.aspx that you can plug your numbers into. There are even some scientific papers looking at the VAM w/kg relationship, if you're interested.


    As a scientist, I'm pleased to see the OP is measuring their distances down to mm accuracy, chapeau!
  • To be honest if I was to call my VAM at 1000, I would consider 1020 within the "experimental error"... it's 2% and for most UK climb that means a handful of seconds...
    What if it were a not noticeable headwind (2m/s) which caused a 4% error? We are now heading into the territory of the error being larger than the fitness change being measured (or attempted to be measured).

    Not sure I'd be using GPS. Beginning and ending landmarks and a watch are much better.
  • term1te wrote:
    I'm not sure if this has already been said, but didn't Ferrari use VAM to estimate w/kg? There is an online calculator https://www.cyclingpowerlab.com/VAM.aspx that you can plug your numbers into. There are even some scientific papers looking at the VAM w/kg relationship, if you're interested.

    I did this little item a while back examining the Ferrari VAM method for estimating W/kg when compared with a method using the equations of Martin et al (which has been validated):

    https://wattmatters.blog/home/2018/6/1/ ... -estimates

    TLDR; Ferrari's method is a quick and dirty estimate but has a small domain of validity. There are better methods.
  • ugo.santaluciaugo.santalucia Posts: 25,068
    To be honest if I was to call my VAM at 1000, I would consider 1020 within the "experimental error"... it's 2% and for most UK climb that means a handful of seconds...
    What if it were a not noticeable headwind (2m/s) which caused a 4% error? We are now heading into the territory of the error being larger than the fitness change being measured (or attempted to be measured).

    Not sure I'd be using GPS. Beginning and ending landmarks and a watch are much better.

    I agree...

    Trying to measure a fitness change of less than 4% is always going to be prone to error, whichever method one uses. It's not that a power meter doesn't have inbuilt error.
    People who don't come from a science background generally don't have an appreciacion of "error in measurememnt" and believe any number without questioning it... so you see folks worrying about their 220 HR spike or getting excited about their 1 second power output of 2,000 Watt.

    As you say, a stopwatch has probably the lowest error of all contraptions and measuring devices
  • It's not that a power meter doesn't have inbuilt error.
    A quality power meter used correctly will provide sufficient measurement accuracy and consistency for such fine level assessment.
  • john1967john1967 Posts: 366
    Just forget VAM and just use your FTP and your training zones.Keep things simple.
  • AlejandrosdogAlejandrosdog Posts: 2,007
    Ive found mFTP is actually a good measure of improvement. Avoiding over indulging helps too.

    It irons out inconsistencies.

    Assuming of course the objective is to be better at hills not just one specific hill.
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