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Chris Carmichael & Lance Armstrong's Cycling Hill-Training Adapted for Skate Training

eebee's picture

Before I explain the workout, I wanted to explain my reason for trying this: to get better at hill climbing! More truthfully, I'm right ticked off that I can't match Blake and others in hill climbing, and keep my heart rate at safer, similar levels to theirs. I can keep up before muscle failure, probably for about one and a half hours, but this won't do me any good on A2A or T2T, or any other all-day type of skate. So although I am noticing that I can get up the hills faster or stronger than I could in March of this year, I can't seem to actually lower my heart rate, even if I actually stop on the hill when I start redlining, or skate like a lumbering gibbon, sitting back on my heels. It's very frustrating. I have lost about 5lbs, and definitely have stronger leg muscles, so what's that matter here?


My previous logic before tonight was to go out and practice hills two nights a week, and more was better. That is, I'll improve at whatever I practice, sooner or later, right? Doesn't matter if it's the heart-rate equivalent of racing every Tuesday and Thursday night! If Eddy Matzger goes out and skates 250 miles in California or Virginia during the week, of course he'll think A2A is a piece of cake!


To counter this greyhound train of thought, Blake always maintains that training mostly under one's lactate threshold will set you up for a better long-distance event. I know this to be true from experience, but I also remember back in the day when I started skating, making progress in leaps and bounds when I didn't know what the heck I was doing, thrashing my arms and charging at dizzying heart rate levels up a hill. Part of me still believes this works, because it worked once.


Not wishing to be the team charity case who bonks and lets everybody down during an event, I have been noticing Blake's heart rate being consistently lower relative to himself than mine to me, for about 5 weeks now. I'm more than happy to be kindly serene if somebody else bonks :-). For help I turned to a book Blake gave me, The Lance Armstrong Performance Program, by Chris Carmichael and Lance Armstrong.


Why be thorough? I jumped straight in at the Climbing chapter and tried out the 'Increase your climbing lactate threshold' workout 30 minutes later on my favorite hill route. Here's what the book recommends for cyclists:


Climbing Repeats

Goal: Increase your climbing lactate threshold
Where: A road with a long steady climb
(I didn't have one of those but a shorter, steep climb that I did 3 times in a row)
How: Focus on continuous riding without interruptions for the length of the prescribed interval. Riding intensity should be in the 78 percent to 83 percent range of your maximum heart rate (...) The length of the workout should range from 5 to 15 minutes and recovery time between repeats should be 5 to 10 minutes.


Sample workout:
- Total ride time 75 minutes at 65 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate
- Perform two intervals of 12 minutes each at 78 to 83 percent of your maximum heart rate
- Recover for 10 minutes between efforts


At first I almost gave up in tears and went home because I mistakenly believed my heart rate was 65% of my max upon jumping off my car bumper! Blake explained my Polar heart rate monitor was probably measuring from zero to my max and giving me 65% of that, instead of 65% of the bpms between my resting heart rate and my max. So with that soothing pep-talk I did a 15 minute warm up on the flattest part of the road I could find, which ended up being about a 100 meter stretch at the bottom of the two hills. I then did my first 12 minute interval somewhat reluctantly, glaring at the squirrels on the side of the road and complaining "I'll never get up that hill under 83% of my max!", and "Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong, the Editor and the Publisher are all liars! This will never help me make progress!". Well guess what? I actually achieved it. Six times, in fact. And sometimes with a good 4 bpms to spare! Granted, I was going painfully slowly, but amazingly I did it. I was very happy to be under 170 for once, going all the way up a steep hill.


How is this different or better than what I previously achieved on these same hills? Well going out twice a week and climbing the same hill 17 times in an hour wasn't bringing me anything but faintness, and zero heart rate improvements.


I rested 10 mins between the two intervals, and 'cooled down' for 10 minutes.

Skating and cycling are not the same, of course, and I wondered briefly if the heart rate numbers would translate properly. Then I remembered one of Barry Publow's Interval Training workouts, which call for a high point of 85% of your max, so thought it might be a good guideline.

After finding out I was indeed capable of matching the workout heart rate numbers, I was encouraged that this might be the answer I've been looking for, and that it'll help me achieve my goal over time. We shall see.


skatey-mark's picture

technique, technique, technique....

Hill climbing, like every other aspect of speed skating requires good technique as well as fitness.  It sounds like the Armstrong training is designed to build fitness.  I do agree with the methodology of climbing the hill at a submaximal heart rate.  I've been doing quite a bit of reading on the "Maffetone Method" and he recommends training at an even LOWER heart rate than what you're doing.  Imagine trying to climb that hill at 140 bpm -- that may be close to what you're doing now, depending on what your maximum heart rate is.  Anyway, I'll devote a whole post to Maffetone's book soon, since some of it makes alot of sense, but some of it seems a bit arbitrary -- might spark a good discussion.


Getting back to hill technique, I can't say I remember what you look like going up hills, but I do know many people share some common technique issues:

  • not getting knees together during the recovery
  • pushing back too far, and not enough to the side
  • no weight transfer (try to muscle-it up the hill)


Now, with all my flatland training getting ready for Montreal, I can't remember the last time I climbed a hill on skates!  It must have been one of the unseasonably warm days in Jan/Feb when we did the Blue Jay Point route in North Raleigh.  There were some pretty good climbs there, but I know that there are even steeper climbs in Georgia.  The steeper the hill, the more difficult it will be to have good technique.


Now that I'll finally be adding some hill training to my own schedule, I'll probably find my heart rate going through the roof too!   So I'll be trying to be conscious of my own technique and make sure I'm not just hacking my way up the hills...


- SM - 

eebee's picture

Technique: the Marcia, the Ann, the Jack, the Blake, the Craig..

Thanks for mentioning technique! I almost included that in my post. I have concluded that when I get to having 10bpms to spare about 2/3 of the way up the hill I will then kick in some technique work. Unfortunately I have found that working on different aspects of technique whilst hill climbing only serves to spike my heart rate even sooner, even if I'm only concentrating on central set-down and sidewards push! Very frustrating.


Oh my gosh, under 140bpm? Wow. I can't imagine. Some years ago I tried walking these hills and couldn't keep under 140. Let me know if you can achieve this, Skatey-Mark. I know in theory it should be possible, but I guess it depends on the hill, too.


I will be very interested to see what you find from the Maffetone Method, especially from your training viewpoint so far this year.


Here is a random cross-section of folk I've had the pleasure of skating behind. I have found that mimicking their strokes uphill gets me up a hill faster and smoother. However, it also puts me up to 90-100% range within seconds.


Marcia W.: She has a very long forward reach with her set-down foot, which brings me to imagine her support skate reaching up a hill and pulling her faster towards the top (she does this on the flats, too!).

Athensannie: Ann uses the latin dancing approach, using hip weight to garner extra momentum per leg. It works beautifully for her and helps me a little. This might be something I should try to adopt.

Jack: For the life of me I cannot do what Jack does on skates! Just when you think he has ridden all the mileage he can out of one stroke, swoosh! He gets even more out of it! We're all skating behind him, three strokes to his one, and he's leaving us in the dust. He's barely breaking a sweat.

Blake: I tried channelling Blake's uphill technique once, and found it very efficient. But again my heart rate was through the roof. Blake has a combination of a low knee bend, far-forwards reaching set-down skate (like Marcia), and great weight-shifting in the hips. He also adds a little hop right before the set-down. When he's doing this his heart rate monitor is happily going "beep-beep-beep-beep...I'm under my ra-aaange!".

Craig: As with Jack, I cannot for the life of me do what Craig does! I can't actually ever see what Craig does because he has shot up the hill like a human cannonball and out of sight. But from the sounds of his skates, he has a super-quick cadence.

There are other very talented skaters of course, that I have had the pleasure of trying to mimic, so this is just a random sampling. I am hoping once I get some heart-rate leverage, I can steal some of these technique aspects and make a pastiche (thanks Word-A-Day!) of uphill technique, that'll complement my style.

timv's picture

HRM For Technique Practice?

Interesting observations on climbing techniques there. I notice that "the Tim" didn't make your list, and I'm not at all surprised because I think I struggle worse than you do going up hills. And I don't have any idea how Jack does what he does either. I know that he's really strong, has great technique, and he weighs about as much as one of my legs. But I still can't see where all of that glide comes from!


One of the things I've been thinking about this year is Eddy Matzger's old article about changing to "a lower gear" to get up hill, using a shorter push and a higher cadence. More or less trying to skate more like Craig--in my imagination anyway, because I doubt that what I'm doing looks even the least bit like what he does.


Once again that advice to "get lower" comes up, and you and I might be up against a similar situation here. I think we're both long-limbed and profoundly northern European slow-twitchers, and that we aren't innately built for sprinting or for doing quick explosive strides to get up a hill most effectively--except for Jack of course, who is not affected by gravity. :-)


But I wonder about the wisdom of being locked on your HRM display while you're trying to work on hill technique. When you're practicing something new, you necessarily won't be smooth and relaxed enough to do it efficiently. That's the point of practicing. And you'll probably be relying on some muscle fibers that you haven't used much and which haven't been endurance trained, so it wouldn't be surprising that your heart rate jumps when you start to use them.


My suggestion would be to forget about heart rate while you're working on hill technique. When you get it to the point where you're going up hills with the new technique without having to thing about it, when it's become second nature, then you could consider it as part of your aerobic training. And if you really just want to do aerobic training right now, then go up the hills as slowly as you need to and forget about it for now. It seems to me like those are really two different things to be working on.

eebee's picture

Hill climbing technique & heart rate

Made me laugh, Tim! You might be on to something with the Northern European slow-twitchers.

Also, I guess I did what I don't like about captions under event photos - for example, if somebody puts the words 'pretty ladies' under a photo showing a couple of women, but not under every photo of all women, those captionless might assume they are not pretty! 

I've skated behind you on the flat, but I don't remember being behind you up a hill much.

I agree that climbing technique and heart rate are two different issues. In 8 years of skating I haven't yet figured it out. About 6 weeks ago I started to try the approach that if I threw myself at these steep hills for an hour twice a week, sooner or later I'd get better at it and my heart rate would improve both on that course and any other hilly course. Well this didn't happen, apparently. But in throwing myself at these hills and not worrying about my heart rate, I was able to work on technique. It got me up the hill more smoothly and with less leg-muscle pain, but no heart-rate improvements. Maybe I was too impatient. I'm not sure how long it realistically takes for one's heart rate to become lower as a result of your body getting used to a particular onslaught. I need to be able to do hills and not bonk for 87 miles in October!

eebee's picture

Technique - Jack, are your ears burning yet?!

Ok I was just out at Stone Mountain, GA, doing a 6 mile hilly section over and over. I had some brief moments of clarity. I remembered watching Jack skate once, as I was sat on the bench at Greensboro's Country Park. His set-down is so naturally advantageous, I swear I think the man was born with speedskates for feet, and wheels for toes. One thing that clicks for me when I'm emulating Jack's stroke (at least in my head, like you said, Tim), is a central, heel-first and forwards-leading set-down. However, this only works for me on flat-to-moderately hilly terrain, and not at all on steep hills.


I'd like to define 'steep' as the first hill you guys do on your Country Park loop, by the memorial, or Burns Road on A2A leading up to crossing over Indian Trail Road, about mile 65. This type of hill, for me, indicates hors technique! Fahgeddaboudit.


Happily, the Stone Mountain hills weren't quite as heart-stopping as I remembered them to be in the past, but I was still tired after 4 laps. I must've made some progress, even though my hrm doesn't show it. Maybe asthma and particulate matter have something to do with it, or maybe those are lame excuses!

eebee's picture

Tribble Mill Park MapMyRide Route Mileage & Elevation

Here's a real slap-dash effort at a new and improved hill route for my skate training at Tribble Mill Park, Gwinnett County, GA. Check the box on the left to show elevation, if you care.


It's interesting, although I don't fully understand it yet. Instead of doing the endless loop in the center, I have added a trip down a twisty, slick and bepeopled trail (not marked on this map) to get to the 'flat' path alongside Ozora Lake. The plan is to stabilize my heart-rate yet still keep skating and then haul my rear end up the longer parking-lot hill (bottom right hand road).


I'm posting this after having searched online unsuccessfully for somebody's GPS/elevation details of the roads in Tribble Mill Park. Mountain bikers were the most likely to mention going out there with their GPS to get some numbers on their workouts, but none of them posted their findings. I don't have a GPS, but MapMyRide provides an eyeball at the elevation.

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