Help an old man climb hills

Hi everyone, I’d like some advice on cadence and hill climbing.

First some background. I’m a 65 year old man. Back when I was 60 I trained a lot on my bike and successfully did the Seattle-Portland ride, which is ~200 miles over two days. That was the focus of training for about a year. I have since let myself go, and am starting out cycling again from the beginning, with a focus on getting back to that level of fitness.

So I am doing the Fitness Kickstarter plan, and recently did the On Location - Catalunya: Costa Brava Coastline workout. This simulates a lot of hill climbing, with cadences down in the 60s. My normal cadence is more like 90. I’m on a Kickr bike in erg mode.

I’m wanting help in understanding the role off cadence and gearing when hill climbing. For the steepest hills, I’m in my granny gear and can do something like 80 rpm. Should I stay in granny gear and slow the cadence further, or try to speed it up to my usual cadence?

I believe that cadence is used to select what part of you is doing the work, with high cadences being cardio-vascular and low being sheer muscle. I’ve always believed that high cadence is better than low for endurance for this reason. But am I wrong? Should I just hit granny gear and grind away at 60 rpm until I’m over the hill (as it were)?

  • Mark

Not a scientific answer, but anecdotal. With a dearth of hills nearby (Chicago), my climbing experience is from several 200k rides with more than 3,000 meters of elevation (125 miles, 10,000 ft). Plus numerous FulGaz, RGT, Rouvy climbs in Europe.

What I tend to do is to vary my cadence based on perceived effort. If legs are tiring, I downshift to increase cadence, or if I’m getting winded, I upshift to lower my cadence. If neither are working, I slow down to recover at bit.


Love your questions. However you didn’t state very well how you handle long climbs. That brings said, my normal cadence is 90 on the flats. I try to maintain 70 or higher on my local mountain climb. That doesn’t stop my heart rate from climbing into the low 140s.
Now to the “what is best” part. If you love grinding up the hills at a 50 rpm cadence, do so. If you have to stay above 70, do so. As to what is impacted by running a higher cadence, that depends. You’ll impact the CV system at a higher than your normal cadence more than the actual physical activity. And you’ll impact it less at a lower than normal cadence. This just is. But the effect is less than riding up the hill in the first place. And it is noticable.
So, the previous answer definitely applies unless you are dealing with a CV situation. If your lungs are bursting, go to a smaller cog and push harder. If your legs are burning, move to a larger cog and spin for a while. If you can’t put out more power, go to a larger cog and try to recover.

   Thank you both!

One more thought. I could be wrong, but my understanding of those low cadence climbing workouts is more about making muscles stronger of longer time periods and not necessarily what you should be doing on a real climb which should be more what the other responses were alluding to. The low cadence work in the training should help you go up real climbs better/faster at the cadence that works best for you.


Also the low cadence workouts work muscle fibers we need when moving at low cadences, but rarely use at higher ones. Think of those times when you were moving slowly during a ride but suddenly had to move quickly and with a burst of energy. Yes, those muscles. They fatigue quickly if you don’t use them.

I’ve been thinking about this lately.
Personally I don’t consider anything under 7% a climb, anyway the hills of Turin where I train (may 21st 2022 stage of Giro d’Italia) are mostly 10-12%.
If I have 3ish w/kg, 34/28, I don’t have the choice to grind or spin for 30 min.
Maybe I can choose to grind at 50 or grind at 60.

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That depends on the other characteristics of the climb.

Haleakala has an average climb of 5% (with peaks of 10-15%), but it is 36 miles long. The last part of the climb is above 7000 feet until you get to the top at about 10,000

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Sounds like Mount Lemmon. It’s a long grind but the last 2km are the kicker with spots at over 10%. The best part is the views of the Sky Islands which go on for 100 miles.


Here is Mt. Lemmon:


The story doesn’t do it justice. You have to ride it.


Lucky enough to have visited Tucson back in February and rode Mt. Lemmon. Loads of fun! Lots of Tucson residents up at the top showing their kids all the snow they don’t see that often living in the desert. Meanwhile, as visitors from Colorado, we were enjoying the warm dry weather! I’ll be back this coming February as well


@Psychopasta - firstly welcome back to the bike. The answer is it depends on you. High cadence is aerobic fitness and lower cadence is muscular strength. There is a good article below which might help. However, what I would say is as I have got older I have found it easier to maintain aerobic fitness and harder to retain muscular strength. That should impact my training. I should be doing more strength and conditioning work to compensate for what I am weak at….but I like riding my bike. For me climbing is about getting a comfortable position and cadence and enjoying it. I will get out of the saddle on the steeper parts where cadence would drop too low or when I need a rest. The change in muscle group is enough to give the other muscles a rest before sitting down again.


In Chicago, all we’ve got are overpasses!

@oldmannick, thank you for your reply and the article. That was just what I wanted to know.

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Let me know when you are going to be here and I might join you if my health issues clear.

overpasses make great anaerobic intervals

edit: how do you reply with quote???

Highlight the passage you wish to quote and the word “quote” should appear.

(iOS version of Discourse).

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Yes! Those are good times for a nice quick VO2 effort.

I’d love to go back and ride that with you.

Back in 1994(?) I spent a month (April) in Tuscon at the National Gaurd base fitting boxes in F-16’s.
Lesson #1. Do not touch metal stuff that has been parked on the tarmac all day.
Lesson #2. Mountains that look close are 50+ miles away.