Chris Carmichael Blog: Losing Weight Improves More Than Just Uphill Performance

Remember the old saying about not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone? Recently for me what’s gone is about 10 pounds of bodyweight. After consciously reducing my portion sizes through the winter and training for and participating in both the Trans Andes Challenge (January) and the Tour of California Race Experience (May), I’m the leanest I’ve been since probably the early 1990s. It wasn’t until the past two weeks, though, that I’ve really grown to appreciate what it means to be lean.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that losing weight will help you go uphill faster. But I think athletes underestimate how being lean improves performance in all terrain, and how it can improve the quality of your training.


Normally, this is where I put links that I think you might be interested in, but today I’m using this space to recognize some CTS Athletes. The best part is, this is just a small sampling of what CTS Athletes are accomplishing this season!

  • Katerina Nash – Will be representing the Czech Republic in mountain biking in her fourth Olympic Games
  • Erin Densham – Will be representing Australia in triathlon in her second Olympic Games
  • Anthony Zahn – Will be representing the USA in cycling in his first Paralympic Games
  • Ty Magner – Won the US U23 Criterium National Championships yesterday
  • Ryan Trebon – Won the Pro XCT mountain bike race in Colorado Springs last Saturday, and won Sunday’s Eliminator race as well!
  • Justin Williams – Finished 2nd in the US Elite Criterium National Championships
  • Sari Anderson – Won the Bailey Hundo mountain bike 100-miler
  • Tracy Thelen – Won the 24 Hours of Enchanted Forest, Co-Ed Duo with her husband Nick

Dragging your body around – whether you’re on your feet or being supported by wheels – costs a lot of energy, and every time you have to accelerate that mass or lift it against gravity you’re reducing the energy you have available for higher-quality, purposeful efforts in training or in a competition. Most athletes spend a portion of their workout getting to a place where they are going to do their hard work. The time spent getting there is not wasted time, but it’s also not the most productive time of the ride or run. But when you’re carrying more weight, that portion of your workout takes more out of you, leaving you with less energy for the efforts that make up the core goal of the training session.

This comes into play when you think about time-crunched athletes who need to accumulate a high amount of time-at-intensity even though their rides are relatively short. If conserving energy in the non-interval portions of your rides means you can either boost your power outputs during your intervals, increase the number of high-quality intervals you can perform, or both, then you’ll see bigger gains in the effectiveness of your interval workouts.

When it comes to competition, spending more energy dragging your belly over the hills early in the race means you’ll have less energy available for race-winning efforts later on. It’s not just a matter of having a high power-to-weight ratio so you can accelerate faster on a climb when it’s time to attack; it’s also a matter of being able to stay comfortably in the pack at 220 watts instead of having to ride at 235 to maintain the same position.

Being lean, therefore, is not just an end unto itself. The benefit isn’t just that you’ll go uphill faster. The pounds that I’d gained so gradually and carried for so long weren’t just slowing me down on climbs. They were making me work harder over every mile, which in turn meant I couldn’t work as hard when it really counted. Losing excess weight, then, can also be thought of as “fitness accelerator” because it enables you to create a greater distinction and separation between your productive training efforts and your generalized riding time.

Please note that I said “losing excess weight”. That’s an important distinction, because being too lean can lead to diminished performance and increased risk of illness. I don’t think that already-lean amateur athletes should obsess about losing even more weight. Rather, I think there are plenty of not-so-lean athletes out there who could lose 10 pounds, or more, without any risk of the problems associated with being too lean. I was one, and even after losing 10 pounds I’m neither emaciated nor notably skinny. But I am faster, and I’m seeing bigger incremental gains in fitness as the weeks go by. So will you.

Have a great weekend,
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

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