It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that losing weight will help you go uphill faster. But many athletes underestimate how being lean improves performance in all terrain, and how it can improve the quality of your training.
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 workouts are relatively short. If conserving energy in the non-interval portions of your workout means you can either boost your power outputs and paces 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. For cyclists 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 you’ve gained so gradually and carried for so long aren’t just slowing you down on climbs. They are making you work harder over every mile, which in turn means you can’t work as hard when it really counts. 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 the phrase “losing excess weight”. That’s an important distinction, because being too lean can lead to diminished performance and increased risk of illness. Already-lean amateur athletes should obsess about losing even more weight. Rather, 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.