General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help Rss Feed  
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2013-09-02 6:52 PM

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Subject: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
Alright so I have built into decent bike shape several times (600-950 miles per month) with 1-2 10 mile climbs at 2-6% grade per week. (5000 ish miles per year cycling) and then I go to work on hill repeats on a steeper hill 6 to 10 percent hill .4 miles long. Twice now I have pulled a calf muscle trying to climb this steeper hill a little faster. My gear set is 34/50 up front 12/25 in back. Will changing to a 12/30 in back and spinning up the hill with a higher cadence build hill climbing fitness better than what I have been doing or is it possible that I am doing something wrong with my pedal stroke. Ya I know hard to answer. I think I might have been pulling up a little on the backstroke when trying to climb faster. Any insights would be helpful as this trashes my IM training and races. I would really like to be better at hills while without tearing up my calves. Help please bike gurus.


2013-09-03 9:24 AM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
Originally posted by Baowolf

Alright so I have built into decent bike shape several times (600-950 miles per month) with 1-2 10 mile climbs at 2-6% grade per week. (5000 ish miles per year cycling) and then I go to work on hill repeats on a steeper hill 6 to 10 percent hill .4 miles long. Twice now I have pulled a calf muscle trying to climb this steeper hill a little faster. My gear set is 34/50 up front 12/25 in back. Will changing to a 12/30 in back and spinning up the hill with a higher cadence build hill climbing fitness better than what I have been doing or is it possible that I am doing something wrong with my pedal stroke. Ya I know hard to answer. I think I might have been pulling up a little on the backstroke when trying to climb faster. Any insights would be helpful as this trashes my IM training and races. I would really like to be better at hills while without tearing up my calves. Help please bike gurus.


I'm no doctor, just someone that has been injury many times myself. Go find a good orthopedist. Mine is a 7 time Ironman Finisher, so she has been their, done that.

What is your cadence rate? Are you standing up trying to go faster? Do you normally ride on flat or hilly terrain? Is it really a calf pull or a torn muscle? How long does this injury last? Can you still run without pain?

Not knowing these answers I'm going to make some assumptions. I bet your cadence rate is too low and you're standing up trying to go faster. That puts a lot of force on your calf muscle. I know of cyclist that never use hills for speed workouts. They do all of their intervals of flat terrain. I'm one of them. Basically stay seated as much as possible and increase your cadence for hill climbing.

If your calf muscle hurts for more than a few days, you might have a torn calf muscle. Torn calf muscles can take more than three months to fully heal even if there is no pain. There are various levels of injury, however you need to know exactly what is going on with the injury. You don't want this to turn into a chronic thing.

Are you doing eccentric heal drops as part of your normal routine? If not I would recommend looking into doing this exercise.

My 2 cents. Good luck recovering!
2013-09-03 9:57 AM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
I'm no doctor either. But every time I get a soft tissue injury its because I was compensating for something else. For example, I recently had forefoot pain which turned out to be caused by a hip mobility issue limiting my glute engagement during running. Because these things are complicated, it takes a while to figure out what the *real* issue is.

In your case, maybe you're using your calf to compensate for some other weakness on your injured side. How's the quads/glutes/hip/hamstring strength and mobility on the injured side versus on the uninjured side? Knees tracking OK? Maybe someone can watch you to see if you are asymmetric on the bike -- that might clue you into what you are doing. If you have a Computrainer, you might look at the SpinScan feature to see the force applied as a function of rotation angle.

Good luck healing the calf and figuring it out.
2013-09-03 10:47 AM
in reply to: rockymtnhigh

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
If you went from riding long but easy climbs to doing fast steep climbs suddenly its no surprise your calves are angry.

At this point I would change your cassette, we're way too close to race day for any real adaptation to take place.


2013-09-03 10:59 AM
in reply to: LittleCat

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help

Originally posted by LittleCat If you went from riding long but easy climbs to doing fast steep climbs suddenly its no surprise your calves are angry. At this point I would change your cassette, we're way too close to race day for any real adaptation to take place.

Without knowing more, this comes to mind for me as well. That long climb is good, but if you aren't trying to kill it then it's going to be a sizeable jump in effort to the shorter ones you're hammering on. That doesn't mean the long climb was done "'wrong", just looking at how your training has been done. This happens to me too. More hard training and it seems to work itself out, though maybe slightly less hard until it does. Complete the workout and build off that.

Since it's basically going too hard for fitness, keep an eye out for other ways this could sneak in there. Is your cadence dropping substantially for these repeats? Are you standing a lot more than you have been (vs sitting)? You mentioned you might be pulling up on the back, could be pulling through the bottom, but whichever it is, you could be working your calves more. The other two questions are ways that could happen without realizing it.

2013-09-03 10:59 AM
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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
Thanks for the posts. So no I am not standing on the the bike to get up the hill faster. That would be less efficient and ya more strain on the legs. My rpms on the steeper hills is very low 50 ish I think, it is an effort just to roll the pedals around. I don't get injured when running I put in about 1500 miles a year running. It is specific to the bike when going up steeper hills and trying to increase speed. I think I am pulling up on the back of the stroke on the hill which is putting too much stress on my calf muscles. I can't spin faster because the hill is too steep for the geering (34/25). The only way to spin faster is to pull up on the backstroke push forward across the top (which irritates my shin muscles) and push hard on the downstroke which I can feel in my hamstring and thighs. My magical thinking is that my gearing is too hard so I am ripping up my muscles on the hills, so if I lower the gearing (34/30) then I might be able to work on going up the hills with a higher cadence and safer workouts for my legs. That is my theory anyway, wanted to know if anyone had any insight into this part of it.

A tear/pull is the same thing damage to the soft tissue. I can shuffle on it (slow short stride jog motion, minimal calf engagement) but can't run full stride on it for longer distances (IMTahoe in 3 weeks, yay). My 18 mile run on Sunday was long with some walking. The leg was alright for the first 10 miles then sharp pain, so I dropped to a walk and then the shuffle several miles later. So I have taper to IMTahoe, then 11% grade on the bike in the race followed by the marathon before I cna properly take 6 weeks off to let everything heal up before rebuilding from scratch. A doc is gona tell me don't run on it and it will heal in 6 weeks, then walk/jog back to fitness over the next month or two. Also where I live the nearest sports doc is 2 hours + away.

So ya plan is to ice, anti-inflam, shuffle rather than run on the flats (no hill running), bike on the trainer. I will complete the IM or not, but I am more concerned about how to prevent the problem in the future. I am hoping the gearing change will lower the stress level enough to be able to spin up the hills without breaking the engine. (torc issue). I was hoping that someone could confirm that my thinking is on the right track or that I might be missing something. Ya I could do more calf stretches, but not sure that will fix the in the moment on the hill thing.

Hehe ya for me 3-6% isn't easy but it is much easier than 10-11%. I wasn't even hitting it em that fast (6-7 mph) as apposed to (5-6 mph). Oh well, yups what is is.

So what I am hearing is hit the 6% hills harder and hold off on the steeper hills until I am really solid on the less steep hills? Is there a trick to going up hills faster with the pedal stroke or is it just doing it and doing it and doing it and ...

Edited by Baowolf 2013-09-03 11:09 AM


2013-09-03 11:15 AM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help

Originally posted by Baowolf Thanks for the posts. So no I am not standing on the the bike to get up the hill faster. That would be less efficient and ya more strain on the legs. My rpms on the steeper hills is very low 50 ish I think, it is an effort just to roll the pedals around. I don't get injured when running I put in about 1500 miles a year running. It is specific to the bike when going up steeper hills and trying to increase speed. I think I am pulling up on the back of the stroke on the hill which is putting too much stress on my calf muscles. I can't spin faster because the hill is too steep for the geering (34/25). The only way to spin faster is to pull up on the backstroke push forward across the top (which irritates my shin muscles) and push hard on the downstroke which I can feel in my hamstring and thighs. My magical thinking is that my gearing is too hard so I am ripping up my muscles on the hills, so if I lower the gearing (34/30) then I might be able to work on going up the hills with a higher cadence and safer workouts for my legs. That is my theory anyway, wanted to know if anyone had any insight into this part of it. A tear/pull is the same thing damage to the soft tissue. I can shuffle on it (slow short stride jog motion, minimal calf engagement) but can't run full stride on it for longer distances (IMTahoe in 3 weeks, yay). My 18 mile run on Sunday was long with some walking. The leg was alright for the first 10 miles then sharp pain, so I dropped to a walk and then the shuffle several miles later. So I have taper to IMTahoe, then 11% grade on the bike in the race followed by the marathon before I cna properly take 6 weeks off to let everything heal up before rebuilding from scratch. A doc is gona tell me don't run on it and it will heal in 6 weeks, then walk/jog back to fitness over the next month or two. Also where I live the nearest sports doc is 2 hours + away. So ya plan is to ice, anti-inflam, shuffle rather than run on the flats (no hill running), bike on the trainer. I will complete the IM or not, but I am more concerned about how to prevent the problem in the future. I am hoping the gearing change will lower the stress level enough to be able to spin up the hills without breaking the engine. (torc issue). I was hoping that someone could confirm that my thinking is on the right track or that I might be missing something. Ya I could do more calf stretches, but not sure that will fix the in the moment on the hill thing. Hehe ya for me 3-6% isn't easy but it is much easier than 10-11%. I wasn't even hitting it em that fast (6-7 mph) as apposed to (5-6 mph). Oh well, yups what is is. So what I am hearing is hit the 6% hills harder and hold off on the steeper hills until I am really solid on the less steep hills? Is there a trick to going up hills faster with the pedal stroke or is it just doing it and doing it and doing it and ...

Something that might help relieve some strain on your calf...

When you climb, focusing on the forward/backward motion of your pedaling, not the up/down.

2013-09-03 11:45 AM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help

Originally posted by Baowolf

So no I am not standing on the the bike to get up the hill faster. That would be less efficient and ya more strain on the legs.

Sometimes, standing may be a good option when climbing.  Especially if forced into an unnaturally low cadence.

2013-09-03 11:46 AM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help

Your glutes/quads/hams on the downstroke are the big movers that are going to get you up the hill -- pulling back with the ham/calf doesn't add much to your power. Do you pull back with both legs in the same fashion? What happens during non-hill intervals with the same power -- presumably you use a higher cadence -- do you still pull back with the ham/calf?

As far as easier ways to get up a hill, you dont need to stay seated up a 10% grade -- standing may use a bit more energy, but its nice change for the working muscles, keeps them fresher, and relieves the burden on the quads. Alternating 90 secs sitting with 30 secs standing works nicely.

Sounds like a different casette until you gain the glute/quad strength is a reasonable compromise.

2013-09-03 4:35 PM
in reply to: rockymtnhigh

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
Good stuffs thanks. Tell me more about the forward backward motion as compared with the up down motion. The sitting standing ratio sounds intersting as well for steeper hills. Like said I typically do 6% grade so the 10-12% at tahoe will be um interesting. And ya no real time to fix the engine between now and then, maybe next year I can bring a little more power. I don't have a power meeter or anything that fancy. On the flat when I bike harder I am mostly focused on pushing down harder and not on pulling up. On the steep hills I am already pushing down that hard and not going any faster, so I was trying to get a little more uphta by pushing forward across the top of the stroke and pulling up on the pedal. Wasn't really thinking about it mostly diagnosing what I did after the fact.

Not sure how to get my legs strong enough to be a better cyclist, do you guy lift weights in addiiton to cycling lots? How many weekly miles do you consider par if someone wants to get better/faster at the IM distance? And how much interval vs. just miles vs. hills? Ya I know all individual, just trying to find some direction for the bike. No bike clubs, gyms, tri clubs, other triathletes, other cyclists or runners where I live. Just cows, deer and snakes.

Also I didn't start any of this triathlon stuff until 2007 so newer to the sport. I have done 3 prior IMs, 4 HIMs, 3 marys etc. Best IM 11:40:00, best mary 3:19:30, best HIM bike 20 mph slight rolling hills course with some flat stretches, IM bike 17.6-17.8 mph (Vineman and CDA).
2013-09-03 8:12 PM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help

No weight training, but some functional strength work more for running than cycling. I put in about the same amount of miles you do (150 - 250 / week), split into one long ride, one "sweet spot" ride, one interval ride, and a few easy rides per week. The long ride typically has a lot of climbing. I'll skip the easy rides if there's a time crunch -- they're mostly commuting to work or to the pool. Sometimes I get shelled and need to back off for a week to recover.

My best investment was a Computrainer a few years ago. They're a little antiquated, but being able to dial in a wattage and hold it in erg mode is priceless.

BTW, I wish I had your run speed!


2013-09-04 8:58 AM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help

I am not sure about the "forward and backward" focus.  Generally, focus on applying force down on the pedal.  You should never really be pulling up, even on a hill.

To get your legs stronger as a cyclist, ride lots.  Mostly hard, sometimes easy.  One of the better "training plans" I have seen in order to really focus on the bike is the following:

Day 1: 2 x 20'  with <5' rest between sets, try to hold same output for both intervals (95% of FTP)
Day 2: 1 x 20', basically time trial effort (100-105% FTP)
Day 3: REST or very easy--like 30-60' of soft-pedalling (~50% FTP)

Repeat over and over and over...  Every other cycle, replace Day 2 with VO2 work.  Something like 5x5' with 3-5' of rest between.  (110-115% FTP).

I know you said you don't have a powermeter, so just use those FTP %ages to give yourself an idea of what you should be aiming for.  FTP is the steady power you could hold in a 1 hour all-out time trial.  Those are all challenging workouts.  That program does not leave much room for running (certainly nothing above very easy running).  So you could dial it back a bit if you didn't want to commit that much to the bike (e.g., insert another bike rest day between Day 1 and Day 2).  But, it will work.

2013-09-04 9:02 AM
in reply to: Baowolf

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help

I haven't lifted for anything in a few years, and did so previously to become stronger, not to become a better cyclist. Although if I remember your age right you might consider it for more general health purposes, but that might be another topic.

For the riding, what you want to do is create lots of aerobic stress. You can do this by riding lots of miles at an easier effort, but as you've seen, the mileage needed to continue improving quickly becomes very substantial. So more harder work will be needed to create a higher training load (load is a product of intensity and duration). A number of terms and ideas can be thrown around, but to simplify things one can largely look at threshold performance and then also work on some other things (such as performance at VO2). Hills work can be misunderstood. It's not as much about being able to ride hills specifically as it is to make it easier to push yourself more. Pretty much the same work can be done in the flats, the hills would be a tool to help you work harder. Sweet spot is another thing that comes up, but it's meant to work your threshold and be able to create a lot of aerobic stress, as it's an area right on zone 3 & 4 crossover. It's not necessary to work this for the sake of doing so, but it's a very useful effort level in creating lots of aerobic stress quickly.

With the running and swimming involved (especially with how much I'm trying to push my swimming), it can be tricky in saying how often to push it, but I do put in at least sweet spot when riding at least several times a week. How I put everything in does vary depending on the overall schedule. Sometimes it will be more harder riding during the week with a bigger ride around IM effort or just over on the weekend pushing some on the hills (locally they're way smaller than what you see). Sometimes I'll do several somewhat bigger rides in the week and push the effort up for bigger blocks of time.

Stronger threshold work would be something like 2 x 20' solidly in threshold (or Z4). Some higher level would be 1 x20' at or over threshold (high Z4) or broken up into intervals of short recovery. Sometimes this may be switched for VO2 work up in Z5. Shorter intervals on approximately equal work/rest ratios, usually 3-5' for me, but can be done shorter still. (I don't like just saying "intervals" as there is a substantial difference in all of these though all are intervals.) Then sweet spot can vary widely in use. I've done 2 x 15-20' when other days are bigger and harder. But have also done things like 3 x 20' plus 1 x 45' up in this range. Or 4 x 30'.

To help simplify this, for awhile earlier this year I did stronger threshold early in the week (like 2 x 20'), one of the big sweet spot rides mid-week (Start smaller, then build up to 3 x 20' or 2 x 30' if you want to do a lot of it), a high Z4 (20-30' of hard work split into 5-8' intervals on 1-2' recovery) or Z5 late week (near 20' of very hard work on 3-5' intervals with ~equal recovery), and then a bigger ride on the weekends. I don't know that the order is overly important, so long as you do the work in a way that works for you. More recently as I'm getting closer to a bigger race I've mixed it up some so that a couple of the mid-week rides are bigger and also still have harder work in them (race specificity). I'm also including it in more in the weekend ride as well, so I guess you can say 3 rides a week that include at least some solid work plus whatever other riding you can add on top of that. For me, the other rides are around what would be IM effort.

You actually hurt yourself riding, so you can push hard. That doesn't happen very often. So it's more learning how hard to push and for how long. And for the IM, definitely put that 12-30 on as it's sounds like you're going to low and having to push too hard to even keep it at that.

2013-09-04 9:16 AM
in reply to: JohnnyKay

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
Originally posted by JohnnyKay

I am not sure about the "forward and backward" focus.  Generally, focus on applying force down on the pedal.  You should never really be pulling up, even on a hill.

I'm not sure either. Focus on the down part. Riding hard and riding lots will help figure out the timing between the legs. This is another way hills can be a useful tool as they'll amplify if that timing is off, although some of those hills intervals have been so much that they overdo that emphasis with your cadence getting down to 50 or so.

2013-09-04 11:24 AM
in reply to: brigby1

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Subject: RE: Calf pull trying to get faster on the bike climb, Help
Originally posted by brigby1
Originally posted by JohnnyKay

I am not sure about the "forward and backward" focus.  Generally, focus on applying force down on the pedal.  You should never really be pulling up, even on a hill.

I'm not sure either. Focus on the down part. Riding hard and riding lots will help figure out the timing between the legs. This is another way hills can be a useful tool as they'll amplify if that timing is off, although some of those hills intervals have been so much that they overdo that emphasis with your cadence getting down to 50 or so.

Just to clarify - not as a new form, but used as a tool to possibly delay the onset of calf cramping by bringing some other muscles into the mix. 

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