If you have a GPS, or you use a GPS app like MapMyRide on your phone, there is a metric you can use to improve your climbing and fitness on the bike. VAM, which stands for la velocità ascensionale media in Italian, translates roughly to average ascent velocity. VAM is more fun to say, so let’s use that and focus on how you can get faster using this metric.
VAM is similar to speed except it tracks how fast you go up vertically rather than horizontally between two points. While speed is measured in miles or kilometers per hour, VAM is measured in vertical meters per hour (vmh). It tells you how many meters you would climb if you went up a moderate grade for an hour.
While power is relatively stable across terrain, VAM is very sensitive, and therefore it is best used on moderate grades (5–10%) with minimal wind and relatively steady gradients. If you rode a perfectly flat road, your VAM would be around zero no matter how hard you pedaled — so speed, power, heart rate and perceived exertion are your best bet on flat and variable terrain, not VAM.
VAM is a common metric which can be displayed on many apps and devices; look for it under the altitude or speed data fields settings. Most devices give you an option to display instantaneous VAM or a rolling average for 30 seconds. The rolling average is more stable to track while pedaling so you can adjust your effort gradually as the number changes.
THREE WAYS TO USE VAM IN YOUR WORKOUTS
1. KEEP YOUR VAM UP
Climb the hill you usually use for your training — in group rides or workouts — to get your average VAM. Then, build a workout around this VAM. Watch the VAM and focus on keeping it above your average. For example, if you’re riding at 700 Vm/h and drop to 500 Vm/h, pedal faster. If you’re constantly getting dropped on this hill, take your fastest VAM for 3 minutes and use that number for 1–2-minute hill repeats.
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2. KEEP GROUPS TOGETHER OR RECOVER
Set a VAM limit. Power is relative to bodyweight on climbs, so it’s less useful to set a limit for a group. For a fit group of juniors we might use 900 vm/h and as the coach I would watch if this is too easy or too hard as gradient, temperature and fatigue set in.
VAM can be used similarly with a friend as you can simply watch how fast they go on a few climbs and then use that to help limit your own efforts. You can also use this to control how hard you go on your own easy days.
3. DO INTERVALS AT YOUR THRESHOLD VAM
Just like power or heart rate, you can do intervals on a known climb or use a well-tested threshold VAM to set a goal VAM for your intervals.
To get a rough idea of your threshold VAM — or a “best VAM” on the local climb — ride at a hard and steady pace all the way up your climb. Ideally, this will be 20–60 minutes for threshold, but you can also do the same thing on a shorter local climb. To set your interval targets, subtract 5–10% and use that as your VAM target. This is a great way to track your performance in a workout and compare to previous workouts. Add a little bit to your goal interval VAM each workout and watch your fitness improve.
Another workout is to ride just over and just under your goal VAM. For example, if your best VAM was 1000 vm/h, you could ride at 1100+ VAM for 30–60 seconds, then recover at 800–900 vm/h.
Do some research and play with your device to see if you already have this powerful metric strapped to your handlebar waiting to boost your next interval session.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE