Climbing Hills

I am looking to get some tips on hill climbing technique. I am 83kg, 28 yrs old and have been riding crits and time trials for a little while now - approx six months.

I am happy with the way my cycling is progressing with the exception of my ability to climb hills. I understand that different riders are better suited to certain aspects of cycling and that some riders are "hill climbers" - but I am looking for some technical and/or fitness tips to improve this aspect of my riding.

Is there anything you can suggest?

J. Dalton

Dave Palese replies:

Improving one's climbing takes practice and patience.

The prerequisites for improved climbing are: strength (trained with a combination of on-the-bike and off-the-bike (gym) strength training); endurance; and muscular endurance. It is important, to make long-term improvements in your climbing, that you spend a good chunk of time training these abilities and the systems that support them, the aerobic and lactic acid systems. Long easy miles on flat to rolling courses, that include Tempo training, and later Threshold training, will help to make your climbing specific workouts much more effective and of a higher quality.

"Climbing" is a pretty broad term, but there generally are two types of hills:

1) The short "sprinter", or "power" hill, usually taking less than three minutes to climb. The keys to success on these hills are explosive strength and submaximal endurance.

2) long climbs, lasting five or more minutes.

For the "sprinter's" hill, try adding some Hill Repeats to your training week.

These efforts should be done on a hill that takes about 90 seconds to three minutes to climb. Keep your cadence high, 85-100 rpm, to keep the intensity high. Reduce gearing to manage the intensity. Do not reduce cadence. Climb at an aggressive pace for the first two-thirds of the climb after coming into the hill at a good speed. Then shift up a cog or two harder, stand up, and sprint for the last third to the climb. You may want to do these efforts on the same hill, doing the effort, turning around and recovering rolling back down. Recovery between repeats is easy spinning, for five minutes.

You may start by doing 90 second repeats on a hill that is longer, using only a portion of the climb. I suggest starting with a conservative length repeat, like 90 seconds. If you can complete three to five repeats in a session that are of consistent quality, then increase the length of the repeats to 105-120 seconds, and so on.

To train for longer climbs, find a climb that will take 10 minutes or more to climb. Start by doing intervals of seven to ten minutes at your climbing pace. For your first session, start with 21-30 minutes of total climbing done as 3x7-10 minute climbing intervals, with 10 minutes of easy spinning between intervals. Work up to 45-60 minutes of total climbing, maybe done as 3x15-20, or 4x12-15 minutes as examples.

For an added twist, include some short accelerations in the longer intervals. Climb for at least five minutes at your climbing pace. Then shift one or two cogs harder, stand up and accelerate for 30 seconds to a minute. Shift back down and return to your normal climbing pace. Repeat the accelerations every two to three minutes. These accelerations are not sprints, just a lifting of the pace to simulate surges and race situations. Include these only after you have completed four or five regular climbing sessions as described above.

Tactics are also an important part of improving your climbing. Here are a few tips:

1) Position yourself towards the front. As you approach the climbs, move towards the front of the group. When you come into the bottom of the climb, you should be in the top five or six riders if you can manage it. This saves you having to dodge and maneuver around slower riders and possible crashes. Being first in the bunch at the start of a hard hill or climb is always a good thing. It gives you an opportunity to control the pace and stay safe. This is especially good on the shorter, sprinter's hills, where the action at the start of the climb tends to be a bit chaotic and sketchy.

2) Always be on, or around, a good wheel. Most of us know who the good climbers are in the groups we ride with. When you are getting close to a climb, find the wheel of a consistently good climber. When you do, you have a better chance of being in the right place at the right time, and if you pay attention, you might learn something.