Cycling up hills is one of the biggest challenges that cyclists face. However, it’s a vital skill that must be developed to maximise your fitness and help you to get the most out of your cycling experience.
Usually, the most effective way to improve your ability to cycle up hills involves using a mix of endurance rides and putting in more effort. Your fitness will mostly determine how quickly you can ride up a hill, but for off-road or short hills, having more strength can also help.
Most cyclists will improve their fitness by taking their bike out for rides of around an hour during which they have the pace dictated by the terrain, their friends, or simply the way they’re feeling. This represents a brilliant way of getting fit, especially if you’re just starting out since any exercise is going to make you stronger and fitter. Nevertheless, if you put in a little more though and make a few small changes you can incorporate focused efforts into your cycling to gain speed and fitness surprisingly fast.
Developing Skills To Tackle All Hills
To improve your ability to ride up hills, you need to work at a range of intensities. Mostly, this is due to the fact that hills come in all sizes and shapes, but it’s also because the human body responds to a range of stimuli.
Most cyclists discover they manage some kinds of hill better than others. Some excel at riding up short hills since they have plenty of power, however they find that longer hills are more challenging since they’re unable to keep up the pace. Others struggle with faster paces but manage longer hills well.
It can be especially difficult to manage hills if you’re riding with other people. A group usually dictates the pace, so if this is faster than you’re comfortable with it’s hard to sustain for the entire length of a hill without becoming too tired. To improve, you therefore need to become comfortable at a given pace.
Improving Your Ability Up Short Hills
In order to get better at riding up short hills, it’s important to be capable of working hard over relatively short time periods then recover quickly to allow you to accomplish the same thing again – after all, you rarely only encounter a single hill on a ride!
You can improve your skills in riding up short hills by doing 1 – 5 minute short intervals and taking longer to recovery. This can be done either as a hill repeat (i.e. riding hard up the hill then freewheeling down) or using an indoor trainer. It’s a good idea to use the bike in your gym for these sessions, especially if there’s a power meter.
Improving Your Ability Up Medium Hills
It’s fair to say that a medium hill is a lot of hard work. You have to be capable of working hard for between 10 and 15 minutes before you can take a rest. Improving at medium hills involves improving your fitness overall, however 8 minute efforts followed by a short 2-minute recovery is a helpful additional training strategy.
Strategies For Improvement On Long Hills
A long hill is one that takes over 10 minutes to reach the top. You ride these at “tempo pace” or with an effort level that requires concentration to sustain but which can be maintained for around an hour depending on your fitness. Long hills are fairly easy if you’re just starting out as your legs will have plenty of energy. However, as you approach the end of your ride, you’ll find long hills very tough.
It’s important to develop plenty of endurance if you’ll be riding for a number of hours. You need to develop the ability to ride and hold a conversation at the same time for a longer period of time to improve your fitness in this regard. Nevertheless, you’ll also need to ensure you’ve recovered sufficiently to complete the harder sessions since they will really boost your ability to cycle uphill.
Gym Strength And Cycling Uphill
If you’ve got sufficient energy and time to carry out strength training as well as your cycling workouts, you’ll probably find that working out in the gym will boost your ability to cycle uphill. Of course, you’ll need that gym work to be properly structured to complement your cycle training.
Cycling Uphill On Road And Off-Road
If you’ll be cycling on the roads, there are less variables for you to be concerned about. However, if you’re riding with a group on a road, you’ll find it a little more difficult so you may need to employ some strategies to improve your skills.
It’s always sensible to find a gradient that is even for your harder workouts as this will prevent you from having to be concerned about changing gears. Getting into an appropriate cadence and producing a smooth output of power should be your focus during these workouts. When you’re doing general cycling you can focus on changing pace and varied gradients.
If you’re cycling off-road, you’ll find terrain is far more of an issue so you need to carefully choose where you’ll be doing your training session. You may actually find that doing some harder sessions on the road is best since you can put all your focus into developing a powerful and sustained effort instead of having to deal with technical features that can damage your efforts. Nevertheless, a well-graded fire road that has a good surface will be almost as good as a road and will include specific practice elements that can be beneficial to you.
One further issue to consider is technical climbs. Improving your fitness overall is essential if you want to boost your ability when riding technical climbs. When you can reduce the physical stress of your ride, you can devote more of your energy to maintaining your cadence, manoeuvring as needed and overcoming obstacles.
When you are doing technical climbs, your body position is particularly important. You’ll sometimes need to climb while you’re seated in order to stop your back wheel for spinning on a loose surface. At the very least, you’ll need to learn how to keep your bodyweight held back while you’re climbing out of your saddle. Bearing these things in mind when you’re planning your training and executing it is essential. Make sure some efforts are doing seated, with some standing. Also, practice climbing out of your saddle when cycling over loose surfaces.
Some technical features will require you to push over obstacles at virtually zero cadence. To achieve this, you’ll need to focus on your strength training. If you apply more force to your pedal to overcome an obstacle, this will make all the difference between carrying out riding or having to push your bike to another spot where you’ll be able to remount. Adding in some strength-boosting exercises to your training regime will therefore be helpful.
Strategies To Make Climbing Easier
There are several ways to improve your climbing. Some don’t even need you to improve your fitness!
- If you’re cycling with a group of people, make sure you get as close to the front as possible when you reach the foot of the hill so you can cycle more slowly than the others but still be close when you reach the top. If you drift back through your group while going uphill you can use far less effort so you won’t become so tired.
- Ensure your bike is a good fit for you and is properly set up. Failing to do this will put you at a disadvantage right from the get-go, so ensure all your components are working properly and are clean to avoid additional drag.
- If you’ve got a power meter or heartrate monitor, use that data to assist you in riding at a suitable pace. If you know how your body responds at any time it can make all the difference between enjoying your ride for its duration or giving up early. Take your time and learn how it feels to ride at any given intensity so you’ll be able to identify if something isn’t quite right.
- If you’re not the strongest rider in your group, play to your own strengths. If you’re a punchy and powerful rider, for example, you can make sure to ride as hard as possible on shorter climbs than sit in for longer hills. Or, for endurance-based riders, avoid getting drawn into a short sprint, instead using long hills to push on or recover.
- Be aware of your weaknesses. Avoid pushing too hard so that you blow up if you’re struggling with long hills.
Following the advice above will help you to improve your ability to cycle uphill. Whether you’ll be facing short hills, long hills, or a mix of both on your rides, the strategies that we’ve suggested here will put you in a good position to be able to cope with whatever the landscape throws at you.