Climbing Hills – Build Strength and Speed Fast!
It's very easy to get into a routine in your cycling that includes lots of long, flat rides that build fitness and endurance, but can lead to your fitness plateauing and boredom setting in. Hill climbs are a great way to build leg strength, cardio-vascular fitness, and just as importantly, mental toughness that can help you push yourself harder and faster on race day.
True climbers are a strange breed. Small framed, lean and weighing about 60kgs dripping wet. You see them every year in the Giro and Tour de France, dancing on their pedals as the rest of the Peloton dies a slow, painful death on the slopes of Alpe d'Huez. They have the innate ability to continue to accelerate regardless of the gradient, and seem almost superhuman in their ability to ride through pain.
You don't have to be Marco Pantani or Alberto Contador to climb well. The good news is that you can train to be a better climber, and the benefits to your flat, fast rides, and even your running will be noticeable.
You should try to include a hill session into your weekly routine. You don't need to train in the Alps, just find some nearby hilly terrain and get into it!
Here are some tips to improve your climbing:
Keep your cadence high. You'll use a lot less energy, and be be able to climb a lot longer if you spin a smaller gear at a higher cadence. If you load up a big gear and mash your pedals, you'll quickly burn up your legs.
Stay in your saddle. You will be able to climb more efficiently if you stay on the back of your saddle. Standing up and dancing on your pedals, whilst good for short bursts and attacks, will quickly lead to that all too familiar lactic burn and you'll fade out a lot quicker.
Ride smooth. Keep your pace steady and ride smooth. Constant accelerations and decelerations are a great way to break up a pack, but it will obviously sap your energy as well.
Relax. Keep your hands light on the tops of your bars. You'll tire yourself out if you are hanging on with an unnecessary death grip, and riding on the hoods or down on your drops will make it harder to breath.
Go hard. As with any exercise, if you train with intensity, your fitness will improve faster. Try to incorporate some high-intensity intervals into your climbing sessions. Your leg strength will greatly benefit from the repeated uphill attacks. This strength will directly translate to speed when you come to riding on the flat again.
You'll find that as you become more used to climbing, and the pain that comes with it, you will be not only stronger, but more mentally adept at handling the pain that comes on race day. Varying your cycle training is a great way to add variety, and improve your allround performance.