Most people love cycling for the feeling of freedom it gives them. Soaring down a hill with nothing but a ribbon of tarmac in front of you - or even powering along passing others as if they're standing still. But then you hit a hill. Your riding becomes more laboured and the fun gets sucked right out of you... Sound familiar? Maybe you should incorporate more climbing workouts into your riding because the faster you get to the top the faster you can come back down again!
Climbing is a double edged sword with equal mental and physical challenges placed upon the rider. Most riders, who struggle to climb well, usually have certain physical limitations, in the form of either their weight or their lack of power output. Changing these two parameters will have an instant positive effect on your riding overall, let alone up a hill.
The mental challenges involved in climbing are usually along the lines of struggling to maintain positivity, or struggling to maintain focus and self-belief under such extended periods of physical stress. In saying all of this, some people love climbing and excel in both these previous areas. They have the mental stamina as well as the physical blessings of less body weight and higher power output (courtesy of hard work...)
There are several ways to improve your climbing, but before we get started let's just get one thing straight. Your body weight is what it is for a reason. Changing your body weight drastically, especially if you are already in good health, can have very negative effects when done in an unnatural way. Using stripping agents, fad diets and starving are NOT sustainable ways of improving your performance. Your body will reduce its weight based on you living healthily, not because you're a completely weight obsessed climbing freak. You're a human, not the next contender for winning Le Tour De France.
Doing specific training can greatly benefit your climbing so see if you can fit in some strength efforts on your next ride. Try these two points to start with, and see how you feel:
- Do 4 x 10min SE @ 60-70rpm (4 x 10min Strength Efforts @ 60-70 cadence with 5 min rest in between).
- 5 x 5km hill repeats. Each climb, do 90-100rpm @ 80% perceived effort.
These two points are the starting block to training specifically for hills. Strength efforts increase your power output and the hill repeats give you the chance to work on your cadence and technique. Which brings us to our next point!
Photo: Simon Says Cycling
When you do hit the hills, having a good technique is key. It allows you to maximise your power output, reduces unnecessary bodily movement and ultimately increases your riding efficiency.
Focus on sitting on the rear of your seat and having a slightly concave arch in your spine. To achieve this, roll forward on your pelvis and arch your back inwards. This prevents your pelvis and hips from rocking side to side, providing a more stable 'chassis' to deliver power.
Also, when heading skywards, sitting in the above position helps open your lungs and chest cavity up - increasing the amount of oxygen you can breathe. Relax your grip on the handlebars as well - you've got enough muscles working hard!
TIP: Find a breathing pattern that matches your pedaling - "In. In. Out. Out." or even "In. Out. In. Out." as the pace increases. This is a well - documented technique used in a range of sports.
How to become a better climber
Cycling is full of challenges, many of which you can overcome through practice and training. This is also true of the one challenge which remains unconquered by many cyclists - climbing: The ability to ride a bike up a hill, at a decent pace, (preferably keeping up with at least 50% of your riding group), and still remaining conscious at the top..READ MORE
MIXING IT UP
If you start feeling the burn on a climb stand up and use some different muscles. Stay standing while you climb and gently allow the bike to rock from side to side. Once your legs feel the ache, sit down and resume your steady tempo. The same applies to your cadence so see what works for you - ideally a pedalling speed between 90-110rpm is best, although you must be careful not to pedal flat out, and go nowhere fast... Play around with some different gearing up the climbs, and see what works for you.
Another little secret you can use to build momentum is this: try accelerating into corners, and as you exit the corner, change up one gear harder and stand up. Once you've increased your speed a little bit, sit down again and drop down one gear easier - and try maintaining that speed you just built!
WEIGHT FOR ME!
If you're in a position to reduce your body weight in a positive way you'll definitely notice the difference on the bike no matter where you ride! Cycling is a sport based strongly on 'power to weight ratios' meaning the more power you have for a lower weight, the faster you'll go. Don't bother buying a new $10,000 road bike just yet, but focus on what YOU can do to help yourself...
No matter how often you ride up hills try to enjoy it for what it is. The feeling of pushing your body to its limit and achieving a goal are feelings we all enjoy. Don't worry about how fast you go compared to others! Just do your own thing and enjoy tracking your progress.
Oh and uh... for every hill repeat you do, you get rewarded with an equal number of descents. So it's not all hard work!