By USAC Level 2 and TrainingPeaks Level 1 certified ALP Coach Alison Powers Climbing. People think it’s this magical thing that only lucky or skinny people can do. This is a misnomer. Anyone can climb. Anyone who likes to ride a bike, can ride it up a hill.
Yes, riding up a hill is harder than riding on the flats due to having to do the opposite direction of gravity. Fighting gravity requires more effort, more leg strength, more fitness, and more stamina- both mental and physical. However, there are a few things you can do and techniques you can learn to make climbing feel easier, more efficient, and be more enjoyable.
1) Climb- as silly as it sounds, it’s true- the more you climb, the better you get at it. You’ll learn to relax when climbing, your legs will get stronger, and your fitness will improve.
2) Learn to climb out of the saddle- being able to climb both seated and standing gives you a chance to change positions, use different muscles, and it’s breaks the climb up. Often times, people stay seated for the duration of the climb. They think that if they stand it will make them more tired. This is true if you accelerate when you stand. Any time you accelerate, you will make yourself more tired. The secret to standing and pedaling is shifting into 1 (or 2) harder gear(s) before standing. This way, once standing, you maintain constant speed and are able to use your body weight to push down the pedals.
3) Change positions- This idea not only applies to climbing in and out of the saddle, but also to hand positions. Our road bikes have three different hand locations (hoods, tops, drops), use them. You don’t have to stay still when climbing.
4) Change cadence- just like standing when climbing, being able to push both a big gear and spin a small gear helps climbs go by more quickly. The idea is to change up what you are doing to recruit different muscles and/or energy systems throughout the duration of the climb.
5) Pacing- the longer the climb, the more aware of your pacing you will need to be. The goal when tackling a climb should be to start a little conservatively, so you can continue to climb strongly and finish strong. Avoid starting too hard, and then slowing down and becoming more and more tired as the climb goes on.
6) Be Ok with being uncomfortable- climbing is harder than riding on the flats due to fighting gravity. Fighting gravity requires more effort, more leg strength, more fitness, and more stamina- both mental and physical. This means it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be uncomfortable and that’s ok. It’s OK for your legs to hurt a little bit and it’s OK to be breathing hard.
Interested in a training plan, but not full on coaching? Only have time for 3 bike workouts a week? Or are you a Triathlete looking to improve your cycling? Check out or new TrainingPeaks 13- week training plan.
Good luck, work hard, and climb away!