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10 Tips to Climb Stronger and Faster

In cycling circles being able to climb fast is revered. We’ve seen some great cycling battles fought on legendary climbs such as Mont Ventoux or Alpe d'Huez. Being able to climb is seen as a sign of cycling progression, and it is fair to say that each of us wants to be good at getting up that hill.

SportActive Rider Climbing Galibier During Marmotte Alps 2019 - 10 Tips to Climb Stronger and Faster - SportActiveClimbing brings benefits to your cycling and offers challenge.

Benefits of Climbing

The addition of gravity provides solid training benefits and challenges. Power and endurance are needed to ride tough gradients. With each hill and col you conquer, you become stronger, boosting your confidence and fitness levels.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of achievement when you reach the summit of a tough climb, especially a legendary one like Bonette or Mont Ventoux.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some tips to help you climb faster.

1 Weight

Weight is a big factor in climbing. This includes both you and your bike. If you’re serious about getting up that hill, you may want to consider bike upgrades to make your bike lighter and faster, and indeed you may want to find your optimal weight for cycling. Every gram counts, particularly when col conquering.

Good climbers in pro cycling tend to be smaller riders, so shedding a few pounds may make a positive difference to your hill climbing.

2 Seated vs Unseated

Studies may show that seated is more aerodynamic and energy-saving, but the truth is it depends on the kind of rider you are and what’s comfortable. Generally, smaller riders seem to do better out of the saddle while bigger ones which are more suited to riding flat roads, tend to prefer seated climbing.

It is a good idea to experiment here to see what works for you. Some advice states standing is best to power through gradients that are 10%+ but remain seated for less severe inclines. Try using this as a starting point to discover your ideal climbing position.

3 Do Hill Reps

If you live in a mainly flat part of the country, you may want to consider doing hill reps to practice for inclines. You can ride up and down hills to get the practice in, or you can do it as part of a circuit.

There are various training options with hill reps. You can do the first rep as a warm-up and then attack the hill on subsequent efforts. If you use a heart rate monitor or power meter, you can refine this using training zones.

If you’re preparing for a big climb overseas, you may want to use this method to prepare for it.

4 Getting Your Cadence Right

Cadence for the climbs is slightly different from the flat, where roughly 80-90 rpm is considered the happy medium.

There are two approaches to cadence when climbing. They are:

  • Gradually changing up and down the gears in accordance with the steepness of the gradients. Pedalling is kept as easy as possible using this method. This approach uses slow-twitch muscle fibres associated with endurance.
  • Attack the climb using a high gear and lower cadence using fast-twitch muscles. The same muscle groups are engaged for explosive efforts such as sprinting.

Most believe that the first option using endurance muscles is the best approach for longer climbs. For shorter climbs, you may want to consider attacking the climb as part of a training drill or to get over steeper gradients faster.

5 Build Power and Endurance on the Turbo Trainer

If you have big climbs in your sights, you’ll want to keep your training on track no matter the time of year. We’ve put together a power and endurance turbo training program which you can use when it is impossible to ride your bike on the road.

You can see them here:

6 Your Gear Set Up

Gear set up is an individual thing. You may find your gears are perfectly suited to the nature of the climbs you undertake. If, on the other hand, you are having trouble turning the pedals on steep parts of a climb, smaller chainsets and wider ratio cassettes may help.

Again, you’ll have to experiment to find your perfect set up.

SportActive riders cycling Mont Ventoux 2018 - 10 Tips to Climb Stronger and Faster - SportActiveTaking on tougher climbs is a great way to test your limits.

7 Know Your Col Know Thy Self!

If the col is part of a big event or is a significant French Alp gem, you may want to consider knowing the col before you ride it. This may not always be possible, but if you can ride the col before a sportive, you won’t have any surprises come the big day.

This can help you significantly if you’re trying to judge how much energy you can commit to the climb using training zone numbers.

If you’re taking on a monster climb that seems to disappear into the sky, you’ll have to keep in mind that increased altitude is a factor that is going to affect your performance.

For big events such as Marmotte Granfondo Alps, we try and take our riders out a day or two before the event to acclimatise them to altitude.

8 Attack at the Top in a Sportive or Race

If you’re competing, you may want to start slow and finish strong when taking on a major climb. Taking on the col just below your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) should allow you to attack as you approach the summit when many inexperienced riders are starting to fade.

Finishing strong also gives you the legs for the next part of the sportive or race, and you’ll be in a better position than many riders who are trying to recover from the climb.

If it is a summit finish and you’re familiar with the climb, use your training zone numbers to scale the col in the shortest possible time.

9 Use High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a good training exercise for climbs. HIIT increases mitochondria, which helps break down glucose into energy faster and is essential for endurance sports such as cycling.

HIIT is also good for weight loss which in turn may well benefit your ability to ride hills.

When combined with other training exercises designed to boost endurance and power, you will find your climbing abilities increase.

10 Don’t forget to Breathe

The higher you ride, the thinner the air becomes. This won’t be an issue if you’re riding relatively small hills but hit the French Alps and altitude is a thing.

As such, it is easy to panic if you find you’re suddenly alone 12 kms up Izoard or similar col. A sign of this is if you start taking shallow breaths. If you notice this happening, focus on keeping your breathing natural and normal, and you’ll make your way up to the summit without significant performance loss.

Enjoy your cycling embrace your climbing.

SportActive – Faster Fitter Stronger!

SportActive cyclists pictured under the summit sign of Mont Ventoux in 2019 - 10 Tips to Climb Stronger and Faster - SportActive  Cycling Training CampsCycling a mountain offers a great feeling of achievement!

Submitted: 03/05/21

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