Updated 25th April 2018

7 tips to climb better. This blog will show you how you can improve your ability cycle faster up the climbs.  As the days get longer and warmer, many cyclists thoughts are turning to the hilly sportives and hillier races. . To get full enjoyment from most of  these events your climbing ability needs to be as good as possible.

Peak time for races and Hilly Cycling sportives

April to September is the peak time for races and cycling sportive events. We have the Wicklow 200 and 100 – Etape du Tour – La Marmotte An Post cycling Series and many other Hilly sportive.

Is your climbing inferior?

If you feel that your climbing is inferior and having a negative effect on your performance don’t worry. Big improvements are possible! you can go from struggling to flying by following these 7 great tips

1 Don’t waste your time and effort

Don’t waste your valuable time and energy with irrelevant sessions or poor training structure that does not work.If you want to make real improvements its going to take discipline, organisation and hard work, there is no easy way

Its going to take top class Performance nutrition  …… but it can still be lots of FUN. Getting a well qualified experienced coach to work with you could also avoid a lot of wasted time and effort.

2 Time management

Can you find more time for training without adding to the stress in your life? can you train before work / college or directly from work or college. For example if you can make your training part of your commute?

is there a gym close to where you work with a watt bike to train on at lunchtime? or maybe there’s core strength sessions available.   this is all a great help if you have a partner or family. You are home when training is finished, rather than having to go home then back out training.

3 Understand Optimal power to weight ratio

Power to weight is important for long and or steep climbs. You will notice that the professionals who are great climbers in the Grand Tours like the Tour de France, Italy and Spain are often very light.

If we look at some Tour winners we can see Chris Froome Weight: 69 kg   Height: 1.86 m – Alberto Contador Weight: 61 kg   Height: 1.76 m.  If we compare a sprinter like Marcel Kittel we can see that he is much heavier at  82 kg   Height: 1.88 m and will struggle in the mountains unless he can put out huge watts.

Lets look at a hypothetical figure of 5 watts per kg for each rider to cycle at the same speed on a long hill we can see how the weight impacts.

Froome would need to put out 345 watts   Contador 305 Watts   Marcel Kittel  410 Watts so Marcel is not going to be winning King of the mountain titles. And if you race and are big like Marcel you are probably fast on the flat so this is where to focus on getting the results from.

However if you need to climb better you will need to make some changes. Either improve your power or reduce your weight to improve power to weight ration. Ideally improving both will give excellent results.

4 Improve your climbing power

To climb very well you requires very good aerobic fitness and strength. These components can be trained on and off the bike. Strength can be improved off the bike with sessions like Cathals Moynihans video for core strength. A few sessions per week of this will help you with core strength and upper body strength for climbing

The main sessions for on the bike training is a strong foundation of mileage to build aerobic fitness and hill sessions for strength endurance.

WARNING: If you have any knee issues get advice from your doctor or physiotherapist as to suitability of these sessions

Cycling specific strength Progression

Always have a number of weeks training on flat to undulating roads to prepare your muscles and tendons before you begin riding in the hills. Then begin by riding short not so steep climbs and progress to longer steeper climbs. During the build-up gradually increase the gears you use as your fitness improves. You could then include specific hill sessions when a good base fitness is achieved.

Hill Sessions

Go to a long climb with a slight gradient of 2 -4 % and do repeats of 2 to 5 minutes long at about 70 pedal revs per minute. In between cycle easy on a low gear for 2 to 3 minutes and repeat 3 to 4 times to begin. Experienced cyclists could begin with 15 minutes in total. Beginners could begin with 6 to 8 minutes in total.

Over 6 to 8 weeks increase this to up to 8 repeats.. 20-30 minutes for beginners.. 40 to 60 for an experienced cyclist.

If you don’t live near the mountains find a not so steep hill that’s a few minutes long.

Do repeats of three to 5 minutes long on a gear slightly bigger (smaller sprocket) than you would usually use on that particular hill aim for a cadence of 70. The effort should be at a maximum of 80% Heart rate or 10 to 20 watts below FTP

This session could be done twice weekly to gain improvements

Best Cadence

its important to be able to select the best gear for different type of climbs. So Also include hilly efforts at what feels like the best cadence on various types of hills.

Long intervals

These are long efforts of 8 to 15 minutes at a moderate but challenging effort. Recovery of three to five minutes between these efforts should be ok.

This session can be completed on flat or undulating roads.  Over time progressively build to an hour in total (10minute  x 6 …or 15 minutes x 3 to 5 times  for example) of these efforts once weekly

I have used some of these methods and sessions to coach the winners of Multiple An Ras Tailteann overall and between twenty and thirty stage Ras stage winners, at least 6 overall winners of Ras Mumhan, a number of Junior Tour of Irelands and many more male events.

Also a number of cyclists who went on to professional careers. And last but certainly not least an Etape rider that improved from finishing in the 3000 + to top 700 of 15000 cyclists.

5  Follow correct Training principles

Begin all your training from your current fitness level and progress from there….You can increase

  1. The distance of sessions
  2. number of sessions per week.
  3. The intensity of sessions

choosing which element to increase is important to avoid poor progression or overtraining. Its usually best to increase the distance or number of sessions before increasing the intensity.

6 Reach Ideal healthy weight

Aim to reach optimal weight for climbing  while remaining healthy and following a healthy diet. If you are carrying substantial excess weight this is where you can make most improvements .If you need to lose weight get advice from qualified people like at Fuel and Perform where advice is based on latest research and sports experience.

Weight should be very gradual to avoid losing muscle as well as fat. Crash diets are dangerous. For someone who is training hard this approach is likely to lead to illness and poor performance as the immune system is usually compromised.

A poor diet may see you losing weight but compromising your health and losing muscle and power . This can lead to reduced power to weight so while you will be lighter you will go slower.

Grand Tour riders

While the Grand tour climbers and classification riders have very low body fat they get to their target with support from Nutritionists and sports scientists. They also only achieve those very low body fats for short periods of time as its too difficult and possibly unhealthy to be at those low levels for too long.

7 mental fitness

Approaching climbs can be daunting if you have struggled on them before. You can look up the road and be filled with dread but that’s not going to get you up the hill any quicker.

A positive approach will be best. all that you can do is cope with what’s in your control.

Accept yourself as you are

We are all made different. So if you happen to be one of the bigger cyclists Like Marcel Kittel and other sprinters just accept that you are most likely going to struggle on the big hills. You can compensate by

  • Using lower gears for the climbs.
  • Improving your power with good training
  • Achieve your optimal body weight
  • Practice pacing on long climbs
  • Allow sliding room by beginning the climbs close to the front of the group.

Focus on what’s within your control

For example

  • Select the right gear
  • Pace your effort well.
  • be sure to be well hydrated and fuelled.
  • Stay Positive

Mental tricks

When things are getting tough and you doubt your ability to reach the top of the hill. Focus on a point like a gate / road sign just ahead and aim to keep going till then. Then refocus to another point further up the hill until you reach the top .

Speak positively to yourself eg I can do this !! I have trained well!! I am well fuelled and rested. I know how to select the best gear.

Go for it!!

Paddy Doran High  performance coach  Contact

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