Updated 18th March 2021

How to cycle faster up hills

7 tips to cycle your bicycle faster up climbs. This blog will show you how to cycle faster up the hills.  As the days get longer and warmer now, many cyclists thoughts are turning to the hilly cycling sportives and hillier races. So,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. Which hopefully will be open this year

Is your climbing inferior?

Do you feel that your climbing is inferior and having a negative effect on your performance. If so, don’t worry. Big improvements are possible with some changes! Here’s how you you can go from struggling to flying uphills.

1 Don’t waste your time and effort

Don’t waste your valuable time and energy with irrelevant sessions or poor training structure. This will not give good results.  that does not work.

To make real improvements is going to take training knowledge, discipline, organisation and hard work.

Its going to take well planned progressive training plans. And top class Performance nutrition as well as a healthy balanced lifestyle.  …… but it can still be lots of FUN. Working with a well qualified experienced coach could also avoid a lot of wasted time and effort.

2 Time management

Use your time wisely. 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 can you 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.

Grand Tour Climbers and overall winners weights

lets look look at some Tour De France climbers we can see  that their Tour de France weight is often around 60 kgs. Tour de France winners will often weigh between 65 and 70 kg

Grand Tour Sprinters weights

Grand Tour Sprinters are usually much bigger athletes who can produce huge power for a short period of time. Their weight can be between 70 and 80+ kg

These riders struggle in the mountains and its often a battle for stage survival.and will struggle in the mountains unless he can put out huge watts. They have to be very brave and determined to survive the big mountains. See Courage of Sprinters blog 

The numbers

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

A cyclist who weighed 60 kgs would need to be maintaining 300 watts . In comparison, a sprinter who weighs 80 kgs cycling at 5 watts per KG  will have to put out 400 watts. If we go to 6 watts per kg its nearly 500 watts for the sprinters efforts… The 60kg Climber is only at 360 Watts when cycling at 6 watts per kg.

So if you are naturally built as a big sprinter it makes sense to leave the big mountains to the climbers and focus on the flat stages for results.

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 require 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.

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

WARNING: If you have any knee issues get advice from your doctor or physiotherapist as to suitability of these 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. Patience and a progressive buildup is recommended with this exercise

Best Cadence

its important to be able to select the best gear for different type of climbs. So when you reach a strong fitness level 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 National track and road championships and many more 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 over training. 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 .

Source advice from Qualified people

If you need to lose weight get advice from qualified people, Your health and sporting performance is too important to take chances with wrong information about your nutrition.

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.

INDI for expert Nutritional Support

Indi are a good place to source a Sport dietitian The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) is the professional body for registered dietitians in the Republic of Ireland. They have a list of dieticians around Ireland and most countries have an equivalent body

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 the great road 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!!

Have you seen my Introduction to cycling Booklet,  all you need to know for big improvements.  Buy Here

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