Springtime brings warmer weather and for my athletes, it’s time to work on hill climbing. Cyclists seem to have an equal love/ hate relationship when it comes to hills, hate to ride up, and love to go down. I personally love hills. Most beginner cyclists do not, they have not felt the love and joy that can be had in riding up a hill while staying relaxed and the powering over the other side. One reason for this is very clear. Riding hills on a bike is hard, and by nature, most people tend to shy away from that which might cause pain, who wouldn’t. Here are the suffering facts: The beginner cyclist tends to try to make it up the hill with a thousand pedal turns this equals suffering. Wrong body position, suffering, Wrong clothing, suffering, wrong gears, yup more suffering, starting too quickly, you guessed it suffer again. Even the most experienced cyclist who has climbed many hills sometimes suffer. They fall into the category of attacking the hill too early, and when their legs and lungs become empty they look up the hill, and their mind goes to that “suffering place” full of quitting talk.
How does one learn to love hills? By hill repeats of course! Some say this is crazy. If you hate riding up the hill once, why would you do it over and over again, on the same hill, on one ride? The fact is that short sharp hill repeats are an excellent way to maintain and improve fitness. They are not enjoyable and if anybody says they are, they are lying. The satisfaction of completing hill repeats far out way the feeling you have while doing them. However, while climbing, which becomes a battle of wills finding you fighting weakness in your legs, lungs, and mind, takes concentration and effort. In the end, it will elevate you physically and mentally, knowing that you have conquered the climb.
Here are some tips on how to do it.
First and foremost forget about the hill and your bike, they represent about 10% of improving your climbing technique. 90% of climbing belongs to you, and how you are mentally and physically when approaching a hill.
Don’t look up the hill, you will not go faster by viewing what’s to come in fact, the opposite will happen as the monkeys in your brain will begin to create stories about how you will “die and never make it up. Let the hill come to you. Break the climb into segments staying in the moment. Don’t attack the hill too hard if you are unfit. A good base fitness for hill repeats will help reduce the chance of injury. Knowing your route will help, if the hill has gotten the best of you on previous climbs, then the climb is already in trouble. Each day is different and should be treated as such. Nervous energy is a waste and would be better used in spinning your cranks.
One does not need a physicist to explain that things of lower mass are easier to lift. Weight does play a factor. Shed a few extra pounds and you’ll find yourself climbing a few seconds faster. It’s far cheaper than getting a new bike.
Upper body strength is key, it will aid you in keeping your body still while climbing and allow you to have your hands soft on the bars. Core strength is a must. A strong middle will improve your balance, your pedaling technique, and stamina.
Finding the correct pace for climbing will take time. Choosing the wrong gear will not end well. I try to maintain a high cadence while climbing 90 RPM’S are a good gauge. If your cadence dips below 70 time to switch gears. Stay seated. Standing up on the bike and supporting your own body weight is a waste energy. Standing is a sign you are over geared or underpowered.
Hill climbing is not easy, but with practice, you can certainly have a better attitude when facing a long climb. After all the last one to the top buys the beer!