Time to Read
Points of Interest
- Length of climb
- Average Incline
Whether you love or hate the hills, there's no doubt that they offer a huge boost to your cycling performance.
If you're a cyclist, you'll know the importance of hill training – being good on the climbs is a tried and tested way to boost your VO2 Max, shave time off your rides and give you an extra boost across all aspects of your riding.
The mountain stages of the grand tours can tear the placings apart and much of the off-season training of the pros is spent preparing in the mountains. If that's the case, there's something behind this. In the business of human performance, there's no time and effort wasted – every action and session is designed for athlete improvement.
With that being said, how should you approach your hill work to generate the most benefit?
There are a lot of different approaches to attacking the climbs. In this article we'll look at some of the most common variables used in hill training and offer suggestions as to how you can use hills to improve your cycling.
Length of Climb
A long, drag of a climb is a killer if you're not prepared for it. Many cyclists and coaches seek out these long hills and get their athletes to practice repeats on them over time.
There's no substitute for the effects. If you want to be a better climber, climb more. If you can find a long (over 3 mile) climb, with an average gradient of over 5% you should look to add repeats of the climb into your training. The steeper and longer the better – try to mimic the mountains where you can, even if you don't have the benefit of a mountain range on your doorstep!
Aim for an hour or more of climbing on this type of hill – either pick a route that includes many similar climbs or perform repeats on the same hill.
There's more to climbing than length though – the incline can be a killer. Depending on your physiological and psychological makeup, a short, steep climb can be harder than a long drag.
Average inclines of over 15%, up to a mile long are perfect for hill repeats. These lactate-bashing workouts are a great way to improve your power and technique during steeper sections in climbs, plus the extra leg strength generated from the climb can cross over and help you in sprints and time trials.
If it's a short, steep hill it's all about repeats. Look to build in 10 repeats of the steep inclines.
The speed work is relative to the incline, but the rules remain the same – perform the climb in the fastest possible time. Whether that's a long, gentle drag or a sharp, sharp elevation, go as fast as you can.
Of course it's key to get your pacing right – you still have to take into consideration the task. You can't sprint for miles at full speed, nor are you likely to last long if you go full gas on a 20% monster, but you should do the fastest climbing you can relative to the situation.
A way to make a hill session tougher is to manipulate your gearing. Make the hill climb artificially tougher by selecting a harder gear to climb in and you'll find you can turn even a gentle hill into a much harder workout.
This is especially helpful if you live in a flatter area and hills are hard to come by. You may need to add a lot of repeats into the session, but any hill climbing is better than none, so you may just have to adapt your session in any way that you can.
To be a better climber, climb more. It's a simple and sound logic and one of the ways that the pro's use to improve their own climbing. Whether it's repeating short, intense climbs or spending extra training time in the mountains, there's few more effective ways than to repeat climbs.
The conditioning, technique and psychological benefits of repeating climbs time and again are invaluable. Every session is another one in the bank – with every climb you're more conditioned and mentally capable of dealing with the intensity of riding up hills.
The benefits gained from time spent in the hills will cross over into all other aspects of your riding, so the time spent climbing won't be wasted – far from it. You'll be a better, faster, more efficient and stronger rider.
If you're not using hills in your training, you're losing out on a huge amount of improvement. Start to add 1-2 hill specific sessions per week into your cycling training and watch your performance climb (pun intended!)
For more training advice, look around the rest of the KYMIRA Blog .
10 Tips to Accelerate Recovery After a 50 Mile Ride
The 3 Key Interval Workouts for Cyclists