Hills/Climbing Tips

By: Dick Raford, MD from cyclingforums


STAY SEATED AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Although you develop more power while standing (taking advantage of your upper body weight), you also use 10 to 12% more energy as you work your arm and back muscles. So climbing while seated is more efficient. On short climbs, the length of a football field or less, it makes little difference. But on longer climbs, stay in the saddle and spin at 80 - 85 RPM. This is particularly so if you are heavier as standing puts just that much more weight on your leg muscles, while sitting uses the seat to help take the extra upper body weight off your legs. Staying in the saddle will:
burn less energy - heart rate is approximately 8% lower for any set speed
use your bigger gluteal (butt) and hip muscles to your advantage
So whenever possible, stay seated on that hill.

SIT BACK ON THE SADDLE
When you slide back on your seat, you gain a leverage advantage on the pedals. The only time you would want to slide forward is for a short sprint on a small rise.

UPPER BODY STILL AND CHEST OPEN
Keep your upper body quiet - the bike should rock under you (try pulling up on the handlebar opposite of the leg on a down stroke). Too much movement wastes energy. And your shoulders should be back and "open". If not, you are constricting your chest and cannot breathe efficiently.

WHEN YOU MUST STAND
If you must stand, remember to power into BOTH the down and up strokes - 12 to 5 o'clock on the down stroke and 7 to 10 o'clock on the upstroke. This will help to maintain a smooth stroke and your momentum. Don't lean too far forward. If the nose of your saddle is brushing the back of your thighs, you are just right. Farther forward and you will lose power. Let the bike move fluidly under you. Donít force it. And remember to shift up a gear or two just before you stand to take advantage of the extra power you gain from standing (but which you canít maintain for any length of time).

FIND YOUR SPEED AND RHYTHM
Climbing should always be done in your comfort zone. Ride at your own pace - Know your limits and listen to your body. If you become anaerobic, you won't recover, so let faster riders go. It's a common mistake: Trying to keep up with better climbers on the lower slopes, then reaching your limits and losing big hunks of time. Take it a bit easier and you have a much better chance of catching them later. You donít want to over exert and go anaerobic.
Gear down before the hill. The goal is to avoid producing large quantities of lactic acid and then pedaling through the pain. You want a sustainable rhythm. Try to keep your cadence above 70 -- any slower puts excess stress on your knees. The optimum spin rates for efficient pedaling are somewhere between 70 and 80. One rider reported that he actually went faster as he increased his cadence in a lower gear. For example, he would maintain 6.5 mph at 50 rpm in one gear and then, as he geared down, he found he maintained 8 mph at 70 rpm without a perceived increase in effort.

Try to find the cadence that would let you "climb all day". You are pushing too hard if you:

  • Can't keep a smooth pedal stroke
  • Are panting or breathing irregularly

Ride your own pace. The energy you save may help you catch someone who started too fast near the summit.

BREATHING
If you start to breathe irregularly, take a deep breath and hold it for a few pedal strokes. Try synchronizing your breathing with your pedal stroke - start by taking a breath every time one foot (your right one for example) reaches the bottom of a stroke. Then try 1 1/2, and finally every two strokes. You will actually deliver more oxygen to your system with a controlled rate than an irregular panting or gasping one.

HAND POSITION
Comfort overrides these comments, but for seated climbing, most riders prefer to keep their hands on top of the bars, perhaps 2 or 3 inches from the center stem. And remember to drop your elbows and relax your upper body.
For out of the saddle climbing or aggressive climbs (where you are accelerating or attacking on the saddle) put your thumbs on the hoods and rest one or two fingers on the levers or wrapped around underneath. And when you get to that descent, most riders will go to the drops (keeping your wrists straight) for the aerodynamic advantages although others prefer the hoods for the feeling of control. But not the top of the bars as your hands will be too far from the brakes.

OFF SEASON WEIGHT TRAINING
Cycling-specific weight exercises in the off-season are a great way to improve your climbing power. Two or three sets of 15-25 reps, twice a week is a good general program. The emphasis should be on the legs and back (step-ups, lunges, squats or leg presses. Focus on higher reps and medium weight to develop muscular endurance and minimize the risk of injury - and adding sets of "standing jumps" (standing in place and jumping as high as one can for 20 or more times) after your weight workout will give you the explosiveness to catch your buddy off guard in the spring. And donít forget to stretch to maintain flexibility.

DO SOME HILLS
After you've developed a good strength base in the weight room, the absolutely best way to improve climbing is to get back on the bike in the Spring and work on climbing. Find some rolling hills and use them like intervals with short bursts of climbing followed by spinning on the flats. Start with hills that take about 15 seconds to climb at a cadence of 90 rpm. Once you have your season base, you might add climbs of 10-15 minutes in a bigger gear that you can maintain easily at 70 rpm - but not if you have a history of knee problems.

WATCH THAT WEIGHT
We all know that lighter riders climb faster that heavy ones. So remember to watch the weight - both your own and the weight you are carrying on the bike. It costs a lot to reduce the weight of your bike by a pound, but that extra water bottle or weight in your fanny pack could easily add up to a pound and really add up on a ride over hilly terrain.

GROUP RIDING TECHNIQUES
One trick for weaker climbers in a group is to move near the front of the group near the start of the climb and allow others to pass as the climb continues. In that way, you will be near the back at the top but won't get dropped and have to fight back to close with the group.
Save a little for a short sprint over the top of the hill -- shift up and stand to accelerate and make up some distance.


EAT AND DRINK
For those long climbs (the Cascades or the Rockies) don't forget the basics for nutrition and hydration. A long climb inexorably drains your body of glycogen and liquid. Take two big gulps of water or a sports drink every 15 minutes. And eat (or drink) the equivalent of a sports bar (250 calories) every hour.

copyright © 2005 - Team David Salon