By Michelle Hemley
Building your cycling strength for training and racing in the hills is one of the most beneficial things you can do to improve your cycling.
It doesn’t matter if your goal race is flat or hilly, a time trial, triathlon or a road race, or perhaps you simply want to tackle mountain passes and hill climbs to explore new scenery with friends; building adequate strength endurance and cycling efficiency to hit the inclines will increase both your performance and enjoyment.
So what needs to happen for you to become a mountain goat and climb the hills with ease?
1) Develop Strength Endurance, Cycling Efficiency & Aerobic Capacity
Riding well in the hills isn’t just about ‘getting strong’ but developing these three key elements of your cycling fitness:
Strength Endurance – It’s all about being able to push (and pull) the pedals against resistance for an extended period of time. This is something that can be developed using seated hill climbs with a higher resistance/wattage and low cadence.
Cycling Efficiency – If you take a look at Tour de France winner Chris Froome, he doesn’t ‘grind’ slowly up the mountains, he pedals at a high cadence with amazing efficiency up the slopes of the Alps. Why? By relying more on a faster cadence, he taps into his massive aerobic capacity (see below) rather than over-taxing his working muscles and joints. This allows him to be able to ride mountains with less fatigue for longer periods of time, day after day. This is something you can develop with efforts aimed at faster cadences and lower resistance/wattage.
Aerobic Capacity – The ability of the heart and lungs to keep going when you are completing sub-maximal exercise. This can be developed through your longer easy-moderate rides.
Including a variety of sessions each week as part of your training program, targeting all of the above components will allow you to develop into a more complete hill rider.
A sample week of cycling training focussed on developing hill climbing could look similar to this:
Tuesday: Seated strength endurance (SE) hill repeats 5-20 minutes in length focussed on a high resistance/low cadence. Session Target = Strength Endurance
Thursday: Fast spin efforts on the wind trainer to improve efficiency. Session Target = Cycling Efficiency
Weekend Long Ride: 2-3 hours easy to moderate effort over an undulating course. Session Target = Aerobic Capacity
“BUILDING ADEQUATE STRENGTH ENDURANCE AND CYCLING EFFICIENCY TO HIT THE INCLINES, WILL INCREASE BOTH YOUR PERFORMANCE AND ENJOYMENT.”
2) Map Out a Long-Term Plan
First and foremost, improving in the hills,
Like anything involved with triathlon, improvement is cumulative; it takes time and consistency to develop. Your rate of improvement can be greatly heightened by following a plan 12-16 weeks in length to allow your body adequate time to adapt and respond to the training.
It’s important to remember to start slowly and take the time to build and progress your sessions week by week. Don’t start with a 10km climb at a low RPM, as starting out with too much too soon doesn’t allow your body to adapt to the training properly and you could risk overuse injury.
A sample progression over 12 weeks for your SE style hill repeats (main set only, include warm up and cool down) may look similar to this:
Weeks 1 & 2: 4-5 times (5-minute seated SE hill repeats)
Weeks 3 & 4: 4 times (8-minute seated SE hill repeats)
Weeks 5 & 6: 3 times (12-minute seated SE hill repeats)
Weeks 7 & 8: 3 times (12-minute seated SE hill repeats)
Weeks 9-& 10: 3-4 times (15-minute seated SE hill repeats)
Week 11: 2-3 times (20-minute seated SE hill repeats)
Week 12: 40-60-minute seated SE hill climb
3) FOLLOW the plan!
Consistency is KEY. Don’t expect magic results from one huge week of training. Long term commitment and hitting your intended sessions every week is where you will see real gains. You won’t improve your hill strength by thinking about it, make sure you get out there and do it!!
Our final tip is HAVE FUN and explore new scenery, new cycle routes and even new countries. Cycling in the hills and/or mountains is one of the best things about being on a bike and the stronger you are, the more enjoyable the experience is. Plus, a strong cyclist = a fast cyclist and honestly, who doesn’t want to get quicker?
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