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Recently an athlete asked me the following question:
I’ve noticed that I can pretty much keep up with people on rides. Except when we hit a hill, I hit a wall. Thank god my descending skills are great otherwise I wouldn’t catch up with the pack!
Any recommendations in terms of training for climbs? I would like to work on those at least once a week.
Here is my answer:
You can do several things to train for climbs.
#1 More Overall Power equals Better Climbing
The first is to climb, climb, climb! Climbing is all about strength to weight (or power to weight) ratio. So the more overall power you have the better you will do on climbs. Thus any sort of training that raises your threshold will help with climbing (sweet spot, threshold, VO2).
#2 Climbing Short Fast Hills
Shorter climbs are frequently about anaerobic efforts and the ability to recover from them quickly. Especially in Pittsburgh most hills are only a few minutes long or shorter. This taps into anaerobic energy stores. So doing hill “sprints” at various lengths from 30 seconds up to 3 minutes with FULL RECOVERY will add an aspect of fitness.
#3 Training to Recover from Short Efforts
As far as recovery from hill-climbing, doing sprints with short recovery will help you learn to “tolerate” lactic acid and keep riding when your legs are cooked. So you can craft a number of different workouts to improve at hills.
#4 Overall Leg Strength Work (Bodyweight Training)
I think it is also beneficial to work on sheer muscular strength with bike-specific leg work in a weight room or with body weight. Lunges, Bulgarian split squats (rear leg up on a chair, other leg forward, squat down and up, step-ups, deadlifts, one-legged deadlifts, etc).
#5 Develop a Solid Core for Climbing
Don’t forget solid core work. When climbing the upper body often comes into play and without a strong core to transmit energy and stabilize the upper & lower body with one another, you’ll just be a floppy noodle on the bike. Sue’s “Core and More” exercises are great for this. (She also covered the good leg work).
Mixing it all together
I would do core 2-3 times per week, bodyweight leg strength 1-2 times a week, even progressing to some plyometrics, and finally at least one day a week focusing on on the bike climbing and strength work, with at least one long hilly ride on the weekend.
That’s enough workout ideas to keep you busy for a while. Finally, I’ve talked to many cyclists who simply say that “one day” they were suddenly good climbers. It comes as the years of riding add up and you get stronger and more efficient. Unfortunately, there is no fast way to become a better climber, but if you are consistent in your training you will get there!
This article was original published on my retired blog excersice physiology, MD on March 18, 2009