Cycling to the top of a mountain is an incredible workout that requires strength and endurance. However, the benefits of climbing go far beyond the physical. The mental and emotional joys of climbing hills are what drive us to ride to the top of the hills and the mountains. If you want to know how to climb hills on a bike, road or mountain, you have come to the right place. Our experts share six mind-body cycling strategies to dominate the hills.
1. Build stamina with hill repeats.
The best exercise for building the body’s uphill endurance is to ride hills. Find a hill and ride up for 5 minutes, then return to the base of the hill for a 5 minute rest, then repeat 2 more times. The following week, add a few minutes to your uphill interval while keeping the rest interval the same. As you become a more proficient cyclist, you may want to look into a heart rate monitor or a power meter to help gauge your effort for a more precise workout. (Garmin 510 or other cycling Garmin)
2. Work on lean muscle vs. bulking up.
Cycling requires lean muscle. Yoga develops strength, flexibility and focus, all of which aid in the prevention of injury and provide a good fitness base. Yoga also develops good breathing habits which come in handy when climbing hills. Plyometrics are also great workouts for the explosive power needed for climbing. The BOSU ball is a great way to get a Plyomteric workout.
3. Get your mind ready for battle with focus techniques.
It is easy to give up when the hill becomes too long or too steep. I can assure you that walking will take much longer and will still be a difficult effort. It may seem impossible to stay on the bike, but there are a few techniques for cycling you can apply to make it to the top.
Breath control helps keep your body relaxed. Find a rhythm to breathe to, whether it is a song or in conjunction with your pedal stroke.
The faster you go, the sooner the hill is over. Don’t let your speed get too low. Keep a high cadence and stand in order to accelerate. Remember, the faster you ride uphill, the less uphill riding you must do.
A mantra is a meditative phrase that you can say over and over to yourself while climbing. It could be “I am strong”, or “I am fast” or “I love climbing”. It could also be song lyrics that drive you to succeed, such as “I have the Eye of the Tiger.” Whatever drives you to keep turning your pedals, you must do.
See yourself making it to the top of the climb in triumph. The taste of success can drive you to stay on your bike. Think of how proud you will be of yourself.
Ride for Someone Else
I often ride for a friend or for someone who has lost their life. Tapping in to the energy of your friends and family can help drive you forward. If you are riding for a charity, think of those you are helping and how they need you to stay on your bike and make it to the top of the hill.
Yes, You Can.
Surprise yourself with what you are capable of.
4. Don’t just shift, have a gearing strategy.
The biggest mistakes most beginner riders make on hills are shifting mistakes. Choosing the correct gear for a hill can be difficult, especially if you do not know the terrain ahead. Be sure to shift into the climbing gear well before the hill. Finding the proper cadence, or RPM (Revolution Per Minute) is key. Between 75 and 85 is the optimum cadence for most riders for riding uphill.
If your gear is too high, you will burn out too soon from muscle fatigue. If your gear is too low, you will burn out your cardio by pedaling too fast. Shift in small increments and maintain a steady cadence at all times. Shifting one gear at a time will help you stay smooth.
If you want to improve your peak pedal performance, riding in big gears will build muscle in the legs, and in turn more power for a stronger pedal stroke. To build your pedal force, find a gradual hill of about 4 or 5% and begin riding in your big chainring, keeping your cadence to between 50 and 60 RPMs. Focus on using the entire pedal stroke. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes, then ride down and take a 5 minute break. Repeat 2 more times.
5. Put your body in a power position.
Open Your Chest
A wide open chest will allow longer, deeper breaths. Place your hands wide on the handlebar. Shallow, panting breaths cut off oxygen inflow and C02 outflow. Empty the lings on the exhale, and fill them with clean oxygen on the inhale. Revert to yoga breathing to help find a cadence that suits your climbing speed.
Unnecessary tension while cycling steals power from your leg muscles. Relax your toes, fingers, face and arms. Keeping a steady, relaxed gaze also gives you the feeling of power.
Leveraging Arms and Core for Power
As the hill steepens, begin to pull down and back with your arms on your downstroke. This leverages your upper body and core strength and gives you extra power and watts. When pulling on the bars, be sure to pull at the same angle as the hill in order to keep your front wheel steady and on the ground.
Saddle For Force
Scoot forward on the saddle and to bring your center of gravity closer to the hill. From this more forward position, you are able to stay on top of the pedal stroke and keep a higher cadence.
6. Stand up strategically.
Standing up is used for surging, sprinting and on longer climbs, stretching your back and legs. Always shift two gears harder before standing so you do not lose momentum when you stand. As you go back to seated, shift into an easier gear so you may continue with a high cadence. Use standing sparingly as standing uses more muscles in your body and will cause fatigue sooner. On the other hand, as a racer, you want to be able to stand as much as possible without tiring. Thus, more hill intervals.
We hope you find these tips helpful. If you are ready for the next step, a coach or a cycling club is a great way to improve and reach your goals.