FAQ: Hill climbing… technique or power: why can’t everybody climb
The million dollar question many a novice cyclist seek the answer to. Recently I was in a build up for a four day tour which had two big hill days included. Not being able to do a big build up I was left with 10 weeks to prepare. Also to add into my plan was the lack of hills in the area we were staying.
I must confess I can climb ok but with a lot of hard hill repeat days. My race weight is normally around 84kg, Heavy for a person that can climb ok. But what I was up for was two big days with equally big climbs against light, younger, faster riders with a seasons racing behind them.
At my age of 47 I’m not going to develop a lot of extra power, so I based my prep around getting my weight down and working on my aerobic endurance. Long intervals, big gear, low heart rate.
The results were amazing, bearing in mind the only hill in the area we were staying had an elevation of 75m and was only 150m long. Although we did have a lot of wind, (the invisible hill)
Compared to other years in the same event I was climbing the best I have ever done. I can only put this down to the big gear work and my weight loss (down to 79kg)
This has confirmed my beliefs that hill climbing basically is a power to weight ratio. The more power and less weight you have equals more speed going uphill. Sure there is an element of skill in gear selection and body position but the basics are the heavier you are the slower you go up.
I bet you all know a power house cyclist in your area that can mash those gears and time trial really well; they normally harp on about their high average speed. But get them on a hilly course and they don’t perform up to expectations. Soft I use to think but now I just feel sorry for them. All that effort into going fast when a little bit of effort with their diet might pay bigger dividends.
Saying this doing a good structured hill climbing program is worth doing. Mix it up with long and short hill along with high and low cadence. Take a good look at the gear you are using. Most novice riders will chop down the gears when they first hit the base of the hill. Their cadence goes up to the desired revs but they have suddenly dropped 5kph. Don’t change down too soon, practice this in training and watch as people fall of your back wheel going up a hill.
A couple of good sessions I like giving is 6 to 8 x 5min climbs. Each working just above your anaerobic threshold. Rest on the descent (3mins)
Another goodie is the same hill but start with a 20 sec sprint at the base of the hill. This will lift your Heart rate into your V02 intensity. You then have to hang on for the top of the hill. Slightly more rest on these. 6 to 8minutes.
The final one is find a hill about 2 to 3 km long with a gradient of a cat 3 or 4. Put it in a large gear and do seated repeats of 5min to 8 minutes long. Your cadence will get as low as 55 to 60rpm. Keep doing repeats until you have a 10% drop of in time or speed, stop the session. You descent is your rest. Before attempting these make sure you have a good base in your legs.