This may be the most frequently asked question I field from the athletes I work with and can be the bane of most cyclist’s existence.  When the tarmac points uphill, how can you get to the top faster?

1. Lose Weight

Cycling, and more so climbing/descending, cannot escape the realm of physics.  The heavier an object is, the more force it takes to push it forward.  When the object is  being pushed up an incline, the force needed to move it increases exponentially as the gradient of said incline increases.  For our purposes, the object being pushed includes you, your bike, your bottles, your kit, etc. and the force needed to move it is you turning the pedals and producing enough power to keep forward momentum going.  If your power to object weight ratio are low, guess what?  You aren’t getting up that hill fast, my friend.  This is also called “watts per kilo” and is one of the most important and telling objective measurements of how strong  a cyclist is when going uphill.

If you can maintain your current fitness, but lose weight, you will be able to climb a heck of a lot faster.  There are a few ways you can lose weight and make the “object” lighter.  The easiest and highest return on investment is of course losing body weight.  Second, depending on how deep your pockets are, you can lose weight off of your bike by upgrading the frame, wheels, and components to lighter versions.  Tertiary, you can dump your bottles and fuel before the end of the last climb (so pro) to lighten yourself even more.  I don’t recommend doing this however because littering is no good, and you more than likely don’t have a team car following you to pick up your bottles.

2. Get Stronger

Say you are already super skinny and have the best of the best and lightest stuff available.  You won’t be able to necessarily lose weight, unless you can invent a lighter than water replacement.  In this case (and not only this case!), you need to become stronger.  Becoming stronger for climbing entails:

  • Having a very strong core to be able to deal with the low cadence and high torque pedaling style of steep climbs.
  • Being able to maintain around lactate threshold intensity or higher for the length of the climb at varying pedal cadences and both sitting and standing.
  • Being able to change your hand position (flats, hoods, drops) to stress different muscle groups at different times to keep one group from over-fatiguing.
  • Possessing mental fortitude, because lets face it, climbing can really hurt.
  • Being able to raise both hands in the air at low speeds without falling over after you drop all of your closest rivals (okay, maybe).

The best time of the periodization period I have found to work on bike specific strength with my athletes are the offseason, base, and initial build phases where you can dedicate time off the bike and in the weight room (for some athletes), as well as utilize the trainer’s ability for low cadence and high torque exercises.  Check out the Muscle Tension Effort exercise in this post for an idea.

3. Practice, practice, practice

The old adage holds true in this case: “The only way to improve at something is to practice it!”.  So, if you want to improve upon your climbing, you need to climb more.  Seek out hillier routes and push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Put the bike in your car and drive to the more hilly/mountainous areas surrounding you.  Just get out there and point the bike uphill!

Enjoy the descent.

For more information on GC Coaching and how we can help you improve your fitness, please visit www.gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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