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10 Tips to Enhance Your Cycling Climbing Abilities + 2 Specialized Training Sessions

January 08, 2024

Whether you're sweating it out on lesser-known trails or aiming to conquer winding ascents akin to the Tour de France challenges at Alpe d'Huez, climbing on a bicycle always evokes excitement and anticipation. Yet, it can also be one of the most disheartening aspects of cycling, leaving riders fatigued, uncertain of the remaining journey, or watching others whizz past.


Now, you don't need to endure grueling seven-hour training sessions daily to perform better on climbs. With the guidance of expert teams, we've curated a plan that allows you to train like a pro even in less-than-ideal conditions. Elevate your climbing skills, starting from learning climbing techniques and gear selection, and soon witness surprising results.


Phil Paterson, a coach at Power Watts training institution, believes, "Even with just a few small hills around, you can unleash tremendous creativity."


"By frequently riding hilly terrains, you can refine your cycling techniques and strengthen muscles. This harmless method allows you to gather useful data on your riding speed, heart rate, and power during climbs, enabling adjustments and improvements for subsequent rides," says Phil Paterson.


Aside from the 10 tips to improve cycling climbing, this guide also covers tactics for handling varying lengths and gradients of slopes. It includes two training methods to enhance your climbing abilities and a way to genuinely test your climbing prowess while enjoying the thrill.


10 Techniques to Boost Climbing Skills


1. Select the Right Gear Ratio


    Since the introduction of 12-speed drivetrains on road bikes, even professional cyclists are using cassettes with at least 30 teeth on the largest cog for better climbing. Don't hesitate to use bigger gears—it's about selecting gear that suits the terrain and your capabilities.


2. Consume Low-Fiber Foods


    Nutritionist Will Girling suggests having a low-fiber breakfast like banana almond butter toast or plain rice and eggs on climbing training or race days to replenish glycogen without feeling weighed down.


3. Increase your Functional Threshold Power (FTP)


    Training intervals at 140%-150% of your FTP for 30-second bursts can significantly enhance your limits when climbing.


4. Alternate Sitting and Standing Pedaling


    The choice between sitting and standing largely depends on the slope steepness. Generally, on milder slopes, sitting pedaling is more efficient, but standing can generate more power on steeper gradients.


5. Reduce Weight Burden


    Aerodynamicist and Commonwealth Games silver medalist Daniel Bigham suggests reducing both bike and personal weight for faster climbing speeds.


6. Repeated Climbing Practice


    Matt Clinton recommends hour-long climbing sessions with downhill recovery to enhance aerobic capacity, endurance, and mitochondrial performance while potentially improving average speeds.


7. Energize Before Climbing


    Fuel up at least 15 minutes before climbs with rapidly absorbed carbohydrates like gels, drinks, or energy bars to ensure a high-blood glucose state during climbs.


8. Self-Pace and Control Rhythm


    Daniel Bigham advises controlling power, heart rate, and rhythm for those less experienced with long climbs initially and gradually building confidence for consistent speeds.


9. Win the Psychological Battle


    Ben Swift, the 2019 British National Road Race champion, emphasizes regulating breathing frequencies to stay focused while climbing.


10. Train on Flat Grounds


    Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France winner, suggests maintaining higher speeds at threshold levels on flat terrain, similar to the power demands needed for climbs, to build sustained power output.


Short and Long Climb Tactics


For challenging Alpine climbs, focus on FTP and endurance during training.


The provided tips aid in enhancing climbing abilities on various terrains. Understanding the terrain you'll be climbing will help decide which tactics to employ during training.


Short Climbs


For short climbs, focus on increasing VO2 max and maintaining readiness for sprints.


Long Climbs


For extensive climbs like those in the Alps, concentrate on raising FTP and endurance.


When tackling such climbs, adopting strategies like sitting pedaling for extended periods is most effective for aerobic riding. Standing consumes glycogen stores rapidly, so reserve it for brief rests without swaying the bike.


Maintaining a cadence of around 90 revolutions per minute (rpm) is ideal. Avoid gearing too close to your limit—slow cadences place significant strain and deplete glycogen reserves.


A wise approach for long climbs is to pace yourself; many major races and most significant climbing competitions take at least an hour. Starting too hard might exhaust you before reaching the summit. Aim for sustained aerobic output, generally around 65% of your maximum heart rate, or the point where speaking becomes challenging.


Climbing Training Sessions


Cadence Control Training


Training varying cadences helps adapt to gradient changes without fixating on a consistent pedal stroke.


Mixed Climbing Training


A two-hour session incorporating endurance riding, short hill repeats, and maximal efforts replicates diverse physiological demands for climbing scenarios.


Climbing sessions should be tailored to local routes and personal fitness levels. The core training methods remain consistent. Customize and blend these training types in regular workouts to create your personalized regimen.


Conclusion


Cycling climbing abilities are honed through practice and strategic training. Understanding the terrain, pacing, gear selection, and nutritional choices play pivotal roles in climbing success. Incorporating diverse training methods and adapting them to individual conditions cultivates a well-rounded skill set for conquering challenging ascents.

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