Climb Hills The Easy Way

With practice and some refinements to your technique, you'll be climbing like a pro


Posted: 18 November 2009

Some climbs loom in the distance for what seems like miles, giving us plenty of time to think about how much pain they're going to cause. "People get very intimidated by hills," says Jim Rutberg, a Carmichael Training Systems pro-level coach who helps run the company's climbing camps. 

With practice and some improvements in technique, says Rutberg, that same menacing climb will become easier every time you do it. 

For instant gratification

Sitting and spinning in an easy gear is the most efficient way to climb. Standing puts more weight on your leg muscles - they work harder and you use 10 per cent more energy and increase your heart rate by five to 10 per cent. On gradual gradients, sit back on the saddle; for steep slopes move toward the nose of the saddle and gently pull the bar to assist you up the hill. But there are times when standing is in order, such as when your body needs a break on a climb or if you want to accelerate. Do this:

Shift before you stand

Shift up a gear and stand as your power foot comes to the top of the pedal stroke. This will push you forward and boost your momentum. Gently push on the handlebars and rock your bike beneath you as you climb. 

Stay above 75

You may feel mighty powering uphill in a monster gear at 50 revolutions per minute, but you won't make as much progress as you would if you dropped into a lower gear and ramped up to 75 or even 85 rpm. An easier spin is more sustainable and won't leave your legs as fatigued. 

Back it down to 10

The ideal climbing intensity is just below threshold (where your legs start to burn). To find it, ride a hill as hard as your legs will allow (you should be able to sustain it for more than 30 seconds), then back it down by about 10 per cent. This gives you a reserve to dig into so you can handle changes in pace and pitch without blowing up. If you're already at threshold, you have nowhere to go but down.

For long-term gains

The obvious way to climb better is to climb more often. But to improve your strength and stamina when the road goes up, add these drills to your hill rides. For the best results, do them twice a week. 

Hill acceleration

Improve power on rolling hills, which last one to two minutes each but come at you one after another. 

The workout: Ride the majority of the roller at a steady and sustainable pace until you're 200-300m from the top. Stay seated and accelerate until you're about 10 seconds past the summit. Focus on increasing your cadence to create the initial acceleration, then use your gears to keep increasing speed as you reach and pass the top of the hill. Recover with five minutes of easy spinning and repeat. Novice triathletes should complete four hill accelerations, intermediate triathletes should complete two sets of four (with 10 minutes of recovery between sets), and advanced triathletes can do two sets of six. 

Hill sprints

These hard-charging intervals will give you the brute force you need to punch your way over short, steep climbs. Just remember, after you hit the summit use your gears to bring up your cadence so you maintain power and speed after the climb. 

The workout: Find a short, steep hill with a flat road leading up to it. Ride toward the base of the hill at a moderate speed (15-20mph). With your hands in the drops, get out of the saddle and start sprinting for 25-50m before you start going uphill. Continue sprinting for 10 seconds. Recover with five minutes of easy spinning between sprints. Novices should complete four hill sprints, intermediate triathletes should complete two sets of three sprints (with 10 minutes between sets), and advanced triathletes should complete two sets of five sprints, with four minutes between sprints and eight minutes between sets.


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