Q. I keep reading that the best way to improve on hills is to ride more hills. It's pretty flat where I live, so should I just keep going up and down the one hill I have access to or are there other ways to become stronger on the bike?
A. Utilising one hill to develop your hill strength is good but in the interests of sanity and variety here are some other options:
1 If you have access to an indoor trainer, raise the height of the front wheel to replicate hill climbing (roughly 10cm higher than rear wheel equates to a 6-8 per cent gradient). Practise riding in this position at a lower cadence, eg 55-60rpm, at an effort that allows you to talk but at which you're applying pressure through up to half the pedal stroke.
2 Use the local hill to do a variety of strength efforts. On some days do 6-10 very short (10-20 secs) and very hard efforts with 6-10 times as much recovery between (eg 6x20 secs with 120 secs rest); on other days do efforts of 2-3 minutes that are hard but sustainable, at the same cadence you would maintain on the flat. You can add variety by using your aerobar position (if you have them), seated normally or riding out of the saddle.
3 Find a nice flat stretch of road and ride at 55-65rpm, at an effort where you could still talk but you feel like you are applying pressure through up to half the pedal stroke. Do this for 5-10 mins, then take 3-5mins to recover at a more comfortable cadence. Repeat 3-5 times.
When developing strength using 'big gear/low cadence' work there is no need to do the efforts as hard as you can. Just the nature of the lower cadence and the 'pausing for breath' effort will have the desired effect.
David Tilbury-Davis has been involved in triathlon for more than 10 years. He began his coaching career (physfarm.com) while engaged in postgraduate research in biomechanics at Loughborough University. David has coached squads and athletes ranging from beginner to elite and juniors to competitors aged 65. He has competed in various triathlons, from the sprint distance to Ironman.