How do I improve my climbing?

A light bike doesn't replace good fitness.

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by JesseD

This year is my first year back racing in 20 years, I have only done crits and have started to have a little success, my fitness has started to improve, I have lost a little weight and have been able to mix it in the sprints at the end, with my best result being a second place in a bunch sprint only being pipped at the line by half a wheel after having slow down due to one chap almost taking me into the crowd by swerving off his line, I would have won otherwise.

I train mostly on my own so have decided to join a club, hoping that training with other riders will help me get leaner and faster. I went on my first club run yesterday and kept up easily on the flats but as soon as the roads started to upwards that was it I was out the back and struggling up the climb with another chap for company.

I want to road race next year and this means I need to climb faster to stay in contact with the leaders so I can use my sprint at the end. I also don't want to piss off my new club mates by them having to wait for me at the top of every climb.

I know I have a fair bit of weight to lose which will give me some gains going up hill but what else can I do, should I be doing intervals up hills or just make sure every ride I do from now until next season includes lots of climbing?

Any advice is greatfully received.



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by tinchy

Depends what kinda climb your on about. If its just a small hill, I try and hit it with as much speed as possible and then climb out of the saddle using the drops or the hoods. If its a longer climb with switchbacks etc then all you can really do is find an appropriate gear and get into a rhythm of pedalling in the saddle - get out of the saddle on the actual switchbacks. Thats just me anyway...

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by nicsen

I have always found this workout helpful for myself: find a climb that would typically take 3-5 minutes (possibly on a quite road) or so to climb with some moderate pitch. Then perform repeats up the climb in sets: 1. one standing in a high gear spinning pretty fast and repeat now following 2. stay seated but now in the large chainring in the biggest gear you can climb without falling over (speed is not essential on this rep). Repeat as a set of the two as many times as possible in sets.

Enjoy and it is pretty painful! I would do this kind of ride once a week.

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by false_Aesthetic

I moved from Chicago (where highway overpasses are considered steep and long) to Los Angeles last summer.

Seriously, I had never ever ever climbed a hill that took more than 2 minutes to get over. When I got here I bought a book and found the closest ride that provided a decent climb (3 miles and about 1000 feet . . . that's 5k and 300 meters). It's not crazy but from someone that hails from Flatlandia, it was a start.

This is what I learned: The secret to climbing better is to climb more.

I don't mean that you need to climb twice a day 6 days a week. But you need to figure out how you like to climb and what your body does when it climbs.

Once I started to get used to climbing and once I really paid attention to what my body liked to do I could start adjusting things like cadence, form, etc. Really, once I started climbing more and more the articles and tips I read from various people (most importantly Dave Kirk) started to make more sense.

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by jmilliron

If you're looking for a shortcut, maybe you could try EPO, anabolic steroids and/or diet pills?

Snarky comment aside, weight is huge. I cut 40 seconds off a local 3.2 mile, 1,300 ft gain climb by dropping a combined six pounds off my bike and body and keeping avg power the same.
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by Tokyo Drifter

false_Aesthetic wrote:
This is what I learned: The secret to climbing better is to climb more.

This is the only answer that is not BS. Find hill, ride up, repeat until cooked.

Also, EPO works good.

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by Tinea Pedis

I do recall reading on a Q&A from CyclingNews this year (can't find the link though at present) that their expert believes that limiting "hill" days to a maximum of 2 hard days per week, with the other days being primarily "flat", gave better and faster gains in climbing "ability".

fwiw a race with hills in it was also counted in that 2.

I'll stand corrected on any of this, as my recollection might be off.

Otherwise, exactly like false said. Only way to get better at hills is to ride 'em. Just wait til your next issue is finding climbs longer than 3 or 4 km :? as that's the point I'm at now.

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by mr_tim

Re; the road races - if your only doing a few in the season, try and be selective about which course you are out on. Sounds obvious but if you know the courses and pick the ones that suit you best, it means you are coming prepared & ready to work towards a ranking spot.

No point beating yourself up on a really hill course that doesn't suit you - its demotivating. It makes more sense to make one big effort on one race you can win to get a podium spot vs killing yourself on five races to pick up bitty small change points.

Re; the club runs - one thing I've noticed is that often the whippets will shape the whole club run towards making a statement on the climbs.

To make a club run more suited to the 'roleur' you can

a) get the pace on the flat a little higher which often suits the non-climber more - an extra 5mph on the flat will give the whippets a challenge to work on,
b) try and ride thru when the top of the climbs are reached - no waiting & having a drink at the top. You'll get stronger for it & the other guys will appreciate your cracking on with the ride even though your tired.
c) when doing a long climb - concentrate on regular open breathing and a fluid cadence. You'll feel fresher for it & it'll make b) a bit easier to do.

Lastly - do set yourself a target by which you can track yourself. Time yourself up a local long climb & then return to it every couple of weeks. If you can see your times dropping down you've got yourself some good motivation :)

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by Rick

Well, this is weighweenies :mrgreen:

But seriously, for me the last 5 pounds is the difference between getting dropped and riding comfortably at the front of the group.

Body weight has a miraculous effect on climbing. If you are 5 pounds above "peak", then it is worse than carrying 5 inert pounds because the 5 pounds on your body still demands oxygen and nutrients.

....and ride hills a lot.

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by false_Aesthetic

Rick wrote:Body weight has a miraculous effect on climbing.

This needs to be repeated.

I should mention that I also bought my girlfriend a whistle, a tricycle and an umbrella to help me with climbing.

See 00:50:00

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by Maverick

I had typed a longer response but when I hit submit it somehow didn't post.

General idea was this: Your ability to climb in it's simplest form is how good your power to weight ratio is, with the power number in the ratio being threshold, anaerobic etc. depending on what sort of hills you are talking about.

To improve climbing, decrease weight, or increase power, and as you have said you need to work on dropping a few more kgs that will be the quickest and easiest way to improve your climbing form.

I am of the opinion that whilst the advice to "climb more" holds true, it is not because it makes you a better climber from a technical perspective (of course it will help your technique and pacing ability somewhat) but because training in the hills typically makes you ride harder which generally will equate to a higher calorie burn (lower weight) and higher power output during your ride (more power).

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by JesseD

So it's down to weight loss (well this is weight weenies) and riding hills lots.

Possibly doing intervals and big gear work on hills to build power and leg speed.

I am not really worried about dropping the guys on the club ride as I know I will never be a climber due to my build, plus I do get satisfaction about showing them a clean pair of heels in the sprint for the sign.

I am not looking for quick gains either, and PED's are out as I cant afford them :roll: so it looks like lots of hard work this winter.

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by mrfish

I like MrTim's advice.

Another tip would be to try and replicate what you're trying to do in the race. So if the race involves 4 times up a 100m vertical climb at a 8% gradient, try and find something similar and ride up that.

Ride the hill as many times as the race, even if you don't do the same mileage. Once you know you can get up it X times fast, doing it X times with a few miles in between is not a big deal. Your other training can focus on the miles / time on the bike.

Then also try riding it at different speeds so that you know what you're capable of. Do say 3x focusing on strength and form, then ride the last one like it's a hillclimb.

Then ride the race to survive to the end. Make a plan and stick to it. On hard, hilly races I used to ride up the hills in bottom gear at the back of the pack for the first few laps until everyone calmed down. Everyone else would be out of the saddle massacring their legs in 52x19, while I would be spinning 42x23. Then later sometimes I had the energy and strength to ease off the front (not a big attack - just riding hard) on the last lap and take a placing.

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by stella-azzurra

The only way you will climb faster, farther and better is to get down your body weight and increase your watts.
This is what yields the biggest gain in climbing: power to weight ratio.
Everything thing else is just tuning your form to be economic in the way you expend your energy.

So it's putting in the time and effort on and off the bike. Train right, eat right, rest right.
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by KWalker

I agree and disagree with several of these points in a way.

1. Lose as much weight as you can off of your body. I don't say bike because losing un-needed body mass not only helps w/kg, but your ability to climb standing, which for me is helpful. By losing weight and training my weaknesses I went from a 3.88 w/kg 1 hour power to almost 4.7 since May. Combined with learning how to climb better myself, I have taken almost 12 minutes off of a UCI Cat 2 climb (50:35 when I first did it, now down to 39 something)

2. Learn to climb in many different positions and at different cadences. I made the mistake of doing what Carmichael suggested and climbing at 90-95 seated all last season. I didn't really get better at climbing. If you watch the pros and the KOM competitors, they change positions a lot. Get comfortable riding on the hoods, the tops, the drops on shallower climbs and likewise at different cadences. You can't use the same position and cadence with every single climb, it just doesn't work. My local climb that I do is a UCI Cat 2 climb and I can tell you that you couldn't do the same thing up the whole mountain. The tougher double digit portions require a lower cadence/more strength and I use a more hunched over position to use more of my glutes and hamstrings or ride out of the saddle. The easier sections work better with a higher cadence and in the hoods to help delay or offset fatigue. The switchbacks require the ability to stand out of the saddle to really preserve speed and accelerate. The general ability to stand helps me to stretch out, change positions, and use different muscles. Also, if you only train seated or in one position, then what happens when someone attacks in a race? Very few people could just sit there and spin and be fine. I firmly believe that you have to train everything on a climb so that you are ready for every scenario and then you can more easily figure out what to do when. Climbing fast requires you to maintain a decent pace, which might require you to employ different techniques to keep the same speed and power output. You may never be Andy Schleck, but I've noticed that most of my climbing mistakes come from an inability to keep my pace and output constant because I over or under gear a specific section and end up in an uncomfortable situation.

3. Climb a lot, but not always hard. I know people have said 2 days a week max and I don't know where they got that from. You won't adapt any better or worse unless you only do 1 type of riding at 1 intensity level all the time in the same position and at the same cadence. I climb hard once or twice per week, but some weeks I might climb 5 total days. Don't be afraid to find a mellower climb and spend time at endurance paces or lower exertion levels. Hell, some days I might climb 5,000 feet, but at an endurance pace and others I might climb only 1,200, but in harder intervals.

4. Train for what you suck at, then what you will do most. This is just my opinion, but its worked for me. If and when I move back to the U.S. it is unlikely that I will ever be riding climbs like the ones I have been on in the Alps. I train on them, however, because I feel that if I can get better at climbing for an hour straight or on harder climbs, then 700 feet of climbing in a lap of a road race won't be so tough mentally. I used to race a lot of crits and road races with shorter climbs, so I trained for that. I did lots of 3 to 5 minute intervals, LT intervals, etc, but never placed better. Then I just started to focusing on climbing duration and I improved a lot. My limiter was not the hill type, but overall endurance. My LT was decent, but in some races you're going to have sections at that level longer than your intervals, possibly harder than your intervals, and without as much rest as your intervals. My improving my aerobic endurance I gained 10% on my threshold power and don't have as much of a problem recovering between climbs, which was my limiter before. I could hang with anyone on the first few go rounds, but after that I was spent. That now frees me up to focus more on the specifics of the races I will do since I can repeat the necessary efforts over and over and over in race conditions, not just a few times with carefully spaced recovery intervals like in training.

I know people should focus on specific training, but the people posting (me included) are generally amateurs doing this outside of their 9 to 5. We're not scouting out Tour routes and planning our season around a single stage, we're trying to become better racers overall. I think a newer rider should focus on getting better overall in terms of aerobic endurance, raising their threshold, lowering their weight, racing more often, riding more, eating better, etc. before they think of structuring all of their riding around 1 climb in 1 race and so forth. Also, you can train that same grade all you want, but it will never go the same way twice. You might be in the bunch, on a break, off the back chasing; the scenario will never be identical to what you are doing in training and you can get close, but why not use the time and effort to build up your overall qualities as a cyclist? I saw quite a few people buy PM's last season and train this and that for a few circuit races and they still didn't get any better even though they trained every imaginable quality. The winners rode and improved their whole range of abilities and became smarter/better racers.

With that said you can increase your power output and never be a climb. Your physiology dictates your power output graph and although you can train to help your weaknesses, you will not be able to re-write your genes. Many pros have incredibly high thresholds and similar power/weight ratios, but excel at different types and styles of climbing. I will always have a downward sloping plot, but if I want to use my strengths I need to get to the end of a race, which means getting over the climbs. Also, lots of races have KOM and intermediate sprints, so learning to climb can help me with those as well since they're usually shorter and earlier on.
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