Get better at hill climbing on the bike

Is the key to go on long rides, or short ones, fast or slow…? We take a look

Get better at hill climbing on the bike

Riding hills is a great way to improve your bike fitness because the climbs increase the resistance you need to overcome.


Of course, what goes up must come down, and you get a period of lower resistance when you’re descending, so riding hills is essentially an interval session, whether or not you do it in a structured fashion.

You can add hill training in many different ways. For example, rather than choosing a flat route you can make sure your long weekend ride includes plenty of hills to mix up the intensity.

When you want to get more structured about it, after a thorough 10min warm-up, find a long, relatively shallow hill that takes about 6mins to climb and gradually increase your riding intensity as you head up. You don’t need to be going all out by the top, but you should be working hard. Recover for about 5mins on the way back down. Do this three times. When you repeat the session, increase the length of the hill slightly or include more intervals.

You could try riding some of this session in a bigger than normal gear at a low cadence (50-60rpm) to increase your leg strength, but introduce this gradually. Alternate 1min in your normal gear/1min in a large gear to start with.

As race season gets closer, you’ll want to increase the intensity. Find a hill that takes, say, 3mins to climb and ride it so you’re breathing very hard by the top. Then recover for 3mins on the way down before repeating four more times. Try 1min hills too, hitting them hard and repeat five times with 3mins recovery between each.

To improve your power just before racing, include full-on hill sprints in your training programme. Sprint uphill as fast as you can for 12secs, before recovering completely over, say, 3mins. Repeat this six times.

While racing, you want to do most of your climbing while seated ­– riding out of the saddle takes more energy and is less aerodynamically efficient (although it sometimes makes sense for short periods). For those reasons, prepare by staying in the saddle as much as possible while climbing in training.

If you live in a flat area, you can simulate hills by riding on a turbo using resistances/gears that force you to increase your level of effort.

(Image: Matthew Clark)


For lots more performance advice head to our Training section