How to improve your bike climbing

Hate the hills? We'll have you haring up them in no time

Hill training

Worried about the steep stuff this triathlon season but lack big hills nearby to train on? Follow this advice from Matt Brett and you’ll be haring up them in no time.


The best way to improve your climbing is simply to climb. Rather than avoiding hills in training, you should seek them out and include them in your rides as much as possible – as long, of course, as the local terrain allows it.

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What effectively happens when you hit a climb is that the resistance you’re working against increases. You could just keep your power output constant and slow right down, but the chances are that you’ll choose to put out more power on the climbs in order to minimise that drop in speed. Then, of course, when you go over the top of a climb and start descending, the resistance decreases.

So, hills force your body to work hard for various periods of time (depending on length and gradient), followed by periods where you can take it easier.

Without any sustained climbs on your doorstep, you can replicate riding them in training both on the flat and on a turbo trainer. It doesn’t really matter what’s causing you to change your level of effort, the physiological changes that you’re looking for will be the same.

Suggested workout

For example, on a flat road you could sling your bike into a big gear to simulate a steep climb.

If you usually ride at a cadence of 90rpm, say, you could adjust the gears until your cadence is about 60-70rpm and then perform an interval session. Try this to increase your force:

– Warm up thoroughly for 10mins in a low gear

– Stay in the saddle, change to a high gear and ride hard for 6mins (at the same intensity as if you were climbing a tough hill)

– Shift to a very easy gear and spin your legs for 1:30mins

– Repeat this until you’ve completed five work periods and five rest periods

– Cool down by spinning in an easy gear for 10mins

You can vary the work and rest periods, and you can do exactly the same thing on a turbo trainer, only here you can usually adjust the resistance on your rear wheel via a lever or dial. Some people even suggest sticking a high block under the front wheel to replicate a climbing position. Give it a go.

One other way to improve your climbing if you can find even small hills is to hit every one of them hard – effectively turning a standard ride into an interval session. This is good to do with training partners; you race to the top of each climb with one of you taking the King Of The Mountains title at the end of the ride.

What you clearly can’t get by training on the flat or the turbo are hill climbing and descending technical skills; if you’re going to race on lumpy terrain, you need to get these dialled. There are no shortcuts here – you simply have to find some hills and practise.

(Image: Jonny Gawler)


For lots more bike performance advice head to our Training section