Love them or hate them, hill climbing is an inevitable part of cycling (unless you somehow map out perfectly flat routes). So, when you’re sitting at the bottom of a daunting climb what is your go-to game plan? When you’re pushing your muscles to the edge of their ability, you can only tell them to “shut up” so many times – no matter how tough you are they are going to win that conversation.
The best thing you can do mentally is to learn to love climbing. If that’s a little too drastic, then at least go in with the tools needed to feel your best as you grind up the hills. There’s nothing more satisfying than conquering a tough climb–and we want to get you there!
Tips to Master Hill Climbing
Pace Yourself (and use your gears)
Attacking the hill may work if it is small climb with the crest in view from the bottom. However, if you go in too aggressively, sure you’ll feel strong at the bottom, but once you hit a certain point it’s easy to hit a wall. You overexert your muscles and skyrocket your heart rate rather than pacing yourself for the long game. If you find yourself often slowing to a crawl halfway through a climb, think about gearing down earlier and keep those legs spinning. You will then have the energy to “attack the hill” when you reach the final push over the top.
Stand Up Strategically
Should you sit or stand while climbing? It might seem like you’re more power standing by using your upper body weight, but it also requires 10 to 12 percent more energy. The net effect is more energy used and an increase in your oxygen uptake. However, it is good to get out of the saddle to stretch it out a bit and to incorporate different muscles, just save it for the steeper parts– and even then use it sparingly.
It may seem counterintuitive to try and find your inner peace while your lungs and legs are screaming at you, but the mental game is most of the battle. As you approach the hill, be your own cheerleader, and convince yourself that you love the climb. Focus on your steady cadence. Relax your body from the top down, starting with your eyes, face, neck, and moving all the way down to your toes. If you have a mantra, now is the time to start visualizing it!
Find Your Power Position
If you’re tackling hills with a tense upper body, you’re going to burn out a lot faster. The natural tendency as we get tired is to round the back and slump the shoulders forward, but to allow for efficient breathing, keep your back straight and your chest open. Position your hands on the brake hoods and relax your arms so your elbows sit slightly wider than your hips. Try keep your body free of tension, all the while tightening your core to stabilize your movements.
Practice Hill Repeats
Practice makes perfect. You’re not going to get better at anything by wishing it into reality. Climbing is tough, and it’s never going to get easier, but the more you challenge yourself the stronger you’ll get. Find a hill and spend some time going up and down. Half the battle is finding your rhythm with climbing. Once you do, you may find yourself even looking forward to the hills!