In the previous two parts of climb like the wind we looked at technique and the need to look at a broad view of the components of climbing to improve it. Finally lets look at training methods to improve your climbing fitness.
Suck it in:
Hills force us to ride at 2-3 times the power we produce on the flat roads because of having to overcome the resistance that the incline provides. So to improve your climbing you need to improve your ability to produce power. Increasing your VO2max or lactate threshold will improve your power, because to produce a given power output you need to consume a specific amount of oxygen. Even by training on flat roads or a trainer will help your climbing if you're training at specific enough intensities to improve your lactate threshold and VO2max. The key to this is to ensure you do this type of training at high cadences, to make sure it is a predominantly aerobic effort as opposed to a muscular one. What is classed high enough? 95+rpm at minimum, working up to 100, 105 and so on. Many riders mash big gears up climbs to improve their climbing. This indirectly does through improved strength but doesn't actually make you faster unless you then use that new strength and do climbing speed work. If you don't you will just continue be unable to respond to changes in pace by other riders, or be unable to spin up climbs, and still climb slow – just at a sluggish cadence now too.
For example: Warm up easily then complete x3(10mins at an intensity above your aerobic threshold, but below your lactate threshold, at 100+rpm/10mins easy recovery). Warm down easy.
Pedalling like a spinner:
Science has shown us that as power goes up, the most effective cadence (cadence that minimises muscle stress, and consumed oxygen) actually increases. So theoretically our climbing cadence should be higher than our flat road cadence, to make the best use of this. But I would say 1 in 1000 riders actually do.
Climbing at high cadences up hills enables you to be more responsive to changes in speed, and reduces muscular effort, by the extra power been produced by aerobic systems, and less force per revolution required to turn the pedals. An example: if you ride up hill at 60 rpm at 300 watts, this means you are producing 5 watts per revolution, and it takes a full second to produce those 5 watts. But if we change the cadence to 90 rpm but at the same wattage of 300, you are then only producing 3.3 watts per revolution, in only 66% of the time it takes at 60 rpm.
The faster cadence enables you to flush blood through your muscles at a more rapid rate, allowing the removal of blood lactate and other nasty byproducts of riding hard that eventually slow you down. Whether it's on the first hill or the second, or the fifth of the day, the high cadence strategy works because it is less stressful on your muscles.
Nonetheless it is a difficult thing to train, and can take up to 6 months of spin spin spin and ride slow. To begin with most riders slow down, because their bodies are not used to producing high wattages at high cadences. But gradually they do get used to it, and performance improves beyond their initial starting point. That's if they can get through that time. Many give up before the true benefits come through, because they go slow, so don't give up! Keep with it.
What is it about riding hills in a race or event that puts most people into difficulty? A change in speed. So if you want to improve your hill riding and hill speed, then just riding more hills will not suffice. We often get mistaken that speed work should just be done on the flat roads, but this isn't so. You must get your body used to climbing quickly, and changing speed up hills. Typically to improve hills we've been taught to just ride them. But as mentioned, the most common reason why people drop off is a change in speed. And this is why you have to change the speed at which you ride up hills forcing your body to ride them differently.
Two examples: 1) On a variety of hills spin the first two thirds at 80+rpm, then on the last third sprint out of your seat as hard as you can to the top. 2) Sprint out of your seat for the first third, then on the second third relax, and recover but spin in an easy gear at 80+rpm, and attack the last third out of your seat.
Specific Hill Training:
What type of hills are in your race or event? Or what type of hills are you good at, and not so good at? Specific hill training is vital. For example if you are training for K2 we know that Pumpkin hill is approximately 4.4kms at an average gradient of 4.5%. This means we can replicate that in training by riding hills of this length, and gradient, with hill speed efforts to get our bodies used to riding this type of hill quickly. This is specific hill training as opposed to just riding hills that aren't specific to your race. So it's not only "how" you are riding them at what cadence, in or out of the seat, with "what" technique, but also "which" hills you are riding.
Picture: Aaron Strong climbing just like his last name.
Over the last 3 parts we've covered a lot of hill information to improve your climbing so you can climb like the wind. Good luck, and remember: to improve your climbing don't just climb more hills. Take a holistic approach and work on all of the components that make up hill climbing.
Amy Taylor is an Auckland based Cycling Coach and Exercise Physiologist. Amy and fellow coach Aaron Strong coach beginner to elite riders helping them ride to their maximum potential. Contact them directly by phoning 09 631 5436 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com