Hills are by far the hardest terrain out cycling. They instill fear, remarkably reduce speed (and confidence) and hurt like crazy! Let's have a look at some easy ways to help improve your hill climbing so next time you are up against gravity you can defy it.
There are two ways to climb a hill: one in the seat, one out of the seat. But which is better and when? This really depends on the hill length and gradient. Typically to conquer short steep hills out of the seat climbing is best and long gradual ones in the seat. It is harder to maintain out of the seat climbing because you are using more muscle groups to maintain posture out of the seat. However it is easier to accelerate out of the seat because you are able to use your body weight to push the pedals harder.
Climbing in the Seat:
· Allow good full deep breaths. A consistent breathing rhythm at the bottom of a climb will help you for the rest of the hill.
· Placing your hands on the "tops" on the bars or on the brake hoods on a road bike as this allows your chest to be open for deeper, fuller breaths as shown in picture 1 with New Zealand Olympic Representative Meshy Holt climbing in the Wellington Women's World Cup.
· Sit slightly towards the back of your seat.
· Concentrate on pushing and pulling throughout the entire pedaling cycle, with tight abdominals and your shoulders set down and back straight. Don't "slouch" over the handlebars as this puts an ineffective bend in your back creating a sloppy platform from which legs will not ride strongly from.
· Keep your cadence high at over 80rpm as this will give you fluid momentum to keep a positive rhythm going.
· Always look up at the top of the climb or if you can't see the top, look at the furthest point on the road.
· Relax your arms and hands avoiding the "death grip" on the bars as this will tense your whole upper body.
Climbing out of your seat:
· When riding out of your seat always look up in the direction you are heading.
· It is easiest to have your hands on the brake hoods to lever from if you have a road bike.
· Push your hips forward and concentrate on pulling up throughout the pedaling cycle. The combined forces of your body weight and gravity will pull your foot to the bottom of the stroke so don't be concentrated with the "downstroke." Instead, concentrate on the upstroke.
· Gently rock your bike side to side in the opposite direction of your body. Ie. Push down with your left leg, move your bike to the left, and your body to the right and vice versa for the right leg. This is shown in picture 2 with Toni Bradshaw and Penny Pawson in the Auckland Championships.
· Relax your upper body, so your back is straight.
Practice makes Perfect
If you are training for a particular event it is a good idea to try and find out how long the main hills are and how steep they are. If you live near the course practice it as many times as possible so you can become familiar with the gears to use and how quickly you can ride it. In an event if you aren't confident in getting over a climb with a group you are riding with try to start the hill at the front of the bunch. If you climb slower than the other riders, starting at the front will allow them to pass you throughout the climb and then for you to jump on the back of the bunch when the top is near. Likewise setting your own pace from the bottom helps you get into a rhythm making the climb more comfortable.
Try to include a variety of hills in your training so you are capable of riding short steep ones and long gradual ones. If you do not like hills, never avoid them. They can make cycling very difficult but they are wonderful for improving leg strength, and there is nothing more satisfying than conquering a tough hill and having the reward of a great view at the top.
Amy Taylor is an Exercise Physiologist and Cycling Coach. She is one of the founders of Kinetic Edge Training Technology, and along with other coaches offers cycling skills training on a one on one or group basis. Kinetic Edge also offers programming for specific events, and personal coaching. For further information see www.kecycling.com or contact her directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 2888234.