The Ultimate Challenge includes a LOT of climbing. Climbing is hard. Becoming a better climber in cycling requires time in the saddle, climbing hills. However, there are several ways that you can make climbing easier. Check out our tips below.
Utilize your equipment: Don’t be afraid to shift! Pushing a relatively large gear while riding uphill will cause leg fatigue much more quickly than spinning a smaller gear at a higher cadence. One way to make attacking hills easier is to fully utilize the gears on your bike. The most efficient way to climb is to remain seated and keep your cadence high (70-90 rpm). Don’t avoid your lowest gears because you’re trying to be tough. Pro’s utilize all of their gears and spend a lot of time in their lowest gears while climbing.
Find your zen: It is natural to tense all parts of the body when working hard. You may clench your jaw, tightly grip the handlebars or hammer the pedals when you start a difficult climb. This unnecessary tension wastes your energy. Intentionally check in with our body while climbing – unclench your jaw, loosen your grip, relax your shoulders and elbows, and take full, deep breaths. Your upper body should be so still that if someone were only watching you from the waist up, they wouldn’t be able to tell if you were climbing or casually riding along. For the lower body, stay light on the pedals and keep your legs moving rhythmically.
Don’t max out early: Starting the climb at a too high intensity can make the climb more difficult than it needs to be. Don’t focus on your speed as you are climbing – even pros slow down significantly on hills. Keep your heart rate and intensity level in check by shifting down to a gear low enough for you to get to the top without blowing up. Aim for a negative split – you’ll save time and energy by taking it easy the first half of the climb and then picking up the pace in the second half.
Maximize your leverage: On mild to moderate slopes, shift your weight toward the back of your saddle. This will maximize your leverage and allow your hamstrings to contribute more fully to the pedal stroke. This will also weight your rear wheel, giving you more traction. If the slope is really steep, you may need to shift your weight forward to keep the front wheel on the ground.
Get out of the saddle – if you must: Climbing out of the saddle can give you a burst of power, but takes more energy. Be strategic about when you decide to stand. If you are planning to get out of the saddle, shift into a harder gear before you stand up. Stand when one foot reaches the top of the pedal stroke (2 o’clock) to minimize momentum loss. Stand with your rear over the saddle and keep your weight centered over the bottom bracket. Allow the bike to move slightly from side to side under you to maximize the power generated by the pedal stroke.
Mind over matter: Sport performance can be dramatically affected by the thoughts of an athlete. You will be a much better climber if you believe you can be a good climber. The best way to gain confidence is to practice climbing. Start with a hill you know you can do, then slowly add progressively steeper and/or longer climbs. You’ll gain confidence and learn how to develop a strategy to attack different types of climbs.
Practice, practice, practice: The skills listed above also take time to develop. The more often you practice efficient shifting, body position on the bike and planning your climbing strategy on actual hills, the more natural these skill will become. Additionally, climbing hills utilizes different muscle groups than riding flats or cruising downhill. You cannot become stronger without working those muscles, specifically the glutes and hamstrings. If you aren’t accustomed to riding hills, incorporate them into your training 1-3 times per week.
Cut yourself some slack: If you’re in your lowest gear and you still can’t make it to the top, pull over and take a rest. Depending on the grade of the hill, you may even want to walk a bit. All cyclists (even pros) have faced a hill that they could not climb. Keep challenging yourself with hills – you can try to climb a bit higher each time you ride that particular hill.