If you’re training for the Ultimate Challenge, you’ll want to be sure to include plenty of climbing to build leg strength and endurance for the big day. Luckily for those of us who live in Utah, we have lots of canyons to choose from. Yes, climbing is hard. But becoming a better climber requires some time in the saddle hitting the hills. Check out our tips to become a better climber below:
Summer climbs may be hot due to lack of shade.
Descents can be cold even in the summer: pack a wind jacket or vest for the fast trip back down the canyon. Plan for a potentially large difference in temperature (dressing in layers is a great idea!) It can be substantially cooler (20 degrees or more) near the top of canyons than in the valley so it’s worth noting the conditions prior to taking off.
Bring plenty of water.
Be mindful: Our Utah canyons are loved by many outdoor enthusiasts. Be especially watchful near trailheads and hiker parking lots. Drivers and pedestrians sometimes forget to watch for cyclists.
Utilize your equipment: 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).
Build Strength: 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.
Find your Zen: Intentionally check in with your 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: 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.
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.
Practice, practice, practice: The more often you practice efficient shifting, body position on the bike, and planning your climbing strategy on actual hills, the more natural these skills will become.
Get out of the saddle if you must: Climbing out of the saddle can give you a burst of power, but it 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.
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.