Become a Better Climber – Training Tips

By Jiri Kaloc

Climbing can be one of the most rewarding parts of cycling. When you are fit and well-prepared, nothing compares to the feeling of conquering a mountain on a bike. Let’s go over ways to train for climbing you can use no matter how tall the hills in your area.

Each climb requires a different set of skills. Shorter climbs test your VO2 max and sprinting ability, while long ones are about your endurance and functional threshold power (FTP). For most cyclists, long climbs are the ones that truly reveal your level of fitness. We will focus on training for those types of climbs.

Cycling hill repeats

Hill repeats are one of the easiest ways to train for big climbs. All you need is a relatively small hill somewhere in your area that takes about 5-10 minutes to climb. The training session is simple, climb and descend the hill repeatedly. You can aim for a total duration of 30-60 minutes or a number of repeats as your goal. This extended time spent climbing will force you to find a good rhythm because you can’t sustain an all-out effort that long. Hill repeats also teach you to listen to your body and pace each climb right to be able to complete all of the repetitions.

Climbing cyclists
Climbing has a reputation of scaring new cyclists and demoralising even those with experience. © / DPphoto / Profimedia

Training on flats

If you don’t have any hills in your immediate area, don’t worry, you can still do training sessions that will improve your climbing endurance and threshold power. In fact, you can even do these sessions on a turbo trainer at home.

Riding on the flat at your threshold pace will help build the sustained power output needed on long climbs. The main point of threshold workouts is to improve your FTP, the maximum sustainable power for one hour. You can check out two different workouts like this in our previous article.

Long climbs are also about overall endurance. The main goal of endurance workouts is to develop slow-twitch muscle fibres and train the body to use fat as a fuel more efficiently. It’s also important to include some harder efforts towards the end of the workout to teach the body to work hard while fatigued. You will find example endurance workouts in our previous article.

Big gear efforts

Another thing that can simulate the feeling of a climb is riding with a big gear. You can do this on gentle hills or flats. A big gear will simulate the extra effort and power needed to turn the cranks on a steep climb. Aim for 20-minute efforts in a big gear to build up your climbing-specific strength and endurance.

Once you get used to riding in a big gear, you can take it to another level with “tractor pulls”. To do a tractor pull, you ride in a big gear, slow down, and then build up your speed again while still in a big gear. This builds some serious climbing strength in your legs. Try to complete 10 tractor pulls with two-minute rests in between each.

Training your mindset

Your mindset can make or break your climb. Every cyclist has a different way to handle the pain and discomfort of pushing hard for extended periods of time. Some count in their mind, some focus on their breath, others repeat a mantra over and over. Every time you do a long, hard climb or a big training session, use the opportunity to focus on your mindset. When you do start despairing and doubting yourself, what helps you refocus? Cultivate your climbing mindset, it might be what keeps you from giving up before the top!