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Becoming a Better Climber Even if You Don’t Live Near Any Hills

By Christopher Ashley

Every cyclist knows that the best thing about cycling is the terrifying excitement that comes before cycling up a mountain. So how do you get good at climbing if you don’t live near any hills?

Faster and further

Improving endurance isn’t rocket science. If climbing isn’t an option, make sure you go fast – for long periods of time. In the absence of hills, you can stretch your resilience by keeping a high tempo for longer than is comfortable – just make sure you warm up first.

Yes, you can ride to work comfortably at a 14mph average speed. Aim for a 17mph average speed (including traffic lights) and your body will start to lose fat and build muscle. Keep spinning but challenge yourself by going a gear higher than comfortable. Repeat after me, “sur la plaque”.

Ride on the hoods

Getting used to a climbing position is important. Cycling up a steep gradient requires a very different posture to cycling on the flat, so get used to a more upright position for when your biggest enemy switches from wind resistance to gradient. Get out the saddle and get to your highest gear.

Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong on Mt Ventoux.

Riding on the hoods when on the flat will raise your profile and force you to work harder to push air out the way – this will give you the workout you’re looking for. It will also allow your body to adjust its physique so that it suits prolonged periods of climbing.


Newton’s first law states that staying on your sofa requires little effort. It also states that cruising on your bike on the flat at a steady cadence, even at relatively high speed, is easy. So how are cyclists most challenged by Newton’s first law? Acceleration.

Interval training exploits this, and your body adjusts accordingly. Once you’ve warmed up, push your effort for 30 seconds. Cruise and recover for 60 seconds. Repeat 4 times. Cool down for 5 minutes. Repeat the entire sequence. This pushes your muscles against rolling resistance, wind resistance, and gravity. The better you get at this, the easier you’ll find the climb.

Wear weight

If you live on or near the mountains – good for you. Losing weight is easy. Nothing hinders your ability to climb quite like excess weight. Conversely, your body automatically compensates if you have access to hills every day of your life. You’ll automatically burn the excess calories.

Train for hills by attaching baggage to your bike. Put some panniers on your training bike. Fill them with litre bottles of water. All the training you do will be amplified by the additional watts you’ll generate, hauling this equipment with you.