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Cycling Basics: All About Cycling on Hills Effortlessly

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Biking on slick roads and flat terrains is relatively easier and comfortable. The anxiety strikes only while taking that uphill route or pedalling on a mountain pass. So, whether you are trying to win a local club ride or a high-profile tournament, efficient cycling on hills can make all the difference.

Cycling on an ascend can be a decisive point especially in a race. If you cannot handle the steep ascends of the route then you shall lag behind majorly. In addition, you will also exert too much energy which could be used in the latter part of your cycling. Hence, it is crucial for a cyclist to know how to negotiate these sharp ascends while cycling in hills.

Keep reading to learn all the cycling tips for better hill climbing.

How to Do Cycling on Hills

Cycling on hills
Know When to Stand on Pedals and When to Sit on Saddle While Cycling Uphill (source)

An uphill ascend is an inevitable part of a cycling route. Whether you are in a mountain cycling competition or a trail cycling, a steep ascend is bound to cross your path. And so, you should be prepared well to deal with it.

All you have to do is take care of a few factors and you can conquer the hills. Here are some tried and tested tips to do cycling on hills like a boss!

Weight

Since you are the engine that has to propel the bike to the top, hence the size and power of that engine will determine how quickly you reach the summit. An efficient way to get up on hills faster is to unload unnecessary bulk. By dropping a few kilos, you shall find a noticeable difference in your performance.

Now that doesn’t need to be out-and-out dieting. Just tweak your diet a bit like not reaching for those extra biscuits with tea, aerated drinks, the chocolate bar - basically cut down calories that serve no purpose, it will only slow you down.

Conditioning

If losing weight isn’t for you, then fine-tune your power output. It is sure to make those mountains seem like insignificant speed bumps. And you can achieve this without using a power monitor. If you have heard or already do interval training which conditions the body to cope with higher levels of effort then you are on the right track. You can also over-gearing interval training where you ride in a harder gear than normal for a set time. This improves the way that muscles handle effort.

Practice Cycling Uphill

Like the old used to say, practice will make you an expert. Choose a hilly route at least once or twice a week. Add these drills into your training and you'll improve quite faster.

  • Uphill Sprint 20s
    Find a hill that takes 10 to 15 minutes to climb. Start climbing at your lactate threshold. After two minutes, stand up and attack at just below all-out sprint intensity (nine-plus on a one-to-10 scale) for 20 pedal strokes. Sit and go right back to climbing at your LT. Repeat every one to two minutes (depending on your fitness) all the way up the hill. Perform the drill one to two times.
  • Rock the Rollers
    To keep going strong through rolling terrain, practice two-minute attacks. Find a short climb or series of climbs that takes about two minutes to crest. Wind up before you hit the climb so you're at LT as soon as the hill starts. Climb at LT for 90 seconds; then go as fast as you can for the final 30 seconds all the way to the top. Repeat four to six times.

Sit down

Another aerobically efficient way to the top is sitting in the saddle for as much of a long climb as possible. Sitting back in the saddle will recruit your glutes, allowing the large muscles at the back of your thighs more advantage to pedal. Standing up on the pedals, out of the saddle will deliver more power but will use the vital glycogen stores faster.

However, you can get out of the saddle occasionally to give your bum a rest and get circulation flowing again. Further, there will be a change in the muscle groups doing the work.

Livingit Tip:

When you are out of the saddle, try to resist rocking the bike too much, as exaggerated ‘honking’ is inefficient and can waste energy.

Increase Your LT

The keystone of climbing fitness is to be able to generate high power and speed at lactate threshold (LT). To improve your cycling skills on hills, slip in LT intervals at least once or twice a week but not more than that. After a good warm-up, ride 10 minutes at a steady effort, keeping your heart rate about three beats below your LT heart rate (just below your average heart rate for a 30-60-minute time trial, or an effort of seven to eight on a scale of one to 10). Recover for 10 minutes. Then repeat two more times. Work up to two 20-minute intervals with 20 minutes recovery, then just one 30-minute interval.

Maintain a steady cadence

Avoid a low cadence (around 65 RPM) wherever possible. Because it puts the muscles in contraction state for a longer period of time, and as we know, the longer a muscle is put under load, the faster it fatigues. But if your cadence is higher, around the 90RPM mark, your muscles contract for a short time during each pedal stroke and as a result, it doesn’t tire out soon. Thus, allowing you to climb further.

Gears

While taking the bike into account, the first thing to consider is gear ratios. Use compact cranks with a 50 x 34 chainring combination instead of the standard 53 x 39. Cassettes with a 27, 28 or even 30 cog will create a greater range of lower gears and help you find a higher, more comfortable cadence without grinding it out on every climb.

Pace, don’t race

Pacing is important in delivering your best effort on a long climb. Some big cycling events have several climbs that can take up to an hour to ascend!

So, if you go too aggressively in the beginning then it is quite likely that you could blow before the top – and even if you don’t, going into oxygen debt and digging too deep into your muscle glycogen reserves may do irredeemable damage to your whole performance.

Therefore the key is to stay aerobic as much as possible until you’re ready to give it all – perhaps in the last few miles of the event. If you’re using a heart rate monitor, this threshold figure will typically be at about 65 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you’re riding on perceived exertion alone, you need to back off when holding a normal conversation is no longer possible.

How to Build Strong Frame for Cycling on Hills

cycling calves
Make Your Legs Strong for Powerful Pedalling (source)

You need a strong body frame to take on the ascends. Cycling on hills demands extra effort and an ounce of more power than the usually cycling. Much as you hit the gym, give particular attention to strength building workouts for specific body parts.

Here are three key areas where you should pay additional attention as a cyclist.

Core

For efficient climbing, you need to work on your core strength. The core is made up of your abdominal and thoracic muscles. A strong core is crucial in cycling for efficient power transfer on the bike. A solid core provides stability through the hips and pelvis, which in turn prevents side-to-side rocking and gives greater energy transfer, especially when cycling on hills. A tight core will also mitigate lower-back fatigue and when climbing out the saddle, these abdominal muscles will help transform the torsional forces exerted into upward motion rather than wasted movement.

Legs

In addition to a strong core, you obviously need strong legs to ride uphill. You generate a good amount of force using your quadriceps and hamstrings while cycling on hills. So, ensure that you pay attention to these major muscles. Include the basic bodyweight drills such as burpees, squat jumps and lunge variations in your training regime.

Check out these best leg exercises for better cycling.

Glutes

Aside from core and legs, the other muscle group that needs attention is the gluteus (your bottom). Improving the strength of your posterior, will bring a significant betterment in your hill-climbing capabilities. Start by activating that muscle. The best way to assess your gluteus engagement is to see a physiotherapist with a specialty in cycling biomechanics. They’ll very quickly be able to advise you on exercises or bike setup changes to help work on the glutes.

You can also find out how much basic control you have of your gluteus muscles with a simple test. Simply lie down on your back with our hands under each bum-cheek. Keeping your legs straight, squeeze each gluteus independently and push against your hand. The aim is to just activate either of the gluteus muscles without engaging the opposite side, abdominals, hamstring or quad. If you can do this, you’re on the path to cycling on hills swiftly. All you need to do is convert this into power in the pedal stroke.

Summing Up

Cycling on mountains
When Done Cleverly, Cycling on Hills Can be Easy & Fun (source)

Cycling on hills is the most difficult part of race or a ride. If you know how to overcome it (cleverly) then nothing can stop you from surpassing the rest. Just incorporate the above-mentioned tactics and workouts, mix them with grit and you shall pedal the ascends like Grand Tour bikers.

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