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How to Improve Bike Hill Climbing

Bike Hill Climbing Technique

No two hills are the same -- some are steep, some are gentle, some are long and some are short. Whatever the profile, a cyclist has two basic strategies at the outset: Hammer up the hill fast and hard with raw power, or drop a few gears and use smooth cadence and technique.

Low-cadence, high-gear climbing can be great for conquering short hills or for a sprint to the finish. But hard pedaling is taxing and, if done too early, can leave you huffing, puffing and drifting toward the back of the pack. It's a somewhat reckless strategy, especially for triathletes who still have miles of pavement to run even after unclipping from the bike.

For lengthy hills, drop a few gears at the start of the ascent and establish a rhythm. Spinning at a cadence of roughly 90 to 100 revolutions per minute (rpm) is best. If you start to tire and your cadence drops, shift to a lower gear. If you're spinning too quickly and not generating adequate power, upshift.

You'll want to practice optimal climbing form, which entails lightly grasping the handlebars across the top, sitting upright, bending at the elbows and pulling the shoulders back to open your chest and make breathing easier [source: Hewitt]. Tighten your core muscles and keep your upper body relaxed [source: Brown]. And pedaling technique is paramount: Drive down with one foot to generate power with your quadriceps, and pull slightly up and back with the opposite foot to engage your hamstrings.

In general, stay in the saddle -- standing and pedaling raises your heart rate and lowers your cadence. However, climbing out of the saddle engages upper body muscles and can generate the burst of power necessary for a quick surge ahead. It's also a good way to stretch and get your blood moving in the middle of the ride, according to Shawn Hanka, a 25-year cycling veteran who placed within the top 10 of his age group over four days of the 2008 Tour of the Gila race, which featured more than 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) of climbing. But racers beware: The initial deceleration that accompanies climbing out of the saddle can cause a trailing rider to rear-end you [source: Hewitt].

Performance coach Vic Brown says that if you're flat-out stronger and textbook technique isn't cutting it, you should use your god-given power to climb the hill [source: Brown]. Good form is less important than what works.

From split squats to hill repeats, the training secrets to maximize hill-crushing potential await.