How to Improve Bike Hill Climbing

Bike Hill Climbing Training

Training plans to improve hill climbing ability vary from cyclist to cyclist -- professional, sponsored cyclists train differently than weekend warriors with desk jobs. In general, start by establishing a good fitness base: Ride long, hilly routes for two to three hours twice a week, then bump it up to two- to five-hour rides [source: Brown]. Next, incorporate bike hill repeats -- basically, climb a hill as quickly as possible, glide back down to the base and repeat several times [source: Carmichael].

One of the best ways cyclists can improve performance is by boosting their lactate threshold. As exercise intensity increases, your body releases lactic acid into your bloodstream, and your heart beats faster to remove this waste. When lactic acid builds up faster than your body can process it, your lactate threshold is reached, and fatigue is close behind. "If you hit that point in the middle of a climb, you could be toying with disaster," performance coach Brown says.

To raise lactate threshold, train at a heart rate a few beats below it. For example, if your lactate threshold is 155 beats per minute, you could train at 152 beats for intervals of six to eight minutes, then ride for two minutes at 122 beats to recover [source: Hanka]. You should alternate interval training days and recovery-riding days. As the weeks progress, the heart rate that corresponds with your lactate threshold will increase.

Training for hill climbing need not be bound by the hills themselves. A fixed stationary trainer or bicycle rollers can stand in when bad weather makes outdoor cycling impossible. Besides a heart-rate monitor and a bike computer that measures cadence and speed, devoted cyclists with fat bank accounts might consider a PowerTap from CycleOps, a device that measures real-time power output in watts, a more reliable indicator of effort than heart rate.

In the weight room, cyclists should focus on their core and muscles below the waist: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and hips. Single-leg exercises like lunges, single-leg squats and split-squats are best [source: Brown].

Losing weight can improve performance -- but only if the weight loss helps produce a better ratio of power to body weight and keeps you healthy. It's not uncommon for super-lean cyclists to find that having a few extra helpings at dinner and being a few pounds heavier is better for performance [source: Brown].

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  • Brown, Vic. Assistant Coach, Boston Performance Coaching. Personal interview. Aug. 6, 2010.
  • Carmichael, Chris. "Express Train: Powered Ascent." Outside Magazine. July 2006. (Aug. 10, 2010)
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  • Davis, Grant. "The Greatest Fitness Tips. Ever." Outside Magazine. October 2007. (Aug. 10, 2010)
  • Hanka, Shawn. Personal interview. Aug. 11, 2010.
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