I will be doing a series on training for a specific event. The first outlay will be about hill climbs or climbing races.
Look, I’m not climber. In fact, I am so bad at climbing that when I was winning races I was still getting smoked by any recreational rider under 150 lbs. For whatever reason, I am just not made to climb. However, many of the folks I’ve coached were not blessed with this limiter and were great climbers. So I’ve had to work with folks at both ends of the spectrum.
Whatever the case, learning how to improve your climbing is critical whether it is a limiter or something you are counting on to win. There is a lot of info out there on this topic so I’ll summarize into what I have seen be the best of the best:
- Gearing – Making sure you have the right gearing set up is critical. No matter how strong you are, pushing big gears ALL the time is never going to be as fast as having the choice and being able to spin it up when needed.
- Vary Technique – There are a lot of climbing techniques. Spinning, mashing and out of the saddle can all be the right choice depending on the situation and your objective. Riders must train all of these to be comfortable and be able to employ the correct technique in the correct setting. It also helps on long climbs to have choices. (Which is why having the correct gearing is critical) One of the biggest challenges for climbing is that you get acute fatigue in very specific muscle groups. Changing technique can use more of your aerobic system or use different muscles to temporarily shift the pain elsewhere.
- Develop a Strong Core – So much of the umpff that comes from hitting that switchback at pace, accelerating to a standing position or coming up out of the saddle comes from the core. I have seen huge improvements for riders based solely on a stronger core.
- Train Multiple Positions – There are a lot of climbing positions. Upright, hunkered over the bars, out of the saddle and even in the drops. Work on all of these and find out what works best for you. I’ve learned that I don’t like staying in the drops on climbs, however for short hard pushes it really helps me since it uses completely different muscles that aren’t terribly taxed from my usual climbing positions. Just like long flat rides, changing position allows for other area relief as well. Riders are surprised how much they are tensing up in the back and shoulder areas and that is making them much less effective in transferring power. Moving around a bit keeps that from happening.
For a specific event or race, pre-riding can be a difference maker. For hill climbs specifically, you can find those places to accelerate, where you can pin it and recover in a flatter space or what technique/position will be best where. If you can’t pre-ride, then training so that all of these elements are at your disposal will really change your ability to react to the course at hand.
To train for these events, too often riders just hit climbs and peg it as hard as they can. This isn’t a terrible idea, but it also isn’t as effective as other methods. Training for varied paces, integrating position specific intervals, training for fast descents/transitions (often ignored completely) and working on cadence at different gradients will prepare a rider to be able to handle the varied challenges that occur in hill climbs and climbing races.