One of the most common questions I get as a professional cycling coach is, “How do I climb faster?” Even top cyclists are constantly pondering how to get better at this critical skill.
Instead of assuming there’s a top speed you need to reach, what will help you enjoy the challenge even more is perfecting climbing as a skill. There are several strategies that will help you become a better climber, whether you’re a beginner cyclist looking to add hills to your weekly routine or an advanced cyclist looking to gain an advantage in hilly races.
Your first objective is simple but one that’s frequently missed: Find a hilly route. Too often, cyclists looking to be better climbers are avoiding climbs or at least not aggressively seeking them out. You may have to drive to hillier areas or do a monotonous hill-repetition workout once a week to increase your weekly climbing and see an improvement in your abilities.
Once you have established the terrain and routes to practice on, you can start including more structured workouts. A good primary workout is a standard set like 5 x 2–4 minutes, with 3–4 minutes to recover. You should go at these hard, aiming to cover about the same distance (or push the same wattage) with each effort.
My clients get accustomed to using the “lap button on their bike computers to track the time it takes to climb a hill and to know the start and finish spots on a given incline. These workouts are a great chance for you to see improvement and motivate yourself — you can see weekly breakthroughs in the distance you climb or the time it takes you to get up a hill. By attacking these hard, you’ll make your effort in group rides and even races more tolerable and more efficient because you’ve practiced a higher pace in training.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with longer climbs, you can also try adding a climbing threshold workout to your week. A classic 3–5 x 10-minute threshold session can be very beneficial and will give you lots of time to experience different climbing scenarios as the grade, surface, temperature and other variables change.
Even if you live in a flat area, you can still benefit from working on your standing form and efficiency by doing hill sprints or even normal sprints, then tacking on the intervals described above on flat roads. By working hard and pushing your endurance with threshold work, you can be better prepared for the intensity of climbing. I often coach my flat-lander clients to focus intently on lower rpm by restricting gearing and pushing 75–85 rpm on some of these intervals, similar to what their rpm would be on a hill.