The Peaks Challenge Falls Creek (PCFC) is a unique event on the recreation riding calendar in Australia. It’s part of the series of three events run by Bicycle Network which provides one of the biggest series of cycling challenges available.

Ridden over some of the most spectacular alpine terrain, it’s an event that you’ll need to train for. With over 4,000+ vertical meters of climbing across three climbs; Tawonga Gap, Mt Hotham and the rather nasty climb from WTF corner to Trapyard Gap finishing at Falls Creek village, the event poses a formidable training challenge.

To ensure that you are prepared for this epically large volume of sustained climbing you’ll need to focus specifically on your strength training. In this article, I’ll be discussion the reasons why you need to start your strength training now, some of the techniques that I use to develop climbing strength with my clients and the next action steps to take.

But before I get started, I’m running a free online live webinar Wednesday 16th December at 8pm if you are interested in finding more about how to build hill climbing strength for the Peaks Challenge Falls Creek. A replay will be available if you can’t attend at this time. Click this link to enrol:

So why is building climbing leg strength so important for the PCFC?

Reducing or avoiding the chance of cramping

Amongst all of the three events, the Peaks Challenge Falls Creek stands out as the one event that you have to pay particular attention to your strength training to avoid cramping.  It’s the one event that I get the most people reporting leg cramping. If you haven’t physical and mentally prepared for it, there is a good chance that you’ll find yourself cramping up on the side of the road and wondering where your training went terribly wrong.  This is because of the unique terrain of the event and the large volume of extending climbing and steep gradients that you’ll encounter. For those that prepare themselves properly, camping is not an issue. For those that don’t prepare well, cramping can quickly ruin your Peaks Challenge Falls Creek ride.

You’ll need leg strength to cope with the extended climbs

Unlike the Peaks Challenge Cradle Mountain event where you’ll be encountering many shorter punchy climbs the PCFC event is made up of three major climbs.

  • Tawonga Gap: 7.6 km with an average climbing time of 33 minutes.
  • Mt Hotham: 30.8 km with an average climbing time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.
  • Falls Creek: 23.4 km (Omeo side) (more on this climb later) with an average climbing time of 2 hours and 17 minutes.

Check out this article for more details on the 2014 Peaks Challenge Summary Statistics:

These alpine climbs are long and are usually not something that can be regularly replicated using local training rides accessible to cyclists in the city and regional areas across Australia. For this reason, it’s important to pay attention to the hill climbing training that you do to ensure that the on road hill climbing and indoor training sessions you do, properly prepare yourself for these extended climbs.

You’ll need climbing leg strength to help you climb over the step gradients

If that isn’t enough, you’ll also need leg strength to ride up the steeper gradients that are unique to this ride. From the short, punchy Meg on Mt Hotham to the extended climbs encountered past the toll gates of the same climb. Then, the final blow coming at the 200km mark where you turn to WTF corner and climb to Trapyard Gap on your way up to the Falls Creek village. This climb is relentless, steep and evil.

The reason we do strength training early on in your program:

This is an event where much of your initial training should be focused on building sustained climbing strength and aerobic base. While It’s important to understand building both, I’d like to stick with building climbing strength in this article.

To learn more about aerobic base training, please read this article:

Leg strength is built slowly and lost slowly. By doing your strength training early on in your training plan, you give yourself time to develop your climbing strength to its full potential. Once you have built your strength, it’s like a flywheel. You only need to put a little bit of energy into your strength training to maintain it. This is important because it then allows you to focus your training on building climbing speed. We all want to climb faster and climbing speed comes from combining aerobic base training and strength training together to get speed. We work on both early with our clients to ensure that when they come to their speed phase, they have done the correct groundwork to ensure that they get the maximum lift ready for their taper and peaking for the event in March.

There are two methods to build climbing leg strength and in our training programs, we address them both.

How to build strength off the bike:

When people think about building strength off the bike some of us might think of the sort of strength training that is undertaken by sprinters using heavy weights and short reps. While this type of training is great for developing explosive short duration sprinting power that’s great for short hills it’s not going to be much use to you on the extended climbs that you’ll encounter during the Peaks Challenge Falls Creek event. To train your legs to deliver good stable power without fatigue for several hours the approach to strength training is different.

We have spent a considerable amount of time developing an off the bike strength training program that specifically address this type of training. We incorporate this strength training program into all of our cycling training programs. The foundations of this strength training are integrated; multi-jointed strength training movements using free weights that rebalance the body and build core strength. While there are many functional strength exercises available, we select the ones targeted to transfer directly to cycling.  Here is what to look for in strength training exercises:

  • Exercise that provide forces that load you diagonally across your body
  • Exercises that are done with free weights rather than machines
  • Exercises that involve standing on one leg
  • Exercises performed with your face down or facing forward
  • Exercises that are done using multi-joint movements

How to build strength on the bike:

In combination with our off the bike strength training, we do low cadence medium intensity interval pedalling drills on the home trainer that specifically work on developing good pedalling technique at low cadence whilst building strength.

I have found that this integrated approach of combing the two produces the best result with our athletes in the limited time that they have to train, so they quickly get good improvements with their hill climbing.

When doing hill climbing pedalling drills, making sure that you ground yourself on the seat; stable hips, lock your core and drive the pedals with a strong full-stroke pedalling action.  Focus on the top and bottom of the stroke. Start out with your cadence at 80. Then, over time, drop it to 70, and then 60, then 50, then 40 rpm over time.

One of the ways to do this is to find a hill around five mins long at a gradient of around 4–7%. Start out doing around six repeats on it at 80 rpm, once every week for two weeks. Then keep dropping your cadence and extending the length of the climb. Do this on different gradient climbs rather than just repeating the same hill all the time.

Doing too much hill climbing pedalling drills is like doing too much weight training at the gym. You will trash your legs by not giving them the chance to recover properly. This will slow you down. Also, try not to spend hours grinding away on the pedals.

Hill climbing pedalling drills can be done on the home trainer too. Intervals with cadences of 70 rpm or lower are great. Two of my favourite are the Hill Climber Cadence Steps E3 and the Hill Climber Cadence Steps VOMAX.

****Remember**** Doing low cadence work will load up your knees. If you have sore knees or get sore knees while doing low cadence work training, then stop training and see your local doctor.