When you make hills your friend magical things happen to your cycling fitness. Hills by their very nature are hard work and for this reason you can use them to dramatically improve your cycling fitness in many ways. I’ll be discussing this in detail in this article.
For some people, the thought of climbing hills is rather daunting. Many people avoid hill climbing because of this.
So what happens to your cycling fitness when you climb more hills?
When you climb hills you have to drag your body weight and the weight of your bike up the hill. The heaver this combined weight is the more power (and more effort) you have to put into the bike to maintain the same speed. We estimate it to be around 3-5 watt per kilogram. So for example; if I weighed 70 kg’s and had to produce 150 watts to maintain 20km/h and my friend riding beside me weighed 100 kg’s, they would have to produce between 90 and 150 additional watts to keep up with me.
Regardless of this, it’s not rocket science to figure out that the additional strain of carrying your bike and body weight uphill means that you have to ride harder than if you were riding along the flat. And, because hill climbing taxes your body more than riding along the flat you can use hills to improve your fitness. This flows on to all aspects of your cycling. If you find a steep enough gradient, the feat of just getting up it may mean that you’ll need to ride at your threshold to do so.
You can also vary your gearing to change the cadence in which you climb hills at. This provides you with the opportunity to work on either your cardiovascular fitness by using higher cadences or your strength by using lower cadences.
Types of hills and their cycling effects
Short hills provide an opportunity to work on developing short bursts of high intensity. This type of effort is more commonly referred to as hill sprints. And, these efforts can help develop explosive power that can be used in cycle racing for attacking and sprinting and to mix it up when you are riding with your cycle buddies by changing the pace quickly. Of course, you can also use this training to develop the ability to drop your riding companions on shorter hills. Short hills are sometime called “sprinters hills” for this reason.
Long hills provide an opportunity to work on developing sustained power at threshold, either to benefit your cardiovascular system or your leg strength by varying your cadence as mentioned previously and riding at threshold. This type of training can help you improve your time trailing speed and your ability to climb longer hills faster. This also helps develop your with your ability to rider faster on flat roads.
How to approach hill climbing
When starting to add hills to your riding it’s important to find hills that you challenge you enough but are not impossible to climb. As you build up your fitness you can search out longer and steeper climbs to challenge yourself further.
How do you measure your performance improvement?
There are many ways to measure your hill climbing improvement. The most simple method is to use a sign or marking on the road to act as a timing mark for the start and the finish of a climb. By recording the time it takes to complete this section you can measure your improvement. If you have a power meter you can measure your threshold power output for the section and watch it improve over time. Also, recording the total vertical meters for the week provides you with information about how much climbing you are able to do a week.
We measure the amount of vertical meters our riders do on our coaching program and set targets for them in their training plans to prepare them for road racing and recreational events. If they are planning on doing an epic cycling holiday in Europe then we use their vertical meters climbed as an important metric that we closely track in their lead up.
So make hills your friend and use them to build strength, power and improve your cycling fitness.