What's new

advanced hill climbing: odds and ends


Dec 5, 2007
Hi there.

Yes..there's more! Just when you thought "what else is there???" Tonight we cover three things, long climbs, attacks and transitions from seated to standing and back. So sit back, make yourself a cup of tea and soak it all in.

First off, if in this post or any of the other posts I have written, you disagree or have other ideas, I would be happy to hear them. Exchange of knowledge is the strength of man.

Lets start with transitions from sitting to standing. Of course on short climbs lasting a couple of meters, most would agree standing is the best choice as you can get maximum power and crest the summit before going lactate. However, on longer climbs it is usually a better idea to stay in the saddle with the exception of three possibilities.

1. you feel cramping or excessive fatigue in your muscles. The muscles used while standing are not entirely the same group used while sitting so in standing for a few seconds, you allow your muscles to relax and re-cooperate. Most people don't have the fitness level of Lance Armstrong to attack for 3 kilometers standing! I would suggest no longer than 30 seconds for most.

2. You are racing and decide to suddenly attack. (getting out of the saddle is not always the answer to attack or to an attack.)

3. You are climbing switch backs and need to accelerate around the corner to keep your cadence, speed and momentum around the corner.

Regardless of your reason for standing, you should always be aware that forward momentum is everything. so here is one simple yet paramount rule to hill climbing. Never stop pedaling. Too many times I have witnessed in recreational to elite athletes alike, the habit of stopping to pedal as the stand or (more frequently) sit back on the saddle. This brief loss of momentum can lose you a second or more on a hill climb (I have lost races by much less than a second) so if you sit/stand a few times in a climb then you lose many seconds. Also, climbing is all about rhythm. as soon as you stop pedaling, you must re-establish your rhythm. Again, losing valuable seconds. Practice smooth transitions from sitting to standing. It will amaze you how choppy you are in the beginning and how smooth you can make it.

So, sitting is best for long climbs, right? Yes that's right. So how can maximize my position on my bike to stay seated? Good question, I'm glad you asked. (The following tip is for advanced competitive cyclists with a firm understanding of their fit set-up) Again I must use good old Lance as an example. Lance Armstrong usually rides his seat six centimeters behind his crank axle. However, on uphill time trials, he pushes his seat back to eight centimeters. He shortens the stem to keep the same top tube geometry but pushes his weight back to create more power and reduce the need to get out of the saddle. I would suggest most cyclists ignore this trick and keep a good thing going once comfortable on their bikes but advanced racers may find this tip interesting. Long climbs are also about rhythm and pace. Focus on breathing and cadence. Try not to be erratic in your speed, cadence and accelerations.

Anticipating Attacks (racing)

Hill climbing is a different beast than crits and flat stages. Attacking is simple and often transparent.

1. Get behind. Let someone else set the pace and cut the wind. You will be able to draft but more importantly, you can keep an eye on the derailleurs. A tell tale sign of an attack is the sound of shifting. Keep a close eye on the rear gear cluster and derailleur cage. If it goes down but the grade does not, prepare yourself. If it goes down and so does yours, has your opponent shifted the same amount of gears? The biggest sign of an attack among elites is cross gearing. A rider in the big ring but riding the easy gear in back...he is getting ready to shift into a bigger gear and attack. It is easier to shift the rear on a climb than the front and there is less chance of dropping a chain.

Responding to the attack.

4 things can happen when attacked.

1. You can counter attack. (best results are achieved with team mates). If you have team mates, try to get your opponent second in line then attack each your turn. Those not attacking that round hold the defenders wheel.
2. You can respond and hold his wheel. grit your teeth and hang on, biding your time to counter attack at a more opportune time.
3. You can be temporarily dropped. Don't panic. Riders with explosive power rarely are able to keep it and will slow down soon after the attack. hold your pace and reel him in. (Cadel Evans, Levi Leiphiemer and Micheal Rassmusen used this tactic to stay with Alberto Contador in the 2007 tour de France)
4. You can be permanently dropped. Nice try but you met your match today. Train hard and get him next time. Refocus and find your comfort zone.

That's it for this post. Any question and I would be happy to answer. Until next time.

Hi Patrick . . .

Excellent posts on hill climbing. I have read with great interest. I do have a question. So far you have largely addressed hill climbing techniques. I am relatively new to cycling and interested in your thoughts on building hill climbing power (speed & strength).

I highlight 'power' because my fitness is already good from running. I can run a marathon in under 2 hours 45 minutes. However, when it comes to cycling, my power is not at the same level as my fitness. My power fails long before my fitness even gets off the bench. I know this because my heart rate when cycling is always lower than when running.

How should I train to build hill climbing 'power'???


Great posts

Indeed, excellent posts on climbing, Patrick! Lots of food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

Philip, I was going to ask a similar question -- how can I train for more power on the hills with a schedule that limits my actual climbing time. If I could, I would go for a morning climb every day before work. But alas, I am a salaryman and am thus forced to squeeze my training in during my lunch break and maybe one day on the weekends.

I currently do core work at the gym, as well as squats (shoulder strain has me off upper body for the next couple months). I also do intervals about twice a week on a Combi PowerMax anaerobic trainer at the gym. But my intervals are based on info I've gleaned off the net, meaning I am probably not doing them in the most beneficial manner.

Any advice would be most welcome.


Well first off, Thanks for your feed back gentlemen. Philip, what is going on in my opinion is this. You are a runner and in being so, your legs are developed for running and not cycling. I find it irresponsible to give you an "email answer" to questions like this without really seeing your physiological development but simply put...when you get on the bike, your lungs are like "ok no prob" but your legs are screaming "what the hell is going on !!! this movement is foreign and why are you asking me to use these muscles in this way? " Running and cross country skiing are two sports that cyclists cross train with and often injure themselves because they feel fit but do not realize their bodies have developed as cycle specific entities. What must be done is what's called anatomic adaptation. 6 to 8 weeks of super easy workouts to prepare the body to the new activity. It has been greatly believed (in various degree) that you should not do hills or ride the big ring until you have logged 1000 kilometers on the bike. But here is a trick to use in the beginning of the season. (this should be good to generate power but not stress your shoulder deej) For your 1st 500 to 1000 k (depending on how much you ride in your season), ride relatively flat but ride a big gear that will keep your rpms around 50 to 60. However, make sure you stay in your z1 (zone one heart rate..60-65 or 70% of max). This allows you to work on power but does not strain your ligaments because you are not applying a lot of power to the pedal stroke. This technique is seldom used in north america but quite popular in europe. This must be combined with speed intervals one or twice in your week. 1/2 to 45 mins of gradual spin-ups on the trainer to bring your rpms as high as possible. If you are mainly a runner and hit the bike every so often, i would strongly suggest staying clear of large volumes of climbing. Also, beware, hill climbing, like track and TT demand massive amounts of quad and glute power and development. Spend A LOT of time stretching these areas or they will tighten up and give you grief. Other ways of developing power are to keep a fixed gear bike in your collection and ride hills once a week on it. I am a bit hesitant to suggest other more advanced hill climb power generation techniques because quite frankly they demand a solid base and you can easily injure your knees and supporting tissue if you have not done an appropriate amount of anatomical adaptation. Proper early season training and weight training is essential to power generation. However, here is another training you can do in the gym. (after 1000 easy k's) warm up in an easy gear doing mild spin-ups for 15 minutes bare minimum..1/2 hour to 40 minutes is ideal for a warm up. Then put the trainer in a gear simulating a steep hill climd (not maxed out but about 80%) and sprint for ten seconds as hard as you can. The gear should be hard enough that at your max effort, your rpms should not pass 90. get off the bike and do 8 plyometric jumps. imitate a squat position, hands in front, then explode as high into the air as you can. pretend you are trying to touch something slightly out of reach. Just simple lazy jumping will get you nowhere. Really focus on exploding. Get back on the bike and gear down to spin lightly for 20 seconds. After 10 minutes of this, rest 5 minutes easy spinning...then start again. do four ten minute sets. (deej, wait until your shoulder is good before doing this one). I hope I answered this adequately for both of you.

That should start you off and good luck.
Excellent posts Patrick, thanks very much for sharing your expertise.

I also read them with great interest!

nice posts.

I'm new to cycling but have gone straight to the hills cause of access. These posts are going to help me a lot as I try to improve my climbing, which I've now learnt (i knew it already) seriously sucks due to poor breathing technique, bobbing, failure to pull on my arms and overall position on the bike; as well as lack of strength.

I noticed that changing the position of my cleats (right to the front) helped a lot and since i got an hrm I've been a bit more strategic in how I approach my cycling. One thing I'm still figuring out but which I've missed from your posts is gear changing technique. I'm looking at my gears and looking at the hill ahead thinking, "jees, I can only drop down one more cog and from then I'll be knacked". I guess that overall fitness is the key and once the leg strength and other factors are sorted, that you can use the gears more efficiently.
Hi ritchey thanks for your interest and enthusiasm.

Actually in my first post, advanced hill climbing part 1, we address how your bike should be geared. Check that out and see how that does for ya. One thing you mentioned that gave me cause for concern was your cleat position. Cleats are designed to be adjusted very acurately. If you have shimano, look or time cleats you will notice a notch or line on the side of the cleat. This notch should align with the ball of your foot (where your big toes bends). Find this area and make a line on your shoe with chaulk, then adjust your cleat. furthermore, pedal in a trainer for a few minutes...then slowly decelerate to a level 3oclock 9 oclock position. have someone take your heel and see if there is play laterally on each side. If one side has no float then you must adjust your cleat until this is the case.

Thanks for the post James, i read the articles and enjoyed them. There were a few new ideas for climbing psycology that i will definately try on my next climb.
Hi, xtrca!

Loosing wight concerned, naturally it's nice to eliminate rear brake. But at the same time I'm very anxious to know the risk of going ride down hills without any back up of braking.

if you notice, that tip is for hill climbing races only. Not for general riding. i agree, both brakes are wise when decending.
Great advice!

Hello "xtrca",
All of of that advice was very useful.
I always try to go in at least one hill-climb race each year ( The "Tour de Kusatsu") which is in mid-April - Last year, I came in the top 15% (129th out of about 880 people) - but I usually start training for it in the mountains west of Tokyo from about mid-February. There are other members of this site who usually come along too (Pucci, etc.)
And a few of our other members (Thomas, for example) do the "Fuji Int'l hill climb", in October.

This begs the question... Are you actually in Japan right now, or are you sending all this great advice from Canada?
If you are in Japan, I'd really enjoy it if you could come on one of our training rides in the hills - That'd be awesome!

Anyway, I'll probably be heading towards Okutama (for those who are interested) some time in February.
Again, >xtcra: Seriously, really great advice; and is much appreciated.
Hi Yellowgiant

I am very pleased with the response my 3 hill climb posts have gotten and I am infinitely please you could all put them to use. Unfortunately, I am indeed in Canada right now. In the coming weeks I may accept a position with the Tunisian cycling federation to coach their national cycling program so this may severely limit my chances to return to Japan as often as I would like. I am however, planning to go to Japan in mid-March. I will be in Tokyo for one night then fly out to Hakodate Hokkaido the next morning where I will be for a week. I will of course have my bike with me. I plan on doing the mount Fuji hill climb this year or next and if we can organize it in the future, I would be honored to ride with you gentlemen. By the way, excellent results on that hill climb! You must not weigh more than 155 I would guess.
Thank you Patrick

Thank you Patrick for your advice. Sorry for my late response - I have been traveling in Europe over the Christmas holidays. I will let you know how I progress having taken your advice onboard. I have a race in April and am determined to realize a significant improvement in my race time.


Thanks Patrick!

This is a bit late in coming, but thank you very much for your excellent training advice for climbing. I am already paying more attention to my form while on the hills, and I plan to put your gym-training tips to the test this winter. I may frighten some people at my gym with the plyometric jumps, but I can imagine they must be effective if done properly.

Thanks again, and I hope to ride with you someday here in Japan!

Top Bottom