Hill climb technique...

Mar 20, 2012
42
0
16
Tokyo
#1
So today I did my first ever "proper" hill climbing, somewhere in the area leading out from Tama in the direction of Hachioji. And boy was it painful. Having almost all my prior cycling experience on relatively flat ground with the occasional short hill, a succession of lengthly hills was a real shock to the system and my legs fatigued pretty quickly.

Of course, number one solution will be to climb more hills and get fitter, but I also have some questions about climbing technique. The guy I was riding with (or in other words the guy who hung back and encouraged me while the rest of the group shot up the hills) was telling me I needed to shift my weight slightly forward on my seat, to keep my center of gravity over the middle point of the bike. However I had previously read elsewhere that shifting weight back in the seat was a better idea (at least for women? It was advice for female cyclists), as this apparently enables you to engage more of your glutes for generating power.
From a comfort perspective I found pedalling more awkward sitting slightly further forward, but from the way some of the guys in our group powered up those hills I'm guessing there must be something to it.

So if any of the well informed minds on here have any advice on this, it would be much appreciated. Then at least when I next crawl up a hill I will know it is mainly my fitness to blame and not my technique! :eek:
 

joewein

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Oct 25, 2011
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#2
I'm not a fast climber or fast cyclist, but I've climbed a few mountains over 1000 m from sea level.

I never shift my weight for climbing, only for descending (i.e. for braking).

My first advice would be to keep your cadence up. Picking a low enough gear and pedalling fast is far more sustainable (and better for your knees) than pushing hard in a higher gear and you'll actually get more power out. This is true not just for climbing.

Also, other than for short sprints or for particularly steep sections when you're already in your lowest gear, always remain seated. You can't climb hundreds of metres of altitude out of the seat, you'll burn out. Pick a gear at least low enough to be able to remain seated and then pedal fast.
 

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
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#3
There are as many techniques as there are riders. But in general:

1) Keep your upper body as relaxed as possible and focus on getting power to the pedals --- and no where else!

2) While spinning up a hill is good practice, I believe it just allows you to rise to your lowest level of achievement. You go faster up hills by pushing yourself into your LAT (Lactic Acid Tolerance) zone as much as possible. Max torque (and it's been proven in exhaustive studies time and again) is at typically lower cadence then you imagine.

3) Spinning will have lower metabolic 'cost' , but may not result your fastest time up a hill. So - you need both tools in your box. Use higher cadence to back off from your LAT zone and give a little recovery, but then drop a gear or 2 and push yourself hard into your red zone until you bleed a little. Repeat as necessary to get yourself to the top.

4) Most riders will instantly back off when they feel their muscles burning and legs shouting for relief - that's exactly the point that you need to to buckle down and burn through at least 5-10min of this. Then recover and do it again, and again, and again, until basically you can't push one more stroke through the pedal. THEN spin your way home and be satisified that you actually did a proper hill workout. Recover fully - 2-3 days, then do it again. I guarantee after 6 of these sessions you will be much faster up the hill - and probably crushing the 'guy' that was consoling you.

5) Build up to this extreme effort over time as you don't want to injure muscles from over stressing. But next time you see a hill don't just automatically shift down to the lightest, most comfortable gear and windmill your way to the top. Grit it out and tell your legs to Shut up!
 

kpykc

Speeding Up
Jun 13, 2007
804
4
38
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#4
Shifting your weight forward might give you some advantage, but it's something that occurs naturally, something you will notice on your own, after doing many climbs. I would not even bother checking where my body weight is at first.

Keeping high cadence and spinning low gears is more important. Spinning as smoothly as possible - not just pushing.

Not pushing too hard (after you lose your momentum from a preceeding flat or even descent) at the base of the climb is a good idea too - it helps you to calculate your effort better
 

kiwisimon

Maximum Pace
Dec 14, 2006
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#5
I would not even bother checking where my body weight is at first.

Keeping high cadence and spinning low gears is more important. Spinning as smoothly as possible - not just pushing.
Try and keep your upper body relaxed as possible, on the tops to give you breathing room.

Edit after reading Tims post#3 Smile when it hurts so no one else knows it does.
 

GSAstuto

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Oct 11, 2009
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#6
For what it's worth - there are some bizarre climbing techniques floating around the Japanese Cycling 'intelligentsia' , among them, a near 'superman' position that positions the rider very far forward. Saw some guy on Otarumi doing this and couldn't help but counter attack with a 'Full Pantani'. Having my bars set more for TOITO lets me climb easily on the drops and out of saddle for about 4-6km. But it suffers the aerodynamics substantially.
 

theDude

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Oct 7, 2011
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#7
Being relatively new to this 'hill climb' thing people seem to like so much.... I find that I am eventually in the granny gear, struggling to push. i would like to spin up a bit more, if nothing else to give me some confidence to get to the top without stopping. Getting better at that, but lack of spinning really makes it tough when things get steep.

I've since sorted a 32 rear cassette, which should hopefully help with spinning up. Eventually I'll probably (hopefully!) not really need that big of a gear, but for now, I think I do. Unfortunately since sorting it out I've not hit the hills with it.

But more than technique, getting out there and doing them is key.

:climb02:
 
Jul 26, 2011
98
5
28
Tokyo
#8
A related question:

I tend to Pantani as well; I learned how to spin with my hands on the tops of the bars but these days have reverted back to climbing with hands either on the hoods or in the drops. When is it advantageous to sit up and spin (vs. staying on the hoods/in the drops)?

And yeah I love to full Pantani too. Too bad it's like the fastest way for me to blow myself up.
 

GSAstuto

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#9
I have longish arms to torso ratio (Italian curse) - and so, when I'm in the drops, I'm actually in slightly more confortable position than fully on drops, which places me too high. Getting into the drops on climb can be more aerodynamic and you can also treat it like a TT and with your body more forward - use the ITB related muscles most effectively. (I think this is where the Japanese climbing technique focuses). I like to be able a quick change up between in saddle and out - and on the drops I can change quickly without upsetting my core stance.

Best way I found to train for this is equally painful. There are some tires on a rope by the river. Hook yourself up and drag them up and down a few dozen or more times. Doing that excercise standing - in the drops - and you will be able to build a good stroke and same time condition upper body for the extended periods in the drops. I do this about 1 -2 x a week, 'standing hiki' - 4km down and 4km back. It's like putting money in the bank. I KNOW I can get off the saddle and crank out at least 4km standing if required. If I didn't do this excercise, I'd have no clue whether I could do it or not. This is why practicing the techniques you need for riding - in a very focused and isolated fashion - is so important. It's like practicing music - you must do the scales. Even if you hate them - it's just so important to create body memory and of course focused conditioning.
 
Jul 26, 2011
98
5
28
Tokyo
#10
I like to be able a quick change up between in saddle and out - and on the drops I can change quickly without upsetting my core stance.
Ohhhhh, so THAT'S the reason why I like to stay on the hoods.

Best way I found to train for this is equally painful. There are some tires on a rope by the river. Hook yourself up and drag them up and down a few dozen or more times. Doing that excercise standing - in the drops - and you will be able to build a good stroke and same time condition upper body for the extended periods in the drops. I do this about 1 -2 x a week, 'standing hiki' - 4km down and 4km back. It's like putting money in the bank. I KNOW I can get off the saddle and crank out at least 4km standing if required. If I didn't do this excercise, I'd have no clue whether I could do it or not. This is why practicing the techniques you need for riding - in a very focused and isolated fashion - is so important. It's like practicing music - you must do the scales. Even if you hate them - it's just so important to create body memory and of course focused conditioning.
Should I be alarmed that the first thought that entered my mind when I read this was: which river?
 

GSAstuto

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Oct 11, 2009
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#11
They're at the Arakawa - near the meeting point by the baseball fields. Just look under the big bridge on the left - there is a small bunch of trees - I stash them there. Drag downriver to the BBQ point - and goal is get them up that small hill in your biggest gear. Then turn around a drag them back. If you're lucky, (or the zen gods of keirin are smiling) , you may get some company with Yamada sensei - he's sempai of Tanabe san (Kalavinka) and a whole line of Kerin and Japanese Olympic Track riders. I think he's in his 80's now - but he still does the excercise almost every day. And he'll gruffly give you advise - more like admonishment - but it's totally pure.
 
Sep 2, 2009
5
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0
#13
I find climbing a lot more mental than physical.

If my mind is calm, I can climb forever. If I am having an 'episode', I can't climb for toffee.

I like to mix it up with a mixture of sitting, standing, dancing, spinning, and all that. Hoods or tops mainly, but in the drops is a kinky alternative, certainly.

Having someone to talk to / just be with, on the way up is more important than any physical technique I have tried.

I am a sensitive soul though, as you all know.
 

joewein

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Oct 25, 2011
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#15
I find climbing a lot more mental than physical.
I find knowing exactly how far I still have to go helps a lot to push myself forward. I can bear almost any hill if I can count down km.

My first big climb was Mt Fuji and there the distance to the 5th stage was written on the road every 500 m, probably from the annual HC fun ride in June. That was wonderful!

Not seeing many road signs with km figures at Tomin no mori made it much harder for me. On my second ride there during the final couple of km, when I knew how close I was I could really go for it and pushed hard right up to the rest area.
 
Jul 26, 2011
98
5
28
Tokyo
#17
They're at the Arakawa - near the meeting point by the baseball fields. Just look under the big bridge on the left - there is a small bunch of trees - I stash them there.
One day I'm going to have to join you for this. And by "join," I mean watch. Like so:

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Having someone to talk to / just be with, on the way up is more important than any physical technique I have tried.
Last Saturday, mid-climb:

Owen: Hey, look at the view from here!
Me and Chikako: ...........................yeah.......

And me, 2km later:

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Sep 2, 2009
5
0
0
#18
Haha, I thought that was really cute and funny actually, although I did feel a bit mean. :eek:uch:

You definitely did the right thing by deciding to come to the top.

Give it a few months and you are going to be an utter savage.
 

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
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874
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Setagaya, Tokyo
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#19
I wanted to mention that the "granny gear" on my Bike Friday is 30 front / 28 rear (front: 105 triple 50-39-30, rear: SRAM 11-28).

Since its 20" (ISO 26-451) wheels already have 26% less circumference than a 700C (ISO 23-622) wheel, this is really like a regular bike having 30 front (as in a road triple) with 38 rear or 34 front (as in a road compact) with 43 rear :)

With small wheels, low gears are no problem, whereas it is trickier to get really high gears. For that you need larger chain rings and/or extra small rear sprockets such as the Capreo 9-26 cassette, but I don't have the legs for 35+ km/h on the flat anyway. Having extra low gears was one of my priorities when I picked the configuration for this bike. I may not be the fastest climber, but at least I am not walking up hills.
 

GSAstuto

Maximum Pace
Oct 11, 2009
945
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#20
Nice! You can ride with Steve (T) the 'examiner' next time up a hill. Smiles at you, and then starts asking inocuous questions that just beg multi word responses other than a mere grunt. His dastardly tactic is one of the best, I must admit.

I also find it somehow easier if I don't look up the road, but instead focus my gaze (or blood smeared blur) about 5-10m ahead. This way I ride according to the road rather than 'how' it might appear - like OMG, that upcoming slope must be at least 25% !! Arrrrggghh!

Remember - the human body is the laziest organism on earth. it will do ANYTHING to conserve energy to survive. Bio-feedback is your best friend .. or enemy. You 'see' a hill and your body's internal governor instantly says 'no friggn way'. You have to re-wire that process.

I find climbing a lot more mental than physical.

If my mind is calm, I can climb forever. If I am having an 'episode', I can't climb for toffee.

I like to mix it up with a mixture of sitting, standing, dancing, spinning, and all that. Hoods or tops mainly, but in the drops is a kinky alternative, certainly.

Having someone to talk to / just be with, on the way up is more important than any physical technique I have tried.

I am a sensitive soul though, as you all know.