Climbing rapidly is one of the most challenging components of cycling. Being at ‘the limit’ on a climb and the full-body exhaustion that comes from a long ascent are sensations that every cyclist knows well.
For some, it is an experience they even dread...
Although 'suffering' on a climb is universal in our sport, a mystique remains around those individuals that appear to climb effortlessly.
But don't be fooled, we assure you these individuals 'suffer' too.
The good news is that every bike-rider can achieve their own climbing prowess through disciplined training, increased self-awareness, and of course, some ‘suffering’.
Whether climbing comes naturally for you, you begrudge it, or you are somewhere in between, what matters most when going uphill is velocity.
Put simply, climbing fast is the name of the game.
With that in mind and the knowledge that nearly every cyclist has a desire to to ‘climb faster’, we have assembled the following climbing tips to help you make the most of your uphill efforts, right away!
Keeping your cadence consistent on a climb requires looking up the road as well as some self-awareness to maintain a smooth pedal stroke, but the benefits they bring are well worth it. Photo Credit: Danny Munson, DMunsonPhoto.com
Predictive Shifting: Reading The Road & Keeping The Cadence Up
For Athletes that have followed a structured training plan, they have likely focused on developing a quicker climbing cadence.
To take this concept to the next-level, we suggest developing the skill of predictive-shifting.
To shift predictively a cyclist simply needs to read the road ahead and shift to an easier or harder gear as the terrain dictates.
By shifting according to the road ahead, instead of reactive shifting (after your cadence slows), a cyclist is able to keep their cadence in the preferred rpm range.
Shifting before steep pitches in the road prevents your cadence from ‘bogging-down’ and throwing off your climbing rhythm.
Correspondingly when the gradient softens, leg-speed can increase rapidly which could spike your heart rate and limit maximum speed, both of which prolong your time on a climb.
In both cases, shifting up to an easier spot on the cassette ahead of a steep pitch and going down the cog-set to a harder gear when the gradient softens is akin to a race car driver keeping the engine rpm of their machine in the best operating range.
Just as the race car driver works to keep their car motor 'singing', cyclists should look to keep their cadence at the rpm that produces the most power for them.
Stand when it counts, both for speed and to keep your heart rate 'in check'. The benefit will be faster and more powerful climbing. Photo Credit: Danny Munson, DMunsonPhoto.com
Strategic Standing: Sweet Relief Without The Heart Rate Spike
When climbing, standing-up serves two purposes:
1- Relieving achy leg and back muscles that are fatigued
2- Generating additional power/speed by recruiting upper-body.
With that said, the unfortunate reality of standing for muscular relief is that it comes at a cost.
When standing for muscular relief, climbing speed naturally dips and our Heart Rates elevate. So, although necessary relief is given to tired muscles, the price of increased energy expenditure and reduced speed are a heavy cost to bare and won't help you in your quest to become an ‘angel of the mountains’.
In order to make the most of the moments when you stand, we suggest standing when the gradient is shallow, not when it is steep.
A good way to practice this sensation, and see its benefits, is to stand at the crest of a climb on your next ride.
Standing at the top of the climb, and over the crest, builds speed with a minimal heart rate ‘spike’, both of which can contribute to grabbing a PR on your favorite climb!
Just because you are 'suffering' on a climb doesn't mean your whole body has to hurt, surrender to the effort and let the legs do the work. Photo Credit: DeAnn Para
Find Your Zen: Surrender To The Discomfort
When attempting a PR or riding with a fast-paced group on a climbing route, you are likely to find yourself 'on the limit' and full of tension. This tension in will only increase as the pressure, speed, and intensity continue.
Unfortunately, the tension described above does not allow cyclists to maximize their power output and generate the fastest speed possible.
To combat this, and to perform our best, we can look to yoga for wisdom and a solution.
In yoga the concept of ‘surrender’ is paramount to performing difficult poses. By bringing awareness to the tension in our bodies, and breathing deeply, we can relax these tense areas of the body, both of which can optimize our climbing performance.
To put this into practice, next time you are on a climb and find yourself at ‘the limit’ take inventory of your body.
Likely there will be tension in your hands, shoulders, and possibly even in your face (hence the hashtag #SufferFace). Take a glance at your shadow on the asphalt and you can quickly see the points of tension within your posture.
In this instance focus on a strong, yet calming exhale, and repeat as necessary to relax the parts of your body that are tense.
By releasing the tension in these parts of your body, through deep breathing, more energy can be devoted to the working muscles in the legs and thus power you up the climb faster.
In short, by surrendering to the suffering and relaxing the non-working parts of our bodies we can ride faster.
In regards to climbing rapidly, the words that Greg Lemond famously quoted are profound and applicable:
“It never hurts less, you just go faster!”
This is great wisdom, but every Athlete must recall that cycling is not a contest of human discomfort, it is a contest of speed, won by those that generate the most velocity with the power they have.
With these tips in mind, as well as disciplined training, you are certain to make the most of the power you have within you today, tomorrow, later this season, and at all your upcoming events!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching