Hill climbing tips - How to get ahead on the hills
Struggling on the hills? This is a common situation particularly if you are new to MTBing. It takes practice and perseverance to become a skilful hill climber and won’t just happen over night. As you ride more, it will get easier! Honest. First of all though, lets look at a few other factors that could be holding you back if you feel you’ve reached a bit of a plateau in your quest to become a mean hill climbing machine!!
First of all check your bike position to make sure it’s not something that could be easily corrected! Minor alterations in your saddle position can make a lot of difference to your pedaling efficiency. Try moving the saddle forward on its rails a few millimetres or tilt the angle of the saddle so that it is sloping forward a few degrees. The obvious one is to check the saddle height – if your saddle is too high or too low it will alter the ability of your muscles to pull and push (sitting square on the saddle, your knee should be almost but not quite straight when you put your heel on the pedal at its lowest point). Change one thing at a time and then check out how you feel riding up hill. Play around with the set up and get a feel for the new position (it’s a good idea to mark your original positions with indelible pen so you can always go back to your old set up if that felt best).
Your pedaling technique will make a huge difference to hill climbing. Don’t try to “muscle” it in a big gear. Select a low (but not too easy) gear and concentrate on a smooth pedal action at a high cadence (pedal revolutions per min). Pedaling in circles (smooth and even pushing down and pulling up) used to be advocated but the action thought to be the most efficient is more of a “kick forward” and a “scrape back” as described in pedaling technique. Practice this on the flat first and then continue the same technique when you get to a hill.
When you come to a hill there are basically two positions – seated or standing. The position you choose depends on the length of the hill, the terrain and the incline. Try to select your gear before you get to the hill and if you have to change again during the ascent, keep it smooth.
When seated, you will have slightly better traction and can maintain a smoother pedaling style. Sit slightly forwards and keep your head low. Pull back on the handlebars to drive the rear wheel into the ground and try to stay relaxed. Use a low gear and spin rather than pumping the pedals.
If you can’t stay seated any more, the options are to stand up on the pedals and keep going or get off and push! During the marathon, new MTB riders may wish to conserve their cycling energy and get off and push – there is no shame in this.
If you opt to keep going, keep your weight balanced over the front and back wheels and hold this posture as you smoothly change the pressure from one pedal to the other. Don’t run too low a gear when you are standing.
On long climbs, try to stay seated where possible or alternate between the two positions. Fast sprints up shorter hills in a standing position consumes a lot of energy and should therefore be used cautiously during an endurance ride, particularly if you are a less experienced rider.
If you do all this and still don’t feel the hills are getting any easier, it’s unfortunately a case of practice, practice, practice, training and more training! Incorporating a mixture of hills into your regular rides is the obvious answer – although not that easy in some parts of the country! However, when you have a specific goal to get fitter on the hills, it also pays to do some specific training. Try these sessions below but go easy - hill training is tough on the body and only needs to be done once or twice a week. Don’t attempt these sessions until you have at least 8 weeks of base / endurance training under your belt.
Long hill intervals - warm up for a good 10 mins. Find a long gradual hill that takes approximately 5 minutes to climb up. Ride the hill at a moderately hard pace (this should be an effort that you can maintain for the whole 5 mins). Concentrate on your smooth pedaling action and keep a high cadence. Ride back down the hill and rest at the bottom – this is your recovery period and should last 3 minutes in total. Repeat the hill effort and the recovery 3 times. Build up the number of repetitions each week 3, 4, then 5. Cool down for a good 10 mins. As you get fitter, you could try reducing your recovery time or ride for longer uphill.
Short hill intervals
- warm up for a good 10 mins. Find a short steeper hill that takes approximately 30 seconds to climb up. Ride up the hill at a hard pace concentrating on smooth pedal action and high cadence. Ride back down the hill and rest at the bottom – this is your recovery period and should last 3 mins in total. Repeat the hill effort and recovery 5 times. Build up the number of repetitions each week 5, 6, 7, then 8. Cool down for a good 10 mins.
Use a mixture of the above sessions to improve your fitness on different types of hills during the early and peak season, but avoid over doing it.
Remember that it can take several months, if not years, to develop into a hill-climbing beast - so keep training and happy cycling!