Make Climbing Hills The Ride
of Your Lifeby Rob Coppolillo - from
Rocky Mountain Sports
Climbing hills, whether on a road or
mountain bike, can be one of the most elusive skills in cycling. When the grade
increases, a few cyclists seem to relax and enjoy the ride. Many others, like
me, buckle down for the upcoming torture test. One might be predisposed to
being a great climber, but the majority of skill comes from hard work and a
To get the good word on improving our
uphill riding, I went to one of the best climbers in cycling, RLX Polo
Sports Jimena Florit. The Argentinean has proven herself to be one of the
most consistent mountain bikers competing today, always riding in the top 10
and usually near the front of the race. Florit rode so well in 2002 that she
ended the year as NORBAs overall national champion in cross country, and
her best finish at the World Championships was a remarkable 8th in 2000.
You gotta do a little bit of
everything, just like your diet, laughs Florit. By this the Polo Sport
rider means that your training for climbing hills must incorporate a variety of
workouts if you want to improve your skills appreciably.
Before we get to specific workouts, though,
a reminder. Climbing is a function of your power-to-weight ratio and therefore
towing extra weight uphill is a killer. Refer to my article featuring U.S.
Postals Christian Vande Velde on weight loss in the March 2003 issue if
you can stand to shed a few pounds. Consider focusing on dropping your body fat
to reasonable levels in addition to performing a few of the following workouts
Repeats are my favorite, she
says. Its more the kind of climbing I do in a mountain bike race.
If you look at my heart rate, its up, then down, then up, then down. I do
between five and 10 of those.
You should only include hill repeats in
your workout after youve logged several hundred miles in a year and have
been cycling for a few years total. Repeats challenge your body to go hard,
then recover, then go hard againan essential skill in racing, but also
taxing on the joints and lungs. If youre not racing, but just want to get
a killer workout, burn a bunch of calories and get more comfortable on the
climbs, then repeats will serve you well.
If I go for shorter repeats, then the
intensity might be a little higher, explains Florit. Shes been
known to ride Mount Soledad near her home in San Diego 11 times in a workout.
Doing that many repeats shed obviously keep the intensity down, more like
an endurance day. If your workout only allows four or five repeats, then you
might up the intensity.
Florit does repeats as well as workouts
with longer efforts. I use (repeats) sometimes to do intervals, but then
you have more Palomar-Mountain climbs where you are fighting gravity for two
hours. Palomar is the biggest climb in the San Diego area, similar to a
long canyon on Colorados Front Range. If youre headed out for the
long slog up Deer Creek or South Saint Vrain, then dial back the intensity and
settle in for a steady climb. Try not to blow up. Focus on riding
at the same pace near the top as you did at the bottom. Youll burn a ton
of calories, develop great endurance and build power, too.
Florit likes doing her hardest workouts
near her home. I dont have to travel or ride 100 miles to do a big
effort, she says. If youre really going to push your limits, then
design your workout so youll be closer to home or nearer to the car so
that if you do detonate, you wont have to limp home in a horrendous
headwind or with a nuclear bonk.
Remember to vary your rides as well.
Focusing only on short bursts will give you higher-end speed, but might leave
you gasping on longer climbs or in longer events. If you excel in one area,
make sure you challenge yourself in others. Long, slow, tough climbs build
great power, especially when you remain seated as much as possible. Short,
high-intensity, steep climbs will raise your anaerobic threshold and give you
that top end for tough sections on the mountain bike or
particularly steep climbs when out road cycling.
No matter the terrain, just commit to
varying your workouts because not only will you ride faster, youll be
less likely to succumb to boredom during your cycling. And if you do decide to
emulate Florit with 11 repeats up your local climb, remember to drink enough,
rest up and always stretch afterwards. Youll be flying on the climbs in
Look for Rob Coppolillos first
book, In the Gutter: Riding, Writing and Stories Too True to Tell, due
out in the near future.
physiologist Ken Mierke, a two-time World Champion triathlete (disabled
division) and owner of Fitness Concepts (www.fitness-concepts.com), is
available to answer any burning questions you may have about cycling. You can
send them care of firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What are the signs that you might be
cycling too much?
A: Dead legs are a sign of too much
cycling. In the old days, cyclists said, If your legs are dead, you havent
trained enough. Put in more miles. Of course, their legs stayed dead.
Performance during important workouts is
the best indicator of optimal training volume. Many cyclists think that they
should train hard enough that they are constantly tired until they taper before
race day. This is ineffective because tired legs cant produce power
effectively. If 100 percent effort produces 95 percent output because a rider
is tired from yesterdays workout, that is not effective training. The
body doesnt care how hard youre trying, it responds to output.
Many cycling traditions have been handed
down from riders preparing for the Tour De France, which took Lance Armstrong
over 80 hours last year. Lance needs to be trained to go hard even when his
legs are. Our races arent that long!