How can I get better at hills?

v.e.e
v.e.e Posts: 46
edited May 2009 in Road beginners
I knew that I was bad at hills but on Sunday when I went on my first group ride I discovered just how rubbish I was. However, not to be beaten I am determined to improve and acquire the ability to get up hills without suffering from a combination of oxygen deficit and leg wilt.

Is there anything I can do to get better at hills other than just doing more of them?

Comments

  • elscorcho
    elscorcho Posts: 44
    The foods you eat the day before and the day when you are going cycling are very important. Eat a meal high in carbohydrates no sooner than two hours before you go cycling. Drink water so that you are fully hydrated before cycling. Take enough water with you and a snack e.g I take a banana or two! During your cycle have a regular drink of water to prevent dehydration. If you know you are approaching a difficult hill have a rest before it!

    Make sure that your bike is setup is correctly for you and that it is in full working order.

    I don't know what your fitness level is like but running would boost your cardiovascular fitness e.g run for 10-15 minutes at a moderate pace and rest for two minutes or as long as you need then try and run for another 10-15 minutes at a moderate pace!

    I know that you ask if there is any better way of getting better at cycling uphill other than doing more of them but that is really the best way to improve! Good technique is important when cycling uphill as well as for cyling well in general!

    The current issue of What Mountain Bike has a section on technique for climbs as well as descents which you will likely find useful.

    I will go over what I know about technique for cycling uphill and try and some extra tips from What Mountain Bike.

    Just as you come to the start of an uphill section you need to have changed into a suitable gear just before you need to use that gear. Turn the pedals in a smooth and continous motion so that you are moving forward fast enough to resist gravity. Slide forward on your seat to increase traction on the front wheel. Look ahead so you know what obstacles there are on the hill. Change gears as appropriate eg if the hill gets steeper.

    Try and keep your front wheel pointing straight ahead. As much as you can avoid bringing your wheels especially the front wheel into contact with any rocks or other obstacles eg roots as they will slow you down and perhaps bring you to a halt if your front wheel gets stuck behind behind or on the obstacle.

    I hope my ideas are of some help to you!
  • osucowboytc
    osucowboytc Posts: 24
    One major area that you may want to focus on is your breathing. As I am sure you already know, going into oxygen debt will slow you down almost to a halt. Focus on keeping your breathing pattern as slow and constant as possible.

    One other area is your pedal stroke and cadence. Don't try to power up from the bottom of the hill. When you hit the bottom of an incline, shift to a lower gear and spin up. When you start to get tired, shift to a higher gear. This seems counter intuitive but it works. Also try shifting back on the saddle and pedaling at more of a 45 degree angle with a focus on the upstroke. This will keep you from hammering on the pedals and will smooth out your stroke.

    These are some things that have worked for me, hope they will work for you too!
  • I personally feel that breathings probably the most important factor, possibly because I'm an asthmatic.

    What i find helps with breathing is to really concentrate on your exhaling. Try and make them as deep as possible, clearing air from as deep in your lungs as you can. Then when you relax your diaphragm you will breathe in naturally. So the more air you've exhaled, the more air you will be able to inhale.

    I think the most important thing to note about breathing is that the removal of carbon dioxide is just as important (if not more so) than the obtaining of oxygen as its the build up of CO2 that makes you need a breath rather then the deficit of oxygen. Also your blood carries oxygen better when its alkali but carbon dioxide makes it slightly acidic.

    Hope this helps! :) Works for me but everyone's different.
  • cullen_bay
    cullen_bay Posts: 256
    I think the most important thing to note about breathing is that the removal of carbon dioxide is just as important (if not more so) than the obtaining of oxygen as its the build up of CO2 that makes you need a breath rather then the deficit of oxygen. Also your blood carries oxygen better when its alkali but carbon dioxide makes it slightly acidic.

    Hope this helps! :) Works for me but everyone's different.

    not that different, i doubt youl get people saying, nah my blood is carried better if it has a Ph balance of around 2. :twisted:
  • cullen_bay wrote:
    I think the most important thing to note about breathing is that the removal of carbon dioxide is just as important (if not more so) than the obtaining of oxygen as its the build up of CO2 that makes you need a breath rather then the deficit of oxygen. Also your blood carries oxygen better when its alkali but carbon dioxide makes it slightly acidic.

    Hope this helps! :) Works for me but everyone's different.

    not that different, i doubt youl get people saying, nah my blood is carried better if it has a Ph balance of around 2. :twisted:

    Lol, I meant the impact that really pushing the exhale has, not the biology behind it!
  • softlad
    softlad Posts: 3,513
    v.e.e wrote:

    Is there anything I can do to get better at hills other than just doing more of them?

    the simple answer is 'no' - just ride more hills and ride them more often.
  • hotspur
    hotspur Posts: 92
    Whenever I feel like I'm struggling on a bike, I start to count to try and even out my action. I find that this helps me uphill and puts me in the zone when cycling.

    This might just be a personal thing, but it really does work with me. Depending on how I feel I have gone up in a lower gear, and even shifted up a few gears and stood up all of the way on a climb, again counting all of the while. It's a funny one, it just seems to take my mind off of other matters such as fatigue and helps me focus on technique.
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  • there's no shortcuts. try and lose some weight and keep doing hills and hard workouts.
  • frenchfighter
    frenchfighter Posts: 30,642
    You are going to get a lot of contrasting information so basically you need to try a varriety of things and see what works best for you. You only need to look at the techniques of the pro climbers to see that no one method is best.

    So as for practical advice:

    Most important is simple. To be a better climber ride more hills. If you are not good at something, you will find that avoiding it doesn't make you better. Find a selection of hills of varying lengths and gradients and let your workout simply be a warm up followed by ascent, followed by ascent, followed by ascent. Keep going until your time drops significantly. Then warm down. If there is one near your house the whole workout shouldn't take more than an hour.

    Sit further towards the back of your saddle.

    Concentrate hard on applying pressure at all points of the pedal stroke. Pulling up is neglected but will add significant power. The only thing is that it is quite difficult and you may find it hurts to begin with (this is because you are using muscles you don't normally).

    In group rides, make sure you start near the front and set off at your own pace. The reasoning here is that if you are not so good, being amoungst the bunch helps you to climb faster and being at the front means that as you slip back there are still riders coming from behind. Start off at the back and you will have no one for company.

    Mindest is neglected but very important. Look on the hills positively and with the view of a challenge. Too often people approach hills with the attitude that it is going to be hard and they are not good at hills so they will just take it easy. Wathc videos of pros climbing to inspire you. Virenque on the Ventoux is one of my favourites:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Jc70TeXr3s

    Breathing is very important as has been mentionned. Blow out hard as it will ensure you have to breathe in. Make a conscious effort to breathe as well.

    If you know there is a hard hill coming, make sure you have had something to eat before hand as you will not be able to eat on the hill. Even drinking is difficult with the heavy breathing so make sure you drink a big amount at the bottom of the climb.

    Try and stay seated as long as possible as it will build your strength. Get out of the saddle for when it gets particularly steep. If you are a heavier rider, you will have to support your weight when out the saddle which leads to greater effort and a higher heart rate.

    When out the saddle, try various positions, for example arms bent like Cadel, or arms nearly locked like Contador.

    Vary your hand postion, on the drops, on the hoods, on the bars, especially on longer climbs.

    Do not go into the red as that will be it for you as there is no time to recover on a climb like on the flat.

    Don't try and accelerate hard, simply keep an even pace that you feel comfortable with.

    Vary your cadence to see what works best for you. Ullrich grinds whereas Contador dances.

    If you are swaying on the bike then change down a gear.

    It takes time but you will soon improve.

    Good luck!
    Contador is the Greatest
  • Nick6891
    Nick6891 Posts: 274
    keep practising and set yourself a good pace, if its a short steep hill then it maybe ok to power up it, but if its a long hill then you need to go down the gears and get at a pace you can sustain,but keep practising, i also wanted to improve my hill climbing so i changed my technique a little and kept practising, and when i first started i struggled to get up any long climbs, since then i have cycled over hard knott pass a number of times in pretty bad conditions too
  • bomberesque
    bomberesque Posts: 1,701
    not road advice but mountainbiking; riding Singlespeed made a massive improvement for me with hills, especially steep ones. In fact, it helped me develop a completely different style of riding. If you haven't got the gears to change down into then you are left with 2 choices; mash or walk. This forces you into a more attacking style, which I found I started to use more on the geared bike. not all the time of course but I have a much better feel for what I'm capable of getting up and how than I had previously and probably has had the single biggest effect on my ability as a rider in 30 years of pedal spinning.
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  • bompington
    bompington Posts: 7,674
    I'm slowly getting better at hills. With a more scientific approach then I might well improve faster, but here are my tips:
    1. Lose weight
    2. Cycle up hills, lots of them
    3. Don't stop when it starts hurting
    4. Lose weight
  • roger_merriman
    roger_merriman Posts: 6,165
    I also add the confidence factor i'm far from a racing whippet yet very few hills give me trouble not becuase i'm light or super fit, a lot of it is that hills don't worry me, I "know' that i can beat them, that makes quite a differnce.
  • CiB
    CiB Posts: 6,098
    Off beat a bit, but not spending the whole climb obsessing about the climb makes it easier. One of the tips I use is to carry a grudge, to come up some imaginary or real slight that you've been wronged with or by, or mentally compose a letter to your local paper about how all the bus drivers in your area are murdering sadists and need to be re-educated. As long as you're fairly ok at hills to start with, this sort of diversionary tactic should help a bit with your climbing. Being at the foot of a climb, half way up or even near the summit and thinking 'jeez I'll never make that' is likely to put you in the wrong frame of mind. Many a hill on my routes have disappeared doing this alternative thought process routine.
  • guilliano
    guilliano Posts: 5,495
    Ride up them........ a lot!

    Break the climb into sections..... aim for a target and when you get there set another one

    Sit and spin to start with.... I find if I do this I end up changing up a gear or 2 further up

    Take your mind off it. I do this by thinking about a song I like. Thankfully I have a good imagination so it's almost as good as having my i-pod on as I can pretty much hear the song in my head.

    Ride behind someone with a really nice bum.... you find yourself catching up for a better look!
  • Dunkeldog
    Dunkeldog Posts: 138
    Last summer I finally bit the bullet and organised specific hill training rides where I'd ride to the top of a local mile long 8% slope, sigh heavily, then freewheel to the bottom and start again. Rinse and repeat for an hour. Soul destroying at the start but I didn't half improve in quick time. Shed a half stone too and that helped an incredible amount.
  • Cheshley
    Cheshley Posts: 1,448
    guilliano wrote:
    Take your mind off it. I do this by thinking about a song I like. Thankfully I have a good imagination so it's almost as good as having my i-pod on as I can pretty much hear the song in my head.

    I do this too, keep a gear you can stick with, keep your head down and keep turning the pedals until it doesn't hurt anymore. The reason it doesn't hurt anymore is hopefully because you've reached the top!!!! SInging to keep a steady rhythm is something that has got me up a few hills. Try Stripped by Depeche Mode :D
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  • Bhima
    Bhima Posts: 2,145
    Increase Power (by riding hills!)
    Lose Weight
    Pace Yourself (Smaller Gears Helps)
    Sit further towards the back of your saddle.

    How does this help?

    I find it more effective to stay exactly where I am (and sometimes move forward).
  • topher9
    topher9 Posts: 54
    Out of interest, how much does it slow you down? Do you have to stop at all? What pace are you climbing at?

    Were you keeping up with the group on the flat?
  • frenchfighter
    frenchfighter Posts: 30,642
    Bhima wrote:
    Sit further towards the back of your saddle.

    How does this help?

    I find it more effective to stay exactly where I am (and sometimes move forward).

    Climbing is all about personal preference and what works for one doesn't for another. Personally I do it because it puts more weight on the back wheel which is where the power is generated, but more importantly because it opens the leg action and enables you to recruit more of the hamstring (a bit bunched if you go forward I find). However, it is more of a minor aid.

    Found this: "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."

    http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=5072
    http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=5208
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  • v.e.e
    v.e.e Posts: 46
    Thanks for all the really useful advice.

    To answer topher9 I had no probs keeping up on the flat but it was a social club run so I don't think any one was out to push hard. On hills I was amongst the last few and doing some pretty heavy breathing whilst the fitter riders didn't seem to have to breathe hard at all infact they went up pretty much as though the hills didn't exist. I so would love to be able to climb like that.

    I don't know how fast I should be able to improve bearing in mind a number ot things:

    1. Limited time to train, work, single parent etc.
    2. Started cycling seriously about 8 weeks ago
    3. Hate this one but I think it makes a difference, age, 53
    4. Finally and I don't know if this one makes a difference, being female.

    Feel inspired by all your advice to go out tomorrow and do something nasty with a local hill of my acquaintance. It sounds like going up and down it in an assortment of different and unpleasant ways will be helpful.
  • hotspur
    hotspur Posts: 92
    Just to add, on a climb this evening I had to gear down to get to a comfortable pace and started to think about the route that I could go on tomorrow. Before I knew it I had reached the top. I literally had taken what I was doing out of my mind and rather than obsessing about the hill, I just did it.

    The thing about doing it at your own pace is a major one though. At only 8 weeks in, you can't expect to be great so just do things at your level, then one day as long as you can can keep up your cycling you will just go up another level. The more you do it, the better you'll get.
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