Ask the Coach Aug 09

Q: How can I improve my hill climbing on the bike?

A: There are really 3 key things to help an athlete ride hills better:

1.      Efficiency while Climbing -  This involves a few things: First,  having the right gears for the terrain you are riding, so having small enough gears that you aren’t force to go too hard to keep a decent cadence on the hills or that your cadence drops to <40rpm in order to maintain the appropriate effort level. Second, changing gears properly, so getting in and out of your big chain ring at the appropriate time and not getting stuck in the wrong gear. You need to change gears in order to maintain your proper cadence and effort level on a climb and smooth shifting will help to keep your momentum as well as keep your effort level in the right range

2.      Power – raising your threshold power output (threshold power = the max power that you can hold for 60min) will make you a better climber, this can be done numerous ways, but even building your LT power on the flats will help make you a better climber, as will longer extended efforts on hills (ideally at least 5min intervals)

3.      Weight – the less weight you carry up a hill the faster you will go! And the weight of your bike is not a huge part of this, so focus more on reducing your body fat %

Remember however that racing hills in a triathlon is not about who can sprint to the top first, most of the hills in Southern Ontario are quite short and the fastest person up them in training is the one with the most fast twitch muscle fibre, but sprinting up hills like this in racing is a big mistake, it is highly energy costly and inefficient. The goal in a triathlon is to even out your power output over the course, yes your power should go up on a hill, but only so much that you can change gears and keep pushing over the top, if you get to the top of a hill and have to cost to recover you have gone too hard. You will be just as fast or faster if you hold back slightly on hills but push over the top and down the other side (this will have you catching back up the to the athlete that hammered the hill), and at the same time you will use less energy which will be needed later in the ride or on the run!

Nigel Gray is Head Coach of NRG Performance Training, with over 10 years of coaching experience from beginners to Elite athletes