Hill Training for Cyclists

A short workout with big payoff

Find yourself struggling to keep up on those group rides? Have you been dropped halfway up a hill and left in the dust struggling to breath? Or perhaps your legs and lungs just can’t keep up with your mind and motivation? These are all common issues cyclists struggle with? So what’s the solution you ask? Well, for the pros they hop on their bike every day and ride hard for 3-6 hours a day and build strength. This kind of time isn’t usually available for the Average-Joe however. When you only have so much time in a day but want to improve your strength and skills… try hills!

The part most of us hate the most about a ride is a steep, long hill staring us down. That feeling in your gut like you’re parents just found a beer can in your room creeps up as you know there’s no avoiding it. Well as your parents may have said to you at one time, “Sometimes you need to just face your fears.” Your parents were right in this case I’m afraid. With a hill workout you can build strength and endurance in a short, ‘busy-lifestyle-friendly’ package.

Getting Started:

You’re first step is going to be to find a hill. Now make sure it’s a good one. That one you always find a way to avoid on your rides? That’s the one! Try to find one (or a few) that are in low traffic neighborhoods if you can. That way you’re not adding the worry of cars whizzing by along with trying to keep your bike from rolling backwards.  It’s best if you can find a few in close proximity so you can break up the action. Here’s the route I do. I’m pretty lucky living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains so I don’t have to go far to find some pretty steep peaks.

Click on the “Show Elevation” button and get an idea of the climbs I work with.  You want to start with at least a mile or two of pretty easy riding at a low gear to get your legs loosened up. Lead that up to the base of your first climb. Now each route is going to be different based on how many hills you have to work with and the distance between them, but the key is to give yourself breaks, but only short ones.

On my route I start with the easiest of the four main climbs I do. This gets my heart race up and ready for harder tests ahead. Once you reach that first summit DO NOT STOP PEDDLING! A very important part of this exercise is to train your body to recover fast. As you push up those last meters to the top of a hill the lactic acid in your legs is almost at it’s threshold. When you reach the summit those muscles want to recover. We need to teach them how to recover fast. Gear up at the top of the hill and continue to peddle at a normal cadence. Over time you will notice a difference in how much faster your breathing slows and that burning in your legs subsides. This will help when you are riding or racing with a group and you can continue to push it after you’ve climbed a hill. Be sure to watch the YouTube video at the bottom of this page for my strong finish up a nearby climb.

Hill Training Tips:

OK, so short breaks in between climbs, don’t stop peddling at the summit, what else? Here are a few more tips that will help while you’re on your pursuit of conquering Mount Cycling Rockstar:

1. Get in the gear you’ll need before you hit the hill. This will prevent dropping a chain and jerky movements while trying to climb.

2. Stay in your saddle. It feels like you are generating more power while out of your saddle (and you are…slightly) but you are also exerting much more energy (5% more) and will wear out faster. Keeping in your saddle for as long as you can will keep you at a steady pace that won’t wear you out. It also will build more leg muscles since your using them more. If you do stand only do it when you are really hurting and need a boost. Keep your butt back over your cranks for maximum power.

3. Shift your weight towards the back of your saddle. This way you are getting the most leverage on the peddles.

4. Stay loose. Keep your elbows outside of your hands. This opens up your lungs for max intake. Hold on to the tops of your handle bars. You most likely won’t need your break so sit up a little more and pull on that top bar to help power your legs if/when you need to.

5. Breath deep. Force yourself to take deep breaths down into your stomach. Fill those lungs as much as possible. Short rapid breaths may feel like that’s your only option but it’s really not helping you as you’re only filling the top part of your lungs.

6. Don’t stare at the summit. Keep your eyes about 5-10 yards ahead of you and focus on your movements of your legs and body, not the top.

7. Peddle in a full circle. This means don’t just push down. When your leg is at the bottom of the cycle think of wiping dirt of the bottom of your cleat. Then pull up with that leg. This way both of your legs are working together and taking the stress of your quads.

8. Lastly, finish strong. When you feel the top is near is when you should look up. See that peak and gun for it. Root yourself on and push for the top. You will hurt and gasp for air, but the feeling of killin’ it makes it all worth while.


This is a workout that can be done in less than an hour and will give you great results. Start out doing just 2-3 climbs and then ride it out for a few miles so you can get the feel for it. Then move it up to 5 for your next few rides. Once you’re feeling stronger you should eventually be able to do 10 climbs and feel like He-man. Then you can complain to your wife or girlfriend that your jeans are too small for your massive thighs. Or for the lady’s, you’ll make Jennifer Aniston jealous with your toned legs!

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2 Responses to “Hill Training for Cyclists”

  1. Rick Evans says:

    This is a great tip’s article. I wish I could go up the hill as fast as you.

  2. [...] To give you an idea of the magnitude of these climbs, the Col du Grand Colombier spans more than 8 miles and has an average grade of 7.1% with multiple sections over 12%. That means these men are riding their bikes practically straight up for miles on end. And when they’re done, they have an even longer, and steeper climb ahead of them. And that’s only stage 10 out of 20! It’s really mind blowing to wrap your head around the strength and endurance it takes to win this race. These climbs are nothing we can relate to. [...]

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