How to climb faster and higher
We have all asked the question, how do I climb faster or get better at climbing?
When we look at the pro’s and see how easy they make climbing look and how fast they fly up those mountains, we all think in our minds, how do they do that? Well, first of all, it might look easy for them, but they also feel the legs and lungs burning. Like Greg LeMond said “it never gets easier, you just get faster”. Secondly, they ride a lot of climbs and very steep, very long climbs. They are professional athletes and get paid to ride that much.
So do we, the beginner to amateur level get better at climbing?
In this post, we will look at how you can improve your climbing ability and start climbing faster and longer than ever before. We will have a look at training sessions you can do and other off the bike tricks to help you to climb faster and longer in no time
Smart trainers are the best investment you can make for your training, especially at beginner and intermediate levels. They help you train at certain power levels to improve performance. For this post we will focus on climbing.
Smart trainers connect with 3rd party apps like Zwift, RGT and Sufferfest. In these apps you can do all kinds of training sessions for specific goals. The first way is to ride a course in slope mode. This means that your trainer will apply resistance relative to the gradient that you are riding on. The higher the gradient, the more resistance is added to the trainer. This is a great way to ride big climbs if you live in an area where there are no mountains or descent climbs (Like I do). I personally use zwift, and love to ride the courses on my long endurance rides as it simulates the effect of riding outside. You can choose to ride big climbs like the Alpe du Zwift. This climb gives you 1036m of vertical ascent over 12km. With an average gradient of 8.5%, this is a very tough climb. If you are new to cycling or don’t do a lot of climbing, try starting off with an easier climb. In the app you can see the average gradient or info of certain climbs. The more you ride a climb, the better you will get at it and soon you will be climbing higher and faster.
The second way to use a smart trainer is in ERG mode. When you do a training program that has been built on a training plan builder like Trainingpeaks, you can sync this straight to your 3rd party app. In ERG mode, the app sends the amount of power that needs to beld for a certain amount of time, to the trainer and the trainer adjusts the resistance accordingly. For example, if your training session asks that you hold 200 Watts for 20 minutes, your trainer will adjust resistance accordingly so that you hold 20 Watts for those 20 minutes. If you pedal slower, resistance will be added, pedal faster and resistance will be decreased in order to maintain the 200 Watts.
As a coach, I can build a specific program to work on your climbing ability, focusing on power output and cadence to simulate climbing. This means you will spend more time doing climbing specific sessions, thus improving your climbing ability
Tempo and Threshold training
Spending a lot of time in your tempo zone will improve your ability to climb for long periods. The higher end of your tempo zone, usually called the ‘sweet spot’ zone, is the best intensity to be in. This will also teach you how to pace a long climb in order to climb faster. We see it a lot, people getting out of their saddle and jolting up a climb, then halfway up they crash and everyone passes them. Improving your numbers and time spent in temp zone, will get you climbing faster and longer quickly.
The same goes for Threshold training (FTP). If you are doing shorter climbs, 10-20 minutes, you can pace them by staying in your threshold zone. This way you will know that you can make it to the top and you won’t crack and struggle your way to the top. Improving this zone will improve the time you can do a climb for this amount of time
How do you improve your tempo or threshold zones? Coaches can design you a program to work specifically on your tempo or threshold zone. You can also get exercise programs to help you improve these zones and climb faster and better than ever before
To climb better, you need to get stronger. Doing regular strength training sessions will benefit your cycling, especially for climbing. Being stronger means you can push more watts than before, meaning you will climb faster. Strength training needs to be added to a program with careful consideration thou as it taxes your body a lot and could lead to fitness plateaus and overtraining if added incorrectly.
2 Sessions per week is enough to add into your regular schedule. Make sure you have at least 2 days of recovery in between strength training sessions. Your coach can design this for you or you can get a strength training program already incorporated into a cycling program. Use big movements as your main lifts, like squats and deadlifts and do 3 to 4 sets of 4-10 reps. Start off lighter and work your way up to condition your body to the added stress and heavy lifting
Climbing is against gravity, so the more weight you carry up the climb the harder it will be. Losing weight will help you climb better and faster. Gravity does not care if the extra weight is muscle or fat, any added weight will hold you back. This is why the top climbers in the pro world are very skinny. However, they weigh very little, but are able to maintain their FTP. Losing weight with loss of FTP wont make much of a difference. For example, if you weigh 100kg and your FTP is 200 Watts, your power to weight ratio is 2 w/kg (watts per kilogram). If you loose 20kg and keep your FTP at 200 watts, your power to weight ratio will be 2.5 w/kg, meaning you will go up a climb faster.
There is a fine balance between weight loss and maintaining FTP, especially as you get to lower body weights. But for climbing purposes, theoretically the less you weigh while keeping your FTP the same, the faster you will climb. Your coach will keep a close eye on your power measurements as you loose weight to make sure you don’t start losing power too. Get an exercise plan to loose weight for cycling or get a cycling coach to help you with weight loss for cycling
These sessions are great to build strength on the bike. Make sure you are well conditioned before attempting these sessions, as they can cause knee pain. Torque sessions are basically strength training on the bike. In these sessions you will work at or just below threshold, never more, at very low cadences (between 40 and 60 rpm). This simulates grinding it out on a very steep climb.
You can do these sessions on the road by selecting a big gear and grinding at low cadences. Best is to ride a hill that takes at least 10 minutes at a gradient above 5 or 6%. Select a bigger gear than usual and grind at low cadences. If you don’t have these type of hills, you can apply breaks on downhills or flats to increase resistance. Indoor trainers work great for these sessions. ERG mode will add a lot of resistance with very low cadences automatically.
If you do experience knee pain or discomfort from these sessions, increase the cadence by 5 to 10 rpm. If pain is still present, consult your coach or healthcare professional to determine the cause of the knee pain.
These are all practical ways to get you to climb faster and better. Remember consistency is key. If you want to climb better, climb more. Flats and downhills will do nothing for your climbing. Start of with easier climbs and work up to steeper or longer climbs. A coach or training plan is key to make you a better and faster climber