Hill Climb Training for Beginner – Intermediate Part 1

If you think your Ireland’s answer Marco Pantani then this guide may not be for you. It’s an easy guide to climbing better for people who struggle in the hills.

In many Irish leisure events there are two main factors that make it a “challenge”. That is distance and hills. All events, no matter how enjoyable, tend to have their dark times for many riders. It may be a puncture or mechanical fault, a headwind or getting the bonk in the last hour. This is why, I believe, hill training is so important for events like this. If climbing for you is absolute and utter hell then an event with four or five climbs (sometimes more) means a large chunk of the day will be simply horrible.

In the many events I have done I encounter countless cyclists on the first climb of the day absolutely dying on the bike. Wrong gears, bad technique, swaying all over the road and even just getting off and walking. All this can be avoided with some good hill training.

So, am I suggesting this means that the climbing part will also be enjoyable? No, of course not. It’s a challenge after all! But approaching a climb feeling strong, executing the climb as efficiently as you can and recovering well on the other side can be the difference between an event being utter hell to enjoying the challenge.

For many it’s their size that affects climbing.. Some people are built for climbing better, the same way a sprinter or time trialist. That’s why you see stocky sprinters barely turning the cranks on a climb but hammering 40km/h on the flat. There’s not a whole lot you can do about that but you can work on an area where you’re weak. If you’re a large rider and your climbing is weak you’re probably not going to be King of the Mountains but you can still train to scale a climb more efficiently.

Strength and Engine

For climbing it’s having the strength in your legs to push your body (and bike) up a hill and then having the cardio fitness to maintain that effort. Then there is the factor of pacing and actually scaling the climb without blowing out. This means you need to be able to cycle just below or on the limit for continuous periods of time depending on the nature of the climb. So let’s look at some training techniques.

Strength and Lactic Threshold
The best training can often be the most gruelling. This exercise will increase strength, stamina and lactic threshold, all vital to a good climb.

Training Session

Find a steep hill close to home.

Warm up well for 10 mins and do some sprints to get your heart rate up. Forget the HRM, it will go through the roof. Focus on how YOU feel!

Getting to the top of the climb is NOT the goal. Pushing your body beyond its comfort zone, raising lactic and strengthening your legs is the goal.

Choose a high enough gear and hit the climb hard. Push through until your legs are screaming and you can’t go anymore. Then turn back and ride down, keep spinning to flush the lactic out.

After a few mins turn back on go up again. Hard gear until you can’t take it anymore.
If you can manage this around 3 or 4 times you’re doing really well. Even if your only able to go for a couple of minutes that’s fine. Just turn back, spin out the lactic and go again. The good thing about this training is that you’ll probably only be out for an hour or less and it’s so beneficial to many areas of cycling.

Pacing on a climb

When climbing at an event it’s all about getting to the top and recovering for the next climb. A common mistake is going too hard at the start of a climb and then blowing out before the top. Everyone’s done it at some stage and it can always happen even with experience. Start a climb as comfortable as you can, you’re going to need more energy in the second half and at the top. Choose a low gear and spin it, trying to get around 80 rpm. If you’re grinding straight away you may be geared too high. Many riders use a 25-11 cassette for climbing, if you’re a heavy rider then maybe a 27-12 cassette would suit better for hilly courses. Also there is the compact chainset option which offers a good range of climbing gears.


This can be very personal but there are few tips that usually work well: Good rhythm is important, try to keep your cadence and breathing steady, hands on the tops nice and relaxed. This allows your lungs more freedom to pass oxygen to the muscles. I tend to bob my head from side to side slightly just to keep everything in sync.

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Photo: 1951 Tour de France – Bert Hardy / Getty Images

1 Reply to "Hill Climb Training for Beginner - Intermediate Part 1"

  • comment-avatar
    Peter Cockerill
    February 25, 2017 (1:59 pm)

    Came to Majorca with my 33year old son who is a very competent county rider, hill climbing is his speciality. I haven’t ridden for 14 years and only 3/4 years at club level, just so that I could keep a bond with him. Bitten off more then I can chew, 1st day 61 miles with the “Stuart Hall” cycle group, helpful as they are, found it to be a great struggle.
    2stone overweight at 62, need to find a good training plan for next year or towards the end of this year so I don’t have to embarrass myself again, very important that I’m able to maintain this “bonding ” with my son, without going into too much detail.
    Any help will be very much appreciated.

    Many thanks Pete

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