Coach's Corner:
Develop Hill Climbing Ability

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in The California Events Schedule, June 1993


To develop hill climbing ability like Miguel Indurain.


Someone once asked me how I got to be so good at riding hills. My answer was simple: "I ride 'em!" Nowadays, though, I give a bit more detailed advice. For example:

Pick several different hills (both road and dirt if you ride both) and time yourself riding them. They needn't be too long, perhaps ten to twenty minutes at a good pace. Once a week, do a "hill repeat day" on one of those hills; ten reps at 100% intensity. Don't rest too long between reps, just coast back to the bottom with your legs spinning in an easy gear to loosen up.

Once or twice a week, do a good, long, hilly ride. String together as many hills as possible, perhaps all of your hill repeat hills and all the others in between. Save the toughest hills for last and give them all you've got. (Remember, to ride hills well, you have to ride 'em!)

Getting past the obvious, work on your technique as well. Experiment with your gears and use as low a gear as necessary to keep up your cadence. Shoot for 60 to 80 RPMs, counting just one foot as it goes around. Don't "save" a gear; use it as soon as you need it. Also, don't be macho about your gear choice. Cool is riding up the hill smoothly and consistently, not mashing a knee-busting gear with sloppy form. Always shift one or two gears higher when you stand up. (It's more efficient to climb while sitting, once you've built the quad strength and style to do so.)

Form is critical as well. Stay loose in your upper body. Don't muscle the bike anymore than necessary. Concentrate on turning over the pedals with a circular power style. Don't let yourself bog down as the pedals reach the high point of their circle. Every so often, slide way back or way forward on the saddle; notice how that feels. (You'll get a mini muscle recovery by grossly changing your position in this way.) Breath calmly and smoothly from your belly. Concentrate on blowing out forcefully and allowing your lungs to simply refill themselves effortlessly.

Practice makes perfect. And perfection makes any exercise far more enjoyable. See ya' on Baldy and Diablo!