Little Known Ways for Cyclists to Improve Hill Climbing

CyclingOur Head of Orthopaedic Physiotherapy Zoe Birch reveals her top tips for climbing hills whilst cycling. 

With the recent stages of the Tour de France in the UK, coupled with the consecutive success of UK riders in the previous two tours and Olympic events, cycling has hit a boom. There are now an abundance of bicycles on our roads and cycling clubs are increasing in popularity and with many becoming oversubscribed. I have had quite a few patients asking me about improving their cycling technique whilst addressing their aches and pains after a big ride.  The competitive edge that people show, even when on a casual ride, leads to the desire to become a better rider.  A large aspect which amateur riders struggle with is climbing hills. Even though we may not be in the middle of the French Alps, in attempting to keep up with the worlds’ greatest, amateur riders can often find themselves falling behind from their group when the gradients kick in.

Here are some techniques which I have used in order to improve my hill climbing technique and may help you also:

Keep Spinning

Be aware of hills and the gear in which they’re tackled. Be prepared before you get there and if you see a big hill arising in the distance, choose an appropriate gear.  Drop down into a smaller chain ring if possible, work at a comfortable pace and resistance, and try and maintain the cadence of your legs. If you attack a hill in the highest gear possible, you’ll burn yourself out in the first few metres of the slope. If you choose a gear too low, your legs will be spinning too fast, and your bike will be crawling along at a snail’s pace. A middle ground of moderate sustained effort for the whole climb is what you’re aiming for.

Improve Your Power to Weight Ratio

The best climbers in the grand tours have some of the strongest legs, despite being the size of a whippet. They can generate huge amounts of energy in their legs for sustained periods, and being particularly light means that power pushes them further and quicker. Increasing the strength in your legs and dropping some weight will contribute to improving your climbing dramatically.

Sit down and attack!

This is some of the best advice I have had. Sitting down allows all of the muscle groups in your legs to be recruited, particularly your glutes. The power output of this muscle group is huge, and when you stand up, you reduce their recruitment. Not only do you use fewer muscles, but also standing up on the bike is generally more fatiguing.  Bradley Wiggins won his Tour de France trophy by only standing up out of the saddle a handful of times. Choosing correct gearing and remaining seated reduces energy expenditure and allows for more consistent and effective climbing.

Next time you are out on a ride and see a hill coming up, give these ideas a go. First, try climbing the hill as you normally would, perhaps sprinting in a big gear by standing up and dancing on the pedals, then give it another go after sufficient rest with remaining seated and selecting gears which give a resistance you can easily spin with. I have definitely noticed a difference when commuting to and from patient’s houses all around London on my bike, so I’m sure you will.  Let us know how you get on in the comments section below.

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