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CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS

  Last updated: 1/19/2012

Training for Hills


I recently received the following question (which made me think about how training for hills might be different than for the flats).

Q. I will be participating in the 8 day TransAlp MTB race in Europe this July, a very climbing intensive event (20000 m ascent over 610 km). In preparation over and above long weekend mileage on the MTB, what form of interval training would you recommend and what frequency? I am not a naturally strong climber and to date I have been pointed in the direction of hill repeats. GR - Johannesburg, South Africa

A. I've never seen any specific information on hill training - other than various critiques on climbing technique.

If you think about hills, and how training for a climb might be the same or different from training on the flats, the common factor to success is maximizing the power (energy per unit of time or watts) you deliver to your rear cog. It is an increase in power that will make you a) faster on the flats b) faster up a hill you might ride regularly or c) able to maintain speed into a headwind. All of these improve in direct proportion to the amount of power you can develop (and maintain) on the bike.

So the next question is how does one increase power? There are 2 variables.

  1. First is the strength of your leg muscles (mainly quadriceps). The stronger the muscles, the more potential you have. There is a more subtle question here - and that is how weight impacts climbing. The more a rider weighs, the more power it takes to move up a slope or climb at a set speed. So just bulking up alone can be counter productive. A little increase in muscle mass is probably good, but a lot is not necessarily better. But working on strength exercises (squats) while monitoring your overall weight would seem the best strategy for the strength component. Another option is riding hills regularly. The stress of climbing will increase your muscle strength over riding the flats alone.

  2. Second is training your cardiovascular system to increase your VO2max. This also increases the amount of power you can develop, and sustain. Here the strategy is similar to training for the flats. That means a) adequate weekly miles (so you don't run out of steam) under the belt and b) traditional intervals to stress the cardiovascular system and lead to improvement.

Putting these together, my recommendation would be a slight modification of the standard training mantra which normally includes 2 days of intervals per week , but now you would do your intervals on a hill rather than on the flats. This will address both increasing leg muscle strength (from the climbing) as well as improving CV performance (just as would happen from pushing your VO2max on the flats). Would adding a 3rd day of intervals make a difference. I'm not sure about that one. You might be better off adding a few minutes in the gym.



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