Updated: Apr 21, 2022
There is one thing in cycling that many of us can agree upon: Hills are hard! They are are uncomfortable and slow. Since the rate of deceleration is greater when cycling uphill due to the additional effects of gravity on your momentum, more effort is needed to maintain the same speed. That means, going uphill is an opportunity for greater interval and high wattage training!
Intervals can have a significant beneficial effect on your climbing and cycling performance. A hill training session with intervals can increase muscular strength because of the increased resistance. Another benefit of hill interval training is increased aerobic potential. When you train at a short intense heart rate and follow it with a long recovery (long recovery is key), you raise your heart rate potential. Because hills can be very demanding physically, you need to be sufficiently recovered from previous sessions in order to benefit most from them.
As you approach the bottom of a hill, switch into a slightly higher gear than you’re comfortable with, and stand out of the saddle and accelerate up to your top speed for between 30 seconds to a minute. Switch to going downhill for recovery. Repeat.
Power-Based Wattage Training
Power-Based Wattage Training is similar to interval training and it ideally is measured with a power meter. Climbing hills can be done in a few different ways, depending on your goals. To build aerobic capacity, you can train at a high cadence at a lower gear. To train muscular endurance, you can use a big gear and low cadence. Finally, you can ride in a moderate gear at your maximum sustainable intensity to help develop your climbing power in your lactate threshold.
Find a long hill that’s moderately steep and will take at least 8 minutes to climb.
Warm-Up: 15 minutes at RPE 3 Main Set: 3×8 minute sets at RPE 8 - 9 or 95% FTP), Descend and wait for your heart rate to come down if necessary. Cool-Down: 15 minutes at RPE 3.
Hill Training for Any Course
Balanced with recovery rides and the specific workouts that will benefit you, hills are one way to increase your speed over this off-season. Even if your next major race has a flat course, hills can still help increase your overall speed. I tested this out inadvertently this past season; I did quite a bit of hill work in my training season. At the end of the season, I raced a very flat course and I had made significant gains compared to when I raced flat courses earlier this season.
What do YOU think about doing hill work to gain speed on a flat course?